Dear Amy: Advice and Etiquette for Exteriors

I don't know about where you live, but last summer, here in New England, we saw a lot of rain and a whole lot of exterior paint jobs were delayed by weather.  What does this mean to you?

Well, if you are thinking of repainting your exterior this year, you need to line up a painting  Why?  Because they may already have jobs leftover from last year and because the good painters will book up fast. So, call for quotes, line up your team, and start to think about color.  Here's how...

#1 Architecture

While today's architecture can often be a "mash-up" of styles, most of the homes here in New England fall into a distinct category -- Colonial, Victorian, Farmhouse, Bungalow, Arts & Crafts, etc.  Each style has a range of colors from which you should not stray too far without professional help.  You can push the envelope a bit, but I believe that on a deep level, we expect certain architectural styles to carry certain color schemes and when they don't, things begin to feel off.

Cottages are happiest done up in cottage-y colors (not beige, my friends, even though that feels easier).  Mediterranean Revival homes really look their best in shades of white, terra cotta or umber, colors that mimic the natural stucco from which they were originally constructed.

Colors used in Colonial times were far brighter than we think of them today.  This bird egg blue house in Historic Deerfield is accurate to the original in 1747.  But, the truth is, we are more comfortable today with the muted colors we consider Historic.  In other words, if you live in a Colonial, don't try this at home!


While we do expect a Victorian to show up polychrome, à la The Painted Ladies of San Francisco, here is an example of pushing the color envelope just a little too far.  Of course, your mileage may vary...


Paint companies like Sherwin-Williams have brochures featuring exterior color schemes suitable for a range of architectural styles and they are a very good place to begin for many homeowners.  While using an "out of the can" color palette is much less personal than choosing your own colors, it is a safe way to explore the possibilities without getting into too much trouble.

#2 Context

They say, "context is everything."  Right....who are they anyway?  In this case, they are the neighbors.  Nothing will annoy your neighbors quite like painting your home a color that sticks out like a sore thumb.  So, see if you can find colors that feel individualistic enough while still playing well with others.



Back in 1991, when I lived in New Jersey, a certain couple the small historic town of Haddonfield by painting their home three shades of day-glo purple.  Word on the street was "outraged," "aggravating," and "terrible."  By 2005, more than a decade later, the house had become a landmark in town as people calmed down and affection for the quirky color scheme grew.  Here's my advice...don't be that person...unless you really must!  Just be ready for the slings and arrows.


#3 Individuality

I know I just warned you away from being too "out there" with your color scheme, but I also want to suggest you look around the immediate neighborhood and make sure you choose a palette that is different enough from the colors your neighbors are using.  Next to day-glo purple, the most annoying thing you can do is copy your neighbor's color scheme.  It's hard to imagine, but I've heard of people asking their neighbors for paint color info and then using the exact same color right across the street.  

Trust me, this form of flattery does not go over well!

When I worked with the Northampton family living in this Foursquare, they were leaning towards blue.  When we walked the neighborhood, there were at least three other blue houses within direct eyeshot.  So, we had some work to do!  The result was a grayed-down teal on the upper portion of the house, balanced by khaki below.  This scheme fits beautifully into its extremely colorful neighborhood while maintaining its individuality and originality.

Amy on Houzz

#4 Inspiration

I strongly suggest you DO move beyond your immediate neighborhood and look for houses you love, check to see whether the color schemes make sense with your architecture and take photos.  I have knocked on doors and written notes to homeowners to try to find out a color when a client needs to have that color!  

These kinds of inquiries have always gone over well.  Most people who own beautiful homes are happy to share their colors with admirers (so long as they don't live across the street!)  So, don't be afraid!

Look around you, at the natural features of your property - the stone, tree bark, the plants and flowers you tend to like - and see if these elements make any color suggestions to you.  My clients' front doors have been inspired by things like hydrangeas and river rocks.  Just make sure that you are working with the surroundings and not against.   In other words, no blue exterior paint for a lover of hydrangeas...they'd just get lost!

For more color inspiration, both interior and exterior, stop over and visit me on Houzz!


And if you have any questions or would like to discuss your upcoming exterior paint project, just leave them in the comments below so we can connect and chat!  You can also find me doing more colorful things on




Please do stay in touch!