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Paint It White: Which White?

Jun 21, 2008
I wanted to paint my walls white. How hard could that be? You go to the paint store, buy a few gallons, and slap it on.

I did that first part: I went to a paint store. But when I told the salesman I needed white paint, he pulled out that color chart that opens up like a fan to reveal six hundred different shades of white and throws you into a full on panic attack. (I've never responded well to a multitude of choices.)

"Can you narrow it down to, say, the creamy ones?" I asked. The salesman licked his fingers and snapped shut about a third of the Panic Wheel, leaving me with only about 400 decisions to make. I grew a whiter shade of pale and moisture sprang from my armpits. Clearly this was too much for me.

I went home and launched a large-scale obsession. I asked friends and relatives for their thoughts on white paint. I visited my neighbor on the pretext of borrowing a can opener and secured the name of her paint color. I called a hotel where I'd once admired the bedroom walls. I asked the bookseller, the neurologist, the florist, anywhere I saw a good white, I asked someone what it was. I went online, did some social networking, picked the brains of people I do not know.

When I'd finally assembled a group of color candidates, the wall of my dining room became a patchwork of samples, which I checked on at different times of day as the light shifted.

I also painted the colors on white Bristol board and carried the samples from room to room. I made decisions, booked the painter, panicked and un-booked him. I threw away rejected colors, and then, in a frenzy of uncertainty, re-bought them for another look.

I kept all this activity covert, under my husband's radar, so he wouldn't have me committed. I did eventually make a few selections, and it worked out all right, if not perfectly. (One room suffered through two repaints.)

I offer here a list of my top choices of white wall paint (which are really almost-but-not-quite white) from a variety of manufacturers. This will save you weeks of trial and error, time better spent mastering the tango, buying a new garden hose, or writing your congresswoman. (If you do write her, please ask what color she painted her bathroom.)

Benjamin Moore ($20-$50 per gallon)
I used both "Oatmeal" and "Linen White," the latter being more yellowy, the former more, well, oaty, but both nice colors. "Swiss Coffee" is another one I have used, which is like white with a little splash of espresso. "Alabaster" is a good B.M. color for trim, also.

Donald Kaufman ($90 per gallon)
"#28" is a beautiful creamy white my sister-in-law has all over their house. I was too cheap to buy it, but D.K.'s paint is amazing, more like light than paint, so you might want to splurge in a room or two.

Farrow and Ball ($70 per gallon)
This manufacturer makes my favorite colors, all of which have inspiring names. It's pricey, so I limited myself to using "Matchstick" in my office only, but if I were going to splurge I'd have also gone for "Satin Slipper" or "Clunch," colors so interesting they inspire conversation.

YOLO ($40 per gallon)
If you are in eco-friendly mode, these paints are non-toxic and low VOC, and Air.01 and Air.02 are lovely whites.

Restoration Hardware ($32-$36 per gallon)
"Mediterranean White" and "Buttermilk" are good choices and reasonably priced, and "The Right White" is great for trim.
About the Author
Jessica Harper is a Hollywood-based actor/singer/sonwriter/author whose website, jessicaharper.com , features musings and tips on many of life's pleasures and curiosities.
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