Choosing Exterior Paint Colors - So Difficult

Residential 1950s Suburban Home
Residential 1950s Suburban Home. Photo by H. Armstrong Roberts / Retrofile / Getty Images (cropped)
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Colors for a Raised Ranch

Raised Ranch: A homeowner seeks paint color advice
Raised Ranch: A homeowner seeks paint color advice. Photo courtesy of the homeowner, jf

New exterior house paint colors can give your home a whole new look—but which colors are best? Architecture enthusiasts share their stories and ask for ideas about choosing paint colors for their homes.

JF recently purchased a 1964 split level ranch. Paint colors and enhancing curb appeal are prime objectives. The project? I would like ideas for paint colors (main color and trim). Also, should we look into removing (sand blasting, etc.) the painted brick on the lower half of the house, or paint the house all one color (trim aside)?

Architecture Expert Advice:

What gives a house character? The colors you have right now are lovely, and the blue and white harmonize nicely with your gray roof. However, if you'd like to change the color scheme, you might consider earth tones to blend with your landscape.

How do you remove exterior paint? Safely. Stripping paint of brick is a messy and expensive job, and can be damaging to the brick. You might want to keep the brick painted. You may opt to paint the entire house a single color, or choose two colors (one for the trim and one for the brick). Either way, you can add oomph by painting the door a completely different color such as red or black.

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Solutions for a Remodeled Ranch

This 1970s House is a modified Ranch Style, with 2 dormers and 3 front gables
This 1970s House is a modified Ranch Style. Photo courtesy of the homeowner, timeoutnow

A homeowner called Timeoutnow had a 1970s ranch home that they remodeled. They added a second floor to the house by adding a dormer out the back and converted two fake dormers into real ones. The house became a mix of materials from siding, brick, stone and stucco and it simply felt a bit disjointed. The roof was black and the trim was white.

The Project? We are looking for ideas to improve the look and curb appeal of the house. We are considering adding white shutters to two of the windows in the front, to try to make the left side of the house match the right. We are also considering painting the garage doors, the front door, and some of the trim. I would like to paint the brick, but do not want the maintenance.

A simple house can present many questions: Should they add white or beige shutters to the left windows? Should they paint the garage doors beige? Should they paint the front door? What color? Should they paint some of the white trim beige? Any other curb appeal suggestions?

Architecture Expert Advice:

Your house is lovely, and it doesn't need much to add pizazz. A few ideas:

  • Paint the garage doors a deep beige, slightly darker than the color you've used in your gables. Your goal is to balance the garage side of your home with the dark brick on the opposite end.
  • Paint the front door the same dark beige you use for your garage door.
  • Keep all your trim the white. Or, if you do paint the trim, keep it all the same color. This will help unify the various elements of the house.
  • No need to add shutters! You don't want to add visual clutter to this already interesting home.
  • Focus your efforts on landscaping.
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White Foursquare Needs Color!

White foursquare with sun porch needs color!
White foursquare with sun porch needs color!. Photo courtesy of the homeowner, Jennifer Meyers

Homeowner Jennifer Meyers purchased a white foursquare Folk Victorian that was originally built in the late 1800s. The house had been extensively remodeled. The two biggest architectural changes included (1) raising the house for a new foundation and full-height basement and (2) the addition of an enclosed sun porch on the front. There was some original wood gingerbread trim on the upper porch that needed to be removed or replaced. The house sat well above the street (located on a hill) and was set back further from the street than the adjacent neighbors. The roof had been replaced with a dark grey/black composite but barely visible from the street or when standing in front of the house.

The Project? We plan to paint the entire house, including some repairs to wood siding, and possibly replacing/adding decorative trim to the upper porch to balance out the fanciful enclosed sun room front porch. We have always really liked fancy Victorian style homes, with colorful paint jobs, but don't want to go overboard.

Questions abound when you're deciding on changing aspects of your home's exterior. You may get conflicting advice—when you get price quotes from a painter, his suggestion might be to stick with only two colors. But is that the best advice or is that because he doesn't want his painters to have to deal with more than two colors? Go with your gut and your own research. Understand the architecture of the historic details. What sort of color scheme complements the architecture without making it appear too busy or over-done? High contrast or low contrast trim? Trim lighter or darker than siding color? When researching historical colors, how do you incorporate the more modern front porch addition? And can you use color to keep the house from appearing so tall?

Architecture Expert Advice:

Excellent questions. You are wise to be cautious about over-doing, but you could use more than two colors if you stayed within the same color family. Although your house isn't a Bungalow, it might lend itself to the rich, earthy colors often used for Bungalows. Take a drive around your neighborhood and get a feel for what others have done. Your new porch will blend in just fine as long as you paint it a color that is similar to the color you use for your siding.

Using darker colors might make the house seem smaller, but using three colors on the house might add dimension without being overly done. Victorian homes often use at least three colors. Try two colors from the same color family (sage siding and dark green roof and trim) then added a very bright pinkish purple to the detail.  Make sure you coordinate the roof and paint colors so everything goes together. You'll be happier in the end.