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6 Tips for Picking the Perfect Residential Exterior Paint

The problem with home design is there is only one kind of mistake: 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-foot-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 please inside. Paint the walls with chartreuse and black stripes, but outside, paint politely. Do not be those houses that people look at, shake their heads and mutter: "What were they smoking?"

We can guess what lies behind some color calamities: the woman who knew, ever since she was four and had that hot pink doll house with bright yellow shutters, that she would paint a house just like that when she grew up. Or the man who can think of no better way to show off his support for the Saints than to paint his house black and gold.

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. However, for those homeowners who checked their taste at the curb, you might want to slip this column under their doormat.

Meanwhile, careful home-improvers looking to paint their houses -- and these warm Indian summer days of early autumn are an ideal time -- should consider these pointers from Jordan when choosing colors:


The architecture: The style of your home, whether Victorian, craftsman, Mediterranean or mid-century modern, will dictate the best color choices. Most style have tried and true palettes. "Sure, you can go against the grain," Jordan said. "But historically accurate colors will not only enhance the architectural style of your home, but also enhance resale value." Historical societies can help as well as architectural and design firms. Also the Sherwin-Williams website features exterior preservation palettes.

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, Jordan said. Stucco colors will change with region. The color of stucco in Dallas will be different from that in New Orleans.

The neighbors: Drive around your neighborhood and see what your neighbors have done. Then try to blend. "Don't do something completely different," Jordan said. "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."

Other house components: The biggest mistakes homeowners make when choosing outdoor paint colors is not considering the existing materials, Jordan said. 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 of those materials. "If the bricks are cool, stay cool."

The trim and accent: When you pick a house color, you 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 possibly a fourth color for the door. 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," Jordan said. "For accent colors, you can be more playful." Most paint companies offer exterior color schemes to help consumers put together attractive combinations.

The trends: Fortunately, trends in exterior colors don't fluctuate nearly as much as interior colors, 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, Jordan said. They are also getting bold with their front doors, choosing colors that cue to a home's interior colors. Here are some of Jordan's favorite Sherwin-Williams colors for strong front door impressions: Framboise, Chrysanthemum, Sassy Green and Maxi Teal.


Beyond The Brush Painters, Denver, Colorado