As the dark and dreary days of winter begin to bear upon you, a feature on color is just the remedy you need. We’ve put together the following ideas and tips on everything you need to know when selecting the exterior materials and finishes for your home.
1. Site & Landscape
It’s important to consider factors that are beyond your immediate control – the land around your home typically falls into the category. When approaching or passing your home from the street, what effect do you want to convey? Is it more muted and nestled within the landscape (like the home below) or do you desire a stark contrast to the home’s surroundings? Color is a decisive factor for this consideration – adjusting the brightness and darkness of the hue will affect its visual impact among trees and other plantings.
If you live in an area that experiences a dynamic range of seasons, you’ll find that this decision is one that should be made with a variety of conditions in mind. The creamy almond color of the parged brick on the home below is well-suited to “pop” against lush green grass, vibrant oranges and red leaves in fall, and a stark white, snow-covered yard during winter.
Regional vernaculars feature materials that can be manufactured from readily available resources. Red brick is prolific among Georgian and Federal styles that originated throughout the eastern United States because of the clay indigenous to those areas. The same can be said of the wood shakes characteristic of Shingle or Cape Cod style homes, which can be traced directly to the large forests of cedar trees along the Atlantic coast. Look to these roots when selecting the most appropriate materials for your home.
3. Community Aesthetics
As a general principle, homeowners and designers alike both strive to select or conceive designs that relate to their context. When buying or building a new home, you do typically consider how it fits within the neighborhood. If your search leads you to a planned community, you’ll find that this consideration has often been made for you – the look and feel of the homes have been devised to be compatible with one another.
This requires careful planning on the behalf of the developer, builder, and architect, who will usually curate a range of prescribed selections for you to choose from. Your individual color scheme will not only have a set of harmonious materials for your home, but will also be cohesive with the overall character of the neighborhood.
Conventionally, a well-articulated color scheme will consist of three primary selections: field, accent, and trim. These terms can be associated with the following building elements:
- Field: the majority of the building surface. Whether its brick, stone, siding, stucco, or a combination thereof, it’s likely that you have one predominate material or color on your home.
- Accent: secondary elements. These can be doors, windows, shutters, roofing, and isolated features or areas adjacent to the field.
- Trim: roof edges/undersides, door and window surrounds (casings), gutters and downspouts, railings, and other ornament/decorative pieces.
As a general rule of thumb, the biggest contrast should happen between your field and trim colors. Light vs. dark, bright vs. pale, and sharp vs. muted are all common antonyms used to guide these choices. White trim is the proverbial choice for just this reason – it stands in direct contrast to nearly any color. Front doors are a great opportunity to add a focal point to the exterior with a bold accent color. A variation of one of three primary colors is usually a safe bet.
When you change materials, either between floors or along projections (bay windows, porches, etc.), it is advisable to alter the color as well. When the materials you use are natural (cedar shake or timber beams, for instance) you should emphasize their distinct qualities, like wood grain and knots, by sealing or staining them.
If your primary field material has some range, like brick or stone, you can select trim/accent colors that compliment and emphasize one tone or hue within the spectrum. The mortar between them can also be tied into your choices for trim. You can see that the stone base on these townhouses has the same appearance as the mortar, which also looks similar to the trim around the windows and roof. The black shingles and shutters relate to the dark speckles within the brick for a subtler connection.
5. Selection Process
Colors should always be chosen from real material samples – swatches often differ from the actual texture and sheen of the products they stand in for. Since you’ll be using these materials outside, it’s imperative to test their compatibility under natural sunlight, as opposed to indoor fluorescent and intumescent bulbs. Shape is an especially important quality for stone and brick choices, as these can vary substantially depending on where and how they’re manufactured – a thumbnail doesn’t convey edges or scale.
Are you working alongside a custom-home builder or architect to develop your own exterior color scheme (or do you just enjoy tinkering around)? There are a number of online resources that you can use to experiment and visualize an extensive variety of material and color combinations:
Does your home have a unique palette of exterior materials or have you compiled a wish-list of colorful homes you admire? Share photos, tips, and resources with us by leaving a comment below!
Guest blog written by Evan Stoddard of W.C. Ralston Architects. W.C. Ralston Architects is an architecture and planning firm that has built an enduring reputation for design excellence in homes, neighborhoods and communities across the Mid-Atlantic region. Learn more at www.wcralston.com.