House Paint Colors - A Guide to Great Combinations

Colorful Home in New Orleans Garden District, Louisiana
Colorful Home in New Orleans Garden District, Louisiana. Photo by Kylie McLaughlin/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images (cropped)

Richmond Bisque? Deep Russet? Hickory? The names are enough to make your head spin. Choosing a paint color becomes even more baffling when you consider that most houses use at least three different shades: one color for the siding; another color for eaves, moldings, shutters, and other trim; and a third color for accents such as doors, railings, and window sashes.

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Historic Colors

The pinkish Gothic Revival Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, Connecticut
House Paint Color Guide: Historic Colors at Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, Connecticut. Photo © Jackie Craven

What colors should you choose for your house? Begin your journey with historic colors. The coral and black color scheme at the historic Roseland Cottage (1846) is recreated from the original Victorian color palette.

Roseland in Woodstock, Connecticut is a landmark example of Gothic Revival architecture with a color scheme right out of the Victorian pattern books. The siding is coral, the trim is plum, and the shutters black.

Every historic period has its preferred palettes. To find historically appropriate color combinations for your old house, refer to popular and historic color charts.

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Jazzy Colors

Green and pink attracts shoppers to a St. Augustine antique shop
House Paint Color Color Guide: Jazzy Colors for an Old House in St. Augustine, Florida. Photo © Jackie Craven

History rules in St. Augustine, Florida, but for houses in the trendy tourist areas, anything goes. If you're planning to paint an historic home, you have three options.

  • You can hire a pro to analyze old paint chips and recreate the original color.
  • You can refer to historic color charts and select shades that might have been used at the time your home was built.
  • Or, you can fly in the face of history and choose bright modern colors to dramatize architectural details.

The owners of this little bungalow opted to break all the rules. Instead of choosing traditional bungalow colors, they went bold with tropical shades of green and pink. In some neighborhoods, the choice might raise eyebrows, but this house is in a lively shopping area where anything goes.

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Colorful Cottages

Three Colorful Cottages in a Seaside Village
House Paint Color Guide: Colors for Look-Alike Cottages. Photo © Kevin Miller/iStockPhoto.com (cropped)

When houses are clustered close together, they create a unified color scheme. Each home is distinct, but also part of a larger picture.

These look-alike Victorian cottages cluster along a winding road in a seaside village. Each house is painted a different color, yet the overall effect is harmonious.

The three neighboring houses in this photo are painted taupe, gold, and slate blue. The colors do not clash because each house borrows at least one color from its neighbor. The porch columns and gable details on the gold-colored house are painted taupe, like the house next door. The eaves and other architectural details on all three houses are painted similar russet hues. These repeated touches of dark red unify the three houses.

Having color choice control of neighboring houses may be reason enough to buy up properties on the whole street!

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Nature's Colors

A colorful garden inspired the paint color for this cheerful yellow bungalow
House Paint Color Guide: Garden-Inspired House Colors. Photo by Chad Baker/Jason Reed/Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images (cropped)

A colorful garden inspired the exterior paint color choices for this cheerful bungalow. Every landscape suggests a rich palette of colors — trees, forests, and shrubbery? deep greens, moss colors, browns, and russet; water views? blues, greens, and turquoise; mountains, cliffs, and ravines? greens, grays, and browns; deserts? oranges, reds, golds, and browns.

The paint colors on this bungalow are drawn from the yellow and blue flowers blooming in the front yard. So, what comes first — the landscaping or the paint colors?

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Roof Colors

This Victorian cottage is painted a dusty shade of green
House Paint Color Guide: Paint Colors to Match the Roof. Photo © Jackie Craven

This cottage has a green roof, so the siding is painted a similar gray-green color.

Unless you plan to install a new roof, you'll want to choose exterior paint colors that complement the color of your roof shingles. New paint doesn't have to match existing colors, but it should harmonize. Some ideas:

  • Green roof? Try gray, green, or white house colors
  • Black roof ? Try gray, blue, or white house colors
  • Brown roof? Go with brown, tan, yellow, or white house colors
  • Gray roof? Choose gray, blue, green, black, or white house colors
  • Red roof? How about gray, black, or brown house colors

The urban farmhouse in this photo is painted dusty green to harmonize with the green roof. Architectural details are accented in off-white and burgundy. Specifically, the siding is painted with Sherwin Williams Pensive Sky, SW1195; the gable has Sherwin Williams Mystery Green, SW1194; and the trim is Benjamin Moore AC-1, with Benjamin Moore Country Redwood for the details.

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Brick and Stone

Queen Anne home in Saratoga Springs, New York
House Paint Color Guide: Colors to Complement Brick and Stone. Photo © Jackie Craven

A brick tower and a stone foundation inspired a rich color scheme for this Queen Anne Victorian. Every home has some features that will not be painted. On the grand home shown here, the painted surfaces harmonize with the natural colors of existing brick and stone.

The eaves, window moldings, and upper portion of the tower are painted gray to harmonize with the stone foundation and slate roof. The red color of the brick is echoed in the paint color for the window sashes and gable vent. The coral-colored siding also harmonizes with the brick, because coral and red are in the same color family.

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Wright's Red

Inside the Garden Room at the Zimmerman House by Frank Lloyd Wright
House Paint Color Guide: Frank Lloyd Wright's Cherokee Red Complements Brickwork. Photo by J. David Bohl, Courtesy Currier Museum of Art (cropped)

Frank Lloyd Wright's signature color, Cherokee Red, harmonizes interior rooms with the natural colors of brick and wood. Wright designed with an eye toward uniformity. At the Zimmerman House in Manchester, New Hampshire, interior and exterior spaces flow together. The same autumnal colors are used throughout.

The well-known American architect was known for using a brownish red he called Cherokee red. Made with iron oxide, Cherokee red was not one exact color but a whole range of reddish hues, some dark and some more vivid. In this photo, gold and red furnishings harmonize with colors of the woodwork and bricks.

How much did Wright love this color? According to early plans, exterior colors for the iconic, swirling Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City were originally a shade of Cherokee red.

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Detail Colors

Victorian home in St. Augustine, Florida
House Paint Color Guide: Detail Colors for a Victorian House in St. Augustine, Florida. Photo © Jackie Craven

Gray accents add depth to the details on this sunny yellow Victorian home in St. Augustine, Florida. Also note the touches of red.

How many colors are too many? How many are just enough? The answer depends on the size and complexity not only of your home, but also of your neighborhood. The large Victorian house in this photo has four different paint colors — the body is gray; the gable is yellow; trim is white; and the details are dark red, like kidney beans.

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Classic White

Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Connecticut
House Paint Color Guide: Classic White at Hill-Stead Museum Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Connecticut. Photo © Jackie Craven

White is a classic choice for stately buildings like the Colonial Revival Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Connecticut.

Light colors make a house seem larger, and spacious estates like the one shown here are often painted white to suggest an aura of elegance and grandeur. Built in 1901, Hill-Stead is often called one of America's finest examples of Colonial Revival architecture. The green shutters are a distinguished, traditional detail.

As interesting as the color is of Hill-Stead, the story behind its architecture may be more interesting.Theodate Pope (1867-1946), one of the first woman architects in the US, designed the estate for her family.

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Dramatic Accents

Red details dramatize a dormer painted harvest gold
House Paint Color Guide: Colors for Dramatic Accents. Photo © Jackie Craven

Dark red brings out the details in a Victorian dormer painted harvest gold.

Dark siding or dark bands of trim will make your house seem smaller, but will draw more attention to details. Darker shades are best for accenting recesses, while lighter tones will highlight details that project from the wall surface. On traditional Victorian homes, the darkest paint is often used for the window sashes.

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Subtle Colors

The Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Hartford, Connecticut
House Paint Color Guide: Subtle Color Combinations The Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Hartford, Connecticut. Photo © Jackie Craven

Author Harriet Beecher Stowe used subtle shades of gray-green, without dramatic contrasts, for her Connecticut home.

The 19th century writer of Uncle Tom's Cabin selected muted colors for her home in Hartford, Connecticut. The trim, siding, and architectural details are painted in different values of the same gray-green.

Stowe's next door neighbor, author Mark Twain, used bolder colors, but stayed within a single color family. The Mark Twain House is painted several shades of brown and russet to coordinate with the brick facade.

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Balanced Color

Front view of brown-shingled bungalow with red doors and windows
Painting a house is an exercise in experimentation. Photo by Connie J. Spinardi/Moment Mobile/Getty Images

This much red might be overpowering on a large house, but for this cozy cottage well-balanced splashes of cherry red add charm.

A burst of a single color on just one part of your home may give it a lopsided appearance. On this cottage, the brightest color is balanced equally on each side.