Choosing a Tasteful House Color
May 7, 2007 § 66 Comments
I do a lot of driving. And as a decorator, what I find myself doing for much of the time is looking at house colors and analyzing them. From Upstate New York to Massachusetts, I’ve seen everything from spearmint green to black. Some colors really work and by that I mean that they draw your eye to the house and the surrounding landscape, but they allow your eye to move on. Other colors draw your eye directly to the house colors themselves and you don’t notice anything else. And you find yourself staring at the color and wondering, “What were they thinking!!”
Here’s what I suggest when it’s time to choose an exterior house color. This is particularly important if you’re selecting permanently installed siding as you’re stuck with the color for 20 years or more.
1. Look at nature. If you live in Florida, nature gives you everything from wonderful pastel shell tones like light pinks and peaches to bright hibiscus reds. And the sky and ocean provide the cool side of the palette. So when you’re choosing a house color, select colors that you see in your surroundings. A bright coral house in Florida looks perfectly acceptable because the color appears naturally in that environment.
If you live in Wisconsin or Vermont, however, that’s a different story. Nature in the north gives you earth tones like browns and olive greens and rust and even black. Spearmint green really stands out against a backdrop of evergreens and that’s not a good thing. So when you’re choosing a house color in New England, choose a color and a hue value that appear in nature. That would not include bright turquoise but might include a grayed-down slate blue like Benjamin Moore’s Jamestown Blue (HC-148).
2. Look at your neighbors. It’s the reverse of “keeping up with the Joneses.” You do not want the same house color as your next-door neighbor even if he stole your favorite color.
3. Respect history. If you live in an old house, choose a color that might have appeared on the original. There are many colors in the historical palette, but there are several that are not. When in doubt, stick with the tried and true historical palette, such as Benjamin Moore’s HC colors. This tasteful array of hues suits most homes, especially traditional style colonials, old or new. Richmond Gold (HC-41) looks great with black shutters and cream trim. And the greens, such as Louisburg Green (HC-113) blend beautifully with natural surroundings.
4. White works. White homes have a presence, a traditional elegance that fits in many historic areas. But in the winter, they either get washed out or they look dirty gray. White works if you keep up with the paint job and keep the house’s exterior clean. Be sure to add color with your door and landscape plantings. And black or dark green shutters.
5. Victorians follow their own rules. If you live in an old Victorian home, do some research and discover all your color combination options. All rules of conventional taste can be broken when you’re highlighting the detailed trim on an old painted lady.
6. Where to use purple. There’s an old brick house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with a dark purple metal roof and dark purple front door. The combination is quite stunning. Purple is great as an accent color on front doors, wreaths, and landscape plantings. A little purple can go a long way, but used carefully, it’s a great color.
7. Blend or be seen. The bottom line for house color is to decide whether you want your house to blend tastefully with the others in the neighborhood or stand out as the focal point on the block. If you decide to go off the natural palette and opt for a crayola-bright color, consider using that hue for a door color or some other accent instead of the house color. You’ll make just as big a statement and stay within the realm of good taste.
One more thing. House color is important to your children. When I was away at camp one summer, my parents painted our house orange with green shutters. (Orange was supposed to be gold but the paint store messed up and my parents did not have the color sense to stop the presses.) Horrified is the word to describe my shock when I returned from camp. From that point on, my house was known and identified around town as “the pumpkin house.” Don’t do that to your children!
Follow the guidelines and select a paint color for your home that will show your good taste and make your home look its best.