Color It Beautiful
01:00 AM EDT on Sunday, August 19, 2007
By Cindy Hoedel
KANSAS CITY, MO — A great exterior paint job should make you think, “What a lovely home,” not “What great colors.”
If you get it right, your house will be in harmony with its surroundings — nature and the neighborhood. Get it wrong, and passersby will wonder, “What were they thinking?”
“You want to try to do something you feel will have longevity,” said Barbara Richardson, director of Color Marketing for ICI Paints/Glidden. “If you want funky, limit yourself to the front door.”
You can get a long way down the road toward a harmonious color scheme if you keep a few guiding principles in mind. Start with the colors you can’t change. Color consultant Paul Helmer helps clients pick paint colors. Helmer, who charges $250 for a consultation, says it’s crucial to take the following “givens” into account:
- The roof. Think of your roof as a big chunk of color. The steeper the pitch, the more noticeable it is. If the roof is dark charcoal composite, Helmer says it’s best to choose a color with heavy gray undertones. Conversely, if the roof is a light colored composite, the house color shouldn’t be too dark or it will look like the roof is trying to fly away.
Richardson advises using a color wheel to find colors that contrast with the roof in a pleasing way. “If the roof is a warm shade of brown, find that brown and look at the opposite of that — blue-gray or a grayed green,” she said.
- Exterior stone, brick or metal. If your house has orange-tinted bricks, it will look good with warm tones, whereas rose-tinted bricks will look better with cool tones. Ornamental wrought iron can be tied into the scheme by repeating its black or rusted tones on shutters or trim.
- Vinyl windows or siding. Remember whitewall tires from the ’70s? Your house might wind up with that look if you paint it a deep color and the windows are white vinyl, Helmer said.
If you have vinyl siding, don’t think you can’t change the color scheme. Richardson color-styled her sister’s home, which had light yellow siding.
“I made the trim — the corner trim and the window trim — a darker, more subtle shade of yellow and painted the door gloss black and the shutters a purply eggplant,” she said.
- The landscape. Just like shoes or a scarf in the wrong color can wreck the look of a coordinated suit, the wrong flowers or landscape plantings can detract from your home’s paint scheme.
Burgundy-leaved shrubbery would look ghastly against a yellowish-green house, for example. When Richardson color-styled her sister’s home, she pulled out all the red flowers and replaced them with yellow, purple and green plantings. “The reds were killing it,” she said.
- Neighboring homes. Color experts agree that your home’s paint color should neither clash with nor match the houses to the left and right of it.
For most people, it’s very difficult to pick out pleasing colors from thousands of possibilities. Paint companies spend a lot of money hiring people like Josette Buisson, artistic director for Pittsburgh Paints, to painstakingly develop color combinations based on prevailing color trends and science.
It makes sense to take advantage of that free design assistance rather than trying to coordinate colors yourself.
“To start from scratch is too hard; people don’t have enough time,” Buisson said.
Painter Bill Ruisinger has seen plenty of near and actual color-picking disasters.
“A lot of times, people wait until the last minute and then rush through it. They think it’s going to be easy, but it’s not,” Ruisinger said. “We book two months in advance. People have plenty of time to figure it out, but they don’t. If I have to repaint it six months later, that’s a $2,000 mistake.”
Online Color Tools
- Benjaminmoore.com: Click on “For your home,” then “Personal color viewer,” then “Let’s paint,” then “Home exterior.” Next, choose from 14 home styles the one that most resembles yours and click on “Save/load combinations” to view up to 57 color combinations.
- Sherwin-Williams.com: Click on “Homeowner,” then “Launch color visualizer,” then “Paint an exterior.” Now select from six home styles the one that most resembles yours, then choose from one of six collections and click “Apply to scene.” Or, from the “Homeowner” page, click on “Concepts in color,” then “View rooms to get inspired” to see eight color families, each of which has one featured exterior scheme.
- Voiceofcolor.com (Pittsburgh Paints): Click on “Visions at a glance” under the “My project” menu. Go to “Select a photo to paint” and choose “Exterior.” Choose from three styles a home that most resembles yours. Under “Outside” collections, find 21 color schemes to view.
If you like any of the colors below, here are the directions they are moving in:
- Yellows are deep and rich, crossing over into gold.
- Oranges are rusty and earthy.
- Reds are very toned down and sophisticated.
- Blues have loads of gray in them; pastel blues only work in southern Florida.
- Greens are moving toward deeper midtones with a touch of yellow to keep them from being too blue.
- Browns are getting darker and richer; brown is the new taupe.
- Grays have a lot of depth; if they are too light they look dirty.
Source: Barbara Richardson, director of Color Marketing for ICI Paints/Glidden
- The color is too bright. The more complex a paint color is, meaning the more different colors it contains, the better. Never use colors that are very pure or that have a high intensity. (Your paint dealer can tell those things about a color from its formula.)
- The garage doors are more prominent than the front door. Paint them the same color as the house if they aren’t architecturally beautiful.
- There’s too little contrast in the trim. Go at least two colors apart on a paint chip for a monochromatic scheme.
- The neutral isn’t so neutral. A color that looks beige on a card might look pink or orange on your house. Always test a paint color by painting a large piece of poster board with a sample, propping it against the house and viewing it at different times of the day. Or just paint part of the house itself. Many companies make sample pots so you can test several colors at less expense and waste than having quarts mixed.