Credit: Mauricio Bergamin

Over the past year, I have heard from many wanting to brighten their living spaces, reduce the amount of “stuff” in each room, and achieve a more streamlined look for their home. If you’re nodding your head in agreement, you might be ready to paint the interior of your home, likely moving on from gray, pale yellow, or beige that have dominated decorating in the past 15 years or so. If you’re thinking white walls might be for you but are not sure where to begin, read on.

Picking a white paint color can be confusing at best. A trip to your local paint store or paint department will provide dozens or possibly hundreds of white colors, depending on how many brands they carry. Finding the right shade of white to suit your taste while working well in your space is no easy task. 

Understand Undertones

One of the most difficult aspects of picking a white paint is that most shades of white aren’t 100 percent pure white. Undertones may seem like a subtle nuance, but they have a big impact on how paint looks in a room. Undertones can be pink, red, yellow, blue, gray, or … you get the idea.

Credit: Sarita Relis Photography

Assess the Room

Before running out to the paint store for swatches, assess the palette of the room. What are the colors of the floors? What are the colors of the dominant pieces of furniture in the room? Are these colors cool, or are they warm? Or — gasp! — are they both cool and warm?

If the primary features of your room are warm, you’ll generally want to select a white paint with warm undertones (think red/pink or yellow/orange). If they’re cool, consider cool-colored whites with undertones of blue, green, or gray. If the dominant features are both cool and warm, I recommend starting with a warmer white to see if it works well in the space.

Size Up the Lighting

Something else to consider is how much light, both natural and artificial, you have in the room. White can be very reflective, so if you don’t have a lot of light, selecting a brighter white will help bounce light throughout the room and brighten the space.

Test Several Colors

Once you’ve decided whether you should be looking for a warm or cool white, head out to your favorite paint store to pick up some swatches. Bring home more swatches than you think you’ll need — two or three aren’t enough. I say start with 15 or more. 

Once home, tape your swatches to a piece of white foam core and move the board around your room or home throughout the day. As the lighting changes in each room, you’ll see how the colors change as well.

Credit: Mauricio Bergamin

Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few different whites (I suggest at least five or six), buy a small can or sample size of each color and paint large sections of your wall (two coats of paint). For best results, I recommend first painting with a primer so the existing wall color doesn’t impact how you see the white colors. Also, it’s best to leave some distance between the white paint test areas so one sample doesn’t affect how you view the others. 

It may seem like a lot of work, and it is. But the satisfaction of transforming your house with the perfect white look will be yours to enjoy for the days and years ahead.

Christine S. Cowles is owner of Styled & Staged Santa Barbara, offering home staging and interior styling services. She is a certified Staging Design Professional™, member of Santa Barbara Association of Realtors and Real Estate Staging Association, and a proud WEV graduate. She can be reached at

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