“The next time you drive through your neighborhood, take a closer look at the range of exterior paint colors you see,” Brian Smith, founding partner of Studio Tack, advises. “Youʼll probably notice a limited palette of creams, tans, and browns, and be hard-pressed to find a bright blue or red home.”
The most widely used exterior paint colors have barely changed in generations, and that’s what Smith wants to get across with this exercise. In the past, homes have often simply reflected the colors of their materials—stone, wood, clay, and the like.
While there’s nothing wrong with harmonizing with the setting of an address, there is something to be said about the creative opportunities that can arise when picking an exterior paint color. Instead of only complementing the views, modern dwellers have the chance to express their personalities, too. “We have access to every color imaginable,” notes Smith. “So before you pick up a brush, take a moment to reflect on what you want your paint to say about you and your home.”
As you consider how your home reflects your style—yes, from the outside in—we asked Smith to share more insights into selecting the right finishes, how to prep ahead of the paint job, and which seven exterior colors he likes best. With his advice, maybe your house will be the one on the block that turns the most heads.
What to Know About Finishes
When it comes to finding the right exterior paint finish, Smith says that matte is best. “It makes sense, considering that most of the color palettes we see for exterior paint tend to reflect building and construction methods from thousands of years ago, like the grays in stone, the reds of clay bricks, and the browns of trees, to name a few,” he says. “You typically donʼt see shiny stones or trees, so nature has already clued us into what sort of finishes we should be looking for.”
Nevertheless, glossier finishes shouldn’t be completely shunned either. If you live in a place where dirt is a factor—say, for instance, near a beach or in the desert—then a high-gloss sheen is the most practical choice. “As you increase the amount of sheen in a paint, you’re also increasing its durability,” explains Smith.
Finishes with tints in them will also prove to be more dynamic in natural light than a straightforward “pure” shade. “For instance, if you’re thinking of painting your home black, try to choose a paint color that has tints of blues and greens. It might look black at first glance, but a longer look reveals the hidden undertones that make the color a little moodier and mysterious,” Smith says.
And if you’re into one color and one color only, Smith says that you don’t need to compromise by widening your palette. In this case, focus on getting the same color in various finishes. “Increased sheen levels also increase the colorʼs perceived depth,” he says. “So if you try painting your siding in a matte or eggshell finish, and then use the same paint color in a high-gloss finish for the trim, it will appear as though youʼve used two different colors. But in actuality, youʼve just leveraged the sheen.”
How to Prep Before Painting
As confident as you may be in your choice of the “perfect” exterior paint, especially given all of the thought Smith recommends you put into that selection, do not start painting your home right away. Instead, he recommends that you take the process slowly. First, be prepared to extend your budget. “It may be tempting to go for the cheaper paint options, considering that you’re going to be buying a lot, but don’t skimp on the quality of your paint,” he says. “A better-quality paint will last longer, which saves you money in the long term. Higher-quality paints also adhere better and require fewer coats.”
Next, try out your choice in a small section of your home. “Painting an exterior is a big job, and it’s on full display, which means testing paint colors and finishes is the most important step in deciding on a color,” Smith adds. “Do not buy colors without testing first.
“I like to use a 3-to-4-foot square, which is a large enough area to see the color’s full effect from the street,” he continues. “Be sure to test the colors on different sides of your house, and take photos at different times throughout the day. This will give you a good grasp of how much lighting can change the reading of a color.”
The Best Exterior Paint Colors
If you want to go dark…
Black Panther by Benjamin Moore: “When we renovated the Coachman Hotel in South Lake Tahoe, we chose this for the exterior paint color,” Smith says. “This almost-black color has subtle undertones of pine green, which really begin to show within the context of the surrounding trees.”
Regent Green by Benjamin Moore: “This is a bold, saturated deep green with jewel-like blue undertones,” Smith says. “It makes a statement without being too flashy. We painted the exterior of the Anvil Hotel in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, this color to help the property tie in with colors from the surrounding landscape.”
Down Pipe by Farrow & Ball: “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,” Smith says. “It is a complex color with blue undertones. It was the perfect color to nod to the nautical atmosphere without being too on the nose.”
If you want to see the light…
Timid White by Benjamin Moore: “This is a great choice if you want a white that’s not too bright. It’s a creamy white with gray undertones that works just as well for exteriors as it does for interiors,” says Smith. “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.”
Winter Ice by Benjamin Moore: “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 this with a high-gloss, dark navy trim for a handsome combination of dark and light blues.”
Blackened by Farrow & Ball: “We painted the Tilden Hotel in San Francisco this color,” says Smith. “The city can feel somewhat drab during its many cloudy days, so we wanted a color that was cheerful but not too assertive. It has cool undertones that play to SF’s cloudy skies, while at the same time offering enough contrast for this mid-block, mid-rise building to stand out.”