Why opt for a classic neutral scheme
About 10 years ago a local builder asked me to design an exterior colour scheme for his new display home. We wanted to achieve a classic timeless appeal for the property as it was important that the house remained contemporary and relevant for as long as possible and so I opted for some warm neutral brown grey tones – the quintessential neutral exterior palette. I knew at the time that this colour scheme would be a classic but I really hadn’t appreciated quite how enduring it would be. There isn’t a week that goes by that I am not asked about these colours and they are still as popular today as they were ten years ago. This really is a great lesson and one that I often relate to clients as re-painting the exterior of a house can be very costly and this is really only something you want to undertake every 15 years or so. Don’t be alarmed though, my blog is not all about being safe with colour but for those of you who like a time honoured classic, you can’t go past an exterior neutral scheme like this one.
Sounds great – how do I achieve it?
Of course, a colour scheme on one house cannot always be translated successfully to another. Quite often the appeal of a wall colour is enhanced by a contrasting trim for the fascia board or window corbelling. Without this the colour may be dull and uninspiring. A roof on one house may be dominant and add to the scheme or it may be a skillion style that you don’t really see. The art is in pulling it all together so carefully consider what has to be painted on the exterior of your home and finishes that can’t be changed before translating a scheme directly to it. Remember that even though the exterior scheme is neutral, it will have a subtle underlying colour that may not be quite right for your location.
It’s a monochromatic scheme – this is how you do it
I am sure you have all walked into a neutral interior scheme that doesn’t quite work, which is not because there isn’t any colour, the problem lies in the fact that there isn’t enough tonal contrast or textural difference in the scheme. The same principle applies for exterior schemes. A monochromatic colour scheme is simple but yet can be very striking and successful. Take one colour, or in this case a neutral tone that doesn’t have an obvious underlying colour – perhaps it is a stone grey or a taupe grey/brown and then use lighter and darker tones of this. Have you ever seen a professional fandeck or colour Atlas that a colour consultant or interior designer uses? If so you will appreciate the many different tones available of just one colour – it is certainly not a boring array to select from.
Three points to achieve a classic neutral scheme
1) So you have a selection of twelve or so different tones in front of you from almost white to a very dark interesting brown/grey – what do you do with them? Firstly, and this may sound obvious but so many people don’t do it, take the colours outside into the natural daylight. Colours look so much lighter outside and the grey in the neutral begins to get washed out.
2) Secondly, remember that all neutrals, greys, browns or whites will have an underlying colour, some more than others – often the lighter the tone gets – the more of that colour you see. Now hopefully if you are standing outside, you will see that an off white that you think will look great on your exterior trim may end up being a brilliant stark white once you are outside and may not be the look that you wanted to create at all. So you may need to select a colour for an exterior scheme that looks quite dark and grey but in fact will show as off white outside.
3) Finally, ensure that you leave a gap of two spaces in the fandeck between the tones for each area that needs to be painted. For an interior decorating scheme, two tones that sit side by side in the fandeck may work but for an exterior scheme they will appear exactly the same. You need to take into account the natural bulk of the building and the shadows that it creates on different elevations and you will see that two similar tones will just be wasted. A tone that you chose for your window frames which you thought would offer you a lovely contrast may merely run into the wall colour and look exactly the same.
The final word – don’t take monochromatic to the nth degree
I must say that with neutral colour schemes like this one, I do really like a traditional dark grey roof, either a glazed and painted terracotta, concrete or slate roof tile. Roof tiles are available in similar brown/grey tones but I feel that this is stretching the monochromatic friendship a bit far! So use the monochromatic palette for the main body of the house – walls, accented weatherboard areas, fascias and corbelling and a simple dark grey roof to keep it interesting.
The Absolute Final word!
Don’t forget that natural timber or stone will truly enhance this type of colour scheme – like a piece of fabulous costume jewellery for a little black dress.
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Other neutrals that are so popular for exteriors are white and black and I have two other posts that you may find useful if you are considering painting the exterior of your home.
Is your favourite neutral grey? If so you can read more about how to use it for your exterior project here: