How to Pick an Exterior Paint Color

Bynum Design Nashville

I was tempted to call this post “Foolproof Exterior Paint Colors,” but that would be misleading, because even though I do share 12 of my favorite exterior colors, they were all arrived upon after much hemming and hawing and hand-wringing. So before you take my word for it on any of these paint color selections, read my tips about the process of how to pick the best exterior paint color for your house.

1. Consider the light and the time of day. There’s something about the light, inside versus outside, that makes selecting an exterior color more difficult than an interior color. I guess because we spend so much time inside it’s easier to pull together a paint scheme if you’re in the right light. When you go outside, and you take a color that you love for interiors, and you put it on the outside of a house, it just doesn’t work somehow. And it’s because the light’s different. When I’m picking a color, I’ll go back at different times of the day to see how it does in the changing light.

2. Try as many as six to eight colors. I’m a perfectionist, so I will agonize over finding the right exterior color. I’ll go with all my paint decks and sit there and hold stuff up and stare. We’ll drive contractors crazy because we’ll want six or eight quarts of paint brought over to decide and blocks of color put up. Even then, when you paint a square on a house, you can’t really visualize it because you’re not seeing it related to the color of the trim, or the effect of different light or shadow.

3. Remember where you live. It cracks me up when people in Nashville paint colors on their houses like in Florida or the Caribbean. The light’s different here, so it looks garish. When you’re near the equator it’s a whole different ballgame. What I’m trying to say is: If you see a picture of a beach house on Pinterest that you love, you should not go paint your house in Nashville the same color because it won’t work. The further north you go, that’s going to continue to change, so a color that works well here may not work in Manhattan or Wisconsin.

4. Have patience with the process. Exterior colors are tough. It’s a process, really, to arrive at an exterior scheme. If you throw up a paint scheme on a house and it doesn’t work, you’re going to get a sinking feeling every time you pull in the driveway. Take the time to pick out the perfect color. It’s worth it.

5. Complement the landscaping. Your paint color has got to be appropriate to both the style of the house and to the landscaping. For instance, if you’ve got tons of landscaping, you don’t want to paint your house blue. That was a tenet of the Craftsman movement—that paint colors should be muted and earth-toned, grounding the house to its surroundings. This means different climates are suitable for different color families.

6. Contrast versus similarity. If you’ve got enough detail on the house, I love having similar colors together on an exterior because it’s subtle, part of the art. If you have a lot of texture on an exterior, I will even sometimes paint a house in one solid color because the shadows create that interest. It really works, especially on a lot of our white houses. There’s no need for a secondary color unless it’s the front door, as we’ve done.

7. Ask a pro for help. Should I tell you some of my secrets? Oh, heck, here are they are. These are 12 of my favorite exterior colors. I hate applying the same answers to more than one project, but we do like to hold on to colors that have been successful for us in case we ever need to come up with a scheme quickly. This makes me sound like I only use Sherwin-Williams colors, which isn’t completely true, but which is mostly true.

Exterior Paint Colors

One: Nebulous White
Two: Alabaster
Three: Repose Gray
Four: Gray Matters
Five: Amazing Gray
Six: Intellectual Gray
Seven: Gauntlet Gray
Eight: Foothills
Nine: Brainstorm Bronze
Ten: Urbane Bronze
Eleven: Black Fox
Twelve: Tricorn Black

If you live in Nashville and need help selecting an exterior color, we welcome you to call us for a paint consultation.

9 thoughts on “How to Pick an Exterior Paint Color

  1. debbie galloway

    In item 5, the correct word is tenet, not tenant. Tenet is a principle or belief while tenant is someone who occupies land or property.

  2. Pingback: How to Pick an Exterior Paint Color | bynum design blog | Iconic Form

  3. Heather

    Hello, could you let me know which color is used on the house at the top of this article? I am trying to pick a grey for our house and I would love to try this one out. Is it a Sherman W color? One listed in your grid? Thanks for your help!

  4. Diane

    We have sandstone Andersen windows and we are trying to find a body and trim color with little contrast. Review board wants contrast. The body will be a stain on new cedar shingles and trim will be a paint. Really want to down play any pinkish taupe in the sandstone. The house has detail and some stone. I am on a lake in Georgia. Please advise .

  5. Pingback: The Best Painted Brick Houses – The Farmhouse Typewriter

  6. Nancy O'Hare

    I find lots of recommendations for paint colors, but so little for exterior stain colors. Painting contractors have told me that not ideal to match paint color to exterior stain. Any thoughts?

  7. Sue Palmer

    Hello. I just bought a ranch in Hoschton, GA, that is painted peach! The front is brick and it is landscaped nicely. I thought numbers 4, 5, or 6 are possibilities. It is still online as for sale if you might consider looking at it to advise. Address is 1062 Arbor Lake Walk. Thank you! Sue

  8. Katherine r Alberts

    I have a stucco house and live in the PNW. I need help with a color for the exterior, so we can match our roof.


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