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The Transformative Power of Color: How to Make It Work For Your House

By on Nov 28, 2013

When it comes to improving your house’s curb appeal and resale value, there is no more cost-effective strategy than a good paint job. Well-chosen colors can disguise architectural flaws and maximize strong points, turning gloomy, forbidding houses into stately, welcoming homes and modest bungalows into inviting, substantial-looking dwellings.

Conversely, a house painted in unattractive, inappropriate colors is not only unappealing, but can damage the aesthetic appeal of your neighborhood and, with it, your relationships with your neighbors. Unlike painting interiors within the privacy of your home, painting your house’s exterior, painting your house’s exterior is a public act that can have long-term consequences. By now, everyone has probably heard the cautionary tales of well-intentioned but clueless homeowners who -- in an attempt to create a cheerful, jaunty effect -- douse their homes with coats of unrelieved pink or aquamarine, creating garish eyesores that detract from the appeal of the entire neighborhood.

This is not to say that bright colors can’t be used, of course; intense, vibrant shades have a place in exterior decor. But before you decide on a color scheme, you need to ask yourself some questions.

Is your home an imposing mansion or a charming cottage? Is it surrounded by leafy trees or native rock formations?

The landscape, the size and style of the home, the presence of permanent elements such as brick or stone work, and the color schemes of the surrounding houses must all be taken into consideration when choosing the ideal exterior paint. The need for harmonizing colors with nearby houses is particularly pronounced for those who live in cozy neighborhoods with houses in close proximity to each other; those on more isolated, spacious lots can choose from a wider range of shades, but still need to consider landscape and natural features.

Fortunately, technological advances have made the color-selection process easier than it used to be. If you’re having trouble deciding, many paint companies offer easy-to-use apps that can help you view your house in a rainbow of different shades.

The “Three-Color Rule,” and Beyond

The “three-color rule,” a time-honored tenet of house painting, calls for using one color for the siding, a deeper or lighter variation for shutters and trim, then a third,bolder color for accent features, such as lanterns, flower boxes and front doors.

As useful as the three-color rule is, it isn’t written in stone; tweaking it slightly can result in a fresh, contemporary look that is still harmonious and attractive. For a modern twist on the rule, paint the shutters and window trim an entirely different color from the siding, and employ a third, vibrant color very sparingly, in selected accents.

For example, a Colonial-style home in classic white could receive an eye-catching update with precisely-painted shutters in a regal mulberry or lavender shade, paired with cerulean blue on the front door. The resultant look is fresh, original and pleasing because the blue door echoes bluish-purple tones in the palette used for the shutters. In addition, the door’s contrasting shade gives a visual clue that this is the entryway, thereby acting as a colorful “Welcome sign.” A final reason for the combination’s success is that the blue is used over a much smaller space than the lavender; the colors don’t “fight.”

Working with Mother Nature

You can choose to harmonize with natural features surrounding your house. If your home is set against a luxurious backdrop of hardwood and fir trees, you can complement the foliage -- and make your house stand out at the same time -- with a delicate but rich shade of light green. Adding white around the window trim and eaves completes the look, while adding crispness and definition.

Even seasonal landscape features can provide cues -- if your Japanese maple reliably turn scarlet or russet in fall, or if your lilacs produce a springtime riot of light purple, picking a coordinated accent color can further intensify the dramatic effect.

Size and Style Matter

The proportions and the style of your home can also affect your color choice. A sprawling house in a very dark color can look unwelcoming and forbidding; mid range neutral colors such as light sage greens, pale, inviting blues, and delicate golds are better choices. Due to the classic lines of Colonial- and Greek Revival-style houses, white -- or a very light neutral -- is the usually the most flattering option for the body of the house;more exotic pigments can be employed as accents.

When it comes to paint porch trim such as balusters, railings, pillars and columns, paler colors are more inviting than darker shades. White, in particular, signals stability, freshness and value.

Cottage-type homes are particularly well-suited to whimsical treatments. You can draw from the floral palette of a traditional cottage garden, with its hyacinth blues, dusty pinks and daffodil yellows. The key to this look is employing the unifying influence of white, with neatly-painted, snowy trim on windows and eaves.

Permanent Elements

Permanent elements – those unchanging specifics of your house such as a rooftop or facade – can also help dictate color choice. The flecks of blue-green in your shingles, or the tone of your brickwork, can be echoed by your primary shade to grant cohesiveness to the whole.

If your facade is limestone or other natural-looking rock, you must pick colors for shutters and windows that blend in organically with the materials. Painting or staining the door a glowing copper,bronze or other earth tone can provide just the right warm, rustic accent.

Now that you’ve selected the proper colors, you can beautify the exterior of your house in a way that will have the whole neighborhood talking. And saying, of course, only good things.

About the Author:

Molly Hilton is the owner of Renaissance Painters in Toronto and has devoted more than 30 years to home renovation, painting, and custom home building. Her unique design concepts bring homes to life with colors and unique pieces that are artfully placed to draw attention to the most powerful and distinctive features of a home.

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