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Which White Works?

(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)


The moment I saw my client’s house for the first time, I knew she had placed a lot of thought in each decision she had made. Her walls were graced with carefully chosen art. She had collected a variety of media including a few three-dimensional pieces. There was a modern consistency to her choices and I had the feeling that she very much liked each and every one.


As we went down her written list of questions, we came to the subject of wall color. I suggested one that may not seem very creative. White. The reasoning behind my answer pointed back to her art. Because it made both overall and individual statements, a more pigmented color might detract from their importance.


My client immediately agreed and then asked the question I knew was coming, “Which white?” I taped several samples to the wall that had the best light as it would best reflect the undertones of each. Once a dozen or so were up, we were able to quickly reject a few. I noticed that all the samples my client rejected had yellow undertones. I then moved the remaining samples to another wall and went through the same process. But, without telling her, I added back a couple of the ones that she had rejected. Why? Because the ones she most liked leaned towards grey.


Grey would be okay if her wood floors did not have a strong, yellow stain – which she didn’t like. If we painted the walls one of her favored grey-whites, the floors would look even more yellow. We could avoid this by choosing a yellow-white, instead. Yes, the ones that I snuck back onto the wall were yellow-white (but not too yellow). As the testing and rejecting continued on different walls, I explained that our white should lean warm and away from the grey. She understood this and chose one of the ones I snuck back onto the wall. As we continued testing walls, I’d shuffle the samples. Unbeknownst to my client, she kept choosing the same one on each wall. (I love when this happens). This final winner was Pratt & Lambert’s “White Pearl”.


Her next questions were, “Do we paint all the walls this color?” Yes, because the house was small, open-planned, and art was displayed on every wall. “What color do we paint the trim, doors and ceiling?” Same color to maintain her already clean and modern style. “What sheen do we use?” Eggshell on the walls, flat on the ceiling and semi-gloss on the wood. The same White Pearl would look slightly different with each sheen which would add a nice dimension. “Should there be an accent color on one of the walls?” Perhaps, but let’s put it on a select few ceilings, instead. We chose the two adjoining bathrooms and the master bedroom because they were dark. By painting their ceilings light blue, we would visually lift them - high and distant like the sky.


Such a blue will vary from light to light, house to house, but the goal is always the same. It should border on grey-blue so that it looks natural. In our case, Pittsburg Paint’s “Aster Petal” did the trick.

The colors we chose were clean, soft, and provided a simple backdrop for beautiful, interesting and unique art.

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