Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Don't Default to White

One of the most common and jarring color mistakes I see is the use of plain white paint on ceilings and on interior and exterior trim, apparently without determining whether or not it's a good choice. I'm guessing that these things get painted white by default in the mistaken belief that it's "safe" because it's usually what people do, and finding a wall color they liked was stressful enough. After all, plain white goes with everything, doesn't it? Or does it?

White Ceiling and Trim By Default
Don't get me wrong. I like white, even plain white, when it's used in the right way, with the right wall colors and in the right places. But unfortunately I usually see it used with high contrast and/or neutralized wall colors and with natural materials like granite, wood, stone and tile. It's a combination that's unflattering to all participants because when there's no common color present to tie everything together, what your eyes see is the way they're different, and that sets up the perception that something isn't quite right.

Keeping It Simple: Basic Things to Consider When Choosing a White

Hue Family of the Wall Color

Every color, unless it's pure white, pure black, or white with varying amounts of black added, can be traced to a hue parent (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple). The hue family of your wall color is where you should start to find the right white for the ceiling and/or trim.

Tint, Tone or Shade?

After you identify the hue parent, decide if the color is a tint (hue plus white), a tone (hue plus gray), or a shade (hue plus black).

Think of tints as pastels and tones and shades as neutralized colors. If your wall color is a tint, avoid the neutralized whites. If your wall color is a tone or a shade, avoid the tint whites. Fortunately, clear, bright tint colors are easy to spot when you're standing in front of the displays at the paint store, helping you to stay in the right area when you're looking for a white that will work.

For example, if you use a neutralized member of the yellow family (a tone or shade) on the walls, look for a neutralized white from the yellow family for the trim. If you have a tint yellow on the walls, use a white tinted with yellow for the trim. If your wall color is a neutral such as a taupe that looks like a green/brown combination, your off-white trim should have at least one of these components.

This isn't the only approach to choosing a white,  just a way to keep it simple.

How Much Contrast?

Deciding how much contrast you want between the ceiling, walls and trim should be based in part on how much attention you want to focus on them. With higher contrast colors you need to be sure that that the trim has merit and is attractive and well-proportioned.

A Collection of Boxes
For exteriors this is especially important because treating functional banding boards as trim and painting them in a high contrast color like plain white is very unflattering and undermines the crucial sense of unity and harmony. After all, you don't want your house to look like a collection of boxes... For interior trim, unless it's unusually large and lovely, consider painting the crown and baseboards in the wall color or in a low contrast accent color from the same family to make the room look larger. 

LRV (Light Reflectance Value)

If you've decided to have white trim, you can choose a white with exactly the right amount of contrast by looking up the Light Reflectance Value (LRV) for your wall color and then for the whites you're considering. 

Paint manufacturers determine the LRV for each color they make by measuring it with a device and numbering the result on a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 being the blackest black and 100 being the most reflective white. An LRV of 50 is the happy medium and the standard for residential interior wall colors. To see contrast between two colors you usually need a difference of at least 7 points. In addition to finding LRV numbers on line at each manufacturer's web site, you can find the values for Sherwin Williams colors on the back of the paint strip and the values for Benjamin Moore colors at the back of the fan deck in numerical and alphabetical order. Comparing LRV values eliminates the need to guess about contrast and is easy to do.

To Sum It Up:

Use plain white for your ceilings and trim only if you love it and after you've done the homework to be sure it works with your wall color. While you're at it, consider branching out by using a color other than plain white. There's a universe of beautiful colors to choose from, and one or more of them is probably a much better choice.