I wanted to paint my walls white. How hard could that be? You go to the paint store, buy a few gallons, and slap it on.
So I did that first part: I went to a paint store. I gravitated towards a salesman who resembled the coach of the Boston Celtics.”Um, I’m looking for white paint,” I said helpfully.
The Coach pulled out a, what’s that called, a color wheel? A rainbow spread? There’s a name for that thing that opens up like a fan to reveal 657 different shades of white and throws you into a full on panic attack. (I’ve never responded well to a multitude of choices.)
“Can you narrow it down to the creamy ones?” I asked. The coach licked his fingers and snapped shut a third of the Panic Wheel, leaving me with only about 400 decisions to make. I grew a whiter shade of pale; moisture sprang from my armpits. “Uh, what do most people pick?” I asked, lamely.
“Lady, it’s a personal thing.” The coach checked his watch.
It was too much for me. I started to get that feeling I get at the shoe store when I’ve tried on four pairs and none are good but I feel like I have to buy a pair anyway because I’ve made the man walk to the stock room four times. I needed to abort the paint mission before I felt obliged to buy a gallon of “Winter Dust,” or some other irrelevant color.
I went home and launched a large-scale obsession. I asked for opinions from friends and relatives. I visited my neighbor on the pretext of borrowing a can opener and secured the name of her paint color. I called a hotel where I’d stayed and whose walls I’d admired. I asked the bookseller, the neurologist, the florist, anywhere I saw a good white, I asked someone what it was. I went online, did some social networking, picked the brains of people I do not know.
When I’d finally assembled a group of color candidates, a portion of my dining room wall became a patchwork of samples, which I checked on at different times of day to note changes as the light shifted. I concealed my madness behind a portrait of my great-grandfather, who must have been twirling in his grave.
I also painted the colors on white Bristol board and carried the samples from room to room. I made decisions, booked the painter, panicked and unbooked him. I threw away rejected samples, and then, in a frenzy of uncertainty, re-bought them for another look.
I kept all this activity covert, under my husband’s radar, so he wouldn’t have me committed.
I did eventually make a few selections, and it worked out all right, if not perfectly. (One room suffered through two repaints.) I offer here a list of my top choices of white wall paint (which are really almost-but-not-quite white) from a variety of manufacturers. This will save you weeks of trial and error, time better spent mastering the tango, buying a new garden hose, or writing your congresswoman. (If you do write her, please ask what color she painted her bathroom.)
Benjamin Moore: ($20-$50 per gallon)
I used both “Oatmeal” and “Linen White,” the latter being more yellowy, the former more, well, oaty, but both nice colors. “Swiss Coffee” is another one I have used, which is like white with a little splash of espresso. “Alabaster” as a good B.M. color for trim, also.
Donald Kaufman: ($90 per gallon)
“#28” is a beautiful creamy white my sister-in-law has all over their house. I was too cheap to buy it, but D.K.’s paint is amazing, more like light than paint, so you might want to splurge in a room or two.
Farrow and Ball ($70 per gallon)
This manufacturer makes my favorite colors, all of which have inspiring names. It’s pricey, so I limited myself to using “Matchstick” in my office only, but if I were going to splurge I’d have also gone for “Satin Slipper” or “Clunch,” colors so interesting they inspire conversation.
4. YOLO ($40 per gallon)
If you are in green mode, these paints are non-toxic and low VOC, and “Air.01” and “Air.02” are lovely whites.
5. Restoration Hardware ($32-$36 per gallon)
“Mediterranean White” and “Buttermilk” are good choices here, and “The Right White” is great for trim.