No doubt about it, choosing exterior colors for a home is tricky. The names alone are enough to make your head spin: Richmond Bisque? Deep Russet? Hickory? Choosing a paint color becomes even more baffling when you consider that most houses use at least three different shades: one color for the siding; another color for eaves, moldings, shutters, and other trim; and a third color for accents such as doors, railings, and window sashes.
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What colors should you choose for your house? Begin your journey with historic colors.
The historic Roseland Cottage (1846) in Woodstock, Connecticut is a landmark example of Gothic Revival architecture with a color scheme right out of the Victorian pattern books. The siding is coral, the trim is plum, and the shutters black.
Every historic period has its preferred palettes. To find historically appropriate color combinations for your old house, refer to popular and historic color charts.
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History rules in St. Augustine, Florida, but for houses in the trendy tourist areas, anything goes. If you're planning to paint a historic home, you have three options.
- You can hire a pro to analyze old paint chips and recreate the original color.
- You can refer to historic color charts and select shades that might have been used at the time your home was built.
- Or, you can fly in the face of history and choose bright modern colors to dramatize architectural details.
The owners of this little bungalow opted to break all the rules. Instead of choosing traditional bungalow colors, they went bold with tropical shades of green and pink. In some neighborhoods, the choice might raise eyebrows, but this house is in a lively shopping area where anything goes.
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Clusters of Colorful Cottages
When houses are clustered close together, they can create a unified color scheme. Each home is distinct, but also part of a larger picture. These look-alike Victorian cottages cluster along a winding road in a seaside village. Each house is painted a different color, yet the overall effect is harmonious.
The three neighboring houses in this photo are painted taupe, gold, and slate blue. The colors do not clash because each house borrows at least one color from its neighbor. The porch columns and gable details on the gold-colored house are painted taupe, like the house next door. The eaves and other architectural details on all three houses are painted similar russet hues. These repeated touches of dark red unify the three houses.
Having color choice control of neighboring houses may be reason enough to buy up properties on the whole street!
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Every landscape suggests a rich palette of colors—a neighborhood of trees, forests, and shrubbery invites deep greens, moss colors, browns, and russet; for water views try blues, greens, and turquoise; for mountains, cliffs, and ravines select greens, grays, and browns; and for deserts a blend of oranges, reds, golds, and browns might do very well indeed.
The paint colors on this bungalow are drawn from the yellow and blue flowers blooming in the front yard. So, which came first — the landscaping or the paint colors?Continue to 5 of 12 below.
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Unless you plan to install a new roof, you'll want to choose exterior paint colors that complement the color of your roof shingles. New paint doesn't have to match existing colors, but it should harmonize. Some ideas:
- Green roof? Try gray, green, or white house colors.
- Black roof? Try gray, blue, or white house colors.
- Brown roof? Go with brown, tan, yellow, or white house colors.
- Gray roof? Choose gray, blue, green, black, or white house colors.
- Red roof? How about gray, black, or brown house colors.
The urban farmhouse in this photo is painted dusty green to harmonize with the green roof. Architectural details are accented in off-white and burgundy. Specifically, the siding is painted with Sherwin Williams Pensive Sky, SW1195; the gable has Sherwin Williams Mystery Green, SW1194; and the trim is Benjamin Moore AC-1, with Benjamin Moore Country Redwood for the details.
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Brick and Stone
A brick tower and a stone foundation inspired a rich color scheme for this Queen Anne Victorian. Every home has some features that will not be painted. On the grand home shown here, the painted surfaces harmonize with the natural colors of existing brick and stone.
The eaves, the window moldings, and the upper portion of the tower are painted gray to harmonize with the stone foundation and slate roof. The red color of the brick is echoed in the paint color for the window sashes and gable vent. The coral-colored siding also harmonizes with the brick, because coral and red are in the same color family.
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The well-known American architect Frank Lloyd Wright was known for using a brownish red he called "Cherokee red." Wright designed with an eye toward uniformity. At the Zimmerman House in Manchester, New Hampshire, interior and exterior spaces flow together. The same autumnal colors are used throughout.
Made with iron oxide, Cherokee red was not one exact color but a whole range of reddish hues, some dark and some more vivid. In this photo, gold and red furnishings harmonize with colors of the woodwork and bricks.
How much did Wright love this color? According to early plans, exterior colors for the iconic, swirling Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City were originally a shade of Cherokee red.
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How many colors are too many? How many are just enough? The answer depends on the size and complexity not only of your home but also of your neighborhood. The large Victorian house in this photo from St. Augustine, Florida, has four different paint colors—the body is gray; the gable is yellow; trim is white; and the details are dark red, like kidney beans.Continue to 9 of 12 below.
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White is a classic choice for stately buildings like the Colonial Revival Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Connecticut.
Light colors make a house seem larger, and spacious estates like the one shown here are often painted white to suggest an aura of elegance and grandeur. Built in 1901, Hill-Stead is often called one of America's finest examples of Colonial Revival architecture. The green shutters are a distinguished, traditional detail.
As interesting as the color is of Hill-Stead, the story behind its architecture may be more interesting. Theodate Pope (1867–1946), one of the first woman architects in the US, designed the estate for her family.
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Dark red brings out the details in a Victorian dormer painted harvest gold.
Dark siding or dark bands of trim will make your house seem smaller but will draw more attention to details. Darker shades are best for accenting recesses, while lighter tones will highlight details that project from the wall surface. On traditional Victorian homes, the darkest paint is often used for the window sashes.
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Author Harriet Beecher Stowe used subtle shades of gray-green, without dramatic contrasts, for her Hartford, Connecticut home. The 19th-century writer of Uncle Tom's Cabin had the trim, siding, and architectural details painted in different values of the same gray-green.
Stowe's next-door neighbor, author Mark Twain, used bolder colors but stayed within a single color family. The Mark Twain House is painted several shades of brown and russet to coordinate with the brick facade.
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This much red might be overpowering on a large house, but for this cozy cottage, the well-balanced eye-popping splashes of cherry red add charm.
A burst of a single color on just one part of your home may give it a lopsided appearance. On this cottage, the brightest color is balanced equally on each side.