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How to Choose an Exterior Paint Color For Your Home

Many homeowners struggle with picking an Exterior House color. If you don't come from a design background, walking into a paint store can be overwhelming because there are so many colors to choose. I have found house painters to be about 50/50 on giving color advice- sometimes they are good sometimes they are not. Here are my expert tips to answer the question "What color should I paint my house exterior".

Exterior House Colors

When Benjamin Moore began selling paint in 1883, they had 48 colors. The “Paint” wasn’t really paint at all. It was dry powder that you needed to “mix with boiling water, apply with a brush.”

Fast-forward to today-> Benjamin Moore paints sells more than 3,500 different colors! And you were thinking picking from 48 colors was tough! Can somebody send me back in a time machine please?

Benjamin Moore Paint Store

Picking a paint color for the outside of your house can be overwhelming because there are so many choices. Glidden ran a great commercial called “Tame the Beast” that shows paint chips turning into a terrifying monster! Picking a color doesn’t have to give you nightmares. Laurel Bern‘s says “Relax- it’s not like its brain surgery”.

When faced with a tough decision, it’s always a good idea to get a few different people’s opinions. Here are a few people to put on your shortlist, that are sure to offer up some helpful advice:

-Paint Store Colorist (most Major Brand Paint Stores have a colorist, call ahead before making the trip to the store to make sure the colorist is there- they help home owners choose paint colors all the time. Don’t forget to grab some brochures to take home with you before you leave!)
-Interior Designer
-Real estate agent

Need a jumpstart? You can buy some home improvement magazines at the grocery store, walk your neighborhood, or visit some Sunday open houses to start the house color juices flowing.

Here are my tips to help you pick a winner for the color of your house:

#1 Tip: Focus on the main color family.

There are 9 basic color families, that can be grouped into 3 types of colors.

Warm Colors: Red, Orange, and Yellow

Cool Colors: Green, Blue, Purple

Nuetrals: Grey, Brown, White

From these nine basic color families, pick the one or two color families that you like and think would look good on your house, and then pick out some individual colors from within those families to get swatches. Don’t get too caught up looking for the silver bullet paint color, finding the exact color you like might take some time. Just try to figure out which color family is the best and that will really narrow down your choices.

As a side note, I’d completely ignore “color schemes”, accent colors, or secondary colors, until after you have chosen your main color. The accent colors are dependent on the main color of your house. Trying to figure the accents colors before you have figured out the main color will have you running around in circles, like a dog chasing its own tail, until you are dizzy and fall down. Once you had decided on the main color of your house, you will find picking an accent color comes naturally.

#2 Tip: Don’t fix it if it aint Broken.

Like the color of your house already? There is no rule that says you have to change the color when you paint. You can paint your house the same color over again. The reason many owners pick a new color when they paint their house is that they just want something different. If that’s not you, stick to the tried and true.

#3 Tip: Dark Colors versus Light Colors.

Which Word Appears Larger or Smaller? Which Box Appears Larger or Smaller?

700 N Fairfax was Painted White, then Painted Black. You can see the difference in the effect of dark and light colors.

Any Color can be made darker or lighter by adding white or black. Adding White to a color is called “Tinting”, and adding black to a color is called “Shading”.

Paint Chips with Different Tints and Shades in the same Hue.

Light colors advance in space and dark colors recede. This means that light colors will make your house seem larger and stand out, and darker colors will make your home seem smaller and blend in. Larger houses usually look better in darker colors and small houses look better in lighter colors.

#4 Tip: Consider your neighbors.

Look at the houses immediately next door to yours and across the street. These houses will have the greatest impact on your color decision because they are the closest to yours. You don’t want to be a copycat and have the same color house as your next store neighbor. Or worse yet, **gasp** have three of the same color houses in a row! If you are surrounded by a white house, a blue house, and a tan house, you might choose yellow or mauve or green just to be different. Drive or walk through your neighborhood and look at other houses for inspiration. Each neighborhood has its own character. Try to follow the general color scheme of your neighborhood and you will stay in harmony with the other homes. Exterior paint colors tend to be duller and boring compared to what you can pull off indoors. That is because exterior paint colors are visible to the public. Avoid getting those dirty looks from your neighbors for picking a controversial color and stick to the basics, unless, of course, you live in a creative community like Venice, the Arts District Downtown, or Silverlake/Echo Park, where vivid exterior colors are commonplace. People in these areas paint their houses in the same wild and crazy colors that they dye their hair!

#5 What’s your favorite Color?

If you are totally stuck and can’t decide, why not pick your favorite color? It is a color you are guaranteed to like and enjoy. I would only recommend this if you are painting the house for yourself. If you are painting it to prepare for sale, I would stay away from strong color choices. 

#6 Tip: Work with the natural colors of your house.

 Your house has design elements that have color and will not be painted. The Roof is one, but garage doors, brick or stone facades, chimneys, and walls or fences are a few other examples. If there is a strong natural color influence to your house, try to factor that in when choosing your best exterior paint color. It should blend and not clash with the colors that are already there.

#7 Tip: Choose color that match your Architectural Style.

Listen to your house speaking to you. It’s architectural style is hinting to you what color it should be.

Here is the Quick’n’Dirty of how to interpret the color signs, and make you a house whisperer, of Los Angeles 4 main architectural styles: Spanish/Mediterranean, Contemporary/Mid Century, Traditional, and Craftsman.

Spanish / Mediterranean Exterior Paint Colors

Spanish and Mediterranean houses are made of natural materials like clay, stone, and sand (stucco). They are designed for places in climates that are sunny with dry heat. Natural warm earthen tones blend best with Spanish and Mediterranean architectural style. The exterior paint color that these homes look best in are: White, Cream, Tan, Brown, Yellow, Orange, Rust.

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Spanish and Mediterranean houses always have red tile roofs, and sometimes saltillo tile floors, which clashes with the cool colors. That is why you don’t see Spanish houses often in Blue, Grey, Green, Black or Taupe – I don’t think they look very good in these exterior paint colors. But you be the judge:

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Mid Century Modern Exterior Paint Colors

Contemporary houses are almost exclusively white. This plays into their design aesthetic of simplicity and purity of form over ornamentation. Lately, homeowners are experimenting with grey for contemporary homes- I find this new trend refreshing.

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The same thing for Contemporary Homes goes for Mid Century. They look Great in White and Grey. Mid Century Houses have very little area to paint because they have so many floor to ceiling glass windows and very low roof lines.

Case Study House 22, Stahl House

So Mid Century Houses can be painted virtually any color. I personally think they look best in cool colors (Blue, Green, Muave). I’m no fung Shui master, but here is my amateur attempt to explain why. Mid Century homes have strong wind and water elements. The walls of windows are Water. Often Midcentury homes have a pool, which is more water element. Many of these homes were built in the hills, which gives them amazing views of the city and blue sky, which is the element of wind… Or maybe it’s just because I think they look cool!

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Traditional Exterior Paint Colors

Traditional (Ranch, Cape Cod, Tudor, Colonial, Ranch, Other revival Styles)

Colonial Homes traditionally painted white with green shutters

Traditional Houses can be painted in any warm, cool or neutral color. They tend to have a lot of woodwork and ornamentation, Light or Dark, not highly saturated.

Exterior Paint Colors with Red Brick (150)

Craftsman Exterior Paint Colors

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