How to Choose Exterior House Colors

If you are fortunate enough to be painting your house, you’ll face one of the biggest decisions of your year: how to choose exterior house colors. We had our house painted, and you probably know that (**ahem**) I love color! But even if you aren’t going for a ROYGBIV option, the myriad choices of white and beige can overwhelm. I’m here to help.

How to choose exterior house color

I’ve chosen not to color correct these photos for this article because they will tell the story of why closing a color for your house is So. Darned. Difficult.

If you’ve been through my Instagram feed, you’ll instantly know that blue is my happy place. Teal. Cobalt. Sapphire. Navy. Royal. Indigo. They are all my fave. We were destined to buy this house, in part, because it was blue. I even named one of my companies after it: Blue Tudor Books. (Below, before painting.)


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When we decided to paint, even though about 85% of the color wheel was eliminated from the start, we still had dozens of blues to choose from. Believe it or not, all of these options were in the running, and they all look different under different light sources.

Metamerism for house colors


We settled on a deeper version of the color that already covered most of the house. I say most because house colors fade unevenly. We’d also had a bit of touchup here and there over the years, so we had multiple shades going on. The whole family chose the color in outdoor lighting during an al fresco dinner this summer.

After nearly a year of being on the painter’s list, the color started to go on the garage. Ignore the blob in the front; the main color was Sherwin Williams SW6510 Loyal Blue. It has the slightest greenish undertone.

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The mister HATED it.

No one was surprised.


How to choose exterior house colors tip #1: Don’t choose color from a small paint chip.

Always ask your paint or color professional for  8×10″ paper samples like the ones in the photo above. (This is a service I provide for free to my color consultation clients.) Larger paper samples avoid the waste that comes with those little paint pots, which have suddenly becomes scarce anyway.

When you’ve selected your color from your paper samples, get a paint sample or a small quart of paint, and actually apply it to your house ON ALL SIDES! The light is different on all sides of your house, so you need to see a painted swatch on all sides. The painted swatch should be at least a good two feet square, painted in a square shape with clean edges. Your eye will naturally prefer a color sample that is neatly painted over another sample that is just sloppily applied.

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Now, I was very confident that I was going to love Loyal Blue…and I did! What I didn’t account for is the fact that this blue felt HOT. As in, it felt very Caribbean. It looked tropical. While that may work in some places, this “hot” blue was feeling very out of place in my very traditional neighborhood.

No, you shouldn’t try to please others at the expense of your own happiness, but there is something to be said about fitting into the neighborhood. It just didn’t feel right.

So, with only one wall painted, one kid begging us to keep the color, and the other kid and hubby agreeing that it needed to be changed tout suite, we changed to option B: Sherwin Williams SW6523 Denim. This blue has a strong presence but doesn’t feel dark and heavy, doesn’t lean green on one side or purple on the other. Here are the guys painting over the Loyal Blue on the right with Denim on the left. Tears may have been shed.

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Here is Denim again. What a chameleon.

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Picking a single color for a room paralyzes people. Choosing an exterior house paint color is ten times more frightening because there is so much more surface. A small room at 10×12′ with 8′ ceilings only has 352 square feet to cover (not allowing for windows, doors, and the ceiling). You can repaint over it in a day if you don’t like your choice.

On the other hand, a house that is 2.5 stories tall (that’s two stories with a walk up attic) might be 2,800 square feet (be sure to account for windows, doors, and non-panted surfaces like brick). That’s eight times the paint and eight times the pressure.

To start your own exterior house paint calculation, start at this helpful paint calculator from Sherwin Williams. 


How to choose exterior house colors tip #2: Look at your color choice at different times.

I didn’t color-correct these photos to give you a truer sense of how a single color can look at different times of the day, on different days, and in different locations. These are real variations in color that the camera’s lens picks up truthfully. You don’t notice these color shifts as much during the day because when the light shifts, everything in your view shifts color.

Pro photographers call the hour at sunrise and sunset the Golden Hours, perfect for catching people and landscapes in soft, filmy, golden color. Well, there’s also the harsh glare of midday, the gray gloomy pall of a rainy day, the blue light of a bright snowy winter day, and the mournful deepening of colors just as the sun goes down. Your house paint shifts colors throughout the day, as does everything around it.

That color you are picking? It’s actually many different colors. Choose wisely, and you’ll love all of them.

The technical term for color changing in different lights is metamerism, which I’ve written about here and showed you above in those paper paint samples. To avoid mistakes because of this ugly color shifting, you should never, ever:

  • Pick colors with an overhead artificial light. Incandescent light will turn your colors yellow or brown-ish.
  • Pick colors from a magazine or brochure photo without seeing the actual color sample. The photograph was undoubtedly color corrected.
  • Pick colors seen only at one time, on one day, on one side of your house. Northern and southern exposure lighting produces different wavelengths.
  • Pick a body, trim, and accent colors without seeing the color samples together in one place. They should all work together in the same light.


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How to choose exterior house colors tip #3: Go bolder than you planned.

Honestly, I wish I had stuck to my guns. I love my second choice, but Loyal Blue just made my heart happy. But this is what happens when you have a committee. Clients do this, too. They gravitate towards a bold color, but then shy away because they think it somehow isn’t allowed. Whatever “safe” color you think you’ve landed on, take it up one notch (deepen it or brighten it) and see if that is really the one that lights your fire.

Hubby wasn’t even happy with my second choice color until the house was completely painted. He said he wanted something more gray.

Hello! Have you met me? I don’t see a gray house anywhere in my future.


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How to choose exterior house colors tip #4: Use a 3-color scheme.

A house is supposed to have three paint colors: a body color, a trim color, and an accent color. In this case, our windows and trim provide the white, and the “timbers” in the Tudor style are light tan, which provide the third color. Brick and stone add yet more accent colors. Our painter wanted to accent a few places in black, but that felt like forcing it to me.

Design rules were made to be broken. You can have a lovely exterior color scheme with just two colors, or four or even five.


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How to choose exterior house colors tip #5: Paint multiple surfaces the same color.

I made a big change mid-job and asked our painters to paint the sunroom. It’s this weird little add-on room that’s cozy inside, but always felt like it was just slapped on the back by previous owners. By covering the aluminum siding with the same color as the stucco, now it feels like part of the structure. Small change, big difference. If you have a shed or porch that doesn’t quite fit in, paint it the same scheme as your main house. You’ll be amazed how much it pulls your whole property together. Our window ledges are yet a third material: brick. They are also painted the same color. Unpainted, they would feel like too much distracting underlined text in a book.


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How to choose exterior house colors tip #6: Do consider your landscaping colors.

Do you want your house to blend into or stand out? I love that our blue house is a bold color. It makes me happy in all seasons. The other day, I caught our youngest tree trying to get some attention with her fall finery. I think that tree was showing off just because because it could up against the blue house.


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We are all happy with the house color. Except the one kid who brings up that one hot blue day every now and then.

I hear ya, honey. I hear ya.