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Tips for choosing an exterior paint color for your house

Posted June 26

After:  Exterior paint brightens up the curb appeal of this home. (Deseret Photo)

Choosing an exterior paint color is an intimidating exercise. Looking at those minuscule swatches and picturing what any one color will look like spread over your entire house is tough. It really feels like a make-or-break decision as far as the curb appeal of your house is concerned.

Paint has one advantage over other exterior housing materials — it can be changed. However, painting any part of a home is expensive to hire out and a large, time-consuming effort if undertaken yourself, so the pressure is on to get it right the first time.

How does a homeowner decide what colors would be appropriate for a home if it is time to repaint, either for reasons of maintenance or for purely aesthetic considerations? One clue is to look at the age and style of the home. Different decades have their own home color styles — remember teal and peach from the ’80s? Homeowners can look to the past for some ideas. However, be wary about being too trendy in the selection of exterior paint colors.

Clearly, the style of your home will have something to say about appropriate color choices. Craftsman and Tudor homes have a long history of featuring organic materials and colors while a mid-century modern can be more daring. People are sometimes surprised that Victorian homes historically sported amazingly bright colors.

Paint itself has come a long way in recent years. It is now possible to get a paint that is also a good primer; this may save a whole round of painting now that it is easier to cover old colors. As with any kind of painting project, diligent preparation of all the surfaces will go a long way toward a successful result.

However, some materials are best replaced rather than painted, such as vinyl siding. Brick can obviously be painted, though consulting with a good professional painter is recommended. Bricks come in a variety of textures, some of which accept paint better than others. It is also possible to stain brick, as opposed to painting it.

Like many things, there is a happy medium when it comes to exterior home colors. Some neighborhoods are deadly dull with all the houses some boring version of brown and beige — beige stucco, brown shingles, brown and beige stone. On the other hand, we occasionally see a home in some eyesore color combination not usually seen on a house — and for good reason.

Classic colors, such as a gray, white and black combination, are usually a safe bet. Every year, the major paint companies select a color to promote as "color of the year," though the public doesn't always follow their lead. Commercial paint companies also have color palettes they have created that give suggestions of several paint colors that work well together when used on a home's exterior.

How many colors should be used on a typical home? Three is a good starting place. The main wall color is called the field. This is usually accompanied by a trim or accent color. A third color can be used on the eaves, the front door or accents such as shutters.

But back to that trick of how to pick a color that will look great on your home. Of course, there are apps. One is available from Home Depot and is called Project Color. You can take a picture of your home, select a color and see what it looks like on your home's exterior. This is more to select a general color (blue? green? yellow?) than an exact name and number of a swatch.

The other trick to finding that perfect color is to be willing to spend some money to make sure of your selection. By this, we mean get several quart samples and paint them on the house, thereby enlarging those tiny samples into 4-foot square swatches. This can help you to make an informed selection, and you can see what happens as the light changes on each side of the house and throughout the day.

Finally, look at your house in the context of your street or neighborhood. Will the new color ruffle any feathers? Will it stand out in a good way?

People more often err on the side of being too conservative (read: boring) when selecting exterior paint colors. Drive around and see what color combinations appeal to you and what will go with your house style. Make use of websites (such as houzz.com), social media and apps to explore all you can before you try colors on the actual house.

Be brave, be thoughtful, be proactive. By carefully preparing for an exterior paint upgrade, you can soon have a home that looks fresh, clean and up-to-date.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs. To learn more, visit RenovationDesignGroup.com or contact ask@RenovationDesignGroup.com.

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