Tips for Choosing House Paint Colors

Painting the exterior of a home can be a daunting proposition. Here's how to soothe your worries when choosing house paint colors.

Painting a room can be stressful, but choosing house paint colors for an exterior facade is downright intimidating. In all aspects -- time, money, and curb presence -- it's a big task. Luckily, some carefully considered steps can help you successfully navigate the job of choosing house paint colors. Here's what to do:

Identify your home's style and neighborhood. Although you need not be hidebound by tradition, a home's style does lend some guidance when choosing house paint colors. An exuberant collection of pastels may not be the best fit for a ranch-style home, while very bold hues may feel out of place on a Victorian house. It's advice that Maria Killam, a color expert, design blogger, author, decorator and stylist, uses, especially when working on those classic home designs. "I love the symmetrical look of a Colonial with shutters," she says. "White with black shutters and a green front door is what I would do if I had one."

As much as your home provides inspiration, your neighborhood may also offer revelations about possible house paint colors. Do you live in an area of historic homes, or a newer suburb with some dominant themes? Use those to give you a starting point.

Become a house color copycat. As you're trying to narrow down your house paint colors, drive around neighborhoods and snap photos of palettes that you like or homes that look like yours. In addition, if something looks out of place, there's a reason for it. "One of the biggest mistakes I see everyday is with vinyl windows," Killam says. "The standard colors are generally bright white and beige. White belongs with crisper, cleaner color schemes, like turquoise or a straw yellow for example, or grays and blacks."

Don't get caught up in trends. Clothing, shoes, sofas, home colors: They're all subject to the same hot-hue-of-the-moment but not-cool-tomorrow trends. "Just like most people aren't interested in painting their house brown right now because that trend is over, don't do the same thing with charcoal," Killam says. "You might love it now, but as soon as the gray trend is over, you'll wish it was the next trendy neutral."

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Look to your home for guidance. Your home likely already has some hues that you should include as part of your color scheme: brick or stone on the foundation, window trim, even the roof. Those should serve as the base to build on. "A lot of people don't understand how much influence existing fixed colors have when selecting paint colors," Killam says. "You can't ignore what's already on the house and go for a current trendy color that in no way relates to what's already there. One of my clients painted stucco gray with her gold/yellow stone, and she contacted me for a consultation. She was not thrilled, and the color I gave her coordinated much better with her existing stone and was very happy with the result."


In addition, a home's size influences how colors look. Residences that are very large and painted a dark color may look ominous and foreboding in the landscape, while too light schemes on a small house may result in a home that doesn't feel grounded.


Landscape plays a part, too. A more naturalistic landscape may inspire house paint colors that are recessive -- seafoam green, pastels, soft neutrals. A formal landscape setup -- rows and rows of boxwood shrubs lining a walkway -- may dictate stronger colors and accents with a definite design rigor.

Rely on color wheel rules. Many successful home color combinations use three hues -- a dominant shade and two accents, one that's sometimes richer or brighter than the others. When in doubt, rely on tried-and-true color guidelines from the color wheel. Hues in the same family -- varying shades of gray, for example -- work well and are called monochromatic. Those hues next to each other (analogous) work well together, as do those opposite each other, also called complementary. "If you have an earthy color scheme, with muted colors like browns and creams, make sure you choose the beige vinyl window," Killam says. "And coordinate your trim color to go with it. A house with earthy stone combined with bright white vinyl windows will always look wrong."


Whatever you choose: test, test, test. Once you've narrowed down your possible exterior home colors to several choices, get samples and paint them in large swaths. View them at different times of the day, in sun and shadow. If you still can't decide, "hire a designer you trust or get a friend to look at your house with you," Killam says. "We get used to the way our own house looks and don't notice the things that an outside observer would."


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