How to Choose Exterior Paint Colours for a Home – Fine Homebuilding

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Written By Jim J Neal

It’s best to tone it down. Accents and trim with high-contrast colors will draw attention to architectural details. A home with a lot of decorative trim can be calmed by using trim and accent colors from the same color family as the rest of the house. Photo: Carl Bellavia

Synopsis: Amy Krane, an architectural color consultant, discusses the factors you should consider when choosing a house’s exterior-color palette. These include understanding the home’s architectural style and region, landscape and hardscaping. She gives examples of exterior colors and explains how trim and other decorative elements can be used to help you avoid certain combinations.

I get more inquiries about exterior colors than any other topic, whether they are new homeowners or looking to update their existing home. No matter if their home is a grand Queen Anne Victorian or a modest ranch, it doesn’t matter what style they have. Even though the cladding comes in a limited range of colors, it is still difficult to choose a pleasing and cohesive color palette. These are some of the key factors to keep in mind when choosing exterior colors for your house.

Get to know your neighborhood and plan accordingly

Rchitectural style, region

Some home styles are more common in certain regions. These architectural styles can sometimes be paired with particular color schemes. The Pueblo- and adobe-style homes in the Southwest and Southern California are an example. Red terracotta roofs, as well as facades of stucco or adobe, are often painted in the colors of the desert. Southern California’s Mediterranean- and Spanish-style homes are also terracotta-roofed and stucco-exteriors. These homes, which can be found in Florida and Southern California, often have terracotta roofs or stucco exteriors.

Nearly all craftsman homes are painted in earth tones. Cool white is often used in Greek revivals. Victorian homes built in Queen Anne and Second Empire styles often have multiple facade colors and strong contrasts between them. Adirondack Mountains homes are often dark brown with red trim.

The climate can also have a significant impact on the color palettes of a particular region. It is partly due to the location’s latitude and the quality of the light received there. The light source is more overhead the closer you are to the Equator. The intense sunlight of the southern United States can bleach out colors that are pale or muted. Therefore, brighter colors are more common there. For example, the coral, pink and turquoise homes in Key West, Florida.

However, light from the northern climate zones like the Pacific Northwest or New England is filtered through the atmosphere at an angle that gives it a delicate and muted profile. This diffused light is better suited for muted, soft colors.

Deep, darkened houses are a recent trend that is being seen in many parts of the country. However, it is not a common feature in the South. Dark colors would not only fade faster but also increase cooling costs and make the home look unnatural. According to the Department of Energy, dark colors that are flat and not glossy can absorb 70% to 90% of sunlight’s radiant energy. This can then be transferred into the home. The heat from the sun is reflected off of light-colored surfaces, which keeps it cooler inside.

Take into account fixed elements. Consider exterior elements that can’t be changed easily, such as the color of the roof or the surrounding hardscapes. The home’s gray-stone roof and dark features make it a great candidate for a bright and light-colored body. This gives the house a modern farmhouse look. Photo by Amy Woolf (color via Amy Woolf Color & Design).

Hardscape and fixed materials

Your roof’s color is an important factor to consider. It is important to coordinate the roof and facade. Most people use architectural shingles to cover roofs. If it isn’t, then it is metal or terracotta. Although the shingles will have one color, they are made of granules which almost always produce a single tone from far away. You can combine these colors with different paint colors.

You can also decide on a roof color by keeping it neutral, such as a midtone grey. This gives you the best flexibility in choosing paint colors and siding colors. You are limited in the options that will work with shingles that are brown, green, or black. Contrast with lighter colors in the house will be created by a dark color such as black.

You should also consider any brick or stone on your home, whether it is on the foundation or chimney stack. This will make choosing paint and siding colors more difficult. It is up to you to decide whether the fixed colors will be blended or contrasted with the siding. A complementary pairing of colors, such as pinkish stones with green cladding, will make each color standout. However, if you choose brown siding with a neighboring color, they will blend in and settle the entire color scheme. You can use the colors and mortar of the stone to match your siding if the house has stone.

Red brick is a strong color that requires careful consideration when choosing paint colors. Midtone neutrals like warm grays or muted sage colors, dusty slate grays, and Tans work well. Deeper colors such as dark blues and greens as well as some browns are also good choices. Because they are often overpowered by red, it can be more difficult to mix brick with pale colors. The result is a color palette that feels unbalanced. Black can be used with any brick color, whether it is red or yellow-tan.

There are many things to think about when choosing a color scheme for your house. Consider porches, decks and railings as well as fencing and outbuildings nearby. All of them must be coordinated. Exterior decking and porch flooring should be painted in colors that are easy to clean, durable, and mimic earth. These colors include neutral grays such as cement gray, and warmer ones like taupe. You might also consider brown shades or tans. While white is more easily worn and shows dirt, black can be too stark. Remember how cohesive your entire color palette should be. It may look nice to highlight architectural details such as railings and brackets on a porch, but giving it its own color can make it feel disconnected from the overall aesthetic.

You can use color to disguise architectural details that you don’t like or are too expensive to change. It is possible to paint a door in the same color as your siding. Your house’s facade will be painted in a similar hue to its roof. This will make it less prominent because your eyes are drawn down to the siding color and not stopping to compare the two.

If the architectural style allows for a different color to be applied to the top floors than to the bottom floors, it is usually more appealing to use the darker color as this gives the house more weight and grounds it. Many homes have concrete foundations. If you wish to paint or stain them I recommend using the siding color, unless it is white or a light shade, or choosing a warmer earthy neutral that can be hidden behind shrubs. This is where a taupe-like warm gray will work well.

HOAs, historic commissions

Is it important to be historically accurate? You can choose the colors, unless there is a homeowner’s association or historic district commission that dictates what colors you can use. Many people have misunderstood the colors of old, believing they were all muted. The historical paints were made entirely from natural pigments. They included white, cream, and ochre yellows. This was depending on when they were used. To see the bright colors of colonial times, one only needs to visit Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, Va. There are many sources that can provide historical accuracy. You can try your state’s historic commission, academic institutions, or restoration organizations.

HOAs may be governing the development where your home is located. Many HOAs value a consistent, uniform look and can dictate what colors and materials can be used on a facade. You may be asked to choose from a specific list of paint colors, limit your choices or ban homes that are identical in color.

Plants are important. You should consider the size of your landscaping, the location of it, and the color palette of the flowers nearby. Also, how the colors change with the seasons. This combination of white flowers and green foliage creates a rich, blue exterior that complements the white trim. Photo by Elizabeth Batman (color: Amy Krane Color).

The goal of historic commissions is to preserve a home’s exterior as authentically as possible. They need paint colors that are appropriate to the historic colors of the home. It will help you save money and time when it comes to painting your house.


It is a mistake to ignore the plant life around your house, including foundation planting as well as the trees and shrubs further back. The shade of large deciduous trees can block sunlight for a lot of the year, especially during leafy seasons. Your home will be darker during these months. Colors will appear darker because of the lack of sunlight. The exterior of a house may also be affected by the effects of dense foliage. This can make colors appear darker. Don’t forget flowering perennials! Although they may not last very long, many people believe that their best curb appeal is when the flowers are in bloom.

Choose Trim, Accent, or Door Colors

Photo by Cameron Smith (color by Amy Krane Color).

There is no one right way to choose accent colors for a home. These questions will help you decide how to approach these decisions.

How do you define the architectural style of your house? What color combinations appeal to and what are your preferences?

The largest amount of one color on the exterior of a home’s facade is its body color. You will achieve a calm exterior if your trim is the same as the body. This is both historical and modern. Visual variety can only be achieved by changing the color of the doors or windows. The busier your house will look, the more variety you add to it. It all comes down to your preferred aesthetic.

Contrasting color values (darks, lights, and other hues) are used to pick trim, accent, or door colors if you prefer dramatic results with high-contrast combinations. It is common to use one color for all or part of the trim, one color for the door(s) and one color for shutters.


Lincoln Barbour, photo

People feel most confident making a statement at the front door. Without making the entire house look garish, bright, saturated, and high-chroma color can be used here. It is my preference that the door be its own color. You should choose a complementing color for your body. A bright or pale color can be used on a dark-colored body. You might want to use a less striking color for the front door. This will emphasize the importance of your front door. Side entrances and back doors should match the body color with a higher sheen.


Consider the color of the windows (sashes and rails, as well as grilles). The current trend for dark black, charcoal and brown windows encourages the eye through the glass almost making the window parts disappear. White windows on the other side will stop your eyes from looking at the glass. You can have white doors and windows with a little bit of color if you don’t want the glass to be too obvious. This will make it look less stark and “knock it down”. Depending on your body color, Benjamin Moore’s China White and Capitol White, Mountain Peak Whites, Cloud Cover, Acadia White and Cloud Cover are all good options. You can also check out Sherwin Williams’s Shoji white or White Flour. Even outside, beige can appear white. This category includes colors like Benjamin Moore’s Calm and Soft Chamois.

Accents and trim

Photo by Elsah Epstein (color: Amy Krane Color).

To accent the facade, a trim color can be used in a variety of places. You can use it on vertical corner boards, a bell band, fascia brackets, corbels porch posts and fencing. Fascia and soffits are best when they are the same color.

Accent colors are only suitable for certain styles of house. I think of Victorians painted in a lady’s style, and styles with gables at the front that could benefit from an accent color. It all depends on how much pattern you wish to add to the overall appearance.

Find Your Aesthetic


Consider how your home will look in the context of the neighborhood. Are you looking for it to blend in with other homes or stand out? This is the first step. Next, consider what color combinations appeal to your sense of style. Do you feel more drawn to multicolored facades? Are you looking to draw attention to the trim of your house by using an accent color that is different from the main color? Are you more comfortable with color combinations that blend well together or are there strong contrasts? These questions will help narrow down your options.

Find what you love. You can find inspiration by seeing an aesthetic in different ways. You can find inspiration from a variety of styles, such as bold colors for creating focal points, wood trim accents or a historically accurate palette. Photo by Carl Bellavia (color: Amy Krane Color).

Take a walk around your neighborhood to see what is already there. This will help you narrow down what you love. Photograph. You can’t imagine what a color combination looks like outside without seeing it in a house. If your street has a similar architectural style, and the colors are more or less the exact same, you should be careful not to copy the houses next door. There are many New England streets where all the homes have one era, and they are all painted white with black shutters. This doesn’t mean that you should do the same. However, if you don’t, your home will stand out.

Next, find more inspiration. Pinterest is a great way to look at dozens of exteriors of homes. Although you won’t find the exact style you want, you can still get a good idea of what it looks like. A photo of a house similar to yours with contrasting trims or shutters can help you visualize how it will look when your house is two stories high. Be aware that online color comparisons can be inaccurate. It is unlikely that the colors you see online will match your home’s exterior.


It is important to test paint before you buy it. You should never choose a color based on a photo you find online. Although you can use large samples of paper (available from color experts), it is best to paint large squares measuring 4 x 5 ft. or more on your home with at least two coats. It’s amazing how many times I have seen test swatches that are only as large as a single stripe of clapboard. Colors outside will appear brighter and lighter because of the natural light. Although a large board primed with paint will help you see a lot, the substrate of your house may affect the appearance of the color. Therefore, it is better to paint on the house.

Photo by Linnsea Ottroff (color by Amy Krane Color).

Talk to your painter about the options for paint’s finish and sheen. Higher sheen paint is more durable. It also adds reflectivity. However, a glossy house won’t look right for you. You’ll have to balance appearance and durability. Talk to your painter about the best paint and stain options for the substrates that you are covering. Discuss the importance of priming and which primer color is best for the paint colors that you have chosen. (For more information on exterior primers, please see A Primer of PrimersFHB #280.


In many areas of the country, dark facade colors like black, charcoal gray, or dark blue have gained acceptance and popularity over the last few years. Other trends have emerged over the years, such as painting red brick white or off white and creating a farmhouse style with white board and batten siding and black windows. You should consider whether you are willing to invest in a trend that will fade over time, or at least 10 to 15 years. It is more expensive to paint dark house colors than to cover them properly. Depending on where you live, it may also cost more to repaint.

Lincoln Barbour, photo

It’s best not to paint your house in trendy colors if you are planning on selling it soon. People have different tastes and a black house may excite them, but it might not appeal to buyers. You can choose from many classic colors, so that you don’t lose out on the best option when selling your home. For a stucco house or colonial, you can choose cream with black shutters, or a Craftsman in earth tones. This will not raise eyebrows.

All these factors will be taken into consideration and your exterior colors will be chosen. If this seems like a daunting task, hiring a professional to help you make the right choice can reduce stress and prevent costly mistakes.

Things to Avoid

Bright colors

More acceptable colors for the eye are grays, browns, and blacks that are muted or tempered with white.

Fugitive colors

When they are exposed to certain environmental conditions, fugitive colors can become less durable. These colors should not be used in areas that cannot be repainted frequently. These colors, which include some reds and oranges as well as yellows, can often lose their vibrancy or change dramatically.

Unpaintable surfaces

Before you buy a paintbrush, make sure to check with the manufacturer. This will ensure that every substrate, including siding, trim, windows, trim, and garage doors, is paintable.

Bright whites

White vinyl windows are often not paintable. The dilemma is how to paint the entire house in bright white. Do you want to replicate the brightness of the white on other areas of the house? Or should you go soften it? I do not recommend using brightest whites for exteriors. Whites that have been “toned” with a little gray or another color will look best in sunlight. They will appear white but not shockingly.

Similar colors

It is possible for colors that are quite similar to clash with each other. If you choose siding colors to match red brick, it is best to avoid choosing a bright, burnt-orange color. You can work with red brick by choosing a darker or a different color.

Amy Krane is an architect color consultant who lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Fine Homebuilding #309