What kind of house do you live in?

The second in a series about exterior color selection.

I mean this question in two ways: what are the materials used in its construction, and what kind of style is it in? Is it Modern or turn-of-the century, mock Tudor or Arts and Crafts, Prairie School or farmhouse, Federalist or Dutch Colonial? If it's a very classical expression of one of these styles, then your color choices become more limited, and therefore easier.


For example, if you have a mock Tudor, you probably shouldn't paint your half-timbers on the front with anything other than a couple varieties of brown, because it's weird and anachronistic to see them any other color, such as a pinkish salmon we once had the pleasure to paint over. You may have some more leeway in choosing a stucco color on a Tudor, anything from creams to tans and taupes, but none of these should be so dark as to interfere with the effect of the architectural details. The beams in the front are an visual asset to be emphasized; contrasting colors displays them well.


“But what style is my house in?” you ask, “I can't tell.” Well, this is where things get interesting. Many, many houses are built in what's clumsily called 20th Century Vernacular. This means that the builders cribbed elements from several different school and styles, mixing the Federalist with Arts and Crafts, tossing in some columns and happily moving in to raise a family. Occasionally you'll find a house that started out as one thing, and then was remodeled so extensively as to have changed the original style into something else entirely. Like all construction projects, this can be done well, or it can be done badly.


If your house is in a collection of styles, you certainly have more options in your color choices, as you can mix styles in the manner of the original builders. Or you can choose the dominant style, and go with that. Many paint manufacturers (most notably Sherwin Williams, Benjamin Moore, and Hirshfield's) have created paint lines attuned to specific architectural styles. If you have an Art and Crafts inflected house, start with the colors that have been identified as such. Choice is often a matter of limiting your options. Style is as good a place to start as any.


And finally, a note on materials. Do you have brick or stone sections you will not be painting? White metal fascia, vinyl-covered dormers or aluminum storms that would be troublesome to paint, if not downright expensive? (An aside on painting vinyl: it used to be that you couldn't paint vinyl with a color darker than the factory finish, for reasons I'm not entirely clear on. Paint manufacturers, in their ongoing arms race with the vinyl people, have now formulated paints that claim to do exactly that.) Colors can be suggested by stone and brick, which often have a lovely range of shades and patterns. Don't forget to look at the mortar! If there are parts of the house you're not painting, then you already have some choices made.