How To Choose Exterior Paint Colors


“Babouche”; “Pravda”; “Swazi”; “Murex”… Rare tropical diseases? European politicians? Expensive appetizers? Nope, they’re paint colors! If you’re thinking of painting the outside of your house you might be wondering whatever happened to red, green, and blue!

Paint Paralysis
The dizzying array of color choices and their associated names are enough to give a homeowner a case of Chromophobia – the fear of colors. How do you decide what color(s) to use when there are so many options? It can be very costly to make a mistake. And if you don’t like the colors, your neighbors probably won’t either; colors have public impact – you’re not the only one who has to live with them. But a little research and planning can help you get started with the confidence that the final paint job is one that you – and your neighbors – will be pleased with.

Body, Trim, and Accent
An existing house isn’t a blank canvas – after all, you’re not changing the color of the roof, the brick or stone, and maybe not even the windows (if they’re vinyl or aluminum clad). Roofs and masonry walls are large areas of unbroken color and natural starting points for creating a palette. An exterior paint scheme should be made up of at least three colors: the body – large areas such as walls or roofs; the trim – corner boards, window trim, fascias, rakes, etc.; and accent – specific elements including doors, shutters, and other architectural features. Body colors make up the majority of what you’ll see on the house and will lead you to the choice of trim and accent. Are you trying to make your house look a little more prominent on the street? A lighter body color will make it look larger; a darker color will visually shrink it. “Unattractive” elements – gutters, downspouts, etc., should also be painted the field color to help them “disappear” into the background.

But it’s the trim color that can make or break the scheme. Painting the trim the same color as the body can work in some cases, but it can also give the house an “unfinished” or “wedding cake” look. Darker trim – especially around the windows – can cause a “frame” effect, where the windows look like pictures hung on a wall. Keeping the trim lighter than the field is almost always a safe bet. The accent color is where the excitement is. Once you’ve chosen an attractive combination of field and trim, make it “pop” with an eye-catching accent color. It’s a tool to give life to an otherwise muted color scheme and draws attention to the important features of the house. The front door, shutters, and the windows frames (not the trim) are good places for accent colors. Windows painted with accent and trim colors together can be the most interesting part of the composition.

Make sure you select a color scheme where the colors match and enhance each other. It is a good idea to stick with either warm or cool colors and often to use colors that appear on the same page of a color deck. You will likely need to get approval from your HOA prior to painting. Lastly, painting your home or office is hard work that is best left to professional painting contractors.