A great exterior paint job should make you think, "What a lovely home," not "What great colors."
If you get it right, your house will be in harmony with its surroundings -- nature and the neighborhood. Get it wrong and passers-by will wonder, "What were they thinking?"
"You want to try to do something you feel will have longevity," said Barbara Richardson, director of Color Marketing for ICI Paints/Glidden. "If you want funky, limit yourself to the front door."
You can achieve a harmonious color scheme if you follow a few guiding principles.
Start with the colors you can't change.
Color consultant Paul Helmer helps clients pick paint colors. Helmer, who charges $250 for a consultation, says it's crucial to take the following "givens" into account:
The roof. Think of your roof as a big chunk of color. The steeper the pitch, the more noticeable it is. If the roof is dark charcoal composite, Helmer says it's best to choose a color with heavy gray undertones. Conversely, if the roof is a light colored composite, the house color shouldn't be too dark or it will look like the roof is trying to fly away.
Richardson advises using a color wheel to find colors that contrast with the roof in a pleasing way. "If the roof is a warm shade of brown, find that brown and look at the opposite of that -- a blue-gray or a grayed green," she said.
Exterior stone, brick or metal. If your house has orange-tinted bricks, it will look good with warm tones, whereas rose-tinted bricks will look better with cool tones. Ornamental wrought iron can be tied into the scheme by repeating its black or rusted tones on shutters or trim.
Vinyl windows or siding. Remember whitewall tires from the '70s? Your house might wind up with that look if you paint it a deep color and the windows are white vinyl, Hellmer said.
If you have vinyl siding, don't think you can't change the color scheme. Richardson color-styled her sister's home, which had light yellow siding.
"I made the trim -- the corner trim and the window trim -- a darker, more subtle shade of yellow and painted the door gloss black and the shutters a purply eggplant," she said.
The landscape. Just like the wrong colored shoes or scarf can wreck the look of a coordinated suit, the wrong flowers or landscape plantings can detract from your home's paint scheme.
Burgundy-leaved shrubbery would look ghastly against a yellowish-green house, for example. When Richardson color-styled her sister's home, she pulled out all the red flowers and replaced them with yellow, purple and green plantings.
"The reds were killing it," she said.
Neighboring homes. Color experts agree that your home's paint color should neither clash with nor match the houses to the left and right of it.