Home and Garden


The politics of paint:

How to pick a color that fits your neighborhood

The most frequent mistake homeowners make when choosing exterior colors is not factoring in elements that won’t be painted over, such as brick or

The most frequent mistake homeowners make when choosing exterior colors is not factoring in elements that won’t be painted over, such as brick or stone veneers. This house gets it right by taking the cue from existing stonework with Sherwin-Williams’ Dorian Gray.(Provided by Sherwin-Williams)

The problem with exterior home design is there is only one kind of mistake: the one everyone sees.

That’s what makes home-improvement decisions so nerve-wracking. Your taste — whether enviably good or so bad you need to hand out motion-sickness bags — is on display.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the color of your house. For most, this is literally the biggest (square-footage-wise) design decision they will ever make.

I am here to plead on behalf of every neighborhood in America: Please, as a public service, choose well.

As far as I’m concerned, you can do what you like inside. Paint the walls with chartreuse and black stripes, but outside, paint politely. Do not be that house that people look at, shake their heads and mutter: “What were they smoking?”

We can guess what lies behind some color calamities. She knew ever since she was four, and had that hot pink doll house with bright yellow shutters, that when she grew up, she would paint a house just like it. Or he can think of no better way to show his support for the Denver Broncos than to paint his house orange and blue.

If either of these notions sounds familiar, please, before you embarrass yourself and devalue your neighbor’s property, file them under “fantasies best left unexpressed.”

Show a little restraint.

“Most people are considerate,” said Jackie Jordan, director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams. They get their fuchsia and lime addictions satisfied indoors, where colors can reflect more of an owner’s personality.

“Inside, you have more freedom to express color one way in the bedroom and another way in the living room, but outside, you really need to get along with everyone else,” she said.

To protect consumers from public humiliation, most paint companies offer two categories of paint: tame exterior colors, and a wider, more vibrant range of interior colors. The guidelines are good ones.

If your neighbors checked their taste at the curb, slip this column under their doormat.

Meanwhile, for careful home improvers looking to paint their houses — and early autumn is an ideal time, here are Jordan’s pointers for choosing colors.


1. The landscape

Look around. The colors of your geography, the plants and terrain, whether coastal, desert, prairie or mountain, should harmonize with the exterior paint colors you choose, said Jordan. Stucco colors will change with region. The color of stucco walls in Dallas will (and should) be different from that in Phoenix or Kansas City.

2. The neighbors

Drive around your ‘hood, and see what your neighbors have done. Then try to blend.

“Don’t do something completely different,” said Jordan. “Most exterior house colors are neutral for a reason. The exterior walls of your home are not the place to make a statement. Use your environment and community as your inspiration.”

3. The architecture

The style of your home, whether Victorian, craftsman, Mediterranean, or midcentury suburban modern, will also dictate the best color choices. Most styles of homes have tried-and-true palettes that have proven themselves. “Sure, you can go against the grain,” she said. “But historically accurate colors will not only enhance the architectural style of your home, but also enhance resale value.”

Historical societies can often help, as well as architectural and design firms. Sherwin-Williams has a website that features exterior preservation palettes; bit.ly/1rhuFWY.

4. Other house components

The biggest mistakes homeowners make when choosing outdoor paint colors is failing to consider existing materials, said Jordan. The roof, brick and stone all have colors that should be part of the overall color scheme. Some brick or stone is peachy brown; others are bluish gray, and others are reddish rust. Coordinate paint so it has the same undertones as those materials. “If the bricks are cool, stay cool.”

5. The trim and accent

When you pick a house color, you actually need to pick at least two, probably three, and possibly four colors: the main field color; the trim color for windows and roof lines; an accent color for shutters, architectural accents and doors; and some make the door a fourth color. One trick when selecting trim is to select your field color, then choose a hue on the same color strip that is two or three shades lighter, or even darker, than the field color. “That way you know they work together,” said Jordan. “For accent colors, you can be more playful.” Most paint companies offer exterior color schemes to help consumers put together attractive combinations. Here’s one:http://bit.ly/1rhuFWY

6. The trends

Fortunately, trends in exterior colors don’t fluctuate nearly as much as interior colors, said Jordan. Which is good, because no one wants to go through this too often. However, today’s homeowners are leaning more toward warmer “driftwoody” grays and taupes, and darker colors, she said. They are also getting bold with their front doors, choosing colors that are a clue to a home’s interiors. You can get the idea just from the names of some of Jordan’s favorite Sherwin-Williams colors for front doors: FramboiseChrysanthemumSassy Green and Maxi Teal.

Finally, if you just can’t decide, ask for help. Sherwin-Williams has a ColorSnap app (http://bit.ly/1sV5Myc) that lets you load a picture of your home and “try on” paint colors, said Jordan.

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