Secrets of Choosing Exterior Paint Colors

posted in: Exterior, Painting Projects | 0

We have chosen a color!

Choosing exterior paint colorsThis is good, because the painter is scheduled to come in 5 days.

Now that we’ve finally emerged from the process of choosing an exterior paint color, I need to tell you so many things to help you not agonize in the same way. After purchasing something like 10 samples (maybe more, maybe less, but my husband is reading this ;)) and painting them on the front, back and sides of our house, I started digging into the color’s Hue, Saturation and Value (using Encycolorpedia – lifesaver!) to determine what was common between what I liked and what I didn’t. Besides the general tips, I’ll show you the samples that we purchased (all Benjamin Moore) and explain how we found a color (finally!) using hue, saturation and value.

Our exterior paint: BEFORE
Our exterior paint: BEFORE

First, our caveat and yours: What exists on and around your home that should factor into your paint color decision?

Ours were: (1) Big, orange-red brick pillars on our craftsman cottage (or bungalow for everyone not in New Orleans). We are not willing to paint them, as they are nearly 100 years old and original to the house. I’ll talk more later how to balance this strong architectural element. (2) Our neighbor’s house is yellow. That ruled out yellow for us. (3) We live in New Orleans. We feel as though we owe it to our street, and to our city, to pick a fun, vibrant color.

So for you, this could be architectural details, the city or region where you live, your neighbor’s houses, your plants, etc.

Alright, now you go merrily on your way to the local paint store (I suggest actually picking up paint chips, not just looking online), and peruse the colors that you think you’d like for your main house color.

The secrets of choosing exterior paint color

  1. Colors look much lighter in the sunlight (especially in bright, Southern light) than you’d expect from the chip. We found that our target value (aka brightness) was 57-67. Again, you can search Encycolorpedia for named colors from major paint brands to see their HSV numbers.
  2. Colors look much more vibrant / saturated in the sunlight  than they appear on the chip. If a paint color seems grayish on the chip, it’s probably a color you want for the exterior. We didn’t want too gray of a color (we live in New Orleans, after all) but we didn’t want a gaudy, blinding green color either. We found that our target saturation was 17-22.
  3. White exterior trim isn’t usually white. And the off-whites we considered for our interior trim didn’t even make the list (FYI, we used Benjamin Moore White Dove for the interior trim.) For exterior “white trim” think cream or even light beige. The more white the trim, obviously the starker the contrast. This can be good for angular homes where  a high contrast between the main color and trim embellishes the detail (like a Craftsman). However, less white trim looks softer and brings out the detail in wood. Victorian homes or more traditional New Orleans homes are served much better by less white (cream, tan, light beige) trim detail. Benjamin Moore offers its most popular exterior trim colors on a chip.
  4. Photos online are nice and all, but we have NO idea how much any photo has been edited. For instance, I found one house tour with a color we loved — it had been profiled on three different sites. On each site, the color looked completely different because of the time of day the photo had been taken and according to the editor’s Photoshopping techniques. Plus, the same photo never looked the same on my mac, PC or phone because of monitor settings.
  5. You can not pick a color without painting a small sample on your home…. unless you are an architect, interior designer, owner of a construction company or paint store, or have an MFA… then, go ahead and do whatever you want.

Our inspiration

Inspiration: a townhouse with orange brick base and a vibrant blue-green exterior
Inspiration: a townhouse with orange brick base and a vibrant blue-green exterior
Inspiration: red brick Craftsman home with teal exterior
Inspiration: red brick Craftsman home with teal exterior

Given that we have the big, orange-red brick columns, we started looking for inspiration every time we left the house. “Did you see that house?!” one of us would exclaim, then we’d have to circle the block to look at it together. After nearly a year of this, plus looking online (see inspiration photos), we realized that we would either have to keep our house a dark neutral (see BEFORE photo above) to balance the brick columns or go for opposite on the color wheel – the blue green spectrum. This left us with light, medium and dark green-blue options. Obviously, these inspiration photos show you what we’re leaning toward. Now, the problem of selecting paint colors that don’t look too light, too dark or too gaudy. Easy, right?

Our paint samples

Pleasant Valley, Sage Tint, Stratton Blue, Harrisburg Green, Scenic Drive, Mill Springs Blue all by Benjamin Moore
Our exterior paint samples from Benjamin Moore
Dark paint swatches from Benjamin Moore (click for larger)
Dark paint swatches from Benjamin Moore (click for larger)

From top to bottom:

  1. Pleasant Valley, Benjamin Moore 696
  2. Sage Tint, Benjamin Moore 458
  3. Stratton Blue, Benjamin Moore HC-142 (Same as Del Mar Blue 704)
  4. Harrisburg Green, Benjamin Moore HC-132
  5. Scenic Drive, Benjamin Moore 697
  6. Mill Springs Blue, Benjamin Moore HC-137

We also briefly considered dark colors, but given the intensity of the sun in this subtropic city, we are worried this dark color will fade too quickly. But, for the record, those samples are:

  1. Hale Navy, Benjamin Moore HC-154
  2. Evening Sky, Benjamin Moore 833
  3. Old Navy, Benjamin Moore 2063-10

See our chosen color and our before and after photos!!