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Mixing Shades of White in Decorating

by | Mar 5, 2015 | Color, Decorating Inspiration, my house, My Kitchen

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Mixing Shades of White in Decorating

Do you love white cabinets, woodwork and tile? I do! White can be so fresh and pretty, but sometimes it can come off as bland, clinical and uninteresting! I’m sure none of us want that, so I think it helps to understand how to use white so you are able to get the result you are hoping for. Today I’ll try to answer at least one of those perplexing questions about using white effectively! I’m not a color expert, but I definitely can share what I’ve found from my own experience.

Obviously, there are a million shades of white. I know it can be kind of overwhelming to choose just one when there are so many options from bright white to cream! And even once you finally pick your first white, where do you go from there? Should every white you add to your home from then on match?

It is probably no surprise that one of the FAQ readers ask about my house is if I try to match whites! It’s such a great question that I decided it deserves its own post. The short answer is … no! I don’t match colors or whites. I actually intentionally use many shades of white in my house for a few reasons.

One reason for a variety of whites is it would drive me crazy to have to match everything! It’s hard to have a house that evolves in a gradual way if everything has to match. I want to be free to add in whatever fun accessories come my way, and not be limited or worry whether it’s the exact color match. I also just happen to like the warmth that is created when there are slight variations in color tones whether they are whites or colors. It seems that the more you mix shades in your color palette, the less it seems to matter that nothing really “matches” perfectly.

Mixing Shades of White in Decorating

So in my kitchen, my tile is a soft white but it reads pretty bright white. My counters are white quartz. The cabinets are Benjamin Moore Dove White, which can appear to be white but next to a bright white they are more of a creamy white. When the tile and the cabinets meet up with the counters, we have three whites and none of them match perfectly.

Then I do the unthinkable and add in white dishes, accessories and books and none of them match either. And oh! Look at that. There is a bright white mixer on the counter too. And then my iPad and rolling pin want to join the party too. AHH! Fortunately, the more white I add in, the less it seems to matter that they don’t all match. In fact, if they DID match, I’m afraid it would probably be a bit boring and one dimensional. Too perfect just isn’t quite as inviting, I feel a little more comfortable in a space when there is a little bit of happy imperfection and variety. I think slight variations in shades of whites add some lovely depth and interest to a room.

While I do tend to avoid putting more intense or darker creams and brighter whites together (because the darker creams can end up just looking dirty), slight variations from soft creams to whites seem to look great together. I do have linen colored whites, gray whites, bright whites and soft whites and they all seem to blend in just fine!

I think the trick is to not try to add just one random creamy white in a sea of brighter whites or it will look like the oddball. Keep going and blend many shades of white together! While I prefer to stick with one paint color for cabinets, doors and trim if possible just for consistency and flow throughout the house (although I still haven’t repainted all my trim or woodwork in my house!), as far as I’m concerned I think it looks totally fine to mix in a little variety when you start adding in additional elements such as tile and accessories.

Mixing Shades of White in Decorating

So at your house, are you happier with exact matches or do you like a mix when it comes to whites?


My Kitchen Remodel Sources

Wood iPad Stand

Whale Platter

Many of my favorite cookbooks can be found here

Lower cabinet paint color is Kendall Charcoal by Benjamin Moore

Related Post:

{Shades of Neutral} Gray and White Kitchens: Choosing Cabinet Colors


  1. Tara at Lehman Lane

    Melissa, I like to match various shades of white in my decorating to:). I love the versatility in decorating that white gives me. White is classic! It’s always in style and it blends well with every other color. I love your kitchen and all the white that you have in there! While we don’t have nearly enough shades of white in our kitchen yet I can’t wait to start painting my cabinets white and bringing my white dishes in from the dining room:).

  2. Faith

    I really don’t have much white in my home except for kitchen cabinets and trim work. Most of my walls are creamy but I think that can be somewhat limiting as some hues [on upholstery, accessories, etc.] don’t always fit. Thanks for the helpful hints and the freedom not to worry about matching.

  3. Seana Turner

    I’m glad to be given permission to not worry about matching whites because I agree that it is pretty impossible! I don’t have much white in my house, mostly creams, which I agree can look dirty. A challenge for sure. But this is helpful.. keep it coming!

  4. Stacey

    I like to use variations also. It’s so much less stressful. :)

  5. Rose L

    I just painted my living room and dinning room with a Menards color called Vanilla Wafer, that looks exactly like New York vanilla ice cream paired with bright white ceilings and trim. A stunning combination! I also used Dove White (BM) in my master along with the same bright white on the trim and plan to continue that into the master bath when we remodel in there. I love the soft, subtle change between the two whites, it looks so fresh and clean. In the kitchen I went just a bit more yellow on the walls and again used the same bright white on the trim and cabinets. I agree that using the same color on the trim throughout your home gives a needed continuity. The only thing that I can add to your great tips on pairing whites is to also think about texture. Adding a lot of textural items in white helps to hold it all together and keeps it interesting looking instead of boring and cold. I really prefer to use basic whites on the permanent things in my home…walls, trim, ceilings, cabinets, and large furniture upholstery and go with the colors on things that get changed frequently, chair fabric, accessories, drapes etc. It makes decorating so much easier when you can change out the smaller less expensive things whenever your heart desires and change can be good especially when it’s simple to do.

  6. Jann from Newton Custom Interiors

    Melissa, great tips for working with whites! We recently renovated our house, and I’m loving the painted white woodwork, cabinets and other white elements. I agree that it’s not a good idea to add in cream which can look dirty next to the white.

  7. julia

    Love this post. What is the color of your lower cabinets? I am contemplating doing to darker on the bottom and white on the top but am trying to find the best color combo since it is such a big expense with new cabinets.

  8. Sandra

    I like to mix shades of white also. Personally, I like creamy white in my trim, doors and walls, but love white white in my accessories – like vases, etc. I think brushed nickel or a similar metallic finish looks great with white – like the stainless steel fridge against the white elements in your kitchen. I think it gives it a clean contemporary look. I also love natural wood against white.

  9. Kay

    What a coincidence — as our Dutch colonial project contains lots of whites, none of which match each other perfectly. We chose white cabs for our kitchen + white appliances, + I’ll admit it, I felt a twinge of remorse when I saw the 2 slightly different whites, next to each other. Same situation in the main bath, where the subway tiles are not the same as the wainscoting + vanity. E gads. I forced myself to embrace rather than feel remorse, because the alternative was my going insane! ;-)

  10. Christine

    Where did you get that blue muffin tin with the white interior?? I like white kitchen cabinets because it makes the kitchen look clean. Yours stand out nicely with the gray lower cabinets and that color combo is perfect for where you live. Unfortunately, I am in a rental and can’t do much about my cabinets. So I am going to repaint some of the furniture in my room in shades of white. And I have a wicker shelf in the bathroom I am going to do a creamy off white.

  11. Kari

    I love white on white! Its so clean and relaxing.

  12. Jo

    I love your use of combining whites! The look is very pretty. All our trim is in a light cream that really contrasts with our medium toned jewel colored walls. I dislike the matcha matchy of anything in decor as you lose that ‘collected over time’ look and feel, and feel wall colors should flow well but don’t have to match particularly when it comes to white which you demonstrate beautifully in your home. Our kitchen is the only room where we used bright glossy white in trim , window trim and door ( to laundry room) and it looks gorgeous when viewed together with all the glossy cream trim we have. Love your blog!

  13. Kathy

    Thank you so much for this post. I just recently revamped our kitchen mixing different shades of whites and cream. Then added different shades of white dishes to the open shelving.

  14. Jennifer

    I have so much white in my house that I can relate! It’s always a fine balance of what works and doesn’t. The last thing I would want is my house to feel clinical so I’m always careful to make sure they are warm enough. White can be tough!

  15. Barb

    It’s funny how your blogs seem to know exactly what I’m doing in my house. I’m redoing my master bath and the quartz was the first piece I chose. It’s called sparkling white. I originally wanted something more almond in color but I loved the bits of sparkle and it was cheaper because the tile store had a remnant so I got it. To my surprise once I placed it next to my bright white vanity it looked a little more cream! I was so happy because that now allowed me to do all shades of whites creams and tans. It’s not stark and industrial as I feared. We are definitely on the same page when it comes to our thoughts on decorating with whites!

    • Melissa @ The Inspired Room

      Yay! That’s awesome! And how fun that you are redoing your master bath. I’m so excited to do mine, but I’m not quite ready so I love hearing about others doing theirs!!! Have fun!

      • Julie

        The Master bath is my next big project…no budget for that for awhile as we just did the kitchen…my husband says 5 years…I’m working for 2:). I’ve been poring over kitchens for so long and now am turning to baths. Yours does sound gorgeous Barb! The bright white Quartz sounds so pretty! I like your mix of neutrals which are timeless!

  16. Lisa Mothersead

    I have white kitchen cabinets, a light brownish wall color and countertops, and Sorrento Stoneware in Ivory behind my glass cabinets and on dish holders. I LOVE ivory and white together.

  17. Rae

    With so many whites to choose from I have been delaying our trim project. You mentioned using Benjamin Moore “Dove White”. They have a “White Dove ” or a “Dove Wing” listed. I just need clarification on what color you use. Thanks

  18. Melinda

    I have followed your blog for a long time. It’s great-and thank you for doing it!
    We remodeled/added on to our 1950’s ranch and I wanted a white kitchen. Picking whites was hard, however I landed on the creamy BM white dove and I was off and running. Love how it looks bright white in some light and soft and buttery in other lights. We did a frosty white subway tile and soft gray grout with white, creams grays and blacks counter top. Tossed in a warm wood top island with a contrasting island cabinet, it’s espresso and it looks like the space has always been here. Since we opened up the space to the whole house, I wanted it to feel bright and inviting and it does. We did a linen white on the walls and it is all so warm and happy. Thanks for sharing your whites!!

    • Julie

      Melinda…your kitchen sounds lovely!

  19. Tammi

    I love mixing whites too for several reasons. I think it is more interesting for the eye to see slightly different variations and it so much easier when decorating! I typically use white accents (dishes, vases, etc.) and use white on doors and trim. But I’m getting ready to update my very very old kitchen (think 1920’s ick) and your room is an absolute inspiration — especially the subway tile. Thank you!

  20. Julie

    I have just started to embrace more white. We just completed a kitchen remodel and the cabinets on the perimeter are all in Swiss coffee (white despite its name). Because the kitchen is open to the den I’ve added in a white Moroccan trellis pillow and white throw to pull some white in there. We have a white mantle too. All the trim in our house is in Swiss coffee as well as the doors. We just switched the door hardware from bright brass to matte black. What a difference!! (My dad bless him painted all the handles…we bought the hinges and strike plates). We also painted the cabinets in the kids bath and laundry room Swiss coffee. So much better than the honey oak they were previously. The front room has cream pillows and a jute rug…less whites in there but all rooms now have a touch of white or cream! Fun question Melissa!

  21. Maria Killam

    What a fun post! And a great way to give your readers some freedom around such a complicated colour :)

  22. Jean |

    I’ve always used creams and ivories but am now starting to mix in some brighter, but still warm whites. I’m eager to finish the one room that way and see how we like it before proceeding with the rest of the house.

  23. Jen John

    I wish I would have read your article two months ago. I have been remodeling my kitchen and wanted it WHITE! The cabinets looked white until the countertop came and I put the pantry door on and then my white cabinets looked off-white and dingy. I was heart broken and sick to my stomach. I even seriously considered having my new cabinets painted to “match” the other whites! Everything came to a standstill because I was in turmoil and didn’t want to proceed with the backsplash and make another non-matching white mistake. One day as I was talking with a friend about it, I had the thought that maybe the more I tried to match, the more obvious it would be that it didn’t and that having that slight contrast between whites would actually be okay…that, over all, it would blend. So tonight as I read your article, I felt a reassuring calm enter my soul! Thank you for posting to help fanatics like me find reassurance in a project that has literally driven me (and, thus, my husband;) crazy!

  24. Diane

    I am in the middle of a kitchen remodel and have dove white cabinets and the trim has been painted white. The walls are a sea green. My issue is the ceilings are painted the white of the trim and the kitchen ceiling does join another room which is a china white and a very definite line shows. I think the ceilings in the kitchen should be repainted the china white even tho it will be different than cabinets and trim Any comments?

  25. Joe

    To me if the cabinets and the countertop don’t match, then one is going to be “creamier” than the other. And you always want that to be the countertop. Because the cabinets define what the color of the kitchen is. And the countertop is like an ornament. A decoration. And so it’s allowed to deviate from the color of your kitchen (and be a less “pure” white). If you get it wrong, then the cabinets will be a creamy white and the countertop will be a pure white. And a random person waling in the room will say: “so you didn’t go with a white kitchen I see”. Because the cabinets will be so clearly and immediately recognizable as not white when seen next to the pure white countertop.


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