‘I want to keep it simple.  I just want white.’

As designers, we’ve all heard this before – many, many times.  White is a popular colour (or reflection of light, to be technical) –it’s a safe option for the cautious and wary, a perfect partner for outstanding architecture, and a must-have for avid art collectors. But the selection of the ‘right white’ is rarely straightforward. In this feature, we’ll explore a range of whites and see some pearler examples. 

A pure white can be used to emphasise stunning architectural features with great effect, as demonstrated in the examples below. In both cases, the designers have used the ever-popular Dulux Vivid White on both cabinetry and walls.

In the wrong application, however, pure whites can have some drawbacks in interior applications. With its light-reflective properties, a pure white can be overwhelmingly bright, and a genuine need for sunglasses could compromise your best design intentions! A pure white can also lead to pricey painting touch-ups: when all trades have finished their fit offs and inevitably marked your crisp white walls, your painter will be working hard to get seamless coverage with a virtually un-tinted paint.

A tinted or ‘off-white’ tone, on the other hand, will help you avoid these dilemmas without losing the ‘all-white-vibe’. Following are a few tips for finding the right white for your client.

Determine the Undertone

All colours comprise a ‘mass tone’ and an ‘undertone’.  A mass tone is the colour that you see right away, while an undertone is the characteristic of a hue that is often concealed when the colour is viewed in isolation.  A true blue, for example, will have a mass colour of blue and an undertone very similar in hue.  A turquoise, on the other hand, will have a mass colour of blue and an undertone of green.  The same theory applies to off-whites – while the mass tone is white, the undertone could be red, orange, yellow or brown (warm), green (cool/warm), blue (cool) or black/grey (neutral).  When looking at a colour swatch on its own, it may certainly appear to be white.  Put the same colour alongside another, however, and the effect could be vastly different.  If the undertone of the white clashes with the undertones of hues around it, a ‘safe’ colour scheme can turn bad very quickly!  The easiest way to determine the undertone is to place the selected colour alongside a ‘real’ white (try your brightest copy paper).  You’ll immediately see a faint yellow, pink, blue or other colour, and you’ll have identified your undertone.

When you’ve established the undertone, you can work out which of the following categories the proposed selection fits into, and which will best suit your client’s overall scheme.

Warm Whites

Red, orange, yellow and brown-based whites are best for rooms that need ‘warming up’ (with a southern orientation, for example).  Warm whites sit well with earthy, natural hues, and as they are more inclined to ‘come forward’ in a room (remember warm colours come forward, cool colours recede), they help to create a cozy feel.

Perth designer, Maggie Milligan, nestled White Satin cabinetry amidst Dulux Antique White USA walls in this warm and homely kitchen.

Melbourne designer, Olivia Cirocca, combined the warmth of Dulux Dieskau cabinetry with Dulux Natural White walls in this classy kitchen.

Cool Whites

Blue undertones will make a white appear icy and cool – perfect for west or north-facing rooms that need ‘cooling down’.  They are generally described as ‘crisp and clean’, and suit contemporary styling and minimalistic schemes.

Dulux Lexicon Quarter was applied to the walls and cabinetry in this ultra-cool kitchen by Melbourne designer, Kia Howat.

Dulux Lexicon Quarter cabinetry is crisp and clean in this smart space, designed by Brisbane’s Estelle Cameron.

Neutral Whites

Grey-based whites are popular for their cool, architectural qualities.  When the undertone sits between grey and beige, a warmer effect is created.

Brisbane designer, Ashley Maddison, used Resene Alabaster in this award-winning beauty.

Warm/Cool – Chameleons

Green-based whites will often ‘morph’ with their surroundings.  The green undertone is made up of blue (cool) and yellow (warm), and the colours will change depending on light quality and/or surrounding furnishings.  Of course, a very yellow-green undertone will appear warmer, and a bluish-green undertone will appear cooler, but somewhere in the middle will prove popular for many.

Bonlex Classic White cabinetry sits sweetly alongside Dulux Snowy Mountain half walls in this stunning kitchen by Perth designer, Glenda Roff.

Do you have a favourite go-to white? Have you got a hot tip for finding the right white? Feel free to share your comments below.