Tips for Choosing Exterior Paint Colors

No more guesswork! Here are foolproof tips for choosing your home's next color.

Painting a room can be stressful, but choosing exterior house paint colors 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.

blue house exterior with shakers and turquoise door
Kim Cornelison

Top Tips for Narrowing Down Colors

1. Identify Your Home's Style and Neighborhood

Although you need not be hidebound by tradition, a home's style does lend some guidance when you're choosing exterior 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. That's advice used by Maria Killam, a color expert, design blogger, author, decorator, and stylist—especially when she's 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 concerning possible 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.

2. Become a House Color Copycat

As you're trying to narrow down your color possibilities, drive around neighborhoods and snap photos of exterior color palettes that you like, or homes that look like yours. If something looks out of place, there's a reason for it. "One of the biggest mistakes I see every day 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."

3. Don't Get Caught Up in Trends

Clothing, shoes, sofas, home colors—they're all subject to the same passing trends. "Just like most people aren't interested in painting their houses 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."

muted blue house with bright red door

4. Look to Your Home for Guidance

Your home likely already has some hues that you should include in your color scheme: brick or stone on the foundation, window trims, even the roof. Those should serve as a 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 she was very happy with the result."

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

Landscape also plays a part. A more naturalistic landscape may inspire colors that are recessive, such as sea foam green, pastels, or 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.

5. Rely on Color Wheel Rules

Many successful home color combinations use three hues—a dominant shade and two accents, including one that's often 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 opposites, also called complementary colors. "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."

6. Whatever You Choose: Test, Test, Test!

Once you've narrowed down your possible exterior home colors to several choices, get color samples and paint them in large swaths. View them at different times of the day, in sun and in 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."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles