Benjamin Moore’s Simply White walls make this room stand out. (Benjamin Moore)

Drumroll, please.

Benjamin Moore’s 2016 Color of the Year was officially announced last week: Simply White.

Huh?

With memories of the earthy Marsala (Pantone’s 2015 Color of the Year) and vivid Coral Reef (the Sherwin-Williams 2015 choice), how could a plain vanilla get such an exalted ranking?

“White is transcendent, powerful and polarizing — it is either taken for granted or obsessed over,” Benjamin Moore Creative Director Ellen O’Neill said in the company’s announcement. The release also said that this particular color was chosen from the company’s more than 250 selections of white paint because “it was the most neutral, level and constant in the various light sources used in today’s design environments.”

Reaction in the design community was not surprise, but rather a bit of caution.

Miles Redd, a New York designer known for his richly hued interiors, was rooting for a daffodil yellow or maybe a shade of blue. “I don’t think of white as a color. But I know it is. I live in technicolor,” Redd said. “Most people do go for white paint. Color is something people don’t always know how to handle. I guess it’s not surprising given that white sheets and white towels are the number one sellers, too.”

Washington interior designer Mary Douglas Drysdale was not surprised. “I think it’s consistent to where design has been moving over the past three to four years. There is a paring back and a real simplification. I think it has to do with the interest in de-cluttering,” Drysdale said, praising the choice. “It’s not one of those treatments that is a weird color that everybody can’t have. It’s about the democratization of design.”

“I have never met a white I didn’t like,” said Margaret Russell, editor in chief of Architectural Digest. She then retracted that when she recalled that she had to have a new apartment repainted because the white was too beige. “I love the fact that Benjamin Moore chose a white, because it calls attention to the fact that there are so many nuances in white. You just want it to be the right one.”


Simply White feels right at home with bisque porcelain in a ceramist’s studio. (Benjamin Moore)

For professional color consultants, choosing a specific white paint always requires a lot of testing. Jean Molesworth Kee, whose Alexandria business is the Painted Room, has been seeing a lot of white in European design blogs and thinks white will replace gray as the hot color.

Kee, whose own home is painted Benjamin Moore’s Linen White, counsels that Simply White is just one of many neutral choices. “A huge caution to people choosing colors on Pinterest. You should only use that as inspiration; you have to test it in your own house.” Actually, she said, white isn’t right for every home. “White is at its most gorgeous in Southern California and Australia where there is beautiful light,” said Kee. “If it’s somewhere there is no light, it goes shadowy and dies.”

“White is my favorite color,” said Erin Paige Pitts, a designer with offices in Maryland and Florida. “My kids joke that there is no such color in their art classes. But my house is almost all white.” She explained that Simply White has a bit of yellow in it, which makes it more cheerful than some whites. “It’s fresh and clean and bright,” Pitts said. “It’s a good choice.”


The middle wall is Simply White. (Benjamin Moore)