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How to Choose House Paint

Tips for selecting exterior paint colors and finishes

By Jan Soults Walker

Think of fresh exterior paint as curb appeal in a can. New paint doesn't qualify as an instant makeover but it's faster than renovating, and your home still earns a fabulous look without maxing out your bank account or your schedule. Here's how to make the right paint selections.

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The eyes have it

Casual Transitional Outdoors by TerraCotta Properties
TerraCotta Properties
Engage your observation skills and check out these factors that should influence the paint colors you choose.
  • Fixed assets. Every home features permanent or semi-permanent architectural characteristics such as the roof, siding, and brick or stone accents. Take these design elements and potential color variations into account as you make your color selection. Sherwin Williams paint, for example, points out that some shingle materials feature flecks of color that you can incorporate into your color scheme.
  • The plot line. Study your home's setting and consider everything from hardscaping (such as retaining walls) to vibrant flowerbeds to wooded backdrops. Select colors that will allow your home to stand out from the landscaping without clashing and that work in concert with Mother Nature—depending on the look that suits you best.
  • Style starters. Some home styles are known for distinctive color palettes, such as multiple whimsical hues for a Queen Anne, pristine white with dark shutters for a colonial home, or muted earth tones for a Craftsman bungalow. Read this article on historical home color collections, then visit the paint aisle at your home center to find colors that suit the era and style of your home.
  • Hues in the 'hood. Take a walk around your neighborhood and study exterior colors. While you don't want your home to look identical to every other house on the block, you do want to maintain harmony. Make note of color combinations that you find particularly pleasing and use them for inspiration in selecting your own scheme. If you are part of a neighborhood association, find out if there are covenants governing exterior color choices. 
Classic Transitional Outdoors by Michael Abrams
Michael Abrams
  • Virtual view. Try out paint colors on a photograph of your house using computer software or paint color visualization tools, many of which are free of charge online or at home centers.
  • In the light. Once you've settled on hues you like, purchase them in sample sizes, such as quarts, before investing in gallons. Brush swaths of color on various sides of the house. View the samples at different times of day to see how the colors change in bright light and shade.      
  • Local flavor. Consider the culture and history of your home's location. A home in New England would likely dress in colors far different from a home in South Florida, for example. (Glean more color style ideas here.)

Three's a charm

A common rule of thumb advises selecting three colors for your home: one for the body of the house, one for the trim around windows and doors, and one for accents such as the front door and shutters. Elaborate Victorian-era homes often boast four or more colors to emphasize architecture.

Accentuate the positive

Just as you can use paint indoors to create the illusion of spaciousness or intimacy, you can wield exterior paint colors to bring out your home's best features. Light exterior colors tend to make a home appear larger, and dark colors seem to shrink the size but also give it a look of permanence. Sherwin Williams says that light color makes a porch more welcoming, and bright color can make the front door a gorgeous focal point. If your home appears too tall, such as when surrounding plantings are young and diminutive, paint the top half of the house a darker hue than the lower half.

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