Painting your house? Color choices can overwhelm

Jim Plumb/iStock

I see grayish-green, my wife sees greenish-gray. Big difference? Not if we were debating the color of my sweater. But this is the color we may paint the exterior of our house, and if it’s too gray, she won’t be happy, and if it’s too green, I won’t be happy, and so we’re stuck debating a question for which there is no right answer. Only opinions.

Of all the decisions homeowners tackle in the first few years after buying a house, whether it’s hanging new window treatments, updating a kitchen or bath, or landscaping the yard — is anything more difficult, and more stressful, than choosing what color to paint the outside? If you paint a bedroom yellow and decide a week later it’s more like cream, repainting is no big deal. If you paint your house yellow and decide it’s more like cream, you learn to like cream.

Playing around with a computer program that let me place any Benjamin Moore color onto any style house was fun. But after 10 minutes it was like smelling colognes. They all blended together. Curious, I dropped a note to Benjamin Moore, to ask exactly how many colors are in the company’s collection.


“There are more than 3,300 colors available in the Benjamin Moore color system,” a woman named Esther Perman e-mailed me back in 10 seconds. “And any one of those can be used to tint its exterior paint — or you can color match to any hue of your choice.”

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Great. But then she added, “Obviously, there are some colors in that range that no one would dare paint on the exterior of their home.”

Groan. Was she talking about the colors we were considering? Or was that a sly reference to the conversation we’d had with our 6-year-old daughter, who, when asked what color she’d like our house to be, shouted, “Pink!”

For us, settling on a color has felt like running on a treadmill. There have been weeks of browsing websites, of clicking on colors, of walking, biking, and driving through our neighborhood looking for inspiration. And we still felt like we hadn’t gone anywhere. We only knew what we didn’t want.

We wouldn’t paint it white, which is the existing color. And we couldn’t paint it blue, because our next-door neighbors are blue and that wouldn’t be very neighborly of us.


“People on their interior and exterior are becoming more bold with their colors,” Rich O’Neil, president of Masterwork Painting and Restoration in Woburn, told me. “That doesn’t mean vibrant colors. They’re just not stuck to whites and off-whites.” He’s especially noticed people becoming more bold in their trim choices, choosing dark hues instead of traditional white.

“New England has a lot of white and gray, and we have more people adding more color to their home,” echoed Gloria Robertson, an architectural color consultant and decorative artist who owns Twinkle Designs in Quincy. She said she is seeing more rich tones, greens, browns, and russets. “We are getting tired of white and gray. Color has such an emotional and spiritual effect on you and people want to feel better.”

Exactly. For us, once we had eliminated white and blue, the next few weeks were a frenzy. We’d warm up to a particular color for a day or two, and then dismiss it and move on.

Yellow was the early favorite. But how yellow? Canary yellow? Mellow yellow? Creamy yellow? On the one hand we felt like we’d be happy with any of them, we couldn’t go wrong. Yellow is bright, pretty, we’d be living in a house of sunshine, where there were never any arguments, boo-boos, or tears. But that was the problem. It was too much pressure, there were too many yellows to choose from.

Friends of ours pointed out a dark blue-gray house with white trim. It was sharp. Then we started seeing similar houses and we really warmed up to blue-gray. But we grew concerned that a dark color might make a modest-size house appear more small than modest. Blue-gray was out.


That’s when grayish-green (or greenish-gray) emerged. We’d seen a lot of those colors around, until one day while all of us were biking down our street, my wife shouted, “That! That’s the color.”

I stared. It was nice. Green. Gray. With cream trim and a rust-colored door. This was no time to be shy. I dropped my bike and walked up to the front door. A young boy answered, and then his mother emerged. I explained our dilemma and asked if she happened to know what color their house was.

Of course they had just moved in. She had no idea. But she promised to poke around and took our number. Sure enough, the next day she called. She had gone down to the basement and found some cans of Benjamin Moore Nantucket Gray.

And so Benjamin Moore Nantucket Gray it is. For now. Until it’s yellow.

Doug Most can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Globedougmost.