Black and White Houses - Passageways to Colorful Exteriors

One black door next to one white door
Black and White. Linda Steward/Getty Images

Painting a house can be like passing through a door into a new world. The exterior paint color you choose for you home can affect not only the people who live inside, but also your neighbors. Everyone will live with the decisions you make until you paint again, so you want to get it close to right.

Picking house paint colors can be tricky — so many colors to choose from. It's not a black and white decision...or is it? Here are some photos of how some homeowners solved the problem.

Traditional Colors for a Revival Home

Black and White Colonial Revival Home
This Revival Home is painted no-nonsense black and white. Photo © Jackie Craven

Our homes are often a mix of styles — like this Colonial Revival with a Greek Revival portico and Mediterranean stucco siding. Traditional white with black shutters is the safest exterior house color scheme, especially with such a black roof. The nontraditional detail in the dormers of this house is something these homeowners had some fun with.

Are there other options?

A Real Colonial, House of the Seven Gables

Dark-colored House of the Seven Gables, 1668, Salem, MA, made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Dark-colored House of the Seven Gables, 1668, Salem, MA, made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Photo by Chris Rennie/Robert Harding World Imagery Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

This house in Salem, Massachusetts inspired the setting of The House of the Seven Gables, American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1851 tale of greed, witchcraft, and generational misfortune.

Built in 1668, the Turner-Ingersoll mansion is a genuine American colonial house. In Hawthorne's novel, it is a "rusty wooden house," but that may have been poetic license. The current dark gray-brown staining is probably more accurate of the weathered siding found along the Atlantic coast of the American colonies. The restoration is representative of the preservation work accomplished by the 20th century philanthropist Caroline O. Emmerton and architect Joseph Everett Chandler.

This famous house in American literature makes us wonder — does a house's dark exterior influence what happens within its interior walls? Or is that idea just fiction?

Corwith House, c. 1837

White colonial farmhouse with green shutters, Corwith House, c. 1850, Long Island
Corwith House Museum, c. 1837, Bridgehampton Historical Society, Long Island, NY. Photo by Barry Winiker/Photolibrary Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

The William Corwith House on Long Island is a fine example of a traditional downstate New York farmhouse from the mid-19th century — before the Bridgehampton area was transformed by the 1870 Long Island Railroad. Now home to the Bridgehampton Museum, the house was architecturally transformed by the railroad.

The Corwith family added to their farming income by hosting travelers and boarders who rode the railroad out to the country, escaping the summer heat of New York City. Corwith added bedrooms and a fine Victorian front porch, which has since been replaced with a Greek Revival entrance.

The clean exterior white color of the house is enhanced by an inviting country green on the shutters. No doubt, this is a color scheme that has stood the test of time. The Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Connecticut has a similar pattern.

Almost Black Farmhouse, c. 1851

A bright red door is a traditional feature on many homes. This farmhand cottage is painted a rich, almost black, shade of gray.
This farmhand's cottage is now painted a rich, almost black, shade of gray, with a bright red door. Photo © Jackie Craven

Don't be afraid of dark colors! This modest cottage, built c. 1851 for a farmer's trusty foreman, is an almost black shade of gray. The trim is bright white and the front door displays an inviting, brilliant tomato red behind a full-view black metal storm door.

The siding is certainly not original to the farmhouse. Asbestos cement shingles, with wavy bottoms and patterned with wood-grain, were installed most likely in the late 1930s or early 1940s, when the front porch became part of the interior and a rear kitchen/bathroom was added. These shingles — originally in white and green or pink shades of gray, most likely — were popular for do-it-yourselfers and readily available from mail-order catalog stores like Sears, Roebuck and Co. Most homeowners have long since painted over the original shingle colors. On this house, the exterior siding has held up well to a variety of paint colors, but nothing ever this dark.

The Benjamin Moore paint on this house in upstate New York has survived many harsh winters, but the color has not been so lucky. After 6-8 years, the darkness of the stonecutter hue has not really faded, but turned an eery, glowing greenish shade — especially in bright sunlight. Perhaps it's not the paint's problem at all, but the original gray-green coloring of the old siding trying to get out.

That's a nice theory, but it doesn't explain the gray-green doors on the garage that was built in the 1980s.

Working with very, very dark exterior paint is always an experiment. You have to be adventuresome — or maybe even a little crazy.

Whitewashed Brick, Black Shutters

Whitewashed brick with black shutters
Whitewashed brick with black shutters. Photo © Jackie Craven

Should brick always be natural and unpainted? Think again. Some brick was historically painted or coated with stucco to hide imperfections. Preservationists suggest these rules for historic structures:

  • If your brick was originally painted or coated, don't remove the paint or coating down to the bare brick.
  • If your brick was NOT originally painted, don't add paint or coatings.

What do you do? Your local historic commission can help you make some tough decisions.

Shades of Gray, White Shutters

Grey and white house in the Stockade, Schenectady, NY
Grey and white house in the Stockade, Schenectady, NY. Photo © Jackie Craven

Similar and opposite to the whitewashed brick with dark shutters, this home's darker exterior, a gray wooden siding, can handle white shutters quite well. Contrast is accentuated with window varieties and the vertical shutter shape against the horizontal siding.

What really makes the black and white color scheme in all of the houses in this photo gallery is the inclination to add a splash of bright color, like this red door — a combination also seen in the smaller, almost black farmhouse.

Harmonizing Color with Your Neighbor

Row house divided only by paint colors, white and cream-colored bricks
Consider a neighbor's color scheme to complement your own. Photo © Jackie Craven

An historic row house can be problematic or individualistic when a brick facade is shared between neighbors. Not only must history be honored, but neighborhood aesthetics should be respected.

Bold White Trim, Sunlight on Gray

Grey and white houses seem to beg for a hint of red accent
Grey and white houses seem to beg for a hint of red accent. Photo © Jackie Craven

Architectural trim above a window provides more than shading for rain. Molding is an opportunity to add color shading that contrasts with larger exterior surfaces.

Consider the cornices on this house, above the windows and near the roof. A white contrast is an obvious choice against the gray exterior, but what if the owner invested in a sharper, darker contrasting storm window frame? These homeowners have chosen a safe color scheme, with a dark door and slight red accent on the door frame.

Traditional White on a Gray-Roofed House

Large white house with enormous front-showing grey roof and large, green front lawn
Consider the roof and the landscaping when choosing house colors. Photo © Jackie Craven

Considering the house's architecture means coordinating roof color with exterior siding color. When the home's roof predominates, the color of the shingle or other roofing material becomes a significant part of the exterior color scheme.

Noncontroversial white has been a traditionally "safe" choice for many homeowners.

Consider Going Darker with Bold Bright White Contrasts

Grey and white house in upstate New York
Grey and white house in upstate New York. Photo © Jackie Craven

Black and white paint combinations show contrast. Darker, nontraditional exterior surfaces show individuality.

On this house, the contemporary color scheme adds a purity and sincerity while accenting the regal, historic columns of the front porch. The homeowner allows the architecture to speak.

Today, more and more people are warming up to darker house colors with bright white accents — simple black and white solutions for a complicated world.

Why not go as dark as the vehicle you drive?


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Your Citation
Craven, Jackie. "Black and White Houses - Passageways to Colorful Exteriors." ThoughtCo, Aug. 11, 2021, Craven, Jackie. (2021, August 11). Black and White Houses - Passageways to Colorful Exteriors. Retrieved from Craven, Jackie. "Black and White Houses - Passageways to Colorful Exteriors." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).