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The Incredible Decorating Power of White Paint

White paint is “an incredibly powerful tool,” says executive decorating director Kevin Sharkey. “It gives you lots of possibilities—but don’t assume that it’s mistake-proof.” It’s still very much a color, and choosing just the right one can be a challenge. When you’re looking at swatches in the paint store, they can all start looking the same. Try holding them up against a piece of plain paper to better gauge their tones. Here are a few favorites—inspired by vintage china—and tips on using them.

Photography by: Bryan Gardner

Creamy Whites

These golden-tinged hues bring a sunny glow to any room. Off-white tones, reminiscent of creamware dishes, are very livable—they’re bright and pretty. They are very comfortable in a somewhat traditional setting, as they coordinate well with the colors and materials often found in rooms decorated that way.


1. RL 1029 Priory White, by Ralph Lauren,


2. WC-07,


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Bright Whites

Like luminous milk glass, these whites are fresh and clean. They tend to appeal to those with a more modern sensibility, given that they create a graphic contrast to whatever other colors they’re paired with. Most hues go well with bright white, and we love it on a home’s exterior in particular—it can stand up to everything around it in an outdoor setting. Don’t think of these pure whites as “basic.” In fact, they can be hard to work with. They don’t hide anything, so imperfections in your wall or wood surfaces will show.


3. Ultra Pure White, by Behr,


4. All White,


Black-and-White Rooms

Oyster Whites

The diplomats of the paint world, oyster shades—which call to mind salt-glaze pottery—help others get along. They may be the ultimate neutrals, good with gray, beige, and almost every other color in the rainbow. A coat of oyster paint also somehow manages to hide imperfections and highlight fine features: Use it on intricate decorative plasterwork or woodwork, and the play of light and shadow will make the pattern stand out beautifully. Thai used Benjamin Moore’s OC-23 Classic Gray throughout his house.


5. OC-23 Classic Gray,


6. Marquee Statuesque MQ3-23u, by Behr,


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Blue Whites

White shades with a hint of blue are soothing and calm. They’re also very versatile: People tend to think of them as traditional, because that’s the way they’re often used, but they can also be very clean, contemporary, and youthful. Bluish whites have more “color” than some other whites, so be careful about what you pair them with; they play beautifully with grays and greens. The cool white of ironstone was our jumping-off point for these colors, though we skewed a bit more blue.


7. SW7056 Reserved White,


8. 26-1 Smoke Ring,


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