The first thing everyone sees is the exterior of our homes.  How can we set the tone, define our style, and welcome everyone in to it?

The home’s colors are a large part of what creates and defines its style.  But do you struggle with picking the right colors when it’s time to repaint the outside of your home? Here are some basics to guide you.

Many opt to just take your painter’s suggestions, or choose the same colors as the house down the street. But a little research and planning can help you understand why the colors are appealing and why “it works.” Knowing this will help you choose a color scheme with the confidence.  And the final paint job is one that you will be pleased with.


An exterior paint scheme should be made up of at least three colors: The field, or large areas such as walls or roofs. The trim, which consists of corner boards, window trim, fascias, rakes, etc. The accent, or specific elements including doors, shutters, and other architectural features.

Field colors make up the majority of what you’ll see on the house and will lead you to the choice of trim and accent. On the home pictured above and below, the architect, Barbara Vincentsen, chose subtle color changes to accentuate features. In the photo below the color change in the center of the gable highlights a change in the shingles.

Are you trying to make your house look a little more prominent on the street? A lighter field color will make it look larger; a darker color will visually shrink it. But darker colors can also give it a strong, solid appearance.

The trim color can make or break the scheme.  Darker trim – especially around the windows – can cause a “frame” effect, where the windows look like pictures hung on a wall. Keeping the trim lighter than the field is almost always a safe bet. And don’t be afraid to use multiple trim colors.  One of my favorite looks is a light color on the trim (moldings) surrounding a very dark color on the window frame.

Gutters, downspouts, and similar elements are usually painted the trim color to help them “disappear” into the background. But always be open to considering how existing structural elements can enhance the color scheme. Using copper or black (deep colored) gutters and leaders can add dramatic effects.

The accent color is where the excitement is. Once you’ve chosen an attractive combination of field and trim, make it “pop” with an eye-catching accent color. It’s a tool to give life to an otherwise muted color scheme and draws attention to the important features of the house.

The front door, shutters, and the windows frames (not the trim) are good places for accent colors. Windows painted with accent and trim colors together can be the most interesting part of the composition.

What is your home’s style?

The two most important considerations in choosing a color scheme are the architecture of the house and the neighborhood context.

Historic architectural styles, for example, look best in their original color schemes, although these can vary quite a bit. Original Colonial and Colonial Revival homes were often quite colorful on the inside, but less so on the exterior. Often they were painted in a single color for the field and trim, with a second color for an accent. Combined with prominent red brick chimneys and a brick or stone base, the effect is a three-color scheme.

The photo above shows an example of an historically accurate, 2-color scheme. Although technically speaking, the accent color of black does add the third color.

Victorian homes – often referred to as “painted ladies” – sometimes showed off six or more colors of trim and accent. Making that look good today takes the services of a color specialist and a lot of time. But a similar effect can be had with as little as three colors if they’re well placed on the house.

The Craftsman style of the early 20th Century sported a darker, earthier color scheme using deep browns, greens, and reds. The current popularity of the style is making more homeowners consider richer color schemes for their homes.

The use of warm colors on this project including our use of a stained mahogany porch floor, railing, and ceiling created a very welcoming entrance.

Try it out.

Get a couple of paint decks (those color wheels that fan out) from a couple of paint manufacturers to get started. Narrow your choices down to two or three paint schemes, then buy a quart of each color – AND a quart of several other colors that are nearby on the color strips.

Every color choice must be tried out on the house – don’t ever buy a gallon of paint from the color chip alone! Most paint stores offer quarts of paint at reasonable prices so you can try out several colors or color combinations before you commit to a scheme.

Here’s why: Colors that look great on the color strips don’t always look so great on the walls — and you’ll never know until you try them out! Often, darker colors look much lighter on the house, so always get a quart of colors at least one tint lighter than your first choice (“tinting” makes a color lighter; “shading” makes a color darker.)

Leave the colors samples up on the wall for several days before you choose. Look at the color in sunlight and in shade, morning and evening. The larger the area you paint, the easier your choice will be!

Whether you’re comfortable with choosing colors or not, you have several resources that can make the decision much easier.

Many paint manufacturers have produced pre-selected color palettes arranged by architectural style or color range that specify compatible field, trim, and accent colors. They’re available at paint and building supply stores and many are very well done.

Many paint companies have online paint selection programs that suggest proper color combinations – some even allow you to preview colors on photographs of real houses, or on a digital photo of your own home.

Plan ahead, be bold in your color choices, and try colors on the house first. You’ll be thrilled when your house has a fresh, exciting new look! Who said watching paint dry is no fun?

All photos were used with prior approval of our clients.

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