The Crucial Dos and Don’ts of Choosing New Exterior Paint Colors for Your Home

Easy 3-Part Guide to Make the Exterior Designing Process Simple

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Madeline Elston


Jan 21, 2021

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It happens to the best of us. Not enough upkeep on the exterior paint on your home, and it’s chipping or caked in years of dirt. Or maybe you’re just looking to change things up. Maybe that old beige-and-brown combination you loved so much fifteen years ago is boring you now. No matter your situation, nothing brings life back to our homes quite like a fresh coat of paint in all new colors. 

From bright whites to bold blacks, from eyesore yellows to elegant blues, it can be daunting to open a paint chip palette and try to pick new colors from scratch. It’s okay. We’ve been there. Collecting wisdom from all over the exterior design market, we’ve put together the ultimate beginner’s guide to making your home be the new envy of the neighborhood.

DON’T pick one color you like and expect to cover every surface

Chances are, if the main color of your home needs a new look, so do the other details on the exterior. Since our eyes will usually be drawn to the colors on buildings that our most dominant, it’s easy to overlook the many other features and colors that make a house look polished and beautiful. This means taking into account everything that needs refreshing on your home and building an aesthetic that will look best for you. Maybe the white trim looks nice, but the shutters won’t work with the new main body color. Or perhaps you love the railings on your front porch, but you’re sick of the color of the window frame. Even if you don’t hate what you’ve got already, don’t get too attached. Every part of your exterior will need to work with the new paint color you’ve got picked out.

Illustrated diagram of exterior of home, includes labels main body, second body, trim, accent
You’ll want to select a trim color, an accent color for shutters and doors, and an anchoring color for the main body of the home. You can also elect to choose a second anchoring color if there’s a certain area of the building you’d like to make pop a little more. This will ultimately depend on your personal tastes and the architecture of your home. Image courtesy of Ply Gem.

DO create a palette of pleasing colors that work together

There are three main sections of the home you’ll want to consider: the main body, the accents, and the trim. These elements will vary from house to house, but shown above is a simple visual guide to understanding these elements from Ply Gem. The ‘accents’ category can include anything from shutters to the front door to decor on the front porch. You’ll notice this diagram also includes a ‘second body’ area; this area may not exist on every home. Even if it does, many homeowners will choose not to choose a second color for this area and simply use the main body color on areas like these. It’s all your personal preference.

In terms of the three main areas, you’ll usually want to select three different colors, though a trim that matches the accents can also work well, especially if they’re in a neutral color. We recommend pulling out some paint swatches and experimenting with different combinations you find pleasing. Don’t worry though, there’s more guidance for these choices later on in this article.

Dirty yellow two-story home with trash and dumpster
Don’t let your home be this house on the street, which actually incurred fines and community protests for being too offensively ugly. The house in Lincoln, Nebraska has since been bought and redesigned, but the images will live on forever as a cautionary tale to new homeowners. Image courtesy of the Lincoln Journal Star.

DON’T go too bright and create the community eyesore

In sprucing up the exterior of the house, it’s exciting to start the color-picking process. It’s possible that you’ll find yourself drawn to bright rainbow colors to make a statement with your proud home. Unfortunately, however tempting the urge to go with super-saturated colors may be, it’s probably not for the best. The most beautiful, memorable home in your neighborhood isn’t the one with the loudest color on the siding; it’s likely the one with an elegant aesthetic punctuated with a carefully chosen color palette. 

Blue two-story home with white trim and black and brown accents, lush greenery in front yard
In this example the dominant blue is flanked by a simple black for accents and white for trim. Pairing another bright primary color wouldn’t have worked as well. Image courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens.

DO be bold, but make a balanced plan

Nobody loves a pop of red or blue as much as we do. Don’t be afraid to play with color! Keep in mind though; a mix of neutrals and muted tones make vivid, rich colors pop the best. It’s also worth mentioning that the blue in the house above is somewhat muted. An electric blue like the kind you’d find on a sports car probably isn’t the best choice for an elegant two-story like this one.

In the early stages of planning, check if you have any colors that’ll be most difficult (or unfortunate) to change, like your antique wooden front door or red-brick chimney. These colors can either stand out (like the chimney in the photo above) or work in seamlessly with the color plan (like the wooden door in the photo above). By building a plan around these pieces, you can ensure that your entire home will fit together and look like one cohesive work of art.

Reference back to the three main areas of the exterior: main body, accents, and trim. If you’re going to take a risk with one of these areas, best play it safe with the other two.

Blue and orange two-story home with truck in driveway
We applaud the creativity, but some color combinations just don’t work. According to Julie Gerstein reporting for Buzzfeed, this home was actually the result of some ambitious designers on A&E’s Move That House. Image courtesy of Buzzfeed.

DON’T panic and go rogue with your color combinations

Some colors just don’t work together on a large scale (like your home). The key problem in this example is that the two main colors are both highly saturated with color, meaning the bright blue and orange are not muted or toned down at all. Though it’s possible that orange and blue could be parts of a workable aesthetic, it’s a risky move nonetheless. The classic advice is to keep it simple: have one bold color on the main body, then stick to neutral for the rest. Though we’ll look at a stunning exception to this rule next, it’s a classic rule for a reason. This orange-and-blue monstrosity isn’t impressing anybody.

Red brick and green clapboard three-story home with white trim and accents
This home defies classic wisdom to avoid putting two ROYGBIV colors together. Yet, sometimes classic wisdom is wrong, as this red-brick and green aesthetic totally works. Don’t be afraid to explore unconventional combinations, but keep in mind that professional designers usually have a better eye for this stuff than the rest of us. Image courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens.

DO take inspiration from professionally styled color palettes

When in doubt, talk to a professional. We can’t all go to school for formal training on color theory. Thanks to the splendors of 21st-century technology, those experts are already within reach (assuming you’re reading this article on your computer or phone). Not only can a quick google search yield some great inspiration photos for your perfect home makeover, but so can a real in-person conversation. Your local paint store (or even just the paint-mixing section of a home improvement store) will have tons of catalogues of color combinations curated by companies’ aesthetic experts. Whether you have a bold anchor color in mind or need help from step 1, the representatives who can sell you some strong, weather-proof paint for your home’s exterior can likely also advise you on colors.

In a nutshell

Exterior design is tricky. Everyone driving past will see what you’ve put together. Don’t sweat it, though. Remember to find colors for the main body, the accents, and the trim. Colors for each of these areas should work together to create one cohesive look. Don’t be afraid to play with color, but be ready to tone it down a bit with some neutrals for the details, or maybe a more muted version of your preferred shade. Unlike school, cheating is totally allowed. Borrow ideas from the internet or go to a specialist for advice. There’s no shame in asking for help, especially when the topic at hand isn’t your area of expertise. 

We’re not all design connoisseurs, and that’s okay! You still deserve to create a home you’ll love and be the driver of decision-making when it comes to design for your property. At the end of the day, it’s your home. Do what you want with it, and if you like the colors you’ve picked, don’t let any designer’s opinion stop you. It’s all subjective. The most important person to impress with your design choices is yourself. And most importantly: have fun with it!

July 8, 2019
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