Kelly Dawson

Published on August 4, 2021

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The most widely used exterior paint colors have barely changed in generations. “The next time you drive through your neighborhood, take a closer look,” advises Brian Smith, founding partner of Brooklyn-based design firm Post Company (formerly Studio Tack). “Youʼll probably notice a limited palette of creams, tans, and browns and be hard-pressed to find a bright blue or red home.”

That’s because most house hues were often dictated by the colors of their building materials (gray stone, brown wood, red brick) or complemented the shades of the surrounding environment. “We have access to every color imaginable,” notes Smith. “Before you pick up a brush, take a moment to reflect on what you want your paint to say about you and your home.” Choosing an exterior paint color can open the door to a rainbow of creative opportunities you never thought were possible—and let you express your personality in the process—just be mindful of your location (you’ll want to pick a color that works with the landscape and your neighbors’ houses). Need some advice to get started? Here are 10 classic yet inspired exterior paint colors to help your home stand out.

A Few Things to Keep in Mind

Material: Whether it’s brick, wood, vinyl, fiber cement, or stone, your house’s siding will likely determine the type of paint you should use. For example, according to PJ and Thomas McKay of The Property Lovers, flat finishes on wood siding are “a big no-no because they leave watermarks.” In general, acrylic and lime paints are great for a range of exterior applications. Just be mindful of how much paint you need—a drier surface will likely require extra for full coverage. 

Finish: The best exterior paints are weather-resistant, but some finishes conceal more wear and debris than others. If you live in a place where dirt is a factor—say, near a beach or in the desert—then a higher gloss is the most practical choice. “As you increase the amount of sheen in a paint, you’re also increasing its durability,” explains Smith. Add the McKays, “We typically go with a satin or eggshell finish because those are both good at hiding imperfections and easier to wash.” 

Area and size: Even if you’re sure you’ve found the perfect exterior paint, Smith suggests testing the color on small sections of your home before painting the whole house, checking on the color at different times of day, and observing it from all angles so there are no surprises. He goes with several 3- to 4-foot squares, a visual large enough to view from the street.

Our Top Picks

To Go Dark: Benjamin Moore Black Panther 

“When we renovated the Coachman Hotel in South Lake Tahoe, we chose this for the exterior paint,” says Smith. “The almost-black color has subtle undertones of pine green, which really begin to show within the context of the surrounding trees.”

To Add Subtle Warmth: Benjamin Moore White Dove  

The McKays praise Benjamin Moore’s wide color range but have no qualms defaulting to a nuanced white to make an impactful statement. “We love White Dove, which is the perfect shade of creamy off-white and comes across as warm and not stark or cold,” they say. 

To Stay Neutral: Farrow & Ball Blackened

“We painted the Tilden Hotel this color,” says Smith. “San Francisco can feel somewhat drab when it’s overcast, so we wanted a color that was cheerful but not too assertive. It has cool undertones that play to the city’s cloudy skies, while at the same time offering enough contrast for this midblock, midrise building to stand out.”

To Try a Trend: Behr Sage Brush

According to Erika Woelfel, vice president of color and creative services for Behr, a sage green looks great on Colonial, Cape Cod, and traditional homes. When tapped for house paint suggestions, she notes this color pairs well with a cream trim and darker mossy green shade on the door. 

To Keep Things Cool: Benjamin Moore Winter Ice 

“What better way to give your house a cool makeover than with a color called Winter Ice?” asks Smith. “This hue is a happy blue that reminds me of a sea breeze, but the gray undertones keep it grounded and sophisticated. Try pairing it with a high-gloss dark navy trim for a handsome combination of dark and light blues.”

To Give Into Gray: Farrow & Ball Down Pipe 

“We painted the guest room doors at the Sound View in Greenport, New York, this shade, but again, it would still work great as an exterior option,” says Smith. “It is a complex color with blue undertones. It was the perfect shade to nod to the nautical atmosphere without being too on the nose.”

To Be Bold: Benjamin Moore Black Forest Green 

The McKays have been testing the extremes of light and dark: “Black Forest Green is this really dramatic green that changes color depending on what light it’s in: Sometimes it looks black; sometimes it looks like a dark green.” 

To See the Light: Benjamin Moore Timid White 

“This is a great choice if you want a white that’s not too bright,” says Smith. “It’s a creamy white with gray undertones that works just as well for exteriors as it does for interiors. We painted the Glorietta Restaurant at the Anvil Hotel this color. The restaurant’s main facades face south and west, so the subtle gray undertones help keep this white warm and balanced against the setting rays of the sun.”

To Be Different: Sherwin-Williams Cavern Clay 

“This sun-washed terracotta hue is most commonly seen on the exterior of southwest- and Spanish Mission–style homes, but it also makes for a warm, inviting accent color on contemporary and Southern Colonial homes,” says Sue Wadden, director of color marketing at Sherwin-Williams, when asked about the best paint colors for a refresh. “It pairs nicely with a variety of shades, but it really pops against saturated blues and soft beiges.”

To Channel Jewels: Benjamin Moore Regent Green

“This is a bold, saturated deep green with jewel-like blue undertones,” says Smith. “It makes a statement without being too flashy. We painted the exterior of the Anvil Hotel in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, this shade to help the property tie in with colors from the surrounding landscape.”

Ask Domino

How long does it take for exterior paint to dry?

According to Kyle Thomas, owner of Thomas House Painting in Connecticut, most exterior paints require at least four to six hours to dry and then an entire day to fully cure. If you’re doing the job yourself, be sure to pressure-wash your house first to remove any dirt and debris that could interfere with proper adhesion. “Do it before a solid week of hot sun to let the house dry out,” adds Nick Rochacewich of Canada-based NWR Painting

Do I need to use a primer with exterior paint? 

It depends on the material of the exterior or the underlying paint, but often primer is only necessary for new or exposed wood. As long as the surface is clean, most paints formulated for the outdoors already act like glue. More than primer, the step you shouldn’t skip is caulking, says Rochacewich. “It doesn’t matter how well you apply the paint if you don’t do a very good job of caulking—if moisture gets underneath, it’s going to fail,” he stresses. So be sure to seal up any gaps around the trim and corners, as well as any imperfections in the siding, such as holes or cracks. 

Can I use exterior paint indoors?

It isn’t recommended. “The additives that make exterior paint resilient outdoors are not intended for use inside,” says Thomas. “Exterior paint also contains higher VOCs and can be odorous and potentially hazardous. And despite their durability for outdoor conditions, exterior paints are more prone to scuffing and scratching when used indoors.”

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