Ask Athena: Athena Calderone on picking the perfect white paint

Athena Calderone is on hand with advice for picking the perfect white paint

athena calderone on picking the perfect white paint
(Image credit: Matthew Williams)

Hi Athena, I’m such a fan! I have both of your books and really enjoy your style as much as the recipes. My question is, how to choose the right white paint for the walls? My windows are not floor to ceiling like yours, but it’s a fairly light house, and the main living space is south facing. 

There are just so many whites and I don’t know where to start—hoping for your recommendations on brands, or types of white to look out for. And what finishes to choose? My furniture is quite dark which is why I want to brighten up the space on the walls. 

Love you!

Meredith

how to choose the right white paint

Athena's white walls in her Brooklyn home

(Image credit: Matthew Williams)

Hi Meredith,

Thank you for your thoughtful compliments. I absolutely love what I do! So, with regard to your query about how to choose the right white paint and the light, this is an amazing question that deserves a detailed answer because you’re not alone. I’m fairly certain that “what is the color white on your walls?” is one of the most requested DM’s on my Instagram. But, here’s the thing—the white that I have will most certainly not work in every space. 

So I love that you mentioned your windows and light because this is the largest factor to consider when choosing a paint color. Not only does the size of your windows affect how the color is experienced, but it’s also the direction of the natural light streaming inward, and what sits outside those windows, too. For example, if there is a lot of greenery outside it will read differently than say if you’re on the coast where surrounding tones are more muted. From the artificial lighting to your décor choices, what’s within your space also has a direct impact on the white hues you choose. 

For instance, if you have a red rug, this will absolutely cast a pink hue onto the walls of the room. Whites are soooo sensitive. You can choose the perfect white paint in the shop, only to find it’s a different color on your wall at home thanks to the constant reflecting and refracting of the light and colors in the space around it. White will absorb everything and anything in its path.  

So, you really do need to get a small sample and try painting a 2’ x 2’ section of your walls first. And not just one wall—a few different walls that get sunlight from varied directions is ideal. A perfect example of this is in my Amagansett living room that has a ton of windows and high ceilings. I wanted a warm white but everything was reading too creamy. Finally, I found the perfect fossil hue but when I painted that same color on my kitchen walls—it has a lower ceiling height and fewer windows—it read a horrible yellow and photographed even worse!

My advice is to look at a range of colors from Farrow and Ball or Benjamin Moore, get out your paint roller, and give it a test on a few walls, checking it at various times through the day—morning, noon, and night. I would also suggest photographing the wall too. For me, that is always super helpful. You may originally be drawn to a warm white but in your space, a cooler one with hints of gray may read just right. You just have to paint, test, and play until you land on the perfect shade. 

Also, for everyone who says I have the “perfect white” on my Instagram, know that I color correct my photos a ton, haha!  So, the white you see is usually brightened and cooled down, and has contrast added, etc. Use your own home as your best case study—it will reveal precisely what you and your room needs!

To Ask Athena a question of your own, email our editor with as detailed a query as possible, on pip.mccormac@futurenet.com. Please note, not all questions can be answered, and no private correspondence can be entered into.

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Athena Calderone
Athena Calderone

Athena Calderone is an award winning author, interiors writer, stylist, designer and curator. She has had her home featured on the cover of Livingetc twice.