Sunday, February 19, 2012

Exterior Painting

I'm a big fan of color and I'm not afraid to use it on walls, furniture, lamps, chandeliers, floors, you name it.  That's all on the inside of the house.  On the outside I'm much more conservative.  And the reasons for that are what I'd like to talk about today.

This is not a post on color theory or what works and what doesn't based on research done with color.  There are a great deal of books on that subject.    I just want to talk about  being a sensitive neighbor and getting professional help when choosing a exterior color scheme...unless, of course, you are very confident in your ability to choose wisely.   

There are those people who do a great job choosing a paint scheme for the outside of their building. 

And there are those who could use a little direction.

I'll be the first to say, it's not an easy task.  There is much to consider when  choosing colors for the outside that make it so different from choosing for the interior spaces. On the inside you have fabrics on furniture and windows to bounce the color around the room and balance the effect.  On the outside the paint does not often get much help. I'm going to be talking about brick homes here because that is the material used on most of the homes in my area.  The first item to consider is the color of the brick.

In some instances there are two colors of brick to consider as well as the color of the mortor.  Although this is a very tasteful grouping of paint colors, it does not work as well as it might have had there been a connection to one of the colors in the bricks.  Instead of using the creamy yellow, a grayish taupe would have connected to the lower bricks and a charcoal accent would have helped to bring the darker colors of the lower bricks up higher on the house making the two colors of brick work together.  It would also have connected the roof of the porch to the base.  

Sometimes glazed bricks or tiles are used on buildings along with the regular bricks.   I took this photo as a positive example of considering the tile when choosing the paint.  Unfortunately my photo colors are not as accurate as the real thing.  In reality the greenish yellow looks much closer to the yellow tile.  The black accent strip, although subtle, does play an important role in creating a cohesive color scheme.

 Another element to consider is the color of the roofing material.  This is especially important if the roof plays a big visual role as it does with this mansard roof.  The owner made a wise choice  to trim the windows with the mint green  color of the roof.  The charcoal trim color grounded the paleness of the green and the red of the bricks complements the green as well.  This looks crisp and well balanced.

This is another good example of taking into account the colors on the roof.  Here  the little floral in the roof pattern allowed the painter to use the colors of the roof as the theme for the entire facade.

Although these are rather delicate colors for an exterior, they hold their own because  of the numerous opportunities to repeat them across the the front of the building.

Even the glass in the large windows seems to be tinted in a pale green which adds to the cohesiveness of the color scheme.

City living often means being quite cozy with your neighbors in that sometimes multiple families live in one building. If these units are individually owned there is not much control over what colors are used.

I think a little coordinating would be nice.  But I understand that isn't always an option.

Sometimes neighbors share identical architecture as in identical porches.

And  those identical porches can take on very different appearances. (This was taken on Mardi Gras weekend so leave the banner out of the scheme.)   What bothers me most about this paint choice is that it in  no way relates to the doors.  The yellow connects to nothing else and I don't undertand why the need for the beige when there is is already white which happens to look good with the gray.

There are a few colors that should be reserved for Easter eggs.  Ok, ok, there are some doors that lend themselves to a variety of color and rather gaudy ones at that.  Those are referred to as the Painted Ladies and I'm behind that look 100% as long as it is orchestrated well.  That takes delicate balance of hues, value and saturation.  (There are some great definitions of those terms here: )
 I wish I had a good example of these two colors to show you but I don't.  I will keep looking.

One color by itself has a tough time looking like an integral part of the facade especially if it is this bold.

Even if it connects to decorative tiles, it is sometimes just too much of one thing.

If that one inch square paint swatch looked fabulous and you decide as you start painting that's it's just too much, do what the sign says and STOP!  Wasting  a gallon of paint is far better than coming home every day to a color you hate. This is probably a moot point here, but again, that one color on everything is not a good idea.

I am a big fan of pink and green together but neon on the exterior ...what can I say.  I suppose some people love it.  I just think it could have been toned down a bit.

This is the top of the same house.  The orange isn't helping it for me.

Here we have a similar looking house with a bold color combination.

There is either some touch up painting taking place or the color scheme is changing.  Although the yellow is bold there isn't so much of it that it knocks your socks off.

But if they are going the direction I think they are going with this, it will definately let the beautiful brick detail over the door and windows take center stage.

I am not a fan of painting brick for this reason.

However there are sometimes very good reasons for doing just that.  If there was  poor patching done to the bricks it might be the only way to hide the mess.   This small house with symmetrical window placement and shutters  adapts well to painted brick.  The window frames are painted orange with brown sashes, the shutters red, and the the window sills brown.  The bricks are painted a light green.  I  like to use three to five colors depending on how intricate the trimwork is and how well it lends itself to multiple colors.

Retail establishments are meant to stand out.  They need to be noticed.  So a little carnival atmosphere is perfectly ok.  It can still be tasteful as is this storefront.  Repeating the colors of the awnings was accomplished with spectacular results.

The colors are well balanced and the scheme is carried to the side of the building for continuity.  Very well done.

It is way easier to critique colors after they are on the surface.  So is there some magic formula for choosing color combinations  in advance?  Yes and No.  Color is tricky in that it behaves differently depending on the colors around it and how the light is hitting it at different times of the day.  Choosing colors well is part experience and part color knowledge.  It is also a talent.  Some people are better at it than others.

Harmony is what we are looking for in the end.  The eye needs to be pleased with how the parts are arranged.  Order and balance are important to achieve this.

Too boring and the eye is not engaged.

Too chaotic and harmony is lost again.

Harmony is defined as dynamic equilibrium.  Extreme unity creates under stimulation.  Extreme complexity creates over stimulation.

Finding that middle ground is fun for some torture for others.     
Well done color combinations are often a mix of several lively colors and...

other times simple and subdued.  What makes them pleasing is how well they work with each other and with the fixed elements already in place.

When choosing an interior color it is easy enough to paint a large foamcore sample  and live with it a few days  to see how it  works in different lighting.  That is a little more complicated on the outside. If possible it is best to try your choices on a section of the trim.  Even if you have hired a professional to choose the colors, it is still a good idea to test them before commiting to  painting the entire house.

Let me leave you with this color fact.  Seven to eight percent of human males are relatively or completely deficient in color vision.  So this could be one of those times when your husband's opinion might not be too useful.


  1. Great post. Looks like some chose their paint colors while wearing sunglasses.

  2. what a great painted home thanks for sharing this great post
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