Saturday, May 21, 2011

Extreme Makeover! (Choosing Exterior Paint Colors)

 We’ve been so busy the last year with the basics of building the house, I hadn’t even given a thought yet to what the exterior paint scheme might be. Lots of rainy weather this spring had also put the exterior painting on the back burner—that is until two nights ago. A sunny and warm (or at least above 60 degrees) weather forecast prompted MTH into finalizing a contract with a painter to start painting the exterior RIGHT AWAY.

That evening, almost as an aside, MTH said to me “Oh, the painter wants to start tomorrow. Tell me what colors you’ve picked out so I can tell him what to buy.” Huh?? You’re kidding, right??

No, he wasn’t. He really did need the color selection the next day. At this point, words unprintable gushed from my mouth. Just two weeks ago I finalized the interior colors I had been mulling over for the better part of a year. And now I was supposed to come up with perhaps the most critical paint color choices of the entire project OVERNIGHT? A paint job that we’ll have to live with for 15 to 20 years?

Resistance was futile! There was nothing to do but round up all the paint chips I happened to have on hand and start visualizing them on the outside of our house.

This being more difficult than I thought, I decided to go online and look for more choices. All the painters we talked to said they prefer to use Sherwin Williams paint, so with this in mind I went to their website. Lovely colors and nice advertising; still tough to choose.

I decided to try their Color Visualizer. Following their directions, I uploaded a photo of the front façade of our house and applied “masks” to the siding and the main trim elements.

The Color Visualizer tool allows you to create a mask for just about any house part you want to, but I decided just to focus on the walls and the door and window trims, and not fuss with simulating the window mullions or exterior doors.

The masking is pretty easy to do but does require a steady hand to achieve precision. In the interest of time I decided to use the “broad brush” approach (my terminology!) and roughly mask out the walls and trim—just enough to get an idea of how certain colors would look on the house.

Although the site offers a number of preselected paint schemes and houses to view them on, I created my own instead. I chose to test just a handful of schemes: a warm grey, a cool grey, a light and a dark brown, something blue, something green, and a kind of greenish gold.

Because the images on the screen are so small, I downloaded each paint scheme simulation to a Word document and then compared them all side by side at various sizes—and here they are!


(Some of the colors used for walls include Gray Area, Burlap, Renwick Olive, Sage, and Dutch Tile Blue--I forgot to write them all down or match them with the photos; sorry! Most of the trim is shown in Dover White.)

Helpful as the simulations are, it isn’t quite the same as seeing the colors in real life. First thing in the morning—remember, there were painters waiting for me—I went to our nearest Sherwin Williams store and pulled the paint chips that matched the schemes I had developed.

Sure enough, some of the colors didn’t look at all like they did online, so I made some substitutions and then ordered sample quarts of 5 different colors (I eventually added two more--NEVER be cheap in buying quarts of paint to test. The price of knowing that a color doesn't work is, well, priceless.) Off I went to our house site where the painters gallantly brushed on each color for me to assess.


 Left to right; top to bottom: Garden Sage, Wheatgrass, Peristyle Brass, Dapper Tan
and more Wheatgrass and Garden Sage

At that point, panic set it. I didn’t like any of them. Well that isn’t exactly true; it wasn’t that I definitively DISLIKED them—I didn’t really know WHAT I liked or what I wanted. I had been in such a hurry to choose colors that I hadn’t allowed myself the time to just think about what quality I wanted the house to convey and what color(s) would do it best.

Reaching optimum freak-out status, I quickly called MTH and implored him to immediately come help me choose the color scheme. If I was going to make a mistake, I wanted to make it with his company and complicity! Sensing my impending meltdown, he wisely complied.

It turns out the colors I chose were, except for one, consistently too light. I had been so afraid of going too dark that I went to the other extreme. MTH and I pored over the fan deck the painters loaned us and pretty quickly came up with 3 more colors to test—all darker than the first 5.

Eureka! Colors #1 and #3 immediately appealed to us and we realized that darker was better. We tried one more color that better matched the pre-colored aluminum window mullions (The seaglass blue that I chose ages ago when we ordered the windows). Yikes. Waaay too intense.

With fingers crossed we backtracked and picked “Retreat” for the walls and “Dover White” for the trim. (Yeah, not that adventurous--but hey, it's better than tan.)

I’d like to tell you that I slept soundly that night, happy in the knowledge we had chosen well. But no; I tossed and turned the whole night, doubted our decision, and generally worried myself sick. I couldn’t wait for morning to come, and yet I also dreaded it for I knew the painters would start spraying early and the result—good, fair, or HORRIBLE—would be right in front of me.

In the morning I drove to the site, gingerly turned the corner, and to my complete relief saw that the color we chose was…not bad at all!

The REAL house painted in Retreat and Dover White by Sherwin Williams