White might seem the easy choice when it comes to interiors but finding the right shade isn't always simple. Properly used, white can make a room feel calm, inviting and more spacious. Its use might even make the house easier to sell. But it can make a home feel … well … neutral. A nice place to live but not necessarily a place that inspires any great emotion. White walls can also feel cold.
The antidote is layering. Consider painting walls, trims, doors and ceilings a different white, preferably all in the same tonal family. Colour-swatch fans or strips tend to make this easy. Simply choose a main shade for the walls and lighter or darker shades in the same section for the rest. You will get a more sophisticated effect if you can run your ideas past a colour consultant (most paint brands offer them) since an expert will be able to push your choices a little, especially to get a more dramatic contrast between walls and trims. But, even if this service isn't available to you, the colour fans will help since all the colours on the strip are variations of the same formula (or very close to it), sharing the same undertones in different intensities.
As a general rule, whites and neutrals with a grey-green undertone are great for classically styled homes, especially when matched with a strong white (rather than off-white) for the ceiling and trims, etc. Be mindful of rooms that don't get much natural light, however, since the green will show up stronger in shadowy areas.
A white with a pinkish undertone is the best bet for rooms that get less daylight, as they will make the room feel cosier. This category of whites also goes well with natural materials such as stone and wood, and is a good option if you want a slightly earthier, natural plaster-type look for the walls. Choose your trim colours carefully though, favouring brighter or more contemporary whites instead of yellow- or pink-based. For example, if your doors/ceiling, etc lack contrast with the walls, the overall effect can look a bit stale.
Yellow-based neutrals are easy to live with as they are warmer than other whites. Too strong, however, and the creamy-yellowness of them won't feel that crisp. If you really want a stronger, happier shade on the walls you might be best actually going for a clean yellow rather than white. Yellow-based whites aren't particularly fresh-looking but they are good at enhancing sunny rooms, making them feel warmer and even more welcoming.
Contemporary whites edge towards very pale greys. To stop them from being too stark, they might also have a soft lilac or blue undertone to them. These shades work well in large rooms because they have a milkiness that's both modern and calming. They also provide the fresh look suited to contemporary, open-plan homes.
Image: All colours by Dulux. (Wall right): Flooded Gum; (wall left) Terrace White; (wall rear) Mornington Half.
Choosing paint and furnishings in different tones from the same colour family (e.g. neutrals) will make a room feel soothing. Ensure you also layer pattern and texture to add greater depth and visual interest.