A chameleon colour, white can be cool, clinical and starkly modern, or unexpectedly warm and enveloping. “My go-to base palette is always white. It's fresh, bright and works with any design language and style,” says interior designer Lee Talbot of Maven Home. It is the ultimate starting point for an interior that changes with one's mood or the seasons. With a palette of white walls and furnishings, it becomes incredibly easy to transform a room with a simple change of cushions and accessories – from the warm tones of autumn and winter, to an invigorating pop of green or brights to herald the arrival of spring. “White can be the constant neutral backdrop to your changing style,” says British Paints expert Kelly Magee.
Selecting the right white requires as much thought as any other colour. Rachel Lacy, colour category manager for Taubmans, explains, “The material in paint that makes a coating white is titanium dioxide. It makes whites appear ‘white' because, as light hits the painted surface, it is scattered very evenly by the titanium dioxide particles. A white made up exclusively of titanium dioxide will appear grey in low light conditions, so generally, white has a mix of other colours. The important question is, what direction do you want your white to be heading in?”
Interior designer Victoria Waters says, in general, “Contemporary and coastal homes are better suited to brighter whites. Heritage homes look best with a white with a creamier base colour.” Dulux colour expert Andrea Lucena-Orr says modern builds tend to wear cooler whites – with purple or mauve undertones – better, particularly if they use a lot of greys in their hard finishes. “This is still a personal colour choice as well. You are either drawn to cooler or warmer whites.”
View your preferred whites in situ, as both natural and artificial lighting, plus other colours and finishes, affect how the undertones will be drawn out. “The best way to determine the undertone of a white is to compare white swatches together,” says Andrea. “Place a few colour chips together and it won't take long before you notice slightly red/pink, blue/grey, green or yellow undertones. Leave the sample whites for at least three days, moving them around the room at different times of day, to test against natural and artificial lighting before deciding.”
The next task is to choose another for the trims. “A monochrome scheme really needs to incorporate different hues of white that are easily distinguishable to the eye,” says Rachel. “This can create a lovely layering effect and is one of the more interesting ways to use white, as it gives the different elements in a white room definition and movement.” Opt for a lighter or ‘pure' white for the trims, which will contrast with both cool and warm whites.
An all-white scheme runs the risk of feeling clinical. The solution lies in the other elements you marry with it. “It's all about layering,” says Lee Talbot. “Add depth through texture (tiles, flooring, kitchen finishes), indoor greenery, colour and homewares. Add interest to your walls through VJ panelling or trims. Though the room may be white, this depth and texture will bring character and life to your space.”
A white base can give contrasting hues maximum dramatic impact. “One of my favourite contrast colours for white is black. It suits a contemporary and a classic home,” says Victoria. She also suggests cream and grey as impactful contrast colours. White can also be a licence to let loose with colour in a feature wall, or bold art or furniture. “Once you've chosen your ‘whites' scheme, choose a colour that will complement your tonings from existing soft furnishings, or perhaps a favourite painting for an accent wall,” says Andrea. She suggests a bedroom as the easiest place to experiment.
“In a neutral or white scheme, lighting plays an important role and can create dramatic shadows and space in any interior. The perception is that whites can help in emphasising natural light and give an illusion of larger space” Andrea Lucena-Orr Dulux colour expert.
Introduce a maritime theme to an all-white interior using rope, jute and sisal. Give a mirror a nautical look with white paint and a length of rope.
A white palette makes the ultimate serene sleep zone - just add fresh linen sheets!
Layer textiles and soft furnishings in the same monochrome palette but with contrasting textures. Layers of lush foliage perk up the pale hues of a cluster of neutral pots
Bursts of greenery breathe vitality into a muted scheme and bring it to life too.
Warm a white setting with indoor accessories such as throws and rugs.
Head into your local Bunnings to pick up the perfect shade of white paint. If you get stuck on choosing a colour, have a chat to one of our paint experts in-store.
Photo credit: Brigid Arnott
Asbestos, lead-based paints and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber are health hazards you need to look out for when renovating older homes. These substances can easily be disturbed when renovating and exposure to them can cause a range of life-threatening diseases and conditions including cancer. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page.
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