Choosing the Best Paint Color for Your Home's Exterior - The Before (Part 1)

When we moved into our home 18 months ago, we created 1, 5, & 10 (or more) year plans for projects around the house.  We knew painting the exterior would need to be done within a few years, but this summer we noticed some wood rot & damage that needed to be fixed immediately, so painting jumped to the front of our to-do list.  Upon further inspection, we realized the original gutters were rusting through (probably the cause of the damage to the wood), so installing new gutters was added on last minute.

I have always heard that picking exterior paint colors is much harder than interior, and boy, is that ever true.   I had three challenges to work with when choosing our new exterior paint colors.

1)  Our home is a corner lot, high up on a hill.  Within the past year, I read two articles about exteriors that caused me to have a light bulb moment as to why I wasn't thrilled with our current color.  First, exteriors need contrast, not just between the house & shutter/door/trim color, but also with your home's surroundings.  So, a white home needs lots of trees, bushes, greenery, etc. to provide that needed contrast & pop.  Second, a house on top of a hill needs even more contrast with its surroundings, as the distance from the street causes the paint colors to look more washed out than on a home at street level.

What did this mean for us?  Well, the right front & rear corner of our home have a lot of trees & shrubbery.  However, the left front, side, & rear have none.  So, from the street & from our driveway on the left side of the property, there was not enough contrast between the white of our home and the light blue of the sky or the light color of the driveway.  Also, our shutters were a light gray & our front door a light green.  Close to the house, say from the sidewalk, this all looked very nice.  But from street level, I found it to be a little blah.  Not to mention that white gets dirty so easily, especially with all of the Georgia red clay found in our yard!  So I knew that darker was the way to go.  But how dark?

2)  Another problem I was facing is our roof color.  It is an orangey-brown, a color often found on ranches from the 1970s & '80s.  As a new roof (though needed) is not in the budget, I knew that the color I chose would have to work with our existing roof color and with the charcoal roof we hope to replace it with in a few years.

Sorry for the blurry iphone photo!

And finally...

3)  My style is Southern cottage farmhouse with a bit of coastal thrown in.  A white home with black shutters is a classic cottage & farmhouse choice, but as I described in #1 up above, white just wasn't working for me with this home's style & location.  The white wasn't a bad choice, and if I had not been able to figure out what I wanted instead, I might have just repainted it the same white color.  But I had a hunch that gray, the go-to color for the New England shingled homes that I adore, might work well for us.  It would provide the needed contrast, would hide dirt better than white, and would be more "us".  But now that I had chosen gray, what gray should I choose?

All paints have undertones.  The easiest way to detect the undertone of your paint color is to hold your paint sample against a piece of bright white paper, in the same type of lighting as the area to be painted.  At first, I thought that I might like a gray with a little blue in it. But because orange & blue are opposites on the color wheel, the orange tones in the roof strongly brought out the blue in the paint samples.  Not what I was going for.  I reviewed my list of desires & limitations: gray color for the siding; dark shutters; must work with both orange/brown roof & future charcoal roof.  Light bulb moment again!  What about a gray with brown or warm undertones and a shutter color with black or brown undertones?  I bought my samples of warm grays, and decided a mid-tone would be best.   As for the shutters, I needed something that would work with brown (current roof), charcoal (future roof), and warm gray (exterior siding).  I also still had to choose the trim, doors, and gutter colors.

iphone photo again :)

I knew I wanted white trim to contrast with the gray siding.  My go-to white is Benjamin Moore White Dove, and since it is a warm white, I thought it would probably work with my chosen colors.  But after talking to a local paint expert, I learned that white trim is easily washed out in the sun, and so I should choose an off-white or even light gray.  She gave me a few recommendations, and one of the light grays was a clear winner.

I went back & forth on colors for the gutters & the doors.  Should my gutters be the same as the trim color (light gray) which is more traditional, or the same as the shutters to add a little pop?  I drove around my own  & nearby neighborhoods, stalking every ranch house's gutters (& looking like a creeper, I'm sure).  I finally went with my gut & chose the gutter color closest to my shutters for some added pop.

As for the doors, should I go with red (classic farmhouse style), a light aqua (classic beach/Cape Cod), or the dark color I was using for my shutters?  I think they would all look good, but I decided that I wanted the interior of the front door to be the same as the exterior, and I liked how the darker color draws your eye outside when standing in the family room or foyer.  We have a 12 pane glass door, and the darker color acts like a frame for the view.  It was hard to get rid of our Stratton Blue doors, though.  Luckily, my sweet hubby told me that if I change my mind about the door color, he is willing to paint the doors whenever I get a wild hair to do a quick change (which he knows I will definitely do over the course of time)

Final choices revealed in Part 2...