Exterior Color Palettes: What Colors Are Best for Your Home?

We are lucky in the New Jersey area to have homes that are so rich in detail, from a variety of exterior surfaces (including stucco, shingle and clapboard) to diverse styles (colonial style, Victorian style, contemporary ranch, split level). With every home, there are ways to personalize the exterior design. Being home as much as we are these days, many of us are eager to give our homes a fresh new look, and the easiest way to do that is with paint. Here are some ideas on how to get started in choosing new exterior paint colors. I hope you’re inspired!

While many people have strong opinions on what color palettes should be used for their homes’ interiors, the exterior proves to be a much bigger challenge. Is it because the exterior represents you to your neighbors and the town where you live? Choosing exterior color palettes is a real challenge for many homeowners. I believe it’s a greater mental hurdle for homeowners to choose exterior color schemes because these colors are so visible to others.

While it is absolutely a large undertaking, it’s not beyond your ability to discover an exterior color scheme that is truly inspired! It is an exterior paint color consultant’s job to work with you to discover the colors that best suit your home. In this article, I’m going to provide you with some insight and tips to help you find exterior color schemes and options that you would be proud to show off to the entire neighborhood. However, more importantly, my goal is to help you discover color palettes that make YOU happy and express your unique tastes as a homeowner.

Elevate Your Home’s Presence

The right exterior paint colors can elevate any home to increase curb appeal and be the neighborhood standout. This doesn’t mean you must choose the most eye-catching colors available to you. What I mean when I say “elevate your home’s presence” is to make it known that your home is fully invested in the colors it’s presenting to the world. Make it known that each exterior color was chosen with care and attention to detail. Whether your home is better suited for outside paint colors that are more traditional or energized and contemporary, it’s paramount that the presence of your color schemes doesn’t seem accidental or merely trendy.

Traditional Exterior Color Palettes

Traditional dwellings (such as colonial style, Cape Cods, ranches) are almost always best suited for simple color palettes that create an inviting and distinguished presence. Find inspiration from simple, elegant and classic design when choosing your exterior color schemes for your traditional home.

For a neutral palette, try soft stone colors as an effective and popular choice for the siding (body color); this could be an off-white, taupe or muted gray, light or dark. This sets an excellent foundation over which to layer inspired color choices.

I suggest choosing a color for the body of your home that takes the neutral palette and pushes it just a bit. Rather than choose a gray, try a slate blue/gray or even a gray/green. Rather than choose a taupe, try a terra cotta. Rather than choose off-white, go a little warmer with a creamy white or even a lighter taupe or soft brown. These body colors are like adding a color to the neutral palette you started with, making it that much better!

The shutters, overhangs, windows and banisters all share an opportunity to create some contrast and definition on a traditional home. Using darker colors such as navy blue, black or hunter green elevates a traditional-style home’s color scheme, making it interesting and dynamic, but not tasteless and tacky.

The front door is an opportunity to interject an accent color that is alive and statement worthy. A deep red is a great choice for your traditional-style front door, although a bright yellow can certainly make a bold statement!

Contemporary Exterior Color Schemes

Contemporary homes and modern architecture take a more minimalist approach to design and presence. Of course, this can depend on the region where you live. But generally speaking, contemporary homes ditch the standout architectural features that defined many traditionalist homes of the past.

Traditionalist features, such as uniform symmetry and centralized doors and chimneys, have been largely excluded from modern design. Modern homes tend to have greater subtlety and chicness that can often come across as cold and unwelcoming if the color schemes are not chosen to counterbalance this.

Contemporary homes look stunning in neutral color schemes that collectively pack a punch. For example, a single-story home with exposed wood and stucco exterior walls may use a color scheme of light gray, copper and pale olive green. For this style of architecture, you might also try a darker palette of charcoal gray, a midnight blue/black or an espresso brown. Richer colors might give you the dramatic statement you are looking for! These are all neutral colors, but collectively they create an unforgettable color scheme that is both tasteful and inspired by earth tones.

In the 1980s and 1990s, an ultracontemporary home would be nothing but vibrant whites and marble, which was nice at the time. But today’s exterior color schemes can bring more vibrancy, life and warmth to a home’s exterior without looking out of place or disjointed.

Start with Four Colors, Yes Four Colors!

A home is a combination of surfaces, and every surface deserves a little attention. Most homes require at least four colors to accentuate all the details, which is not a lot. Looking at the photo at the top of this blog, I have the body color, shutter color and trim color, a basic palette starting with three colors. I will show you why adding the fourth color makes a big difference! There is a fourth color — in this case, for the first floor of the house — but if you do not have a home that requires two body colors, you might need a color for the foundation. Perhaps you will want a different colored front door, or you might even want an accent color for window boxes or planters!

Suddenly, four colors don’t seem so far-fetched! Create the color palette for your exterior with at least three colors, most likely four, and it will give your home more curb appeal and personality!

Your Home’s Exterior Color Palette

With all my years of experience working with homeowners, I find that many people don’t know where to start. They often ask me “What style of home do I have? Do I have to pick colors that complement the time when my home was built?” I often hear, “I don’t think my home is either traditional or contemporary; where does my home fit into these schemes?”

Don’t fret. Every home has the opportunity to showcase a beautiful color scheme that is unique unto its own. Ultimately, you should choose colors you love, regardless of the time when your home was built or the style of the home.

Although I have showcased some foundational ideas for exterior color schemes, they are not a doctrine for every homeowner to follow. If you are looking for inspiration, learn about your home’s history. Learn about the era your home is from, what the popular styles were at the time, and what makes your home unique. Trust me — you’ll find color inspiration in ways you could never have imagined once you begin investing your heart, creativity and love into improving your home.

Finally, remember the colors of your home start with the body color and trim, but there are ways of personalizing your front entrance and making it more inviting. A fun project: You can add a personal touch to the front door and surrounding area — adding more curb appeal. Consult with a color expert. He or she will help you discover the colors unique to your home and, better yet, will guide you in the right direction while developing the perfect exterior color palette for your home!

Please, reach out and tell me about the exterior colors of your home and whether you have any favorite exterior color schemes. I’d love to hear your story!

Amy Wax is a fine artist and internationally recognized color expert. She is the first color consultant to be nationally recognized by Benjamin Moore & Co., which awarded her the HUE award. She also has served as president of the International Association of Color Consultants of North America. This blog originally appeared on her website, amywax.com, on December 10, 2020.