What Everyone Should Know About Paint

I learned something new about white last year when I was working on a project that I finally photographed this past week.

Since the project wasn’t finished until last winter and my client’s home overlooks a stunning mountain view, (Crystal and Rob Hasell, Crystal is the Owner and Director of Studio B Yoga here in Chilliwack) I wanted to wait until the leaves were back on the trees for the photo shoot.

I shopped until I dropped this week, for flowers and miscellaneous items still missing from some of her rooms. Then spent three full days styling her house to perfection prior to the photoshoot. Then we spent two days with Barry Calhoun shooting the house.

Barry was awesome. It’s absolutely true what he says on his website, “He’s willing to run from elephants if it means getting the best shot possible.

He was tireless, and when I would look at yet another photo that he had downloaded to his laptop AGAIN and think to myself “Well, we could move those towels into the shot but I’ll let it go”, that’s when HE would notice and mention it. I can’t wait to work with him again. Here he is on my instagram.

This was the view from Crystal and Rob’s home on March 31 last year, when we were choosing fabrics. Our winter was so bad this year that we were about 1 1/2 months behind. You can see that the colour palette we chose coordinates with her view.

What Everyone Should Know About Paint | Maria Killam

So here’s what happened. I chose BM Chantilly Lace for the cabinets and the wood work throughout the house.

When the cabinets were installed, I noticed that they didn’t exactly match the trim colour. In fact, they looked off-white, not the true-white I had chosen (If you’ve read my White eBook, you’ll understand what I’m talking about).

So I pulled out my Chantilly Lace paint chip and held it up against the cabinets.

It was a perfect match.

Then I did the same with the trim colour.

It was also a perfect match.

The bottom line. Your cabinet guy uses his own lacquer to spray the cabinets, therefore, it will RARELY, if ever exactly match the paint from the paint store.

So one way to coordinate them is to choose a whiter white for the cabinet colour than the trim colour.

I had this conversation with Traci Zeller (an interior designer and True Colour Expert) at High Point Market last weekend and she emailed me this photo to use in this post.

The cabinets are SW Extra White and the trim colour is SW Snowbound. You can see in this photo (below) that the casings around the door in fact still look slightly whiter than the lacquered cabinets which will OFTEN end up creamier.

Since both colour chips will match, you need to COORDINATE the trim colour.

What Everyone Should Know About Paint | Maria Killam

Interior Design by Traci Zeller

So what this means is that you can’t get the door sample matched by the paint company because they technically do match. All you can do is coordinate your new trim colour with your kitchen cabinets.

Now, if you’ve done this already and noticed that they don’t match, now you don’t have to be cranky anymore.

You won’t notice that they are different once the room is decorated, there will be too many other things to look at.

And you don’t notice it in all lights. This is the first time I have ever noticed this phenomenon and I have never received an email from a reader complaining about this dilemma, which is the thing I wonder about the most?

When I looked at my kitchen, I realized that there is only one area in my kitchen where the door casing is directly beside my cabinets and it does look slightly different, but it wasn’t enough for me to notice until now.

What Everyone Should Know About Paint | Maria Killam

Elizabeth’s Kitchen (her existing adjoining doors were already white, not related to her glazed cabinets)

My sister Elizabeth is getting a new quartz countertop on her island to replace the blotchy, gold, brown and cream laminate countertop (above). We will also install new panelling so it looks like a piece of furniture (like an island should look).

Her panelling will coordinate with the existing cabinets and the base will look like this photo (below).

However, Mike at Quality Cabinets (who is installing the millwork) said that it would be more cost effective to have the cabinet side painted on site (you can’t spray the actual island on-site anyway) but then, he said “Be warned, your painted panelling will not EXACTLY match the existing drawers/cabinets because again, there will be two different paints used.”

What Everyone Should Know About Paint | Maria Killam


 This also explains why (and I talk about this in my exterior on-line training webinar) my garage doors don’t match the vinyl siding even though I took a sample of the siding to the paint store. Because obviously (well only obvious to me AFTER this happened to me) vinyl is not the same as paint.

Over to you my lovelies, have you ever had this happen to you? I’m just amazed that no one has ever asked me this question until I discovered it for myself? Well Traci said she did mention it to me before, but I guess it didn’t land until I saw it with my own eyes.

Bottom line, I think there are too many variables to try and ‘coordinate’ the trim colour. If NO ONE has ever emailed me with this dilemma then it must be close enough most of the time. So unless you are not choosing paint colours with a designer who has experienced this many times, I would still go with the same colour for trim and cabinets. However, before you install backsplash tile, I would look again, and make that decision last, in case you have to go with off-white instead of true-white or cream instead of off-white.

Here is yet another argument for why you should go with the SAFE option for tile or countertops (hard finishes), rather than the more CREATIVE or RISKY choice. There are way too many factors involved in getting just plain whites to match but at least you can live with different whites easier than different patterns or undertones that don’t match in the end.

Terreeia and I leave for our SOLD OUT Specify Colour with Confidence workshop in Chicago tomorrow, I’m so excited, I love leading this course so much! And there’s always something new to talk about!

There are still two spaces left for my second course in Chicago the following weekend here.

Don’t forget to fill us in on your experience with different paint companies in the comments below.

Related posts:

White is a Snob

What NOT To Do with Your Kitchen Island Design

Danger: The First 24 Hours AFTER You Take Possession



leave aREPLY

  1. Okay. So my plan was to paint my oak kitchen cabinet cabinets myself and have the door/drawer fronts spray painted offsite by a professional cabinet maker. Am I going to run into a problem???

    • No, not going to be different IF they spray the same paint that you are applying yourself, meaning they are NOT going to spray a lacquer version of your color. There is lacquer and there is hard enameled cabinet paints. Spray the same paint you are using and better yet you supply the paint to them. Tint machines at paint stores ( even within same brand of store) are callibrated and the color consistency is the tiniest bit different store to store.

    • You shouldn’t, so long as they buy the exact same paint product, from the same paint store. Once the color choice has been confirmed, It would make sense to buy it all at the same time, if they can tell you the quantity needed.

      Most professionals use oil-based satin or semi-gloss on trim and cabinets. It sounds like the problem Maria is describing arises when a cabinet-maker uses tinted lacquer instead (Bushwhacker is one brand they used to sell when I worked in the paint industry). These products don’t tint the same as oil-based paint and in fact, can’t even use universal colorants, because they are chemically too strong. Instead, they must be tinted (in our case, by hand!) with the most horrible-smelling stuff you’ve ever encountered, called 844 colorant.

      To my knowledge (and any cabinet makers out there, feel free to correct me), the only advantage to spraying tinted lacquer is that it dries much faster, and so can be recoated sooner. If you are getting pre-finished cabinets (not sprayed on site by your painting contractor), then the best I can advise is, try to get those done first – and then check your trim color (in the first gallon of the real thing, not a little latex quart sample) against the cabinet color for any significant deviation. While sample paints are a wonderful invention, they are not always accurate for very light, clear colors. If the formula doesn’t divide evenly by 4 (from a gallon to a quart), then the color won’t be exactly the same.

  2. Thank you so much for this post – I’ve commented before how your books and blog helped me through our build 2 years ago. The only white our builder’s cabinet company used was BM Simply White which made what I thought was our trim color a no-brained. We went with BM Simply White for the trim.

    There is a corner of the kitchen where there is a doorway and transom connecting to the upper cabinets. It drives me crazy in low light how it looks like there are 3 different shades of white. Part of it is the shadow from the upper cabinet, part of it is the reflection of the wall color (SW Requisite Gray) but it’s mostly that the cabinet and trim don’t absorb the paint in the same way.

    My husband doesn’t see it, but it made me wonder if I was being overly critical. Thank you for addressing this. I would have chosen trim other than Simply White if I had only known.

    Thank you for your insight.

  3. Maria yes I know exactly what this Blog is about .
    Did all my cabinets in simply white .
    Simply white trim
    The window in kitchen looks lighter then the cabinets as you see them together.
    But unless I’m wrong here wasn’t bothered by that as the undertones don’t clash.’
    I don’t feel as if one screams cream and the other white .’but then simply white is warmer .
    Where I struggled was fitting in the white farm house sink .
    Thanks for your informational blog .’

  4. I think you don’t have a ton of emails from readers about this because many of us are redoing existing cabinetry and our guys are using the paint from the store. So our cabinets and trim do match.

  5. I had something very similar happen to me when we built our house. I had only 1 choice for white kitchen cabinets and it’s an off-white color. I thought that I matched the paint color for the trim to the cabinet color, but the trim turned out to be a brighter than the cabinets. So where the 2 meet, there’s an obvious difference, especially in bright daylight. And to make matters worse, I had only 1 choice for off-white subway tile and it doesn’t match the cabinets, either! It’s not that obvious in artificial light, though, so that’s good, at least. I’d love to paint the cabinetry if given the chance, but if that happens, I’ll try to be more careful and choose something brighter. (Our house was only built 4 years ago, so it’s not going to happen!)

  6. Ha! Everyone thought I was crazy when I complained (commented) that the cabinets and the crown moulding paint wasn’t exactly the same. Even though the wonderful cabinet man said they were the same paint. I thought that maybe the the crown and door front woods were slightly different and that caused the very very slight colour variation. They thought it was the angles. Now I know but I’m not changing it. Just so you know I have a white with grey ,very sporadic variation quartz counter and a grey white marble tile backsplash. Just couldn’t go with white subway after I saw the marble. It looks beautiful, classic and we love it.

  7. Absolutely happened to me – picked out perfect colour to custom paint a vanity and once installed realized the undertone was all wrong. Our cabinet guy did not agree it was a problem. The paint store explained the process.

    I ended up paying to have new paint made and repainted – very costly mistake.

  8. I had this issue SO dramatically — but on my garage door as compared to stucco. I guess it should be obvious, but a garage door is relatively smooth and stucco is not, so the stucco looked incredibly darker than the door when painted in the same color. We had to go two shades darker on the garage door to simulate a match. It was a lesson in light and optics for us.

  9. so glad to here that you still love doing the true colour experts classes… so amazing to have a job you love… I too love love my job everyday…….
    funny to me, I do not do white trim, I paint out the trim and baseboards same as walls and paint the doors in a colour a few shades darker than the walls… keeps them back a bit and not the focal point of the home… now in my condo I have painted my door black with the trim around matching the walls…..
    cannot get past the white boarder aka racetrack of white between the paint colour on the walls and my clients amazing, expense new flooring… when I get them to paint out the trim we see the new floor at it best… just how I design, not for everyone… I guess…

    • Depending on the color, I do like the crispness of what trim against a color, but I have done this, too, and my mother does it quite a bit in rentals because (1) we like the look and (2) it can make it faster to get the paint job done if necessary and you need to get a house rented! She had an entire house re-painted last year and did this with SW Agreeable Gray in the bedrooms, and it looked amazing. The painters had never heard of doing it and were taken with the look themselves! Depending on the color, it can give a room an ethereal look, which I love.

      • so nice to hear I am not the only one… Tanya, I would do soft taupe beside dark taupe if the trim was antique looking, but never white…
        also clients love that is easier, less money and faster…

  10. Super helpful post, Maria! Am gearing up for painting my “pinky-beige” cabinets white, and now know another piece of the puzzle to get the best results! Thanks!

  11. Helpful post and described well. But as my decorating business partner and I often say: Normal people don’t care!! That is, it’s our job and our pleasure/curse to notice such things, but most people can’t see it or it doesn’t bother them. At all.

    But something in Traci Zeller’s photo DOES bother me. May I ask why she chose the true white counter chairs when the kitchen is entirely cream? Again…pleasure/curse…

    • The kitchen actually reads like a true white in person, so the counter stools work splendidly. They are also a super functional choice for a mom of four young children!

      • I just posted below that I am swooning over your room, oh my, I love it! Love the black and white walls and clear lucite chair connected to the white kitchen and blue painted island. Love that choice with the black and white in the background! And the Serena and Lily chairs (I assume), I will definitely own some of those someday, have loved them for a long time!

        • On second look, the chair in the dining room is white? In first looking, the light reflecting off the chairs made them look different.

  12. Great post Maria! I’ve noticed over the years that color will also depend on surface texture as well as paint finish selection (gloss, semi-gloss, satin, eggshell, flat). They reflect the light differently which produces subtle changes in the color. Can be frustrating! In my opinion when we’re looking at things separately- focusing in on them – we’re not taking in the whole breath of the room. Light and shadows will slightly change colors too, albeit it’s so natural to our eyes that we don’t “notice” them. So the minute differences in texture and paint finish shouldn’t over stress us. But knowing gloss will look lighter than flat helps, and your post guides us in the right direction. Thank you!!

  13. And be careful when using the sample paints which are often supplied in only one sheen. I wasted a gallon of paint, as well as time, when the flat version didn’t read the same as the eggshell version from the sample can.

  14. The situation you mentioned above has been an issue for years for me, Maria. I firmly believe that the FINISH of the paint you choose has a huge degree of importance in the final outcome.
    After finally deciding to paint my home interior a light ‘creamy’ color (using your color cards), I chose SW Dover White. All the woodwork such as the doors, window and door facings, crown molding, baseboards and cabinets were all done in SATIN BASED OIL ENAMEL Dover White. All the ceilings were in FLAT finish, Dover White. And the walls were all done in LOW-LUSTRE SATIN LATEX Dover White. What a stunning look it turned out to be! Each finish gives its own ‘highlighted essence’ to where it is applied. Friends ask me what the different colors I used on each area and are amazed when I tell them it’s all the same color but different finishes! All came from same paint store, same paint company (SW Pro Series) to ensure as much even-ness in the colors. LOVE!
    Thank you for this post, Maria! Love your stuff!

  15. So Im wondering if hand painting the cabinets would rectify the problem? Im sure it would cost more. some people may object to brush marks but I like the slight texture they bring so
    the white doesnt look so “flat”.

  16. My cabinet maker provided cabinets and crown molding for the top painted in SW Creamy. Same guy, same paint. I thought something was wrong when they were installed because the crown looked much whiter than the cabinets. Frantic, I stopped the installer convinced something was wrong. Side by side they were a perfect match, but the second you put the crown on top of the cabinets they did not. The crown is installed at an angle so not viewed on the same plane as the cabinets. I could try to put a different creamer paint on the crown but I’m afraid I just might make matters worse. For the time being, I’ve chosen to just live with it.

    When spraying my kitchen cabinets several years ago, my painter insisted on lacquer. I had wanted latex (for easy touch-ups), but he said it would not give a smooth finish. I went with his recommendation, but discovered lacquer yellows with time. Now my cabinets look cream. I’ve been told that all oil-based paints yellow in time. But perhaps this is old information….?

  18. Maria, that’s very true! I learned this the “hard way” early in my career as a designer. I was turning an open shelf unit into a partially closed one. I ordered white painted doors and had the painter paint the unit the SAME white. When the doors arrived I realized the color was slightly off and because it wasn’t a full overlay, I noticed that. I liked what you said about not getting cranky over that (especially us designers!), because once there’s other stuff to look at in the room , “slightly ” more interesting then the tiny difference between the trim and cabinets, it’s rarely noticed… but always good to know it might happen !

  19. I specified Chantilly Lace for our custom cabinets, which were probably lacquered because I didn’t know enough to ask. Walls were painted the same .Chantilly Lace, and they do look whiter. However, I used the sample cabinet door to select the right white subway tile, and then had the trim color custom mixed to match the subway tile. So in effect I have three slightly different but coordinating whites, plus the whites of refrigerator/dishwasher and kitchen sink, so maybe five all together? The undertones are fine, so it all works–at least to my eye. But yellowing will not be good . . .

  20. Good post Maria. I’ll be helping a client in Boston with new cabinets soon and I know she is looking at white.
    I hope you can get to The Merchandise Mart while in Chicago!

  21. Yes Maria I have had this happen to me. When I realized it was all about the re-finisher/spray painter/kitchen cabinet person using other manufacturers paint/or his eye match/somewhat similar/but not good enough I asked the company I worked for if the their automotive paint department or industrial coatings department could do an exact match to the domestic range of paints in 2 pot spray paint. The answer was Yes. Bliss. I then went to all the kitchen designers, interior design consultants, architects and and kitchen cabinet manufacturers and asked them if they though it was important that a colour they had specified actually did match or was it not that important? You probably can guess what the answer was. It does mean that only registered professional spray painters who always and only use the company I work fors’ products can now supply to this market demand. And most importantly the very discerning professionals [ like yourself ] can have exactly the right colour. There will always be a subtle different in how a colour is seen depending upon what sheen level was applied to the cabinets and the angle it is viewed from but no longer the often totally wrong colour is seen which creates a discord between it and the domestic paint that is on the trims in the room. So there is far less disappointment and heartbreak occurring when something is wrong when it should be right.

  22. Love this post BUT… the exact opposite thing happened to me. We used simply white for the lacquer and it came out sooo much lighter, that it looks like a blue undertone primer. Very frustrating. Definitely need to repaint now. Arggh!

  23. A related example: plastic denture teeth and ceramic caps (crowns) rarely match even if the same shade is specified..different materials.

  24. Yes, I’ve had this happen to me many times but not in yet in an interior. I do a lot of prop building, sign making, set decoration and building of parade floats. I always end up using a variety of materials and have just accepted that there isn’t any way to make two different types of materials match exactly. I just take into consideration where my work will be seen and in what context and do the best I can. This week I had to try to make the reds of a piece of plastic, an existing car paint and a painted wooden sign appear to match – with different sheens, out in the light of day it can get frustrating. I’ve never had anyone else notice except my brother, he paints custom cars and is an expert paint mixer so not really an average observer.

  25. What I love about white walls is how they change colors in the light. Right now I’m sitting in my room with Acadia White walls and Simply White ceiling. Looking one direction (perpendicular to the sun) the Acadia white wall is clearly creamy compared to the ceiling. Looking another direction (parallel to the sun) the Acadia White wall looks just like Simply White. I even love the way the white changes in the shadow lines from the trim.

  26. Crazy timing Maria but I just noticed this yesterday!!!! We are designing our new kitchen and I have brought home several large white cabinet samples from my renovator’s show room. I noticed their Cloud White cabinet sample did not remotely match my Cloud White trim in the kitchen and dining room. So then I looked at their Decorator’s White cabinet sample and it again does not look like the decorators white trim I have elsewhere in the house. I thought I was either crazy, or that the cabinet company is not doing a very good job of matching the Benjamin Moore whites!!! So instead of choosing a cabinet white from my paint deck (I was going to paint samples of a few faves), I just decided to look at and select from the cabinet company’s samples and choose my white cabinet that way (ignoring the actual name and my experience with that particular white paint!). Good to have you confirm this as I was just wondering what color trim to do (we are replacing and repainting the baseboard and window/door trim when we put in the new kitchen!!!). Thanks Maria. I have learned so much from you and I have known what to look for as I choose my kitchen whites thanks to your many posts. P. S. When we are done with the kitchen designer and sign the final contract, we get to have a few hours free with their “interior designer” and at least I will have a preliminary white selection done and will be able to confirm all my choices with her and see if she has different opinions on the undertones!! XO Terri in Calgary.

  27. That is so interesting about the cabinet painters’ paint, etc. Isn’t this similar to what happens when you color match a company’s paint color with another company’s paint? I’ve told my friends that I don’t care what their painter or says, don’t color match (say) a Ben Moore paint color with Sherwin Williams, Behr, etc. because you won’t necessarily get a true match. I think this is especially bad when the color is neutral since so much about what we love about any neutral is the undertone. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think it happened to me when I tried to color match BM Smoke Embers with another brand. I ended up chucking the gallon and getting the BM paint after painting enough on a wall to determine it wasn’t right in spite of matching the color card. I would be curious to hear your opinion. Maybe it’s true but doesn’t affect things as I think it does?

    • By the way, oh my do I love that first picture. The white kitchen with the black and white wallpaper in the next room…swoon!! 🙂

  28. Hi Maria! Have you also found this phenomena to occur when you try to color match one paint brand’s color in another manufacturer’s paint line? Even though the differences might not be as great as those between lacquer and paint, the slightly different materials and ingredients used in each brand reflect light slightly differently, even though it initially appeared to match the paint chip exactly? Just wondering if you have found this to be an issue! Thanks.

    • I don’t colour match. If I use a different paint line, I just find a colour close to what I’m looking for in THEIR COLOURS and go with that. However, if you’re talking about FLASHING which is what happens when you touch up any paint with a sheen, that has nothing to do with the paint colour, it’s that you’re adding another sheen layer on top of eggshell paint for example. That’s why flat paint is the only paint you can touch up. Thanks for your comment! Maria

  29. Tx Maria. When we built, I had our contractor use the same off-white colour used on the cabinets for the trim, but at 25% saturation – which of course is really white

    But, while it is a different white, it feels like it works well because it was ‘derived’ from the same colour as the cabinets.

    Don’t know if that’s a ‘technically correct’ thing to say – would be interested to hear your thoughts on that (50% saturation would prob start to look closer to cab colour, but just lighter which is ‘bad’, yes?)

    Have fun in Chicago! 🙂