Monday, July 25, 2011

Choosing Exterior Paint Colors? Use This Questionnaire.

 Many people find it difficult to choose paint colors because they don't know how to begin or what factors they should consider. To help guide you to a color plan that will make your house look its best, I've developed the following questionnaire.  


  •  How large is the site?
               The larger the site, the more color latitude you have. 
  •   What is the relationship of the house to the site?
                 The more secluded the site, the more color latitude you have.
  •   How close and visible are your neighbors?
                Do their color decisions affect yours?
  •    If your neighbors are visible, what colors have they used?  
                Your house should look harmonious, but different.
  •   What is the distance from the house to the curb?
                Is the front yard very deep or shallow? Color can adjust how it looks.
  •   Does your subdivision, neighborhood association or historic district have strict rules about color?  
                New colors may require formal approval.


  •  What is the architectural style of the house?
               Rustic, contemporary, colonial, bungalow, ranch, etc.
  •   Does the architecture suggest a color palette?
                 •   Regional colors (tropical, urban, mountains, desert)
                 •   Historic colors (Colonial, Craftsman, Victorian, etc.)
  •    Does the house have pleasing portions?
                You may be able  to make adjustments  by how and where color is used,  or by adding trim or  other decoration.
  •   Are there different siding materials?
                Don’t automatically accent them. The result could look busy or choppy.
  •   Are there horizontal or vertical banding boards?
                Banding boards are usually utilitarian, not decorative.   If they're accented, the house often looks busy and chopped up.
  •   What are the dominant colors in the permanent elements, such as the roof, stonework, walkways, etc.?
                Are the colors warm (red, orange, yellow), cool (blue, green purple) or neutral (black or white)? 
  •   Is the entryway a naturally attractive focal point, or is the garage door the first thing you see?        
               Paint the garage door with the wall color to minimize its impact.
                (All doors aren’t paintable. Check the warranty first.)
  •   Is the entryway recessed and dark, even in daylight, or shallow and  bright?
               If it's dark, consider a light or vibrant color for the front door.
  •   Is the front door painted or stained?
                •    If the door can be painted, choose a unique color for pizzazz, and to create a focal point. Coordinate with the other colors and the permanent elements.
                •    If the door is stained and in need of refinishing, coordinate the stain color with the paint color(s) and the permanent elements. 
  •   Is there a separate storm or screen door?
               •    Is the style compatible with the front door? Storm and screen doors often hide the features of the front door, or clash with it.
               •    Can the storm or screen door be painted the front door color? 
  •  Are any doors and windows pre-finished, with parts that are inaccessible, or can they be painted?
             If they can’t be painted, consider them permanent elements and incorporate the color in your overall plan.
  •  Are there attractive, paintable details to highlight, such as windows, doors,  shutters or trim?
             Don’t automatically accent every detail!  Consider its role and the effect on the house as a whole. Banding boards are a perfect example of a detail that usually shouldn't be accented, particularly in high contrast colors.
  •  Is the foundation visible?
              Paint the foundation in the wall color, or a coordinated one of similar value, to create unity with the house. 
  •  Are functional items visible, such as downspouts, cable or utility boxes, wiring?
              Make them “disappear” by painting them in the wall color.      
  •  What colors dominate the permanent landscaping?
               Consider the color(s) of foliage, flowers, fruit, and bark. Are the colors warm (yellow, orange, red), or cool (blue, green, violet) or neutral (white)? Paint and landscaping colors that clash is a common problem.


  •   What colors do you like?
                Light, dark, neutrals, historic… 
  •   What overall impression do you want to create?
               Elegant, modern, rustic, cottage, grand, sophisticated, dramatic, subtle …


  • Pick colors that work with the permanent elements.
  • Plan how to make corrections with color where needed.
  • Choose the right things to accent. 
  • Camouflage the rest.
Details Add Up and Make A Difference…

Getting Started

  • Answer the questions in the survey.
  •  Determine what will be accented and what will be painted in the wall color.
  •  Decide what paint you want to use, then gather brochures to get ideas for color combinations. Buy the very best paint you can afford.
  • Choose two or three candidates for the wall color and buy the smallest amount of paint you can to create sample boards. View the samples under varying conditions and choose a color.
  •  Be sure you really do like the color by painting a small wall before buying all the paint you'll need.
  •  Choose candidates for the trim and front door colors. Create sample boards.  For trim, cut the board into strips and place around a door or window to show how the color would look in proportion to the wall.
  •  Analyze the effect of the wall and trim colors, then choose the front door color.
Choose paint colors that work well together and flatter the permanent elements in your house and landscaping, in all seasons.
©2011 Sandy LeRoy


  1. Hi Sandy,
    It's been nearly a year since you posted this blog, but I just found it and love it! Your suggestions/ideas are fantastic and very helpful!
    My question: I have a rental house in Florida that my husband and I will be moving into in Oct. of this year. I want to paint the exterior but am very undecided in what color. I want to convey the "tropical" look, and the shingles are brown/yellow. So, the underlying tone is warm. It's your typical ranch style Florida house, stucco with an accent band going around windows and body of house, 1 story, small (1200 sf), no neighbors right next to it. There's no landscaping to speak of right now, that's another project to plan!
    Can you help me??
    Thanks so much,
    PS. I used to live in Rutherfordton, NC!! Great place to live! I feel connected to you!

  2. Kathy, thank you! Although I'd love to help you, without pictures, I'm stuck. It's impossible to understand what your house really looks like, and I wouldn't want to steer you wrong by guessing. Why don't you take some pictures and post them on houzz, asking for ideas. Let me know and I'll comment there, and so will others. You'll get lots of good ideas.

  3. Sandy, my first reaction is ugh! I haven't a clue what colors to choose. So stressful. I live in a typical GA brick front home w siding on the sides. Garage is side entrance & front door is slightly obstructed on the left based on curb 'drive by'. The worst is the brick. It has a primarily pinkish peach w hue of blue grey. Yuk. Right now we have the neutral tan, white trim, black shudders & fixtures

    1. Hi Cass,

      Ugh about what? Feeling overwhelmed by the process, maybe? If so, that's OK. It's not for everybody. Just don't make it stressful because you'll go into paralysis and won't be able to decide anything.

      Much as I'd like to help, I can't give you any guidance from the description of your house because I didn't understand exactly what you were telling me. And what is pinkish peach to you is likely different to me. I also don't know what you mean by "the neutral tan, white trim..." There are thousands of tans and whites!

      Suggest you drive around and look at houses with brick like yours and see what colors others have used. If you find something you like, go for it! Or, hire a local color consultant. Remember the importance of accenting only the things that are attractive, and painting things like the garage door and utility pipes and boxes in a color matched to your brick to make them "disappear".

      Good luck and thanks for writing.

      My maternal grandmother's maiden name was Harrison. Maybe we're distant cousins!

  4. Hi Sandy. I enjoyed reading your tips for exterior color selections. I wonder if you have any thoughts you would be willing to share on our project. It is posted on for suggestions:

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Thanks for writing. I looked at your pictures and posted some suggestions on Houzz. Good luck and let me know how the house turns out.

    2. Very kind of you to post your suggestions. I posted a follow up with a couple of questions if you have time to take another look. Thanks again, and in any event, I will try to remember to come back and let you know how it turns out.