As a Painting Contractor Company in Boston MA, we are often asked about guidelines for selecting colors for painting the exterior of a New England home. First, we’ll discuss the three important components of Field, Trim, and Accent. Next, what style of home you have and how the three components change with style.  Finally, a short discussion on common paint problems will be helpful.

Field, Trim, And Accent

The Field color covers the bulk of the house. Lighter colors make the house look larger, but if too light, it creates the illusion of a flimsy structure.  Create a sturdier perception by using a darker field, but the house will look smaller.

When picking the Field color, consider the context of the entire neighborhood. Don’t copy the neighbors but choose a color that will set your home apart without clashing with nearby structures.

Think about how your choice coordinates with neighborhood landscaping features, like trees, walls, drives right next door, and with areas on your property that will not be painted, like brick fascia, chimneys, vinyl windows, and other natural wooden features.

The Trim, often the deal breaker, should provide contrast to the Field without looking garish. Using the same color as the Field will give your home an unfinished look. Lighter Trim color is almost always safe. Paint the gutters, downspouts, roof edging and door casings, and similar elements, with the Trim color for that invisible look.

The Accent color provides the “pop” drawing attention to key features of the home and giving it life. Use it on door frames (not casings), shutters, window frames (not trim), and other small areas.

Historic Colors

For a modern type home, i.e., a style that represents the 1900s and later, follow the above advice and pick from the thousands of available colors for painting house exteriors. If, however, you want to retain your home’s historical character, your paint choice is a bit more limited.

The Colonial style represents the period from 1630 to 1740. The classic Cape Cod type is a variation. Early in the 18th-century barn red, and it’s rustic hues, were the predominant exterior Field color. White was most often used as a Trim color. White at the time, however, was off-white, not today’s super white. Lighter colors contrasting with the Field were used for window sashes and trim.

Popular in the period between 1700 to 1830 was the Georgian style, and around 1820 or so white became a more popular body color. White and creamy white, with a yellow tint to the palest colors, was used for the Field color. Trim was light in color, same or almost the same as the field.  Dark colors, such as black or dark green were used on window sashes, doors and shutters.

The period between 1780 to 1840 saw the rise of the Federal style, and the use of creamy white as a Field color continued. Many of these historic homes had window trim and shutters painted with dark colors, black and dark green still being the most common. Darker color on the window sashes enhances the look.

Between 1830 to 1850 the Greek revival style had a short run. Homes were often painted off-white or had off-white trim with a rustic body color such as straw yellow, gray or tan.

Finally, the Victorian style represented the period between 1855 to 1900. Popular exterior colors were earth tones, better known as ochres, i.e., various shades of rustic colors such as green, browns and deep reds. Victorian Style homes sometimes sported six colors of trim & accent and were often called “Painted Ladies”.  Today, you can get by with three colors if well placed.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has color charts that contain 250 hues, and

Historic New England has a handy color guide, featuring 149 colors from architectural styles dating between the 17th and the 20th centuries.

Common Paint Problems

Making the right paint choices, with the help of an experienced painting service professional will help avoid the most common problems of Alligatoring, Blistering, Chalking, Cracking/Flaking, Efflorescence, Fading, Mildew/Algae, Peeling, and Tannin Staining.

Contact a professional exterior painting service, like the Boston Painting Co, if you’re stuck or the house is too much to handle on your own. Get help from an expert painter and decorator that does this for a living. Remember, one of the most public decisions you make is the color of your house, and it can impact curb appeal.

So, as the Grail Knight said: “Choose Wisely”!