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top architects’ takes on choosing exterior colors

Exterior of house/Photography: Courtesy of Studio William Hefner/A residential project by William Hefner offers a glimpse of the architect's holistic approach to design..

Your home's facade offers the first—and, sometimes, the only—glimpse of your abode that the outside world sees. Or, as renowned West Coast architect William Hefner puts it, "outdoor color paint has to introduce the interior world of the house at some level." 

House exterior at night/Photography: Jody Kivort/A stunning Georgia home by 212box balances indoor and outdoor living.

Creating harmony between indoor and outdoor environments is an art that architects and designers have mastered. We poll 3 of them on their top tips for choosing an exterior paint color scheme for your home: along with William, Los Angeles–based, designer-to-the-stars Martyn Lawrence Bullard, and architect Eric Clough, founder of noted New York design firm 212box, share their takes on exterior paints. 

Exterior of house with rock garden/Photography: Courtesy of Studio William Hefner/A residential project by William Hefner seamlessly blends exterior charm, inside views, and an outdoor rock garden.

Know where to start. 

Take a look, first, at your home's surroundings. "I like to start with lots of color chips and samples. After dwindling that down, we ask builders to place large samples at the site, then, in general locations of the building. We then choose from there," says William. 

Eric and his team focus on hues found in the home's natural environment, neighboring buildings, and building materials—with some occasional surprises. "Because we like to use as many natural materials as possible on exteriors, we usually match paint colors to the natural materials—bark, stone, and marbles, or colors that blend in with the landscape or quietly set us apart from neighbors," says Eric. But understated isn't always his go-to: "From time to time, we also like to do a flash or an underside of a contrasting color to surprise a passerby." 

Outdoor entryway of house/Photography: Courtesy of Studio William Hefner/An entry to a William Hefner home personifies the architect's commitment to harmony with the landscape.

Martyn, too, begins in a holistic spirit, starting with the architecture. "Are there ways to enhance the look with painted details? Should there be contrasts to help highlight areas, windows, doors, etc.? I think it’s extremely important to look at the site as a whole and embrace what’s existing around the structure," he points out. "I usually default to a shade of white with black trim for windows and details and use my pop of color for the entry door or front door moment. Favorites include lipstick red, deep eggplant, emerald greenand high gloss black lacquer."  

Choose a color combo you love—and one that works indoors and out.

Styles vary, of course. William opts for nature-inspired hues. "I like to go out of my way to use colors, such as khaki and putty. I like to choose colors that pair nicely with the landscape," he shares. While Martyn, for his part, often goes bold: "Black and white is always classic and works for both new and old structures.  An off-white—like Decorator's White or Swiss Coffee—works well when matched with a shade of green for trim, from hunter green to teal shades, depending on the style of the home. I have, for very dramatic effect, been known to paint an exterior in matte black with shiny black trim. Not for the weak of heart, but certainly makes a home stand out in the very boldest way."  

Find the right finish for your facade's material. 

The right finish for you will vary depending on what your facade is composed of, and the look you're aiming to achieve. "I always want to use flat paint on stucco and brick. On wood and metal, I generally prefer satin over a gloss finish, although a glossy front door is always pretty," advises William. Martyn agrees on the impact of a fab front door: "I use a matte finish for the exterior wood, plaster, brick, or whatever material the main body of the house is made of," notes Martyn. "I use semi-gloss for the windows and trim paint and like to use high gloss for the front door." 

Exterior of hotel/Photography: Jamie Kowal/Newly designed by Martyn Lawrence Bullard, the Prospect Hollywood Hotel exemplifies Martyn's approach to bold color combinations.

Rally your troops to keep colors consistent. 

If you've hired a design team, make sure the designer and architect are in communication with each other on the indoor vibe and its outdoor counterpart. "The architect and designer should always work hand in hand on color choices for the exterior of home," explains Martyn. "The exterior should blend with what’s happening with the interior. There’s nothing worse than seeing a colored exterior paint that seems to clash with the drapery inside. I always work with the architects and homeowners to choose a more neutral exterior palette, allowing the architecture to star, and the homeowner to accessorize with plantings, trees, and the exterior lighting." 

His is a sentiment shared by Eric. "There's little division between the interior and exterior colors. We try and design projects that unfold space inside and out. So that one space flows into the next." 

start sampling

Ready to play with color? Get started by sampling! Shop some of the paint colors mentioned in the story—plus some of our favorites—and see what they look like on your home's exterior.

Decorator's WhiteBenjamin Moore

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