Have you ever admired a house because it was painted with color combinations that gave it a personality its neighbors lacked? Have you wished you could do the same for your own house, but because you can't picture just how new colors will look you stick with "safe" colors. This is not at all unusual. It's expensive to paint the exterior of a house. It's not quite the same as changing the color of your living room.
If you make a mistake in your living room, you and your family are the only ones who have to live with it until you have the time or can afford to repaint. But make the same mistake on the outside of the house and the whole neighborhood suffers because of your mistake. Many homeowners quake at the prospect of selecting exterior paint colors for large outdoor expanses. The walls of a house suddenly seem so public. And it's too expensive to make a color mistake when you can avoid it with a little planning.
Years ago, I talked with a well-known California designer, Foster Meagher, who had devised a plan for the do-it-yourself (DIY) house painter to systematically make decisions about colors; his plan is still valid today. This paint plan helps the DIYer find what colors can best be used to breathe new life into a house, and still be colors we can live with for a long time. Mr. Meagher is credited with transforming more than 350 homes and businesses into the multi-colored masterpieces known as the "Painted Ladies".
The paint plan begins with a photograph of each side of your house that you enlarge at a copier center or with your computer's graphic program. Next, using heavy tracing paper, make a drawing of the house from the enlarged photograph with as many of the architectural details as possible. Get several photocopies of the drawing made so you can try out different color schemes. Drawing your house helps you to "read" you home's characteristics. It allows you to get in touch with the house features you like best and also to identify its flaws.
You now have an architectural elevation plan on which you can creatively experiment with colors by coloring your drawing with crayons or color markers. In creating your design and before you go shopping for the markers, you have to analyze the conditions that surround your home.
Start with the climate. Is the house in Florida or Maine? Do you want colors that hold the heat or reflect heat? For example, dark colors absorb heat whereas light colors reflect heat. Are there lots of trees around? Does the house face south or north?
Next, analyze the existing colors that you must work with. These are the colors you'll find on the unpainted surfaces of the house or close to the house. Do you have an unpainted chimney? What color is it? What color is the roof? Unless you plan on replacing the roof, its color is a major component that must be factored into your paint plan. What colors are the walks and driveway leading to the house? Your answers to these questions give you the basic colors that frame your house and that you must consider in designing your exterior color plan.
Next, you want to identify the three major components on your drawing that form the basis of your color plan. The first is the trim. Trim is Color No.1 on your plan. All the moldings around doors and windows, under the soffit (where the walls meet the roof) and corner battens (vertical boards that finish off the corners) get labeled No. 1.
Color No. 2 is all the siding that will be painted, Color No. 3 is all the accessories, such as doors, shutters and mailboxes. Storm windows and storm doors on most houses probably should not be accented, but rather painted to match the surrounding colors.
Color No. 3 is what are called the "punch" colors, a color to add interest and life to the overall appearance of the house. The front door, for example, is the perfect spot for a punch color.
Now you are ready to turn your imagination and color markers loose on your
customized paint-by-number design. Once you have your paint-by-number color plan finalized, it's time to go shopping for paint. Because paint sample chips are too small to give you true sampling of the color, consider buying a quart of each color for testing. Paint a test section that includes all the colors on the sunny side of the house and a second test on the shady side.
It is not uncommon to do a paint test on a section and decide to change a color. Better to find out your mistake with just a quart of paint rather than gallons later.
The final results should be rewarding if you have done your homework on your exterior paint-by-numbers plan.
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