How to figure out a house's exterior color scheme?
September 13, 2011 11:44 PM   Subscribe

How do people pick exterior color schemes for their houses? Might you want to help with mine?

Contractors are asking me about colors for my roof and stucco. How do people figure this out? How can you take a one-inch square on your computer screen and imagine how it would work on a house?

My original idea was granny yellow with white or cream trim, railing, and pillars. It seems like gray is the most common roof color with yellow, but that tan could be fine. Some of the pictures have a red or brick accent, or light green trim instead of white.

Here are the choices:
-- The roofer uses Gaff Elk shingles: probably the Timberline HD series, but I'm going to see if the Cool series is available without extra charge.
-- The color coat stucco would be by La Habra, probably the Lifestyle series but maybe the regular series.

The only yellow in the Lifestyle series (if that's what I'm limited to) is La Habra Biscayne. Is that going to be workable? With the Timberline Birchwood? Or Cool Birchwood? Or Cool Antique Slate?

This house is a three story house. We're never going to exactly get the "cutesy" look with our lack of budget for things like trim. The house is in Oakland, near industrial live-work lofts and Victorians. The neighborhood is pretty much anything goes, especially color-wise. Thanks for any advice you can provide.
posted by slidell to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I would agree with your general plan.
The roof not too light in color, think future discoloration, you don't want that to stick out too much.
Porch or things not red or brick, but matching the roof or the trim more or less in color.
A brick porch, in my book, would match green-ish walls, not yellow; then again, yellow walls do not match green trim at all, very weird.
Now for choosing the exact right yellow, you might have a look at the fall colors around, or at neighboring houses. You want to find something that's not too orange but also not too easter-egg-pastelly or tweety-bird colored. The one linked at the word "common" seems classy to me.
posted by Namlit at 12:09 AM on September 14, 2011

Take a photo of the house, with other the adjoining houses in the frame. Then bring that photo into Photoshop, cut out the parts of your house you want to repaint and then recolor them in Photoshop.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:43 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are there not homes in your neighborhood/anywhere that you can use for ideas? or go to a paint store, look through their selection of brochures and swatches and ask for help? Don't select the colors by how they look on your monitor (which is light going thru the color, not reflecting off of it) because that's asking for trouble although if you have access to photoshop/gimp it will help you narrow it down.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 2:09 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Several paint companies now have color suggestion apps. I personally use the one for Olympic paint Color Clix because it works well on my phone (and Olympic is my preference for interior paints). I know that there are several other such free apps, because well, they want you to buy their paint.

So how it works is that if I see a color that "inspires" me, I take a photo of it with my phone, and then it brings back the color of paint that most closely matches, and four complimentary shades. (So for example, I just took a photo of my yellow work cardigan, and it brought me back a tan, a grey, and two shades of purple. There are also tabs for "shades" and "compliments" that you can fiddle with that eventually brought me back matching greens and blues.)

I'm not skilled at all with Photoshop, so I like this tool as almost a "for dummies" way to work in complimentary shades. YMMV.
posted by librarianamy at 4:59 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lots of paint companies have online applications where you can upload a photo from your house and apply overlays approximating their paint colors. I know that at least Behr and Sherwin-Williams's web sites do this.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 5:13 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know you said anything goes, but do you have an HOA? if so, just make sure their aren't rules on colors, etc... my neighborhood has a whole packet of colors that are available for exterior, with specific paints for siding/trim/roof colors, etc...
posted by fozzie33 at 5:44 AM on September 14, 2011

Oh, Oakland! So many beautiful blocks. My mother's block there is gorgeous humble houses in grays and blues and smart colors.

I'm here to urge you against yellows and creams and tans. They start to look real ugly. (This is a personal and biased opinion, obviously.) Lighter greys and strong to light greens and blues, paired with white, age well and come off handsome. NOW a lot of that depends on your lot, and your neighborhood, and what's around you, and the style of the house. (Sometimes a purple house works!)

Don't let them rush you!! This is a big decision.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:16 AM on September 14, 2011

Best answer: I am actually going through this right now as well, with the complicating factor that we are building a new house so I can't do the take a photo and play on Sherwin Williams thing-I tried that and it sucked with just blueprints. What we finally did was call the building supply store that was supplying our siding/stone/trim and they were able to provide me with a list of addresses of buildings that have used the colors on our shortlist in the area. So we had to do some driving around but we got to see real life examples of the colors we are looking at a tiny little swatch of. This was extremely helpful to us-natural light and artificial light can make a huge difference. Not sure if all supply stores would do this but the one we are using is a national chain, not like a mom and pop type place, so I bet a lot of them do. Not like there is some kind of building supply/homeowner confidentiality clause. So I'd find out where roofer and stucco guy get their materials and call them up.
posted by supercapitalist at 6:54 AM on September 14, 2011

Playing around on a computer screen is fun, but it's no substitute for actual paint. In fact, you need pretty good-sized patches of color.

When we were repainting our house, my wife (who has a really good eye for color) and I first got an assload of swatches at the paint store, came home, and taped them up. Picked some colors. Then bought quarts of the three colors we decided on and painted a roughly 3'x3' patch of wall and trim. Discovered that the colors didn't work at that scale after all (too intense). Bought more colors and slapped those up too. Decided they worked.

I'm pretty sure all the paint companies will provide swatch sets of colors that are supposed to work together if you're not up for coordinating them yourself. I think some will provide you with very small bottles of paint for free or very cheap—not sure if they'd be enough to cover as much area as we did.
posted by adamrice at 7:52 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your plan is similar to the house I built for my parents.
posted by humboldt32 at 8:20 AM on September 14, 2011

If you're going to try Photoshop, the best way is to use Hue / Saturation Adjustment Layers - that way, you can always go back and change the color, and it'll look more realistic than the paint bucket. Here's a great tutorial.
posted by beyond_pink at 9:12 AM on September 14, 2011

Do you use more A/C or more heat during the year? If you live in a warm place, a white roof saves on electricity use. If you don't want white, go as pale as possible. takes questions, and posts them for readers to comment on.

I'd look at lots of houses, take pictures of colors I like, and replicate whatever appeals to me, that seems appropriate to my house. If I had a yellow house with white or cream trim, I'd paint my door a bright navy blue. Not really bright, but not a dark navy.
posted by theora55 at 10:15 AM on September 14, 2011

Actually, it depends a lot on where you live. If you live in the south, you want to go as light as you can for the shingles to reflect all that heat; if you live in the north- not necessarily. In the north, you may still want something light because of the hot summers, but you might want something in a medium tone (or at least not too light) to add in trapping heat in the winter. Please consider your environment in your colors, you will be glad you did!

Another point is you MIGHT want to consider the colors in your neighborhood. Granted, this is your house and you can do what you want! But you might not want to pick something that clashes with 90% of the other homes on the street. Just a thought.
posted by Eicats at 10:52 AM on September 14, 2011

A small tip from someone who used to paint a lot of houses: use color strips to pick your colors. If you settle on a color that is on the more saturated end of the strip, i.e. the darker or brighter end, buy the color that is one or two steps less saturated than the one you chose. It is very, very difficult to imagine what a small inch-square sample will look like when it is translated into thousands of square feet, and everyone underestimates how bright the finished product will be

Also, yellows are, or at least were a few years back, notoriously difficult to work with. They do not cover well, leave visible lap lines and tend to leave a grey mottled undertone when rolled or brushed on. I would go to your local paint store - not a Menards or Home Depot - ask ask them about the various paints you like. They will know whether any of the yellows that you are looking at are problematic.
posted by rtimmel at 1:08 PM on September 14, 2011

I think the best thing to do is to drive around and find other paint schemes you like. If you're

Will your stucco be very smooth or more textured? Textured stucco catches grime, and generally textured stucco looks better in more neutral colors for this reason. Greys, neutral greens, light tan to terra cotta, even a softer, more neutral yellow. If you must have some yellow on your house, you could always do yellow trim or door.

The lighter the roof, the cooler you'll be in the summer. I like the greys better than any brown shade with a yellow house, especially if there are brick accents. Blues are good trim color for yellow, as are many shades of grey. Not fond of granny yellow with white trim unless your architecture is pretty traditional farmhouse, colonial, victorian. Which are not what I expect from a 3 story house being coated in stucco, but that's just IMO. :)

However, as a designer I would be looking at: your house style, it's orientation to the sun, what type of landscaping you have/will have, and what's going on in the rest of your neighborhood before really being able to come up with good starting places. I think what you should do is try to play around with Photoshop. Take some time, even if you're being somewhat pressed- you will not want to paint over color spray on stucco if you don't like it once it's done.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:42 PM on September 14, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. All of these answers have been particularly helpful. I can definitely play around with Photoshop, and I particularly like the idea of checking or testing out the colors in the field. And thanks to those who shared pictures of your projects -- those were fun to see (and great work).
posted by slidell at 12:06 AM on September 15, 2011

Response by poster: I had to come back and give a +1 to the idea of getting addresses and going to see them. It made it obvious which color to pick for the roof. I would not have thought of that. Thank you.

To answer some questions: it is a somewhat traditional Queen Anne cottage shape (sans cupola) except the last people sawed off the awnings and changed it to stucco and we can't afford to fix either of those regrettable decisions; no HOA; the neighbors' colors range from warehouses to bright jungle colors to an increasing number of light earth tones. I don't know the texture of the stucco yet. Let me know if I left anything out that you really wanted to know, and thanks again.
posted by slidell at 1:20 AM on September 17, 2011

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