We love bright clean white paint colors, but they can look dreary in dark rooms. Since we published the post on “Our 5 Favorite Benjamin Moore Whites (and how to use them)”, we had lots of questions about white paint colors for dark rooms. This post shares our favorite whites for dark rooms and how to pick them.
We recommend warm white paint colors for darker rooms – either whites with strong yellow undertones, or light neutrals (LRV 70-75) with contrasting white ceilings and trim. Light neutrals such as BM Classic Gray, BM Pale Oak or BM White Duck read like creamy whites, and should be paired with a lighter white ceiling and matching white trim for contrast.
Which white paint colors DON’T work in darker rooms?
Don’t pick bright whites or clean whites as wall colors, though they work well as ceiling and trim colors when paired with the best wall colors in dark rooms.
White colors strong blue undertones such as SW Extra White, BM Decorator’s White, or BM White Diamond. They will look good as a ceiling or trim color.
BM Chantilly Lace, BM Oxford White, and SW High Reflective White are clean whites that make great ceiling and trim colors, but not wall colors in a darker house.
White colors with pink or taupe undertones such as SW Snowbound, BM Cloud White sometimes work but should be tested first.
Why can’t I paint a dark room bright white?
The most counterintuitive tip is that you need lots of light for a crisp white paint to look good. If you have a dark room, white gets shaded in the corners and turns into a dingy gray.
Bright whites are like a mirror. They can reflect the grass in your backyard or your neighbor’s red siding. WAR STORY: I painted my bright South facing Laundry Room SW Extra White. It looked glorious until the house went up next door and blocked the light. The house next door was green, and then so was that room. Photos can’t describe how awful it was.
If your room is north facing, the light can be blue, which gives your whites a blue cast.
If you have earthy finishes such as granite countertops, an adjacent blue-white or clean white can look fluorescent. Use warm whites in rooms with earthy finishes.
One more thing… we do not recommend that you try to paint match these Benjamin Moore paints with Sherwin-Williams, Behr, or any other manufacturer. Paint color formulas are difficult to duplicate, and whites are especially hard to get right. Read more about paint matching here. White paint colors such as Classic Gray and Pale Oak are especially hard to duplicate.
Are there exceptions to this rule?
Absolutely! Since we originally wrote this article, we have discovered that white paint colors with lots of yellow in them also work very well in a darker room. The best examples are BM Simply White and BM Snowfall White. Both these colors have heavy yellow undertones in them. BM Simply White.
We originally included BM White Dove, which also works incredibly well because it is not only a darker more pigmented color, but it also has yellow undertones.
What are the best white paint colors for dark rooms?
These warmer white paint colors will still read like a white in a darker room. Trust us! No matter what, we always recommend that you test your paint colors IN THE ROOM.
Classic Gray, OC-23
We use Benjamin Moore Classic Gray over and over in our practice, and it’s one of my favorites. Read our Classic Gray Color Review here.
This is a very light greige with green undertones that sometimes flash violet (LRV=75). It’s a light color but with enough substance that will make it look good in a room with low light. Use lighter whites such as BM Chantilly Lace or BM Oxford White for ceiling and trim. In the photo below, we paired BM White Dove for the ceiling (Flat sheen) and trim (Satin or Semi-Gloss sheen). We don’t recommend a monochromatic palette with Classic Gray as ceiling, wall and trim color because it will look dingy.
We updated this gorgeous Open Concept area with Classic Gray, and it looked like a new house. The home was surrounded by trees and other houses and had few windows.
Less stuff always makes a home look and feel brighter. The space was also decluttered by Minimal Makeover in Boulder, Colorado for a more expansive feel.
Pale Oak, OC-20
A friend of mine once said that Benjamin Moore Pale Oak (LRV=70) is like a warm hug for your room, and she was right! Pale Oak is a soft white paint with warm taupe undertones. This paint color is exceptional if you have lots of trees, shrubs, and greenery outside your window. Pair it matching white ceiling (Flat) and trim (Satin or Semi-Gloss). The bathroom below has BM ale Oak paint on the walls and BM Chantilly Lace for the trim. We don’t recommend a monochromatic palette with Pale Oak as ceiling, wall, and trim color because it will look dingy.
White Dove, OC-17
Benjamin Moore White Dove is a lovely grayed-out white paint color, and also a favorite for trim. Learn more about BM White Dove here. White Dove (LRV=85) also works great because it has yellow undertones. BM Swiss Coffee (LRV=84) is also a great choice, and slightly warmer than White Dove. The room below is painted White Dove on walls, ceiling and trim with shifting sheens. It works because White Dove is a lighter white.
We like to use a warm white paint such as White Dove to cool the tile with dated earthy finishes. This white paint color ties in well with the earthy tile and makes it look intentional. It pairs well with old-fashioned beige tile with pink undertones as in the bathroom below.
Here is a great photo of White Dove in a basement. In this case, we painted trim, walls, and ceiling the same color, but with shifting sheens. This photo was taken in a basement with west-facing windows and natural light. It still looks amazing and bright. Even though it has tons of yellow in the undertones, you can’t see that here.
Ballet White, OC-9
I used Benjamin Moore Ballet White in this Zen Bedroom specifically because the window had cool North Facing light and a great big evergreen pine tree outside. Ballet White (LRV=73) was creamy and beautiful and perfect. The warmth and red in the paint counteracted the green from outside. This is also a great paint color for homes with earthy finishes such as granite. The ceiling was painted BM Chantilly Lace, which created a PERFECT contrast. We don’t recommend a monochromatic palette with Ballet White as ceiling, wall and trim color because it will look dingy.
White Duck SW 7010
Gorgeous SW White Duck saved the day in the main floor of my new home. The common areas have lots of windows, but they face east and I have a roof cover over my back porch. The SW Extra White ceiling and trim color provide contrast to brighten the room.
The light is bright in the afternoon, and dark after 1:00 PM. The builder originally painted the walls with Sherwin Williams Agreeable Gray, and this beautiful paint color made my home look like a jail.
A couple of coats of White Duck, and it looks light and bright and lovely! Since then we have painted the same kitchen BM Simply White, which I also love.
Simply White (OC-117)
I added Benjamin Moore Simply White after I wrote this article. According to the rules of color selection, you should never use such a light color in a dimly lit room, but somehow it shines like a beacon because of its strong yellow undertones. When we first tried it in a house with low light (at the request of the homeowner), we didn’t believe it, but it worked. Since then we have experimented a lot, including in my house. I painted my kitchen (shown with White Duck above) Simply White. Below I show the attached open concept living room with Simply White walls and an Extra White ceiling.
Originally it was painted SW Agreeable Gray, which looked dingy. Next, we repainted with SW White Duck (as shown in the kitchen above), which looked nice. The final version is BM Simply White walls. Which one is better? I leave it to personal preference they both look lovely.
Learn more about Simply White in the detailed Simply White Paint Color Review with LOTS of natural light photos to show how the color behaves in low light, brighter light, and artificial light.
Snowfall White 2144-70
We used BM Snowfall White for this small house with West facing exposure and tons of trees in the summer. It still looks light and airy, and not Yellow. It’s almost as if the cool light neutralizes with the warm yellow undertones. This photo was taken with natural light, and the shadows in the corners are minimal. The room looks warm and bright and airy. Read more about this color in our Snowfall White Color Review.
What is the easiest way to test your paint colors?
We always recommend that you test paint colors in your house because lighting can change a color completely. In the old days, this meant we painted a large poster board with sample pots and a huge mess.
Now we have SAMPLIZE, 9X14″ Pre-Painted peel-and-stick paint samples. They are EASY to use, AFFORDABLE ($5.95/ea.), and ECO-FRIENDLY – no messy painting or cleanup without half-used paint samples in your back closet, and they can deliver the NEXT DAY!
Check out the SAMPLIZE website HERE.
If you want the modern look of white walls and you have lower light conditions, consider a warmer white paint color. It will read white without the shadows and reflection that you would get from a clean white or blue undertone paint color.
(1) White Duck, SW 7010, (2) Classic Gray, BM OC-23, (3) Swiss Coffee, BM OC-45, (4) White Dove, BM OC-17, (5) Pale Oak, BM OC-20, (6) Ballet White, BM OC-5, (7) Simply White, BM OC-117, (8) Snowfall White, BM 2144-70
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We love your comments! Please note that the blog is meant as general advice, and it is not possible to give out specific answers to your paint questions. If you want more specific advice, please consider purchasing a color consultation. Thank you for your understanding.