Choosing Exterior Paint Colors to Suit Your Home’s Architectural Style
LESLIE: Well, you only have one chance to make a first impression. And when it comes to your home, that first impression is what everyone will see from the outside.
TOM: The right colors can make a huge impact on how your home looks to passersby. It can also increase the curb appeal and if it’s done well, can even help increase the value of your home.
KEVIN: Hi, guys. Thanks for having me.
TOM: You know, when it comes to making choices about color, I think people get easily overwhelmed. So what should we keep in mind when choosing a color palette for the exterior of our home and especially if it’s an older home?
KEVIN: Yeah. Well, first of all, there’s no need to be overwhelmed. So I would say, “Don’t be afraid.” I’m color-blind. I’m a guy. So I’ve got a bunch of things going against me when it comes to picking colors. But I’ve muddled through it with the help of my wife and some other folks, as well.
One of the great tips that I got early on when we were trying to do our original house, which was an 1892 Victorian, was take cues from your neighbors. Check out the neighborhood. Get a sense of what’s out there, what’s been used. And when we did that, all of a sudden we realized, wow, there were some patterns that were showing up repeatedly – things that we liked, things that we didn’t like – and it started to give us some guidelines.
And then, once you’ve sort of got a sense of what’s appropriate for your neighborhood or what sort of a zone you’re in, if you will, there are a couple of rules that are going to help you, at least with an historic house. Oftentimes, people think of historic houses – they think of Victorians and they start thinking of lots of colors.
KEVIN: Lots of colors can be overwhelming.
TOM: Yeah, like the Painted Lady: the old houses that have eight, nine different colors.
KEVIN: The Painted Ladies. Exactly.
LESLIE: Well, there’s so many interesting architectural details that you can choose to paint all those different colors.
TOM: Details, yeah.
LESLIE: It’s like one tiny bead in a molding can pick up a red, you know?
LESLIE: It’s amazing.
KEVIN: Right, right. And on the Painted Ladies, I’ll admit I think it works.
KEVIN: But that’s just one style of house and it’s not the biggest style.
KEVIN: So, we learned, very early on, a very simple rule: basically, you are thinking about three paint colors. And you’re thinking about those paint colors for different parts of the house. The body is one, the trim is the second one and then any moving parts is a third color. And by that I mean the doors, windows, the sash and such.
TOM: Doors? Windows? Mm-hmm.
KEVIN: And if you kind of keep that in mind, all of a sudden you’re down to three colors and you know where to put them. And then those colors could be complimentary or they could be contrasting. But that’s a good way to go and you don’t really have to deviate from that at all.
If you do want to take it up a notch, sometimes the body, which is basically the predominant siding material, whether it’s claps or shingles – sometimes these houses have got two different types of siding: claps down low, shingles up high.
KEVIN: Then and pretty much only then can you maybe have two different body colors where you call out those differences.
TOM: Yeah, like maybe the same color family but one’s sort of a darker one and one’s a lighter one or something like that.
KEVIN: Absolutely. Yeah.
TOM: Not too dramatic.
Now, if you want to kind of stay historical with your color choices and even if you don’t have an old house but you sort of like the rich tones of the older homes, any guidance on how to choose an appropriate historical color?
KEVIN: Well, first of all, think about it: there are certain things on your house that you can’t change, right?
KEVIN: And so you’ve got a roof color. You’re not going to go out and change your shingles on your roof because you don’t like the black, you prefer to have, say, an off-red or something like that. So understand that you’re working with some constants, some things you can’t change.
And then, start thinking about what style house you have and what era it comes from, whether it’s Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival. Different era houses, different style houses typically use different types of paint. So by way of example, the Colonial houses built in the 1600s up to the late 1700s, they had a lot of earthy colors – the reds and the indigos – because they were made out of these organic pigments, literally things that we’d find in the ground to create color. That’s what was predominantly used back then.
Jump forward to the Greek Revivals. All of a sudden, we had white paint. We could get things that are bright. Those houses? They tend to have very few colors and maybe – or sometimes just white. So understanding the style of the house, when it was built, is going to be a good road map for what types of colors you should be thinking about.
LESLIE: Now, is it possible to actually use paint to camouflage something, perhaps a flaw in your home?
KEVIN: Well, maybe not a flaw but something you don’t want to call out. Could you imagine if you had those big downspouts for your gutter, which are incredibly important, if you painted them a separate color? Well, that would just call attention to it.
KEVIN: So if you painted them the same color as your trim, for example, it would actually help hide them and make them go away.
It’s another thing, too, with lattice. I like – I see a lot of people who feel like they need to paint the lattice around the porch a different color. No, not necessarily true. You actually kind of want to make that go away oftentimes, so paint it the same as the body color.
TOM: Generally, that’s not the most attractive part of your house.
KEVIN: No. Generally it’s not.
TOM: Usually you’re hiding something.
TOM: So, you ought to be hiding the lattice with a good, blending paint job on it, right?
KEVIN: Blend it in. Camouflage it, absolutely.
TOM: Great advice. Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
KEVIN: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
LESLIE: Catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit ThisOldHouse.com.
TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you by GMC. GMC, we are professional grade.