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Last updated: Sat. Apr. 19, 2014 - 09:21 am EDT

White walls? The trick is choosing the right hue

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NEW YORK – So you want to paint a room white. Sounds easy, until you go to the hardware store to buy paint and discover there are dozens of whites to choose from.

Many have familiar yet poetic names that conjure up ever-so-slightly different hues: cream, pearl, vanilla, snow, chalk, ivory, jasmine, bone. But the closer you look, the more confusing the choices are. You want a plain, basic white, but the purest white on the color chart looks a little harsh next to all those soft shades with just a hint of something else — beige, gray, peach, rose, yellow or the palest-ever blue or green.

Often people default to white because they don't want strong colors in their home. But as it turns out, “it's harder to choose white than any other color,” said Sharon Grech, a color design expert at Benjamin Moore Paints.

She says Benjamin Moore alone offers more than 150 whites. “When people are choosing white, I see more people unhappy or making a mistake or being shocked at the color than when they choose other colors.”

And watch out if you go with a pure white untinted by any other hue. Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, which maintains color standards, says “the purity and cleanliness” of the purest whites “can also make them feel very sterile and cold. And you can literally get eyestrain from too much dazzling white.”

More so than with other colors, whites are also more influenced by colors around them, so Grech says it's crucial to try a sample to see how it looks in the room. Buy a pint and paint a 2-by-2-foot board that you can move around your home. “Sometimes the sun hits it one way or another at different times of day, or it looks different against the rug, or you realize it's got a lot of pink in it or green in it,” she said. “It might look totally different in the morning than at night.”

The paint sheen makes a difference too, whether matte — a flat paint — or a shiny high-gloss. One recommended mix is a semi-gloss trim with matte on the walls.


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