It’s no secret that Smoot and I love designing with white paint. While white can seem like a no-brainer, there are actually hundreds of paint shades available--each with its own subtle variation in undertone. Pure white has no hue and reflects all visible wavelengths of light, so white paint will be very “reactive” to its environment. Now that we’ve completed four cottages with white interior paint, we want to share a few of the things we’ve learned along the way. Read on to learn our tips for choosing the perfect white for your space!
UNDERTONES AND AMBIENT LIGHT
White paint can skew cool or warm, depending on its undertones. Cool whites have blue, grey, violet, or even green undertones and tend to give a clean, crisp effect, while warm whites have red, pink, or yellow undertones and create a soft, laid-back feel. This sounds straightforward, but remember that the difference in tone can be so subtle that it might only become apparent under certain lighting conditions. That’s why it’s absolutely essential to consider the lighting conditions in your space before you even begin to narrow down your white paint options. For interiors that don’t have much natural light, a cool-toned white can help brighten things up by reflecting more light from lamps and overhead fixtures. If you’re working with a room that has abundant natural light, make sure you test paint colors in different weather conditions and times of day. We’ve tried beautiful shades of white that looked glowy and neutral during the afternoon but took on a greenish cast in the evening light. It may be helpful to also factor in your regional weather patterns. A cottage in the New England may benefit from a warmer white paint to add some richness during long winters, while a house in ultra-sunny Texas may need a cooler white to keep things from skewing orange.
When designing our first cottage, No. 1450, we initially tested different paint colors on each wall to see how they interacted with the light on that particular side of the house.
Once we narrowed down the paint colors to a few of our favorites, we painted larger swaths.
The finished product from the same view, painted with Martha Stewart Living’s ‘Pip’.
If that sounds like a lot of variables to juggle, here’s one more that can make or break a seemingly perfect shade of white: colorful decor! Martha Stewart Living’s Pip, our go-to shade of white for No. 1450 and Boho, just wasn’t working in the Cozy Cottages. While we suck to a more neutral palette when decorating the first two cottages, the smaller studio-style cottages--designed in homage to our children’s personalities--had slightly bolder color schemes. The rosy tones of the linens and pillows in the Eisley cottage and the military green details in the Pierce cottage were bringing out undertones in our beloved Pip that we’d never noticed before. We ended up having to adjust the shade slightly in each Cozy Cottage in order to get the neutral white we were after.
GET SERIOUS ABOUT SAMPLES
This brings me to the tip I most wish someone had shared with me before we started this whole process: Create a portable paint sample by painting pieces of sheetrock! We first tried this idea with plywood boards, but we found that using the same material as your wall surface will ensure that the color stays true. We did this with a larger sections of sheetrock that could be moved around the cottage to test the lighting conditions and, once we’d narrowed the color choice down to the one we liked best, a smaller, notebook-sized piece that I could carry with me while shopping for furnishings. This method requires some extra prep work, but we found it to be well worth it in the long run. Being able to hold up our miniature painted wall to faucets, tile, and textile samples ended up being a lifesaver--it made it quite obvious which elements would work well and which we could eliminate from the running.
Making your own sample will also come in handy if you find yourself needing to match your paint color at a later date. We learned this the hard way when we were ready to paint the Boho cottage and found out that Pip had been discontinued. We had to remove a section of trim in No. 1450 to take to the paint store!
We created a real-life “mood board” for each of the Cozy Cottages to get a feel for how our color palette would work with each shade of white paint we tested.
DON’T FORGET FINISH!
One downside to white is that it’s higher maintenance than darker colors. This makes your choice of paint finish extra-important! We initially had our hearts set on an ultra-matte finish on the walls, but our initial tests of flat paint proved to be difficult to clean. Since we were designing cottages for vacation rentals and events and knew they would see a lot of traffic, we decided to go with an eggshell finish instead.
Some designers insist on using a brighter white for trim and detailing, but we have opted to use the same shade of white on walls, ceilings, trim, and, in the case of the Boho cottage, wood flooring. In order to create a bit of contrast (and make for easier cleaning!) we adjusted the finish instead, using eggshell on walls and ceilings, semi-gloss on wood trim, and high-gloss on the distressed wood flooring.
The Boho cottage great room features three finishes of ‘Pip’: eggshell on the walls, semi-gloss on the baseboard, and high-gloss on the wood floor.
Once you’ve finished your project, make sure to document all the details. Keep leftover paint on hand for touch-ups (with white, you’re going to need it!), and hang onto your painted sheetrock sample. We recommend creating a spreadsheet of the paint color, brand, and finish you used for each room and surface, and storing that in a folder with reference images--including a photo of the paint color’s barcode. This may sound over-the-top, but it will eliminate any guesswork (and potentially spare you lots of headaches!) down the road.
We hope you find these tips helpful! Remember, these are not hard-and-fast rules, they’re simply some ideas we’ve tried that have worked well for us. We would love to hear about your experiences choosing white interior paint colors! Please let us know your thoughts in the comments--and stay tuned for next week’s blog, where we’ll be talking about picking the perfect black exterior paint!
Max Kim-Bee for Country Living,
paint reference photos by The Vintage Round Top,
No. 1450 cottage shot by Haylei Smith,
Eisley cottage color scheme reference shot by Becki Griffin,
Eisley cottage detail shot by Haylei Smith,
Boho cottage flooring detail shot by Natalie Lacy Lange,
Boho cottage detail shot by Haylei Smith.