How to Choose the Exterior Color For Your Home

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Photo by Ivan Samkov

Picking the exterior color for your home is a big task — literally. Not only are you investing in a color that will last for years, but you’re showcasing your preferences and personality to the whole neighborhood as well. It’s a lot of pressure and, unfortunately, it’s not very easy to change your mind half-way through. So that’s why we at Urban Design Associates wanted to step in to offer some guidance. We’re not going to tell you what colors to use, but we will tell you exactly how to use them. 

Match Colors to Your Home Exterior’s Natural Facades 

Natural façades, such as stones, have undertones — colors that play into their overall look, but aren’t the focal point. Undertones can range from pink-beige to blue-gray and taupe.

Whatever undertone your home’s façade has will help determine what colors you choose to paint your home exterior. Here’s an example: say you have wood beams on your porch that are resting on top of stacked stones. Those stones have blue-gray undertones in them, therefore, you should stick in the blue-gray (and white) family for exterior paint. 

White Homes Aren’t Fully White! 

If you like the classic look of white homes, you can’t just choose any white. Most white home exteriors are actually off-white because the natural sunlight makes colors look much brighter than they appear on the paint sample. You can experiment with this too. Hold up a piece of white printer paper inside, and then take it outside on a sunny day. Notice the color difference? It should look a lot more vibrant than it did inside. Your house will do the same thing, if you’re not careful with choosing the right white. 

A good rule of thumb is to pick a color that is two or three steps down from the top of the paint strip. It may look too grey or too beige to you, but remember the paper test. They will look whiter outside!

The Same Goes with Grays and Reds! 

If you want a gray home, go with a warmer shade instead of something that is too cool or too blue. The sunlight is very “cool,” so it will emphasize any cool tone you choose. If you want a warm and inviting gray, pick a shade that’s two or three steps darker than your first choice. 

With red, you’ll want to pick a warmer tone than you originally planned due to the same “cooling” effect of the sun. It will look much brighter outside — just like white! 

The Rule of Threes

The rule of threes is a very basic (but useful) color technique. It means you need three distinct hues to make a color palette feel complete. In a home, that means one primary color and two accent colors. If you have a natural facade, that can count as one of your three color choices (usually an accent). 

The rule of threes can be used in a few different ways. The most common usage is picking a primary color for your siding, a primary accent for your windows/shutters/big ticket items, and a secondary accent for your front door, landscaping, and less important parts of your home. You can do subtle contrasts, such as greens, grays, and white, or something more stark, like darker colors paired with lighter. 

Keep in mind that contrasting colors will draw attention to architectural details, but contrasts that are too extreme will clash and actually detract from details. To be safe, stay within a single color family—a group of assorted lighter and darker shades based on the same color hue. Picture a gray house, with stones, and white windows, fascias, and soffits

If you’re having trouble picturing it, there are many apps you can use that will detect parts of your house (like the front door) and will change the color of it based on your choosing! Use available software programs to visualize combinations. Remember to check with your historic commission and HOA about color combinations too.

Attend to the Details

If you can’t figure out what to accentuate on the exterior of your home, we’ve got you covered. 

This decision begins with identifying the architectural details of your house. Do you have any of the following: 

If you answered “yes” to any of those, then ask yourself: are these details attractive enough and/or historically relevant enough to highlight them? If they are, choose a contrasting accent color for them. If they’re not, go more subtle with your accent color choice. 

Remember your rule of threes too! Keep in mind as well, that some larger homes — and especially more ornate Victorian homes — can benefit from more than three colors! Additionally, smaller homes may benefit the most from only two colors. For the most part though, three is a safe choice. 

To Use Light Colors, or Dark Colors? 

If you’ve painted the interior of your home, then you know the effect light or dark colors have. Light colors make everything seem more open and larger, while darker colors make the space feel slimmer. If you want your home to appear larger, choose a lighter color for its exterior. 

On the flip side, if you want drama, choose darker colors. They’ll make your home stand out against the landscape in your neighborhood, while using lighter tones to draw attention to detail. This technique of accented banding can be found in many of Frank Lloyd Wright‘s interiors. 

Another factor to consider is the Light Reflective Values (LRV) of the paint you choose. The Urban Heat Island effect is becoming more intense so making thoughtful decisions on the LRVs of exterior paint can make an impact on sustainability issues from energy demand to air pollution that affect our communities and the Earth.

When in Doubt, Turn to Nature

We at Urban Design Associates are partial to using the surrounding landscape as inspiration for the exterior of your home. We like to blend into nature to accentuate the already beautiful scene in front of us by picking the undertones found in the landscape around your home. This is a great option for you as well, especially if you want the emphasis to be on the view and not your home. 

That doesn’t mean your home won’t be a statement in itself, though! Your home will be designed to match the landscape, which means it will be just as stunning as the view. For examples, look at our Project Gallery!

Most Importantly…

No matter what you choose, make sure your home exterior fits your style and your personality, first and foremost. If you don’t want a gray home, you don’t need to choose gray paint. If you want a bold exterior, go bold! At the end of the day, what matters most is that your home is a reflection of who you are and a celebration of the lifestyle you enjoy.