In a bold move, paint manufacturers, interior designers and real-estate developers pick white as their top paint color.

In choosing the color of the year, the team at Benjamin Moore found that Mascarpone was too creamy and Ice Mist too frigid. In the end, simply white paint was just the right color for 2016.

Never before had the New Jersey-based paint manufacturer chosen white paint as color of the year. (Last year’s winner was Guilford Green.) But in real estate right now, white is hot, with home builders, developers and designers going for a white-on-white look in everything from reclaimed barns to posh penthouses.

In Manhattan, Toll Brothers City Living has built its priciest property to date: a $29.5 million penthouse at 1110 Park Avenue. In the living room, white sofas and rugs play against a backdrop of muted gray walls. White marble surrounds the fireplace. The designer on the project, Cheryl Eisen, president of Interior Marketing Group, says she chose colors that wouldn’t distract from the space’s classic architecture. It is also unlikely to look dated and makes it easy for the buyer to imagine living there, she adds.

“It’s ideal for staging because it isn’t overly taste-specific, and creates a calm, clean, elegant feeling, which resonates with a broad buyer demographic,” Ms. Eisen says. She chose more dramatic neutrals to add personality, like in the den, which is painted greige, a mix of gray and beige.

Interior designer Geoffrey Bradfield says white paint radiates luxury, sophistication, and serenity. “I, for one, could never be depressed in a white room,” he says. For a project on New York’s Upper East Side, Mr. Bradfield chose white limestone flooring, white walls and Ionic columns and predominantly white upholstered furniture. The home, called White Hall, has a bright white painted stucco exterior.

The color works for practical reasons when clients are big art collectors, he adds. “White is one of the most incredible foils for art.”



Not everyone embraces the stark aesthetic. “That look may not be received as well in our other markets,” says Kira Sterling of Toll Brothers’ marketing division. She says the company would never use that look for a home in Bucks County, Pa., for example, an area renowned for its farms, wineries and covered bridges. “Perhaps too sterile,” she says. “It’s specific to geography and price point.”
At the home builder’s Dutchess Farm Estates development in Bucks County, renderings of model homes feature rich wood floors, colored walls with detailed trim, and brightly patterned carpets. New homes start at $1.09 million.

A survey released last month explored the impact of wall colors on overall home sales in the country. Zillow Digs, the real-estate website’s design portal, analyzed photos from nearly 50,000 homes across the U.S. that had been sold between December 2006 and April 2016. Homes with white kitchens sold, on average, for $1,400 less than homes with yellow kitchens. For homes over $1 million, the impact is even greater. In this bracket, homes with white kitchens sold for $7,700 less than those with yellow kitchens.

Other unpopular color choices: Homes with dark-brown bathrooms sold nearly $500 below expected values, and homes with dark-gray dining rooms sold for $1,112 under expectations. (The analysis controlled for all other wall colors, square footage, the age and location of the home as well as the date of the sale.)

Overall, the color white didn’t rank No. 1 in any room. Still, white paint used to highlight the architectural details of a home can add value, according to Zillow.

“For the kitchen, people want something warm and inviting,” says Kerrie Kelly, a Zillow Digs design expert familiar with the study. “Often you don’t even really know why you like a home, and sometimes it’s just the color.”

Life poses questions, and “color is an answer,” says Laurie Pressman, vice president of Pantone Color Institute, a division of a New Jersey company that standardizes colors in printing and other industries. The company also names a color of the year, and while it would never rule out any particular hue, white is a highly unlikely choice, Ms. Pressman says. The closest it ever came was a neutral beige shade called Sand Dollar, which it chose in 2006.

That year, “people weren’t feeling comfortable,” she says, referring to the first market jitters that preceded the 2008 meltdown. “When people are feeling less sure, neutral shades like white bring a sense of comfort,” she explains, adding that white-on-white is about simplicity, and home is where you can take refuge from your life’s frenetic pace.

“The hue of your walls has a huge impact on your psychology,” says Debbie Zimmer, director of the Paint Quality Institute, a research arm of Dow Chemical Co. “For example, red typically increases appetite and raises blood pressure, and it’s a very stimulating color, whereas white is calming and refreshing.”

The Paint Quality Institute named off-whites as its top picks for the 2016 color-trends report. Ms. Zimmer attributes the rising popularity of these muted colors to a sort of color fatigue, urbanization and people adapting to smaller living spaces.

“Millennials moving to city environments and living in smaller homes can create the illusion of space with whites or certainly paler hues,” Ms. Zimmer says.

Paint manufacturer Sherwin-Williams, with a collection of about 100 shades of white paint, in November chose Alabaster as its color of 2016. (The company offers fewer than 10 shades of black in its palette.)

Homes with white walls appear clean, and white ceilings create lightness, says Sue Wadden, director of color marketing at Sherwin-Williams. She ascribes white’s rise to the popularity of simple, Scandinavian design, and to consumers’ increasing emphasis on well-being—white being a color that people associate with hygiene and serenity.

Sherwin-Williams sells more white paint world-wide than any other color, according to Ms. Wadden. Untinted whites make up 30% of its total annual sales, in gallons. “White is one of the most popular colors of all time, year after year,” she says.

Corrections & Amplifications

Simply White OC-117 was Benjamin Moore’s color of the year. An earlier version of this article misstated the shade as OC-177. (7/25/16)

Article by