Selecting Exterior Colors 101

Today, I’m sharing a quick lesson. I want you to understand how the characteristics of color can make selecting exterior colors easier. After working with hundreds of homeowners, I know that a bit of color knowledge can go a long way toward ending your frustration when choosing colors for your home exterior.

In this lesson, I will show you how understanding color characteristics make finding the right color more manageable.

Selecting colors for a home exterior

This home featuring DaVinci Single-Width Slate has chosen colors where the hue, value, and intensity work nicely together.

To organize color, we use three characteristics: hue, value, and intensity. Now don’t click away because you think I’m about to get all scientific on you. I’m not. These are the technical terms for how you already talk about color every day. If you’ve ever described a shade of paint as light blue-gray or deep dark green, you’ve expressed all three of these attributes.

Step 1. HUE aka Color

When selecting exterior colors, first determine the general color direction. Hue, also known as color, refers to the colors of the visual spectrum. You often see those on a six-section color wheel as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Similarly a 12-step color wheel adds the intermediate hues — red-orange, yellow-orange, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet. These 12 hues — often called color families — can be blended to produce an untold number of additional colors.

Use the Color Wheel When Selecting Colors

When selecting your exterior color palette, begin with one color and build from there. Once you decide to paint your home green, the next step is to determine which green is correct. That is when the following two characteristics come in handy.

Step 2. VALUE = Lightness or Darkness

Second, think about value, which describes lightness or darkness. The value of the color and texture of a surface will affect the amount of light reflected. White and light colors have higher LRV. They reflect the most light. Colors with lower LRV, like black or navy blue, reflects less light. To help you compare the value of different colors, most paint companies include the Light Reflectance Value. You can find it on the back of color samples, on their website, or in an index for their entire line of paints.

Using the green example, the second step is to decide if you want light, medium, or dark green. If you have a light roof like DaVinci Chesapeake, a light green would be a great choice.

Well Lived Chesapeake Sliced Cucumber

Step 3. INTENSITY, Brightness, Saturation, or Purity

Next, find the right intensity. Intensity is the attribute of color that expresses its brightness, saturation, or purity. The closer colors are to their pure hue, the higher their intensity. High-intensity colors are clear, pure, brilliant, bright, rich, bold, or vivid. Less intense or saturated colors are toned-down, soft, muted, subtle, misty, dull, drab, or dusty.

Select colors for a green exterior

A lower intensity or muted version of the color will generally give you better results when selecting colors of exterior paint. The main color in the scheme shown above has a medium to dark value (lightness or darkness) that is lower in intensity than the green used as an accent color.

When Selecting Colors, Always Confirm Your Choice

When we look at paint samples, we’re naturally attracted to the color that looks the prettiest or best on the color swatch. Those colors, however, are rarely the ones we like painted on our homes. Once that color that looked so pretty in the paint store is spread out over one or two stories, you may find that it seems too bright and much more colorful than what you had in mind when you looked at the swatch.

If you were to look at a home painted in a way you love and then went to the store to find the actual color, I bet you’d be surprised at how blah it looks compared to other colors in the fan deck. The beauty of any paint color isn’t always apparent when looking at a small sample, especially under a store’s artificial lighting. Once you see this less “colorful” paint on your home, it can come to life.

Colors like SW 7657 Tinsmith or SW 7015 Repose Gray might not jump off the paint chip racks at you, yet they may be just the color you need to enhance your cedar shake roofing or the stone around the entrance. SW 6215 Rocky River may not look like much when you see only a 2″ square, but wait until you see how beautiful it looks on your shutters. I think you get the point.

The Last Step in Selecting Colors is Sampling!

Finally, look at samples of your materials. If you’re looking at a paint color, apply it directly to the house and cover a generous section. Stand back about 15-20 feet to determine if you find the color appealing at different times of the day. Sampling is the only way to confirm you’ve made the right choice.

The bottom line is that most of the time, the colors that work best on your home exterior are not the ones you think look the prettiest on the swatches. The color you’re looking for is far more likely to be one you passed over a first glance, thinking it was too dull. Slow down and give some of those more toned-down colors a second look. The color you fall in love with on the exterior of your home may not be the one that first caught your attention.

Even More FRESH Ideas for Selecting Colors for Your Home Exterior

  • For more help with finding the perfect color scheme for your home, our ebooks offer easy-to-follow processes for choosing the colors in every part of your home. Download a free ebook
  • Visualize from roof to ground the products and colors that complement your home. Go to the visualizer
  • See pictures of homes and building that feature DaVinci Slate and Shake. Visit the photo gallery

About the Author

Kate Smith is an internationally recognized color expert, consultant, and designer.  She is a skilled colorist & a color consultant who for more than a decade has lent her expertise to DaVinci Roofscapes. Kate helps YOU select colors that you will love for many years to come.