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Monday, March 24, 2014

Choosing a White Paint Color Is Harder than It Seems

Our old home was "super white"!

I've always been a fan of Benjamin Moore Paint. My previous apartment pictured here was painted BM "Super White" and I loved it. That space, though, was spare and ultra modern. For our new home I also wanted a white, but not that same stark "art gallery" white. Our new home was built in 1946 and it has a real mid-century appeal that I would like not just to bring out but to honor. 

Our new place has an eastern exposure, which makes it super bright in the morning, but by night the walls take on a distinctly blue cast in shadow. So, I've been researching the affects of exposure on wall color when choosing paint and there's not a whole lot out there. What information there is tends also not to be so decisive.

From what I gather, if you have a southern exposure, almost any color white will look good. Western exposures are also pretty forgiving. But experts on color are divided when it comes to eastern exposure. Some say go with a white that has blue undertones - don't fight the shadows. Others say go warmer to off set the bluish tinge most paint colors will take on, even in bright eastern light.

What is a humble non-color-expert to do?

I looked at the BM whites in the two categories, cool and warm. I had heard about the interior decorator favorites: Dove white and Decorator White. So I collected a sample of each of those.

While googling white paint colors, I came across a paint brand I hadn't heard of before: Farrow and Ball. A British paint company with a small but very appealing line of colors, all with very picturesque names. Initially it was these names that piqued my interest. Cornforth White, after the famous British architectural historian. Blackened, a white with just a touch of black - um, that would be gray to you and me. That touch of black is said to give this white a blue-gray cast in certain lights. That sounded promising! 

Both colors are listed as whites in their brochure. I stopped by the F&B shop in Manhattan and collected samples of both, then brought all my paint colors to the "job site" in Queens. Once I had them on the wall I have to say that neither of the Farrow and Ball colors looked white to me; they both looked distinctly gray, especially next to the Benjamin Moore whites. Of the two F&B colors, I fell in love with Blackened, which has an etherial silver cast.

Farrow and Ball Blackened, BM Decorators White, BM Dove White, Farrow and Ball Cornforth White

Cornforth and Blackened against Benjamin Moore "White" trim

Is it that Farrow and Ball are ingenious marketers of their paint colors or that an English major and Anglophile like myself is just a sucker for the names?  (Who can resist a name like Churlish Green? )

The other white colors also have delicious names. Dimpse, Match Stick, White Tie, Wevet.

Blackened is like salt blackened by pepper:

Matchstick does indeed look like the stump of a match pulled from an old fashioned matchbook.

White Tie, is like the corners of old money. Wevet is nothing if not cobwebby.

And Cornforth, named for the architectural historian who documented the great homes of England - a la Downtown Abbey!

I was praying that Cornforth would look great on my walls so that I would have an excuse to use it and get to say it every day. ("Oh, the wall color, that's Cornforth White".) But it was Blackened that won out. 

I was all set to hand my contractor the Farrow and Ball color to pick up. ...Then I did some research into the preparation for using Farrow and Ball colors. And I was dismayed. This paint seemed to require several coats of special primers and preparation. The website says it is formulated for old world plaster walls. My walls are plaster, but are they "old world"? Perusing contractor forums revealed issues with dry times and with bubbling. U.S. contractors seemed to unanimously disdain it, yikes.

It was rather intimidating, really.

My renovation plan with my contractor did cover painting. But it didn't stipulate special primers and preparation. What if in the 11th hour the paint bubbled or refused to dry, a big complaint in the forums I perused? What would I do then? Hold up the timeline and paint again?

I didn't have a lot of time to dither. Henry needed the paint colors this week in order to secure the subcontractor's time window.

I decided to go with Benjamin Moore paint, my tried and true. However, sleeping on it that night, I could't get Blackened out of my mind. It's silvery magic was calling me. This gray-white felt true to my home, the color my walls needed.

When I woke up the next morning, I called my favorite BM paint store and told the paint clerk my dilemma. And he said the magic words I was longing to hear: We can reproduce some Farrow and Ball colors.

I was in luck! Blackened was one. And it turned out to be perfect. To my eye, it's more a gray, especially when it's next to a true white such as Benjamin Moore White, which we have on our trim. 

As to the eastern exposure, the walls look gray, almost white, in the morning. Here is our living room on a bright winter morning. 

"Blackened" by morning

Looks more bluish in the afternoon. See how blue the wall on the right looks, while the wall in the back is still gray? It's almost as if it is two different colors in the same room! 

"Blacked" in the afternoon - winter sun

And by night the walls have an almost violet cast.

"Blackened" at dusk

Update: Given all the nuances of white, I was not at all surprised when Benjamin Moore chose a white as their "color of the year 2016." Simply White is a very neutral white:

Benjamin Moore
"Fresh as the first snowfall, this clean, crisp, multi-purpose white is a perennial favorite for trim, ceilings, and walls."