You might think 50 sounds like a lot of shades of white, but actually, it’s more like 500. One of the craziest and most unexpected discoveries I made when I began selecting paint for clients is just how many versions of white exist. I had no idea that when asked to “pick a white,” the task was more than a simple exercise. Instead, I found myself in the scene from “Forest Gump” where Bubba lists every shrimp dish he knows.

By “white,” do you mean…

From the Sherwin-Williams color deck alone, “white” includes Pearly White, Dover White, Pure White, Spare White, Extra White, Reserved White, Ilbis White, Zurich White, Origami White, Westhighland White, Arcade White, Toque White, Shoji White, Egret White, Frosty White, Incredible White, Everyday White, Eider White, Extra White, Moderne White, Ethereal White, Site White, Windfresh White, Honeyed White, Summer White, Navajo White, Décor White, Dreamy White, Polite White, Intimate White, Smart White, Original White, Aged White, High Reflective White, Welcome White, Gauzy White, Panda White, Divine White, Nice White and Welcome White.

The tip of the iceberg

And then, there’s…Snowbound, Alabaster, Casa Blanca, Muslin, Neutral Ground, Greek Villa, Ice Cube, Fleur de Sol, Crushed Ice, First Star, Rock Candy, Cultured Pearl, Rhinestone, Pediment, White Heron, Natural Choice, City Loft, Nuance, Whitetail, Roman Column, Marshmallow, Steamed Milk, Nacre, Paperwhite, Eggwhite, Medici Ivory, Crisp Linen, Biscuit, Downy, Patience (No, really!)  Crème, Polar Bear, Rarefied Air Casa Blanca, Intricate Ivory, Futon, Muslin, Choice Cream, Vanillin, Lotus Pod, First      Star,  Only Natural, Gardenia,  Ionic Ivory, Topsail, Nonchalant White, Opaline, and Snowdrop.

Now for the takeaway

The reason for all these whites is not because paint manufacturers want to make design folks run screaming from their studios. Rather, the variety relates to color theory and choosing a color that works best within your palette. Shades of white may be subtle, but they make a difference.

Let’s say your color scheme is based on a peacock blue as the primary color. You choose accent colors in your scheme that are analogous (colors next to each other on the color wheel.) A white with an undertone of blue would harmonize perfectly with the similar hues of purple and lavender-gray. (See Scheme A.)

On the other hand, if you choose to pair your peacock blue with colors that are complementary (colors opposite each other on the color wheel), a white with an undertone of yellow-orange would work brilliantly with the energy of your orange and yellow accents. (See Scheme B)

Scheme A

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From left to right: Ceiling Bright White SW7007 paired with your schemes’ primary color, Silken Peacock SW9009 and analogous accent colors of Plummy SW6558 and Quest Gray SW7080

Scheme B

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From left to right: Paperwhite SW7105 paired with Silken Peacock SW9009 and complementary accent colors Emotional SW6621 [orange] and Daffodil SW9091

Add, not detract

A successful white should add, not detract from the color story you want to tell. In the above color scenarios, using the grey-ish Ceiling Bright White of Scheme A as the “white” for Scheme B could cause a detour from your desired effect.

So the next time you need to pick a white for your room’s window trim, ceiling or blinds, you may want to take a little extra time. And have a little of my favorite Sherwin-Williams white:

Patience SW7555

white paint swatch



* All colors and photos courtesy of Sherwin-Williams,

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