Playing Up Exterior Architectural Features with Paint

One mantra of decorating is that paint is a cheap way to spruce up your space. This is certainly true of interior spaces and it's generally true of exterior painting, when compared to other exterior alterations. However, the cost of paint for an entire house exterior is still a significant one and it's very important to plan the project carefully, and test the colors before making the commitment.

First, decide what architectural features to highlight with paint

Most exterior paint projects are comprised of at least two paint colors – the main walls and the trim. Some houses, such as Victorian "Painted Ladies", may use several different trim colors to highlight the rich use of woodwork and moldings.  Paint can be used to camouflage or highlight the architectural features of the house, and it's important to decide before the painting begins which features will be hidden and which played up.  Unattractive elements such as gutters, downspouts, garage doors, or even poorly placed windows can be downplayed if they are painted the color of the main house walls. If painted a different shade, particularly a lighter one, these elements will stick out like sore thumbs.

Should I paint architectural features with dark paint or light paint?

Architectural features to highlight include window trim, doors, corbels, gingerbread, balustrades and porches. These elements will pop out and feel more substantial if painted in a lighter color than the main house color, and will recede a bit if painted a darker color than the walls. Lighter paint will truly highlight the detailing of these architectural features, as it catches the light and so is a popular choice for houses with beautiful details. A darker paint will highlight the trims' lines, but not showcase the fine details as well as a lighter paint.

A white or other very light house will appear larger than it is, but a dark paint on a small house will make that house feel more important. A dark color on a large house can be very striking, but also overly imposing if the house sits on a small lot. Paint color schemes can be used to draw attention to the front door, if it's oddly placed or obscured by the landscaping. There is nothing less welcoming than a missing front door, even if it's not the primary entry in use. Likewise, white trimmed windows will feel larger and more welcoming, while windows without a contrasting trim will literally fade into the woodwork and the house will feel very unwelcoming.

How to contrast unpaintable surfaces

Choose paint colors to complement any unpaintable surfaces, such as brick or stone. If your house has a brick or stone bottom half and a painted clapboard top, then lighter color on top will brighten the whole space. However, if the top half of the house is bricked while the bottom requires paint, it may work best to use a darker color that will feel like a more substantial support for the heavier top half.

Testing paint colors before painting architectural features

If you live in an historic home or one based on a classic historic architecture (Colonial or Victorian, for instance) there are many tools available to you for selecting the right paint combination. Many paint companies offer paint charts based on historical documentation and these can help you decide on the right paint combination for your particular house style. Paint companies also offer computerized "visualizers" so you can test how your colors will look in relation to each other. And finally, always test your colors with real paint. Paint large swatches on different areas of the house and on different architectural features, and view them during different times of day and evening. Colors can change and are influenced by other colors around them and the reflection of the sun, so taking the time to test your colors will ultimately save time and money and will produce a better result.

Linda Merrill is a Hometalk - - writer.  Read more articles like this one - - or get help with your home projects on

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