How to choose the right exterior paint color

Summer is the most popular season for exterior painting. We thought it would be the perfect time to sit down with Suzanne, to find out what goes into picking the perfect exterior palette.

Q. What’s the first thing to consider when choosing exterior paint colors?
First consider the features on, or surrounding, the home that are not going to change. I’m talking about things like stone or brickwork, window trim, the color of your roof—or even the “strange” color that the neighbors painted their house. These factors often steer me toward—or away from—a particular color family. (You like army green, the neighbor likes mint—not a good mix!)

Q. Okay, so what’s next?
Next, determine if there are architectural elements on the home that should be featured, or that would be better underplayed. For instance, should the garage door(s) on the tuck-under garage be less—or more—of a feature? What is the best way, with color, to emphasize the beautiful trim on the house? Or should it be made less prominent, because it’s not in prime condition?

Q. Is there a limit to the number of colors one should paint on a house?
The answer to that question is—“It depends.” Is the home a Victorian, which, historically, can be a rainbow of colors? Or is it a home that would just look confusing, or smaller, if multi-colored? I have seen mistakes with the overuse and the underuse of color. It would never be my recommendation to paint the entire house one color—you lose all definition and interest.

Q. How do you know if you should paint the trim lighter or darker than the body of the house?
There is no hard-and-fast rule here. But, generally speaking, dark trim de-emphasizes the windows, and light trim makes them more of a prominent feature.

Q. How much contrast should there be between the trim and the body of the house?
Contrast is absolutely a matter of personal preference: high contrast is more dramatic; low contrast, more subtle. The thing to remember is that exterior colors tend to wash out in real life. Two colors that look like high contrast on a color swatch may look almost identical outside.

Q. So what’s the biggest mistake people make when choosing exterior colors?
This is an easy one: The homeowner stands next to the multi-colored brick (for instance) on their home; picks out a small fleck in that brick; matches it to a paint chip; and paints the whole house that color. What they don’t take into consideration is what color the brick—as a whole—conveys from a distance. That “fleck” may not even be noticeable from the street—and the brick may come across as a completely different color. To avoid this phenomenon, stand back from the house and squint at the brick. The dominant color you see when you squint is the color you should consider.

Q. Finally, Suzanne, what color should never be used on the exterior of a house?

Unless you live in Key West… Turquoise!