Wednesday, November 12, 2014

On painting color into the garden and onto your home...

Gardens are a great place to experiment with using color. Low walls and screens are a lot less trouble to paint and repaint than a whole house. Designers like Susan Morrison, BluePlanetGardenBlog employ their own gardens as test grounds to great effect, using limited scale, bold colored back drops to accentuate shapes and forms of foreground planting and other objects. Check out the previously purple now acid green wall in her side gardenNote how foreground furnishings shown in her post (chaise lounge cushions and large pots) present a variety of hues subtly, more subdued. Today, this post by Pam Penick over at Digging shows her experiments with gorgeously wild colors on her new low stucco walls. Thank you, Susan and Pam, for inspiring me to share a few tips of my own about using color, especially outside. 

Selecting complimentary colors and color schemes is more difficult for some than others. My neighbor's house to the east used to look like this.

While this red is not a bad color by itself, it fights a little with the brick wainscoting. A color to compliment the bricks may be better.

Using color outside has different challenges than inside. Outside light has a consistent (daytime) source, the sun. Inside, we may change light fixtures and lamps (bulbs for lay people), altering the color temperature of the light in which we view our colors. However, outside light is much stronger, especially on an early summer midday. Assuming you will paint your house the same color all the way around, it is important to "see" that color vertically on all the exposures, north, south, east and west, in various lighting conditions.

How to approach this is something I have been seeing neighbors struggling with when deciding what color to paint the outside of their house. They either resort to painting patches all over their house, painting it like someone else's house, or both. One left their house looking like this for months, then finally painted it blue!

Paint companies may want to sell you a lot of sample pots of paint, but they are usually interior grade and not their best line of paint. Later problems may result from improper surface preparation in a hasty decision to extensively patch paint exterior surfaces. The painting contractor for the house above knew this, and I believe he took extra steps (possibly adding to his cost) to knock off the patch paint before priming and repainting.

Seeing colors from chips and swatches is a skill we can develop a sense for over time, especially with training and an understanding of the way colors behave together and under various sources of light. It is why you might consider hiring a design professional to help you rather than waiting months to figure out what color to paint your house. As designers, we can can order full sheet swatches from paint companies. They can be placed on surfaces to be painted at different times of day, especially early or late. It is important to look at surroundings. How will colors in your landscape compliment your home, and vice versa? How will your new color look next to your neighbor's. If you have your heart set on a color,  you might paint your house before your neighbor gets a chance to choose their next color! 

Neutral tones are always safest when painting large areas, like houses. Also, in context with most neighborhoods. However, unless there are HOA restrictions, that doesn't limit us to white or beige. There are neutrals that convey every color in the spectrum. They are just toned down with generous helpings of grey/white to grey/black and their adjacent and/or complimentary-colored pigments. Here is the deep, neutral blue-grey-green my neighbors to the west just had their house painted last week after a full texture recoat:

Doesn't the color look great next to mangaris wood trim and trunk of nearby redwood tree?

Lighter colors reflect a lot of light, so they trick the eye into not seeing wall imperfections. If your stucco has been patched and you don't have it in the budget for a full texture recoat, a lighter color may be preferred. Same with older wooden siding. However, darker colors reflect less light and they can look much less harsh and evoke mystery. Even be more inviting. Who doesn't want to walk into a shaded glen to see what mysteries are to be discovered in the forest? By the way, my favorite exterior paint company actually has a color called "Shaded Glen" -- I kid you not. Unfortunately, looks more like WWII era "army green". Speaking of green, houses painted green may fight with various shades of green in the landscape. To me, the colors in nature always win that battle. May we never go back to the olive/avocado green fad of the 1970s.

My own house went from being a light oyster with aqua fascia (so very '80s) to a rich medium tan with deep walnut fascia and light lily color under boxed eaves. 



Someday, perhaps I will go darker, even paint the garage door. For now, I am enjoying the modest change.