Exterior Colors and Home Style

Great tips to help you pick the right exterior paint colors, no matter what kind of house you have.


An exterior paint job usually stays put for 10 years, so take your time and do it right. Jumpstart your thinking by looking for houses with color combinations you find appealing, advises Leslie Harrington, corporate interior designer for Benjamin Moore Paints.

Still stymied? We've lined up four avenues of advice about colors that look good on various styles of houses.

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Foursquare. Resist the temptation to paint this house the typical white with green trim. Instead, take your cues from the past. Historically, the tops and bottoms of foursquares have been painted different colors. Breaking down the big-box look gives the house a better sense of scale, thus making it appear more personal and inviting. Though the colors chosen for this house are historically correct, note that browns are making a comeback.

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Queen Anne Victorian. Often referred to as a "painted lady," this style can easily take 10 different colors. You'll find many color schemes in architectural history books. Even if you use fewer paints in your combination, definitely use color. This three-color scheme contrasts each of the decorative details, but the contrast is subtle because the colors are all the same tone. Confident painters can use more lights and darks for contrast.

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Tropical Cottage. Avoid using your most dramatic color on the shutters. Save your punch color for the details, such as the door and intricate window mullions. Blend nondescript window mullions into the house. For this palette, region makes a difference. Keep it zippy in the South. For the North, gray down each color.

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English Tudor. A Tudor is the sacred cow of house styles. Don't get too experimental with colors. Because Tudor roofs are so dominant, the roof color will dictate the total color scheme. Also look for color cues in the environment. Tudors are often set among stones in a wooded area. Look to repeat those natural colors on the house.

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Ranch. Everything depends on the color of the brick. If the brick is white, tan, or copper, blend the body color in. Do not blend the body color into red brick -- you'll never match the color. Use a contrasting body color instead. De-emphasize the house's horizontal lines by blending window trim in with the body color. Keeping the house monochromatic will give it visual height. Use a punch color on the door only. Most any color will do.

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Farmhouse. The body color, a highly demanded creamy yellow, reinforces the farmhouse feeling. Using a sandy neutral on the roof trim, window trim, and corner boards offers visual relief from the body color. Use an additional color on decorative elements such as the porch soffit. Teal is the punch color for the front door and the single set of shutters.

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Craftsman Bungalow. This style successfully unites the increasingly popular combination of green and brown. Brown is coming back big. A Craftsman roofline looks weighty and interesting, and the brown roof trim emphasizes that substance. Cream-color cornices emphasize traditional style. In general, if your trim is unaligned or in disrepair, blend it into the house color. If it's plumb, solid, or decorative, accent it-a light color is best.

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Split-Level. If you have a house with many elements and geometrical planes, tie it all together with a darker color. In this scheme, the taupe trim is a nice complement to the gray-blue body because you're mixing warm and cool colors. Blue trim on a gray-blue body would make the house seem cold. Always blend the garage door in with the body, and use your deepest or brightest color at the front door.

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Spanish Colonial. The dark tile roof is prominent. Painting the house's body a dark color will only make the house look smaller, so stay light. Look to the desert Southwest for color ideas. This house's courtyard fence is accented with a deeper color. Accent fence, steps, or path structures near the house front because they become part of the landscaping. Don't highlight fences that surround your yard.

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Georgian Colonial. This large house can tolerate a deep body color. Although the average house usually takes three colors, this colonial tolerates four because of the presence of decorative architectural detail. This color combination reflects historically correct colors with a contemporary edge. If you want the house historically accurate, you'll probably need to custom-mix colors based on your research. If you want just a hint of historical, look for premixed colors similar to historical colors.

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Suburban Eclectic. Unify this choppy design by sticking to neutrals. Use a deeper neutral on the body and a slightly lighter neutral for the trim. Blend the prominent garage in with the body, and save your deepest color for the front door. Neutrals are also a sophisticated choice for a home that is obviously large and expensive.

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Art Deco. This house style is usually set in warmer regions where it's OK to use bright colors. Painting the body a light neutral allows the brighter colors to accent architectural details, such as the stripes, window trim, porch railing, and bay window. If you painted this house in all neutrals, it would look like a big drab blob.

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  • In general, use the lightest or most neutral color on the body of the house. This doesn't mean to avoid color, it just means to use deeper or brighter colors on trim and accents.
  • Make sure you like the house's body color. Buy a quart of that paint color first. Paint it on a large area. Go across the street and look at it. View it at different times of day. Remember, while interior color always appears two shades darker than you thought it would, exterior color will appear two shades lighter. Then move on to selecting the trim color. Buy a small amount of trim paint color, paint it on a board, and lean it against the house to see if you like it.
  • The higher the contrast, the smaller your house will look.
  • Use the house's body color on the garage door. Whether it's attached or detached, don't highlight the garage. "Paint it into the body," says Harrington, "unless you want people to drive by and think you live in the garage."
  • You can paint aluminum siding. The beauty of aluminum siding is that you don't have to paint it. But if you don't like the color or the color has faded, use paint that is specially formulated for aluminum siding.
  • Don't be afraid. If you are inclined to experiment, go for it. Painting is the cheapest thing you can do to improve your house's appearance.
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