Blank slate: How white walls can save a space

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A fresh coat of white on the walls at this Ivy house opened up a previously dark den. Photo: Stephen Barling A fresh coat of white on the walls at this Ivy house opened up a previously dark den. Photo: Stephen Barling

It’s a not-so-secret design secret that mirrors can help open up a dark space. But, says WKNDR Design owner Becky Seager, in some cases, white walls can deliver the same effect: They visually open up a space and reflect light (as long as there’s natural light to reflect). And there’s another benefit to white walls.

“They make it very easy to constantly change and update your space,” Seager says. “If you’re the type of person who gets bored and tired of the interior of your home, making the staple pieces very neutral and having white walls is a great way to then switch up your art, area rugs, curtains, throw pillows, etc.” That’s difficult to do when you have a lot of existing colors and patterns to navigate.

Seager has some advice for daring DIYers, starting with paint choice. It’s important to get a feel for how a white wall will look in your room at different times of day, so paint pieces of card stock (paint swatches just aren’t big enough) with your sample colors and tape them to the wall. Then examine them in the morning, at night, with the lights on and off. Simply looking at colors in the store isn’t sufficient; you need to consider the color of your floors, cabinets—even lampshades and bulbs can affect the result.

Once you’ve settled on a color, choose an eggshell finish. It’s much more forgiving and will allow you to buff out or wipe off imperfections without much hassle. Then, when it comes time to paint, if you aren’t hiring a professional, Seager offers these tips: Patch any holes and sand them smooth. Use a stain-blocking primer (like Kilz), then paint within 48 hours of priming.

“Primer is meant to be a bonding agent with your paint, so your paint will go on better,” she says. “Some people may split the DIY into two different weeks—prime one, paint the next—and there’s a reason why that isn’t a great idea for best results.”

Paint the trim first (with a glossier finish) and then tape off and paint the walls and ceiling. And, she says, always sand between coats.

Color wise

Here are Becky Seager’s white-paint recs if you don’t know where to start.

Super White by Benjamin Moore

“An amazing modern, crisp white. I would call this one a designer go-to. It’s a great light-reflective white that tends not to skew blue or yellow at all.”

White base paint by Glidden

“This will give you the crisp white effect with no undertones. Try it in a semi-
gloss finish if you want it to reflect even more light.”

White Dove by Benjamin Moore

“A bit of a warmer tone white. I’d recommend this for someone with a more traditional style who doesn’t want it to be so crisp and modern.”

Chantilly Lace by Benjamin Moore

“I wouldn’t say it skews warm, but it has very slight hints of warm in it.”

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