If there is one simple way to bring the exterior of your house into the 21st century, it is with paint. No matter when your house was built, what the architectural style is, what the landscape looks like, color and all its combinations can give your house a current look.
House paint is a long-term commitment, though. Unlike fashion, what is up to date today will still need to look good later on. So how do you pick a color that won't conflict with your idea of style 10 years too soon?
Color experts have already thought this through. The Color Future Group at ICI Paints in London and the Color Stylist Group at PPG Industries in Pennsylvania already know what your future looks like. These are the people who predict color trends, such as the shade of handbag you'll be carrying next year or the color of the car you'll drive by the end of the decade.
Amy Larrabee of the Color Marketing Group in Alexandria, Va., gives us a look ahead.
"Inside colors are moving outside," she says. "Greens, browns and the colors of stone are responses to the environmental movement. Punch colors such as red and oranges are going on front doors."
One of the most sophisticated ways to think about color is to imagine sinking your house into the land. Instead of a lemon-yellow house that looks as if it was plopped on top, envision a color that makes your house look like it has grown out of the ground.
"Landscape architects are finally working with color palettes in the beginning stages of construction so the home color becomes the backdrop to the eventual landscape," says Dodi Horn, director of color and design at the Benjamin Moore paint company in New York.
Whatever you choose, know that you are going to live with your decision a long time. Unlike your latest throw pillows, exterior colors need to endure. Here are some tips to help you paint like a pro.
Don't buy the budget grade of any paint. Most major paint brands come in low, medium and high grades. According to some experts, grade is more important than the brand. Because each paint company will give their grades different descriptive names, price will indicate the highest-grade paint - buy that.
Don't ask your painter for color recommendations. These people can wield a paintbrush while blindfolded, but many, if not most, have no training in color theory or trends. If you can't manage color, look in your local phone directory for a color coach.
Don't leave your garage door "manufacturer's white," especially if it is up front as a focal point. Paint it the color of the house body or trim.
Don't pick your paint color in the store and order it without trying it on for size.
Don't skimp on preparation, such as scraping, wood filling, sanding and priming.
Consider the architectural style of your home. With a little homework, you can find colors that complement the style.
Pull color brochures from various paint stores and study the combinations.
Order quart-sized samples of body and trim colors and try them on all four sides of your house. Northern exposures look quite different from southern exposures.
Live with your colors for at least a week before you decide.
Try on four to five colors and their combinations. The initial expense will be worth it when you still love your paint in 10 years.
Search the Internet by paint-brand companies for house-color ideas. Some sites have virtual-design tools that can help you make a decision.
What paint where: Use Pittsburgh Paints' 60-30-10 rule: 60 percent of your paint color will go on the body of the house, 30 percent on the trim and 10 percent on accent items such as the front door. The more you use a color, the more intense it will be. For example, 60 percent of sage green is magnified and will appear much stronger and darker on your house than it looks on a paint chip. Test your paint before you choose.
Paint it out: There is no need to call attention to the parts of your house that you don't like. Let's say that the builder has trimmed out a certain area that you don't find attractive. Make it "disappear" by painting it the same color as the body.
Paint it in: On the other hand, you can call attention to the parts of your house that you do like by painting those areas with accent or trim colors.
Front doors: Choose a color that makes your front door pop. This will be your third color, a color not found anywhere else on the house. Look at dark plums, cranberry reds, teal blues or a deep mahogany stain.