The Best Exterior Trim Colours—NOT Cloud White

The first post I wrote on trim colours, The Best Trim Colours – NOT Cloud White is the second most popular post on this blog next to White Kitchen Cabinets. The reason for the 'NOT Cloud White' headline is a lot of people rely too heavily on go-to colours without first considering the important aspects of why you would choose a white-or-any-other-colour trim. And they are as follows:

Image source

The first thing you need to consider when picking a white for your trim is the ‘fixed white’ on the house already. These days a lot of people are specifying and installing white vinyl windows and although custom colours are always available, the standard 2 colours in trim seem to be CC-20 Decorator White or HC-81 Manchester Tan (a greeny beige).

If your vinyl windows are already white, it may look better to repeat the white on the fascia and columns of the house (shown in above image). Otherwise it could scream – vinyl windows! Better to choose the colours with the windows in mind.

The exception to this is if the colours on your exterior are earthy and muddy, white will not look the best with those tones. Better to  then ignore the white vinyl and choose a creamier/or darker-than-the-house colour for your trim.

The other fixed element to consider are the gutters in determining the trim colour. They can be painted; however it’s better if they are already a colour you can work with, since obviously painted gutters (which I would still definitely paint if they were a bad colour) will eventually chip. A tip about gutters, never paint plastic ones black, they will warp with the heat from the sun!

White trim in general looks the best on fresher colours. like the yellow shown above, or a fresh green, or a fresh blue (below);

The exception to this is navy blue which looks great with white trim but would also look just as good with the complement to blue which is a yellow cream colour.

And, I would never use white trim with a cold blue gray on a house. Okay, I admit I have shown a cute example here, with the shingles it does work, but this colour on a regular, boring box with white trim, way too cold!

Image source

Anytime I see a house that looks like it was painted that ‘pre-mixed’ gray I get the urge to knock on the door of the home owner and give them a colour like HC-36 to bring the house back to life!

And remember when you are viewing whites you must compare them to the whitest white in the deck (as described here) or you cannot see them. Some whites I like are OC-125 Moonlight White, OC-65 Chantilly Lace, Cloud white is fine here in this category, in addition to OC-117 Simply White.

Photo by Maria Killam

Sometimes people just pick the lightest colour on the chip (or a lighter colour) for the trim colour, as was selected here. This body colour is HC-94;


And the trim on this house is HC-96, which is two shades lighter on the Benjamin Moore fan deck.

Here (above) there is not enough contrast and is a perfect example of what I talked about in my Interior Trim post, when you don’t go light enough, the trim just ends up looking dirty.

Image source

Traditional English Tudor trim (seen above) is brown or black with white stucco. Here a non-traditional ‘green gray’ has been used instead of white. A lot of people here in the West Coast are opting to switch out the dark for a lighter shade as in the image below where the trim has been painted a greenish gray tone.

Image above and below; House Colors
When I was new at specifying exterior colour, I arrived for a colour consultation at a traditional tudor style house with black trim and white stucco. The owners were looking for something new, a non-traditional combination. At the time–this was during the GG trend (Green Grays), before the Brown Trend (BB) approximately 8 years ago– I would say the brown trend started approx 6 years ago, I suggested a green gray shade. One of the historical colours. The problem was, even though I was enthusiastic about a change, I had not been specifying exterior colours long enough to sound like I knew what I was doing, so they did not follow my advice. Every time I drive by that house (which is close to where I live) in the original combination of black and white, I think about that consultation and how far I’ve come!

In the image above all the green in the landscaping was taken into consideration with the green colour that was chosen for the tudor trim with the stucco in the goldream or beige trim look the best with earthier shades although there are always exceptions, it’s hard to cover every possible colour in one post. Since the brown trend is still going strong if that’s the colour you are going for on the body of the building, a great trim colour that looks like a marshmallow you can just bite into is HC-174 Lancaster Whitewash.

How about Black trim? If you have a house with small windows, you might want to consider a different colour because the windows are like the ‘eyes’ of a house (which already look black in general when viewing from the street) painting the trim black could make them look even smaller. The black windows certainly look fabulous in this house designed by Bruce Wilson;

Exterior by Bruce Wilson
I have a pet peeve about trim on a white house (this includes shutters which are often the trim colour) painted any other colour than black. It just looks like “We can’t afford to paint the house so let’s just paint the trim a new colour”. In my world, a white house should have black trim, period. It just looks classier that way. And if you have a black roof to go with it, even better. Speaking of roofs, if you have a roof that is any other colour than black, I might re-think the black-on-black rule but still keep it neutral.
Image source
There are always exceptions to this. Houses with a lot of character, details, and beautiful landscaping can pull it off or if you have a cottage or bungalow you can even have more fun with colours like this one in France:

 

Or this one in Ireland (below)
or in Greece (below):
When choosing black, you can buy a pre-mixed black in the paint store, which is the blackest black there is but at least it won’t have an undertone. If you want to go lighter, black undertones are green (2131-10), blue (2129-10), or purple (2117-10) and sometimes it’s nice to pick a black with an undertone that changes with the different lights of the day, for added interest, depending on the style of your house and which features you want to highlight.
As Victorian style homes (below), have more than one trim colour, I recommend hiring a professional colour consultant if you want a colour combination that is really beautiful and will work with the style of your home. There are too many ways you can go wrong, if you need 2 or more trim colours (which is typically the case) and you get one wrong, it will ruin the entire effect!
This way you can also be sure that the undertones on your house are right. The one tip I have about picking darker trims are they can’t just be 1 or 2 shades darker. They must be several shades darker. If you have a green house and you pick a darker green for the windows or trim and you don’t go dark enough? It will be hard to tell the difference once the sun comes up.
Image source
If you pick a different shade for the trim, than the body colour (and make the mistake of going too light and not saturated enough) it will just look like something is wrong, it might even look like you tried to match it and failed. In the example above, the designer chose a green gray for the window trim, repeated the siding colour on the brackets and added a truer green for the fascia in addition to the orange accents. All 3 accent colours are much deeper than the field colour which has each feature stand alone for a finished look that is truly beautiful.
I had to end with this image I found on flickr a while ago and saved for an occasion like this post! Talk about creating colourful curb appeal!

If you would like to schedule an on-line Exterior Colour consultation please email me at info@mariakillam.com.

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41 Responses to The Best Exterior Trim Colours—NOT Cloud White

  1. Awesome Sara says:

    That last pic is perfect!!! I love white trim but after this post I have to say I am leaning towards the really bright colors for trim! I am a color convert!!!!

  2. Kelee Katillac says:

    Wow–what a post LOTS of great info Maria!!
    Excellent insights…..

  3. Betsy Head, Affordable Interior Design says:

    I happen to LOVE pink houses. Those rainbow shutters are so fun!

    Betsy

  4. DesignTies says:

    Great exterior painting advice, Maria, thanks!!

    I love the first house you posted, and I love the last house you posted. Oh, and I love the house in Greece too!! OK, I guess I love this whole post!! :-)

    Seeing the Victorian house with all the trim colours makes me wish we lived in a house that we could actually paint. Our entire exterior is brick (white brick with gray brick trim), so all there is to paint is the front door.

    Oh, Jackson enjoyed his birthday burger :-) Squirt will be getting her b-day burger on Tuesday :-)

    Kelly

  5. Ideezine says:

    Maria,

    This was very timely as I am working on shed plans right now. Of course considering colors. Just too much fun! I enjoyed this post alot too.

    Bette

  6. lori says:

    Thanks Maria for continuing to teach me to see with 'new eyes'! Can you share some more tips on trim with brick homes? Our Va. neighborhood is 1950s ranch style with varying shades of brick. Some are traditional red,or mixed; but ours has more pink undertones with a brown roof. Vinyl windows & trim are white, & I am at a loss for shutter/ door color!

  7. Linda/"Mom" says:

    * Maria, while our home here in the desert doesn't HAVE "trims", etc., I read this anyway & found it truly INTERESTING. Then I started back-reading and before you know it, a 1/2 hour had gone by, my cuppa was cold and my dog had her "legs crossed", if you know what I mean!!!

    Thanks SO MUCH for sharing your invaluable expertise!!! What a good read!!!

    Warest,
    Linda in AZ *

  8. Maria Killam says:

    Hi Lori,
    I came across lots of photos of brick homes when I was writing this post. If your roof is brown then I might repeat that colour on the shutters and the door (both especially if it's a small house). Also eggplant is another colour that looks terrific with bricks.
    Maria

  9. Karena says:

    Maria, you are just great at this , which is a dilemma for so many of us!

  10. Haven and Home says:

    Great post. People don't realize how important trim color can be. I also love that you use Benjamin Moore colors. After reading your posts I always find that I am marking my paint deck!

  11. Couture Carrie says:

    Wow! Beautiful photos and blog! Love these stately homes, and the one with the turqoise shutters is so fab!

    xoxox,
    CC

  12. cottoncolors says:

    Wow, those are great examples and you have so much helpful information about choosing paint colors! We need to repaint soon, so thanks for the ideas!

  13. Brillante Home Decor says:

    Beautiful images representing your knowleadgeable advices. I always loved black trims, when appropriate for the style of the house and this example is perfect.
    My list of saved posts from your Blog to use as reference is growing so fast I will need a new system to file them!

  14. Slices of Beauty... says:

    Lovely colours have left me smiling, thank you Maria!

  15. Under a Green Roof says:

    The greek abode with the blue doors makes me weak! love it!

  16. Lauren says:

    great info Maria!!! will have to bookmark it!! we're getting to that part of our house right now & unfortuntaly i have BROWN vinyl windows. yuck. a friend says she researched that I could paint them. Is this true??
    xoxo

  17. mrsben says:

    This has to be one of the most, if not the most informative post that I have ever read about exterior color. Thank you!

    Love all the samples you've given, particularly the Victorian home.

    -mrsben/Brenda-

  18. Christine says:

    Wow. I love this post, I just bookmarked it. It is so imformative, and you use great examples. Am I completely boring if I say that I like the black and white look best?

  19. Susan says:

    Great post! I used to have a white colonial with black trim – perfect for window boxes with red geraniums. Not I have a stately colonial with blah beige siding and can't afford to change it. It has cranberry shutters. Do you all think I can do black shutters on the light beige, too? Thanks from the New Jersey Shore.

  20. Maria Killam says:

    Hi Susan,
    Of course black would be fabulous! That would probably give it the hit of sophistication and drama you are craving!
    Maria

  21. GreenDigitalist says:

    Hi Maria…just discovered you via various links originating from d*s; interesting how color works in different design fields (online vs. vizarts vs. interior/exteriors vs. gardens-I have interests in all).

    Anyway, a couple of thoughts:
    1) I do agree that black trim can work well with white body…it is the ultimate contrast. However, this can be classic and classy, or it can be deadly dull and stale, depending on the other colors in the yard (plants, accessories, etc.) but also especially depending on the quality of the light. I 'snowbird' between the US SW and the midwest, and the same things don't work everywhere, imho, due to the light…in the midwest it is often overcast or snowy, and a black trim can be oppressive. Dark trim-yes, but a choice like a very dark green, or a crisp navy can look elegant, and both give the house more life than black, and can complement the yard better. If there are nice gardens and colors, etc. than b&w is fine…too many people today are ignorant about plants and nature and have nothing pretty in their yards so the only 'color' in their bland sameness is the black trim…ugh. Another trim option for white body can be a gray that approaches black; similar feel but not as harsh.
    2) A q: what do you think about painting the door a bright color, to make it 'pop'? I've seen many houses, esp. in Chicago, in the brownstones, and in DC, but also in other places in the midwest on 'ranches', where this strategy is used…often it's a primary, like red or yellow.
    3) Is the old realtor's adage, especially with the yellows being so popular today, that a house should have some yellow on it to make it seem friendly, still apropos today, in your opinion?
    4) Taking into account regional styles and architectures is key with architectures, don't you think…in the SW, earthy lighter tones are preferred, as there is less vegetation, and the intense heat and brightness of the sun brings everything into stark relief. I had a house that was 'slumpblock' construction in AZ…basically concrete bricks, originally gray, painted white by a previous owner, and it was horrible, even with it's black wrought iron trim (ubiquitous there). Painting it an adobe-ish color made it harmonize better with the surroundings, the situation, and even the neighborhood (next door was another white slump block, but they grew vines all over it, and the other side had terra-cotta bricks with teal-ish trim. I thought it was a vast improvement, and the wrought iron trim now popped nicely, giving the rather plain house some detail, rather than being lost. Any thoughts?

    Thanks for your perspectives…have spent some time perusing your blog, finished several 'cuppa's!

  22. Maria Killam says:

    Hi Green,
    1. As long as the trim is dark and neutral I agree that it doesn't have to be black black!

    2. Front doors usually are an accent colour and it looks great!

    3. I think you need to paint your house colours that are architecturally correct. In general that is probably true to some extent but I'm not a realtor so I wouldn't have the firsthand experience to know if that really works.

    4. I absolutely agree that exterior colours vary depending on where in the world the house is and should be painting accordingly!

    Thanks for your thoughts on this!
    Maria

  23. kerri says:

    Thanks for the link-back to this great post. I'm hoping to repaint our ext next spring. Thanks esp for the tip about the vinyl window whites. I was pretty well planning on Decorator White for that reason, but now I have an experts confirmation!

  24. elisa says:

    HI. there!
    THe one in greece sort of remind me of the set for MAMA MIA!

    and i think i know the last building, it's in singapore
    i dont what building it is, but i often past it on my way from china town to bugis. I think it's an office…

  25. snail says:

    Hi Maria! This is such a great, informative post. I'm glad I found it today. My husband and I are thinking about painting our trim a dark brown color. Our house isn't a tudor and the windows are kind of small. I was wondering if you think it will work. Sorry to ask for free color advice. Here is a link to a picture http://craborchardhome.blogspot.com/2008/01/getting-rid-of-trees.html Thanks! -Abby

  26. Rochester Painters says:

    Beautiful colors and very good advice overall. As a painting contractor, I find this very valuable!

  27. Ex One says:

    Great article – thanks! I immediately recognized the last photo – it's actually a police station in Singapore! I remember it from a trip I took back in 2000 with my father – he's the one who told me what it was… definite irony with the fun brightly colored shutters!

  28. Anonymous says:

    Hi Maria,
    I recently discovered your blog via Penelope Trunk, and it quickly became my favourite!
    The building with the rainbow shutters is headquarters of the Ministry of Information, Communications & the Arts in Singapore. I suppose the idea was that the rainbow colours reflect the vibrancy of Singaporean art. It's gorgeous, don't you think?

  29. Amy @MaisonDecor says:

    Hi Maria,
    Another great post. I feel validated about my own opinions when I read yours! Funny, but true. My dream house is the quintessential classic white colonial, maybe even leaning towards farmhouse, with black shutters. I love a black front door as well, and throw in a side or front porch. Once, I bought a pretty federal colonial that was white with BM Platinum Grey shutters and it had a white door. I decide to zip up the exterior by adding a yellow door..it fell flat. My next move: Heritage Red by BM…loved it! But then I moved. Now my house is a center entrance colonial in vinyl (ugh) pale taupe with black shutters. It actually has a white french door with sidelights for the front door, but is classic in every other way. I want to add more drama to the front entryway. Should I change out the front door to a more traditional style, even though it brings light and there is no privacy issues as the house sits sideways on the lot and faces my garden? Or should I leave well enough alone? I would love your thoughts..I have many pics of the houses I have lived in on my blog sidebar if you wanted to reference.
    thanks,
    Amy

  30. Anonymous says:

    "In my world, a white house should have black trim, period. It just looks classier that way. And if you have a black roof to go with it, even better. Speaking of roofs, if you have a roof that is any other colour than black, I might re-think the black-on-black rule but still keep it neutral."

    Can you please give an example? We have a white house with a brown roof and I'm stumped trying to come up with a trim color.

    -Kate

  31. Maria Killam says:

    Hi Anonymous,
    I would hesitate to comment without seeing a picture of your house, I also offer on-line consults.
    Warm regards,
    Maria

  32. Anonymous says:

    Hi Maria! This is such a great, informative post. I'm glad I found it today. we are consedering to choose same of these examples .

  33. gwoman says:

    The building with the multi-colored window shutters is in Singapore. Originally built as housing for British troops, it was used for some time as the headquarters of the Singapore Traffic Police. Now, it's used as a commercial building that houses the Red Dot Museum, advertising agencies and design studios.

  34. Rachel says:

    Hi Maria,

    I just found your blog and I love your style. This post on exterior color selection is so helpful. I'm in the process of building a brown-ish house (Fairview Taupe) and was considering Lancaster Whitewash for the trim. I love your marshmallow description! Do you think that Lancaster Whitewash would work with Pella Poplar White aluminum windows? (I believe Pella Poplar White is similar to the standard Manchester Tan color you mentioned.) Thanks so much for all the helpful tips!

    Rachel Malone

  35. Anonymous says:

    Hi Maria,
    Love this blog.you said to consider the windows when choosing trim color. I have white vinyl windows on most of the house.It is stucco with no fixed white and flat roof with no overhang and no landscaping,so it is like a blank canvas. The front of the house has original 86 year old windows that I am restoring(double hung) In this post you suggested Landcaster whitewash for a brown body on the house.Can you tell me which browns go with this color trim?I have a sample and it seams like a lot of yellow in it.It is a Spanish style and I would like to go with earth tones.After restoring my first three windows I painted them Landcaster whitewash because I want earth tones for the body (not painted yet) and thought this would be safe with the other white vinyl windows. Which browns or earth tones go with this trim? Need to put the restored windows back in and want to make sure the color is right. It is much easier to paint the sashes when I have them out of the
    frames. I am thinking of SW baguette.

  36. Anonymous says:

    I just can not imagine with incredibly blog greatly that saved me! Thank you “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw

  37. Anonymous says:

    I just can not imagine with strong your blog greatly that saved me! God bless you “No change of circumstances can repair a defect of character.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

  38. Swanky Says says:

    This is a great post, the first thing we did practically before the boxes were unpacked was paint the trim on the house. The white vinyl windows were just screaming at me and when I finally figured it out it was a ureka moment for sure. I painted the white vinyl trim piece around each window a mid tone brownish/gray–house is grey vinyl. Before I painted the trim around the windows it looked like my house had eyes but no eyelashes..Huge difference!!
    Thanks for the post.

  39. Ken says:

    Hi – this is a very interesting post. You make a good point in the section stating choosing HC 94 as a base color that is the darkest on the chart and then choosing HC 96 for the trim is not enough contrast. This is exactly what I would do since I am considering this color for my exterior.

    It would seem like a logical choice to choose 2 colors lighter on a chart. The HC historic colors only have 3 colors to a swatch not 5 like the others which would make it easier to go lighter.

    What would you recommend as an option in this case? Is it best to choose the lighter color on the next swatch such as HC99 or HC93? How can we put these swatches to good use?

  40. jeni says:

    I also have a white house, (with a gray roof). Do you think a dark gray trim? It has hunter green right now….

  41. Rosie says:

    What color would you specify for the trim on a small ranch style home with natural redwood siding? White certainly does not look very good to me.

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