History of Hues: Off-White

Updated: May 31

This edition of History of Hues is about Off White. Is this a color or a color family? Shades of white are full of subtly descriptive color names which include cream, eggshell, vanilla, ivory, linen, antique white, milk-white, and more. The top three paint companies have over 500 shades of white combined. All of these can be called off-white. This means that they are not pure white, and are warmer than optic white.



A shade of white has a slightly yellowish or grayish tint to it. This tint is very nuanced and there is not enough pigment to qualify these tints as a shade of beige or gray. Off-white is a compromise between white and more saturated colors. Warm off-whites have undertones of red, orange, and yellow. This results in colors that feel inviting and welcoming. Off-white that has blue, green, or purple undertones are cooler and feel clean and fresh. To better see the color tendencies, compare the off-white you prefer directly with an optic white.


We know that white was used in the paleolithic era for cave paintings. Off-white also has a long history, and it is sometimes hard to clarify since white and off-white are terms that can be used interchangeably. However, the first reference of the color ivory in written language was in 1385. Vanilla, a much newer color name wasn’t recorded as a word used for color until 1925.


Off-white is a versatile color for decorating. In the 1930s the color became popular and was used with beiges. It again gained popularity in the mid-1900s. Almost every color can be paired with off-white. Even white, for a rich elegant look. Off-white breaks from the starkness of white and creates spaces that are softer more inviting without losing the neutrality of white.



Any color palette you can imagine will look good with off-white. For example, cream or vanilla looks great with pastel colors. For a nautical palette, pair a milk-white with shades of blue. Ivory looks great with jewel tones like emerald and maroon.


The combinations are endless and so are the possible environments. Bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, children’s rooms, home offices, and more. Using off-white is not limited to paint. Sofas in cream are warm and inviting. Faux fur throws in arctic white and cream cable knit sweater pillows are cozy accessories.



At the drape, we love the velvet curtain panel in off-white. The velvet fabric is 100% cotton. The hand is soft and the texture is plush. Style the velvet curtain with grommets and you will have a more modern feel, hanging these window panels in a children’s bedroom in soft mint. Add the 100% blackout lining and everyone will sleep better. A back tab curtain panel in a room with warm brown walls and beige accents is the perfect way to create a rustic environment. Enjoy the versatility of off-white. Pair off white curtains with your favorite colors in any room in your home.