White is like any paint color. There is no one best. It’s all about context and your design goals. Best depends on best for what.
White is considered the ultimate neutral. White paints have relatively little hue so some think that makes them easy to choose. They’re not. Neutral whites without pronounced undertones are few and not necessarily the best choice for every application.
What do you want your white to do, brighten and lighten? Its success is based on how much natural light is in the room. White walls in an area with no natural light can look dingy if not chosen well. Be a neutral backdrop for your color-filled artwork, furniture and textiles? Sure, what colors are they? Add contrast to a room? How saturated are the other colors present? See what I mean?
The answers to these questions will help guide which to choose. And of course the same white will look totally different in a different room. The white above is Farrow & Ball’s, All White. This is a very pure, neutral white which doesn’t appear to skew warm or cool. This type of white is often chosen for modern environments but doesn’t have to be. Because the room above has a pink-lilac ceiling, a very clear, neutral white was the best choice as the ceiling color reflects all over the walls. As the designer, I didn’t want to muddy the effect of the lilac with visible undertones in the wall color.
The same All White is used in this room. Note all of the honey colored woods and golden tones in this room. Their overall feeling is very warm. The easy solution would be a white with yellow undertones but the home owner prized the neutrality of All White. His home utilizes passive solar and the room has a wall of windows facing south. This helps heat the room all season round so the lack of warmth in the white has cooling effects in the summer.
Most of the popular whites do have warm undertones. To the degree these yellow or red undertones are visible influences whether the take-away is ivory, off white or white. One of the most popular is Benjamin Moore’s White Dove. It has long eclipsed other choices as a go-to for trim and wall color when a slightly warm white is called for.
Benjamin Moore’s Simply White is a lovely white whose warmth is barely noticeable at all. It feels almost neutral. Benjamin Moore named Simply White Color of the Year for 2016 since this post was written.
When a slightly more creamy white is called for there are a host of great choices. One special choice is C2’s America’s Cup.
If your space requires a cooler white try White Heron from Benjamin Moore. It mixes with black, blue, green and cool grey really well.
Another choice which is solidly neutral is Sherwin Williams’ Extra White. It has a clear, icy feel.
There are many, many more excellent choices but these 6 really stand out.