THE 3 BEST SHADES OF WHITE FOR NORTHERN EXPOSURES
If you’ve ever tried to pick paint colours for a north (or south) facing room, you’ll know what it’s like to want to bang your head against a wall, chug a vat of wine like a Viking and scream at the world, begging for friggin’ MERCY. However, once you understand what your north-facing room needs, you’ll find it easier to create a welcoming and well-balanced space.
But guess what? White paint colours aren’t that hard to pick when you have a lil Ginger in your back pocket (I pinch upon request). While you might see hundreds of whites on display, most of these can burn in a pit of disappointment, because that’s how you’ll feel if you use them in your home. Truth be told, there are only a SMALL HANDFUL of white paint colours that are worth looking at – okay, maybe two handfuls (which is what Tim calls me).
But before we get into which whites are best, let’s do a little refresher on exposures. Remember, I’m not just here to show you what you can do via pretty pictures, I’m here to TEACH you how to make the best choices for you and your home! And I know there are many of you with south, east or west-facing rooms or rooms with multiple exposures – don’t worry, we’ll be talking about these in another blog post. For the sake of brevity, sanity and limited attention spans, we’re going NORTH!
(In the meantime, I have a variety of blog posts on the other exposures HERE)
- Have a gray cast, and because EVERY GRAY HAS UNDERTONES, we aren’t surprised to see a subtle blue here and there.
- Are the COOLEST looking room in a home. And I don’t mean cool like ME in Converse and skinny jeans, I’m talking COLD like Tim’s ex-girlfriend’s heart.
- Don’t get any sun throughout the day. Even if a northern room gets a secondary hit of south/east/west, it’s the DOMINANT northern exposure calling the shots.
- Can look more flat and dull compared to rooms with hits of sunshine, especially if the amount of natural light is limited.
This is a great example of a north-east facing room with a warm white paint colour, and it should be great – it’s our old house!
THE MANY TYPES OF WHITE PAINT COLOURS
What’s the difference between a good white and a bad white? (I prefer Pinot Gris myself.) How do you know which white is right and which white is wrong? And why does it matter – isn’t WHITE WHITE? HELLLLS no.
There are 5 MAIN TYPES OF WHITE. However, for this blog post, we’re focusing on THREE in particular – cool, true and warm. If you aren’t quite sure which type of white you’re hoping to use, you may want to read this blog post before you go any further. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!
Now, starting with COOL white paint colours…
COOL WHITE PAINT COLOURS IN NORTH-FACING ROOMS
If you paint a room that has northern exposure a COOL white paint colour…
1. the room will look even colder than it already does; you’re giving it a double-whammy (not to be confused with Tim’s favourite Friday night move, also called ‘the double-whammy’)
2. the cool light can glorify any cool undertones in your white paint colour
I mean, each to their own, but DAMN THAT’S GONNA LOOK COLD!
Now, you might be hoping to see photos of my north-facing client’s homes painted in cool whites, but I don’t have many. Why? Because I RARELY advise it. And if I do, it’s for a pretty specific reason. For example, I have a client who wanted a ‘whole home’ white paint colour, and because her home is primarily SOUTH-facing, we chose the cool white look of Benjamin Moore Super White. Luckily, the only space in her home that receives north-facing light is the entryway, in which Super White is looking a little lacklustre…
Now, look how different Super White looks in her south-facing dining room…
- Entryway: Super White looks NOT so super white as it picks up a gray cast.
- Entryway: Super White looks more flat and dull.
- Dining room: Super White looks WARMER than its roots suggest via the warmth of the south-facing light. In fact, the cool approach of Super White is adding some balance to the warm southern rays.
- Dining room: Super White looks brighter and more welcoming.
This shows how the same paint colour can look DRASTICALLY different via opposing light sources and why choosing your white carefully MATTERS!
Now, let’s chat about TRUE white paint colours…
TRUE WHITE PAINT COLOURS IN NORTH-FACING ROOMS
Because true whites don’t have an allegiance to being warm or cool, they’ll pick up what their environment is throwing down. This means that in a north-facing room, a true white could look pretty darn cold and look quite similar to a cool white.
Again, you’re not going to see many photos of this application because it’s not usually advised. This doesn’t mean YOU can’t do it, it’s just not a common choice simply because it doesn’t add balance to an already cold-looking room, in fact, it weighs the scales heavily to one side.
As shown in this next room, while Sherwin Williams High Reflective White has a super high LRV and is quite a genuine white, it’s not for every room and usually benefits from a wee bit of sunshine (don’t we all…).
The redeeming feature of true white paint colours in north-facing rooms is that once the sun goes down, you’ll be left with the original white you wanted, a simple one that will be affected by the Kelvins of your interior lighting, which are easier to control.
EXAMPLES OF TRUE WHITE PAINT COLOURS: Read HERE
So, does this mean you should totally avoid cool or true whites in a north-facing room?
No. If you really want a cool crisp look, you might like a clean white or one with a hint of gray or cool undertones to it. And in fact, there is the odd duck who LOVES this look – that cool combination of northern exposure and stark white paint gives an icy, edgy look (I hear Elsa is a big fan).
Sherwin Williams High Reflective White
However, I’ve found that when I have Colour Consulting clients who’re (the apostrophe in that word is important) looking for a nice white for their north-facing room, they’re usually looking to lighten and brighten. They want to add life without adding colour, coldness OR overwhelming warmth. And the BEST way to do this is with THE RIGHT WHITE!
Sherwin Williams Pure White
Are you confused yet? Have another glass.
I love to show RELATEABLE & REAL homes, so ONLY use photos from my Online Colour Consulting clients. This means I don’t always have the quality/range of pics I need, but DEFINITELY have some SUPER helpful info to help you on your way!
What’s the Best White Paint Colour for a North-Facing Room?
Well, if you ask ME (which by the way, you kind of are), the best white paint colours for a north-facing room are WARM WHITES as they help balance the cool light coming in the windows.
Another important note is that cool northern light will STILL LEAN a warm white towards the cooler side of things. This means your warm white won’t look as warm as it would in another room with a warmer exposure.
I’m going to hit that baby one more time…
Cool northern light will still lean a warm white towards the cooler side of things. This means your warm white won’t look as warm as it would in a room with a warmer exposure.
a) the warmth of the white can help balance the cooling effect of northern light, often creating a great happy medium, balancing the scales
b) you have flexibility based on how WARM the white is that you choose – the warmer the white, the more it will counteract the effect of cool northern light
In this next room, Pure White looks considerably warmer in a room with decent southern light…
However, notice how the warmth falls back in a room with cooler lighting…
1. If you don’t like warm whites, choose a white that’s only slightly warm, knowing that the gray-blue of the northern light will cancel out a lot of the warmth, making the walls look cooler in the process, but not ICY cold like a true or cool white would. In the evening, when natural light isn’t in play, you’ll choose the KELVINS you want to get the desired look.
2. If you like warm whites, you might want to lean into a white that’s slightly warmer than not, knowing that the northern light will try to pull it to the cool side. The warmer your white is, the better it will counteract the cool gray-blue light.
Now, the above information is really the meat n’ potatoes of this blog post – are you ready for the GRAVY?
The 3 Best Warm Whites for North-Facing Rooms
Remember, north-facing light WILL REDUCE the warmth of these whites. The warmer your white is, the better it will be at counteracting this.
1. SHERWIN WILLIAMS PURE WHITE SW 7005
I LOVE PURE WHITE – wait, was that my inside voice? Trust me, there are MANY things I say that should be kept inside my head, right Mom? Anyway.
If you’re having a mental battle between WANTING a clean crisp white and understanding that it could hold your room back visually, Pure White could be the PERFECT choice. Keep in mind, you WILL lose a lot of its already passive warmth, but at least it won’t look ICY cold like a true or cool white will.
CHECK OUT THIS WHOLE HOME IN PURE WHITE!
Pure White has an LRV of 84, so while its name might suggest a BRIGHT white, it’s actually a considerably soft one. However, if you’re wanting to actually add some visible warmth to your north-facing room, Pure White MIGHT not be warm enough, in which case, keep on reading…
YOU MIGHT ALSO CONSIDER: Benjamin Moore Oxford White (personally, I think Pure White is WAY prettier)
Click HERE or on the above image to see available packages
2. SHERWIN WILLIAMS ALABASTER SW 7008
Alabaster is a lovely, warm white paint colour. However, if you’re HOPING for ‘legit’ white walls, it’s a bit farther away than the others. This is because Alabaster has an LRV of 82, so it has a bit more meat on its lovely lil bones. And along with this meat is a soft cream base (cream being a yellow colour with neutral added to calm it down).
The reception of my client’s office – Eddins counselling
Alabaster on the cabinets
Alabaster is on the built-ins and fireplace surround
YOU MIGHT ALSO CONSIDER: Sherwin Williams Greek Villa, Sherwin Williams Cotton
Let’s take a quick break to talk about paint samples…
Undoubtedly, you’ll be heading out in the near future to grab paint samples – stop right there! I want you to check out SAMPLIZE. Samplize offers peel and stick paint samples that are more AFFORDABLE, EASIER and more ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY than traditional paint pots. Here are just a FEW reasons why I recommend Samplize to my clients…
- Samples arrive ON YOUR DOORSTEP in 1-3 business days, depending on location
- At $6.99, they’re more affordable than the samples pots/rollers/foam boards that are needing for traditional paint sampling
- If you keep the samples on their white paper, you can move them around the room
Visit the SAMPLIZE website HERE
3. BENJAMIN MOORE WHITE DOVE OC-17
White Dove has an LRV of 85, so it’s well into the white range. However, your walls WILL have a softness to them, especially if you have finishes that are TRUE or COOL whites (these will expose the softness of White Dove). Not sure what LRV is? It could SAVE YOUR PAINT LOVIN’ LIFE – check it out here.
This next room gets an equal balance of north and south-facing light and look at how AWESOME White Dove is at humouring both…
White Dove on trim and upper walls
Now, let’s count what we’ve got there…3 GREAT options to choose from, 6 alternatives. As I mentioned earlier, there are only a HANDFUL of white paint colours that are worth looking at (for ANY room or project). And from this 9, I bet you can narrow it down even further based on how much warmth you want to be left on your walls once the northern light has done its job.
WANT MORE WARMTH?
There’s a good chance that even with the soft warm whites mentioned above, you’re still not getting the warmth you want to see on your walls. If this is the case, you may want to explore the following warm white and cream paint colours…
Sherwin Williams Creamy SW 7012
Creamy is one of my true loves. But FULL DISCLOSURE…I also love Ryan Reynolds, white wine, Moana, Cornuts AND…Creamy is actually an off-white, not a white (just thought I’d slip that in at the end).
That’s right, Creamy is an off-white paint colour which means it has more junk in its truck – junk being in the form of a creamy base. BUT HOT DAMN IT’S PRETTY!
If your room has south-facing or afternoon western sunshine, Creamy could be MORE than you’re looking for – not just in colour, but in depth. However, its lovely creamy warmth is a great way to balance cool light coming in north-facing windows.
Sherwin Williams Dover White SW 6385
Now, if you’re twitching in your seat and REALLY REALLY want a more legit white, the ONLY TRUE or COOL white I’d humour in a north-facing room is…
Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace OC-65
Why Chantilly Lace? Well, she has a pretty face to start with. Chantilly Lace is Benjamin Moore’s WHITEST white paint colour and I like it because it doesn’t NATURALLY cast cold (nor does Sherwin Williams High Reflective White). It WILL be affected by the northern light, picking up some of that gray-blue, but it won’t go as icy as some more traditionally cold white paint colours.
High Reflective White / Super White / Chantilly Lace / Decorator’s White
The EXCEPTION: The north-facing room I WOULDN’T paint white
If you have a north-facing room that has very little natural light, I would NOT paint it white – any white. Why? Well, colour will not come to life without light, so not only will you be fighting the gray of your limited exposure, you’ll be fighting the gray of the shade created due to the lack of natural light.
Cool or true whites can look flat and unwelcoming in a low-light north-facing room. Warm whites can look dingy and chalky. So, what do you do? Seriously, just add a few table and floor lamps and play around with your Kelvins and CRI. This will make the lil Ginger happy and THEN you can pick your fave white paint colour.
Remember, if you have a dark north-facing room and an awesome interior lighting plan (the above photo does), then fill ‘yer boots with any white you like. If you don’t, you MIGHT want to look at colours with more colour or chroma. Adding COLOUR to the walls of a dark north-facing room can be a great way to give it personality and prevent it from looking like a room with only primer on the walls.
So, there you have it! Now, of course, there are MANY more awesome colours to check out, but hopefully, these whites get you pointed in the right direction.
Check out my Online Color Consulting & E-Design packages!
Originally written in 2017, MASSIVELY updated in 2021