When to Use White in Interior Design & How to Pick the Right White

Kim Lewis
by Kim Lewis

Why do designers paint everything white? Why does everyone love white interior design ideas? These questions popped up recently but let me digress for a second.

I used to be the lead designer on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” with Ty Pennington, so I lived and breathed the world of home makeover shows for eight years. It’s tough for me to watch them but I did the other night and the designers painted everything white. But when is it a good idea or a bad idea to paint something white?

Why you shouldn’t paint wood white

When I was in that business, we’d find beautiful wood pieces and the carpenters would always tell us not to paint the wood. I never used to think it was a big deal but since then, I’ve learned a lot about wood. The more that I'm around construction and see the longevity and durability of materials, and its history in architecture, and I’ve learned about the different wood species. Now I know why they say not to paint wood white.

So, I will admit, our home is being painted . . . white! Our trim is stained, and we decided to paint most of it white. That’s because in some rooms there were a lot of different stain colors competing with each other. By the time I layer in tile, floor coverings, furnishings, and other textiles, there would have been too many things going on and it would have been too eclectic.

How to salvage wood

Let me get back to that television show I mentioned. On this television show, they walked into this space and the ceilings were beautiful wood paneling. It’s a type of authentic mid-century modern ceiling that people pay a lot of money to have. And, they were going for a mid-century look, but the designers still chose to paint the ceilings white. I was cringing!

You have to give a space a chance. You can’t just go in there and spray-paint everything white! There are times when you have to salvage the wood. I’ve been in cabins where builders intentionally used 50 species of wood. Getting back to my house, we love wood, but we chose to streamline the number of stains we have throughout the house.

Challenge yourself

I’m grateful for learning about the beauty of wood and wanting to preserve it. And I’d like to challenge myself as a designer to not just go into a space and paint everything white designers out there, let's challenge ourselves to not just go in and paint everything white.

Look at the wood. Consider what species it is, what stain, if it has one, or if it would benefit from a clear coat. Many times by embracing the wood in the space, it pays better homage to the architecture and history of the home or building.

White interior design ideas

How to pick the right white

There is a time and place for white interior design and to paint things white, so let's talk about the color of white. I’ve been with homeowners many times that can’t tell the difference between white colors. Yes, there are indeed 50-plus shades of white! It is very hard to pick the right shade of white.

First, look at the white you’re choosing in the space that you’re painting. Look at it in the daylight, look at it at night. Look at it in the artificial light in the room. It all matters–what side the sun comes into the room and when because the hues will all be different.

My favorite whites

Here is the white we used in our home. I feel like I’m giving away a secret, but here goes: It’s a newer color called High Reflective White-SW 7757 from Sherwin-Williams. This white is the most pure white that I have found in interior paint recently.

I used to love Extra White-SW 7006 from Sherwin-Williams. We used to use a lot of Snowbound-SW 7004 and Alabaster-SW 7008 on the television show.

How to pick the right white

But look at these three whites right here. This is what I mean when I say there are 50 shades of white. These were my go-to’s and the paint we just used for my house. But look at the different hues, and you can tell in a card when you're picking paint by going up and down, you can see the hues.

Extra White looks more blue. The High Reflective White goes just a little bit warmer. Then another white may be a little more beige or warmer and not so pure.

Consider a lime wash

Here’s another trade secret. I’m considering doing a lime wash. A beautiful lime plaster can take a white wall up so many levels. It is beautiful. It looks European. It looks authentic. It almost feels like it has a concrete vibe, but it's lime plaster.

It is also more expensive than just regular white paint. But it’s perfect for a feature room where you really want the walls to feel very warm and inviting.

Using white in interior design

So please, consider leaving some elements of wood in a home. Unpainted wood adds a layer of depth, warmth, texture, history, and gives you a natural environment.

I really want to hear your feedback. Have you seen what I'm talking about? Do you see this when you're watching television and you think, why is everything being painted white when the wood is so gorgeous? What do you think, please comment!

Join the conversation
3 of 54 comments
  • Maria Tocco Maria Tocco on Oct 09, 2023
    Funny that you mentioned Reflective White. I just painted the interior of my 5th wheel in that same color and it made my Oak cabinets pop. I love that color! I added Gray White curtains and wow!!
  • Patricia Patricia on Dec 07, 2023
    I am also not a fan of all white. I like wood furniture and unless it's in bad condition, I never paint it. Those all white kitchens are boring and lack personality. I'm getting ready to do a major overhaul on my house and there won't be much white involved at all. There is a beige dining room in this redesign post that is very, very boring, even after their "makeover".
    • Ald47693220 Ald47693220 on Apr 21, 2024
      A color that seems to be boring to me might be another person's choice. White is the only color you can decorate and every other color matches in, I have my kitchen walls and cabinets white and will not have any other color as white brings you light specially if you have a smaller space, I have decorated it with black trims, black appliances, looks guests inviting and stunning, I wish we were allowed to post pictures, any color of your choice is how you decorate it, I am a bright color girl :)