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Exterior Color Schemes

by John Crosby Freeman on February 6, 2010

in Garden

The concept of “architectural colors” involves selecting, then placing, appropriate colors to reveal and enhance the logic of a building. Here are one expert’s suggestions for pleasing, historical schemes.

Sometimes it’s difficult to see the charms of the simple buildings of the Arts & Crafts era, soaked as they often are in thoughtless comfort colors: vanilla pudding, oatmeal, untoasted beige. Only when you select and correctly place different hues and shades can paint bring out the architectural logic of these homes.

My documented source is an 1887 collection of 116 colors published for Master Painters, a thriving 19th-century trade organization of professional painters out of which evolved today’s PDCA (Painting and Decorating Contractors of America). Master Painter Colors are classics, because all of them are alive and well in the current color selector of your local Sherwin-Williams store. These are far more than a supplement to S-W’s Preservation Palette. They significantly expand lighter and darker historical color options, which actual Master Painters used without fear of stepping outside the “historic” range, and which will maximize architectural beauty.

None of the Master Painter Colors exists in isolation, because each one is related to six other lighter or darker colors on each strip. For example: Today’s popular Portabello [SW 6102] on Strip No. 15 is selected for the upper body of the Craftsman Villa, along with three lighter or darker options from the same strip. Each of the seven colors on a strip was a Master Painter Color in 1887, and all of them are bona fide classic colors today. S-W makes it easy and inexpensive to test-drive color via its $5-per-quart Color-To-Go. However, never test-drive colors directly on your walls. Instead, make large brush-outs on portable poster-board for viewing in several locations and lighting conditions.

I hope these expanded options will reduce your anxiety when selecting colors and help you expose what makes your Arts & Crafts home special. Although I’m an “ex-spurt” (when I was a graduate student, a grande dame at the Winterthur Museum told me that means “a has-been drip under pressure”), I’m comfortable with homeowners altering my color suggestions if their house, which is incapable of defending itself, is the beneficiary.

Three Classic Types

Colors are all from Sherwin-Williams Master Painter Colors, which you can view at your local store. Or upload a photo and play online with the Sherwin-Willliams Color Visualizer: Note: To help you find specified colors in your Sherwin-Williams store, collect the following strips: 1, 10, 15, 17, 26, 47, 49, 63, 69, 96, 108, and F. You can, of course, try to match the colors to those in other paint lines.

Cottage Bungalow

Cottage Bungalow

This delightful bungalow, with clapboards down and shingles up, requires a double-body color scheme to expose its architectural logic. The sloped sides of its brick piers appear deeply rooted, and their virility is conveyed upward through the wood pillars. The broad eaves, with their exposed rafter tails (see detail) and upward flare, reveal an Arts & Crafts fondness for Japanese vernacular houses, associated with California bungalows. A fun feature of the porch floor is its exposed mini-piazzas, suitable for locations with little rainfall. Planter boxes are placed to prevent intoxicated guests from stepping off the ends. I’ve selected colors reminiscent of the Southwest, the Caribbean, and Spanish Colonial Revival.

First-floor clapboards and ceilings of the eaves (see detail): Watery [SW 6478] or Drizzle [SW 6479]
Shingles in gable: Persimmon [SW 6339] or Baked Clay [SW 6340]
Cornices (except ceilings of eaves), exposed rafter tails (see detail), corner boards, window casings, planter boxes: Green Bay [SW 6481] or Cape Verde [SW 6482]
Foundation, pillars, stairs, floor, entry-door casing: Mega Greige [SW 7031] or Warm Stone [SW 7032]
Brick piers, entry door: Fireweed [SW 6328]
Porch ceiling: Spun Sugar [SW 6337] or Warming Peach [SW 6338]

Craftsman Villa

Craftsman Villa

Houses like these of the early 20th century are a survival, or revival, of the neoclassical and Victorian-period Italian Villa form. A pyramidal hipped roof is essential to what was called, in its own time, a “Square-Type House.” This high-waisted version—with the second floor sills and lintels captured by the belt course and cornice—was popularly called a “Shirtwaist House,” especially in the Midwest. With clapboards divided by this belt course, the house begs for a double-body color scheme to emphasize horizontality. Its signature Craftsman detail: extended rafter tails that apparently support the eaves.

First-story clapboards: a Colonial yellow, either Sunrise [SW 6668] or Afterglow [SW 6667]
Second-story clapboards and entry door: Portabello [SW 6102] or Sands of Time [SW 6101]
Cornices (except ceilings of eaves), rafter tails, corner boards, foundation boards, belt course, window casings, hand and foot rails: Courtyard [SW 6440] or Greenfield [SW 6439]
Ceilings of the eaves, window sash, balusters of the railing: Haven [SW 6437] or Bonsai Tint [SW 6436]
Foundation, stone piers, stairs and floor, pillars, entry-door casing: Kaffee [SW 6104] or Tea Chest [SW 6103]
Porch ceiling: Refresh [SW 6751] or
Waterfall [SW 6750]

Old English Homestead

Old English Homestead

The house is actually a classic front-gable box with an enclosed side porch—converted into an English or Tudor homestead by the use of “ski jump” raking cornices and a steep roof. The off-center placement of the stuccoed exterior chimney and vestibule entrance creates picturesque asymmetry, despite the conventional placement of windows. To aid its architectural logic, I selected colors and placements to convey the Arts & Crafts concept that this house is in and of the ground; it’s especially important to choose a mid-tone shingle color. Instead of the common brown, long classic but now reviled, I’ve selected an “oldy moldy” sage green for the shingles.

Shingles: Artichoke [SW 6179] or Clary Sage [SW 6178]
Stucco chimney and vestibule entrance: Mink [SW 6004]
Windows: Bagel [SW 6114] or Interactive Cream [SW SW 6113]
Accents, including entry door, chimney cap, “S” hip-chimney and terra-cotta panel: Fireweed [SW 6328]
Cornices: Secret Garden [SW 6181]

Old English Homestead

Old English Homestead

The colors could be reversed to “convert” the shingles into English clay tiles. Shingles: Totally Tan [SW 6115] or Bagel [SW 6114], Windows: Artichoke [SW 6179] or Clary Sage [SW 6178], Chimney and vestibule walls: Mocha [SW 6067] or Sand Trap [SW 6066], Accents: Fireweed [SW 6328].

John Crosby Freeman, aka The Color Doctor, lives in Norristown, Pennsylvania, but writes color prescriptions for interiors and exteriors nationwide. Contact him through

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 marilou grant June 7, 2010 at 12:14 pm

On the craftsman villa. What color roof would go with those colors? Thank You

2 Patricia Poore July 26, 2010 at 11:36 am

Marilou, I think most roof colors would be safe with that scheme on the Craftsman Villa or Artistic Foursquare. The pyramidal roof, while important to the style, is not prominent on the two and a half story house. The paint colors John Freeman chose for that house are warm and not vivid. Slate, wood shingles, and composition (asphalt) shingles are all appropriate. I would stay away from cool grey and black (unless you have slate) and I would not introduce red, but almost any of today’s asphalt blends would work: medium and dark brown, brown with olive, evergreen.
Now I’ll ask John, the Color Doctor, and hope he agrees with me! –Patty

3 marilou grant August 31, 2010 at 8:11 am

Ca you give me John’s website. I’d like to hire him for a color consultation. Thank You, Marilou

4 Patricia Poore August 31, 2010 at 10:20 am

Marilou: See John’s description of services at

You can contact Old House Authority at 804-648-1616 or write to to schedule a consultation. –P. Poore

5 Katie Doyle December 14, 2010 at 3:51 pm

My brick arts&crafts bungalow/cottage has off-white trim. It needs to be repainted – and it’s boring. When I research arts&crafts color schemes, there’s never any mention of brick bungalows, and potential color combos – only clapboard/shingle combos. Why is that? Many of the bungalows in my home town are brick. Can someone offer some duo or trio color combo recommendations for brick bungalow trim? “Historically appropriate” would be a welcome place to start. Thank you.

6 Patricia Poore December 15, 2010 at 11:32 am

Hi Katie,
Is yours a red-brick bungalow, or a Chicago-style yellow brick house?
Patricia Poore, Editor

7 Eric Giles July 11, 2011 at 3:48 pm

I am scouring the internet and reading materials for color suggestions for my home. I love all of the recommendations, but none fit my house. My house is from 1906 and the exterior are rusticated concrete blocks with concrete porch columns. It is similar in style to a four square, but it’s as though they took two four squares and offset them together. It has green/grey/purple slate for the roof. I’m in New England. I’m hoping someone can direct me in the right direction!

8 Emily Lauderback August 11, 2011 at 8:09 pm

After Arts & Crafts Homes featured our Dwelling Palettes® in their Spring Issue, we want to help out with all of their readers’ color needs!

Our site will soon have exterior color specifications for sale online. You can also see many houses now on Facebook:!/media/set/?set=a.501345671447.268187.7344281447. We do exterior color consultations over the phone anywhere in the country. We can definitely help you find the right historical color design to make the most of your home’s architecture. We want to help!

Emily Lauderback
Color in Space

9 Kelly Moore December 31, 2011 at 3:59 pm

I’m about to purchase an adorable full-brick bungalow, but am considering painting the brick and cream color and doing something pretty with the trim. I’ve painted full-brick homes in the past (my current one), primarily because I didn’t like the brick. I’m uncertain about whether to paint this one. I’d love to send someone the MLS link to the home and get an honest opinion. Anyone interested? Thanks so much! Kelly

10 linda rodriguez March 10, 2012 at 3:53 pm

I have a yellow/gold brick 1926 english cottage style home and we just had the roof done.
I am struggling with trim and stucco color choices.
I have a picture that I could send in.
Would love some advice.
Thank you,

11 lsearby April 23, 2012 at 1:23 pm

I have a 1920′s arts and crafts bungalow with stone trim that is grey, black, brown, yellowish combinations. The roof is a blue grey. I cannot decide on house color to have contrast from the stone yet match the roof. Any ideas?

12 Patricia Poore April 26, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Hi lsearby, If you want to send a photo to me, that will help. My first response is that the stone, naturally mottled and probably having both warm and cool neutrals, allows a wide range of color schemes . . . but the blue-grey roof is a factor. You can go with a blue-green body color to keep it in the same family, or consider greyed peachy tones (orange being opposite blue on the color wheel) for either body or trim. I might avoid reds and burgundies as just too much color given the blue roof.

13 Ellen June 2, 2012 at 5:23 pm

I’d like to refer back to Katie’s question from December 14, 2010. We seem to have the same issue when searching for trim color ideas for our all brick 1926 home. It is red brick and the trim is currently painted white, which seems quite stark to me. Any color/color combination ideas? We’d love some advice/opinions on the matter!

14 Bill B June 20, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Hi Patricia–We have a 1929 one-and-a half story Craftsman bungalow in Portland, OR. Currently it’s covered with faded pale blue vinyl siding. Not sure how to post a picture, but we’re strongly considering doing Hardiplank siding, as the wood under the vinyl is in pretty sad condition. It’s simple lap plank, perhaps 5 or 6 inches deep. We would like to try to pay tribute to the home’s period but as we’re soon to be retired, we also want to keep maintenance costs manageable. We were considering a medium grey with a slight blue tint (Hardiplank Evening Blue) with white trim and perhaps a wine colored door for contrast. Would we be making a mistake to go in this direction?

15 Kyle January 30, 2013 at 5:48 pm

I have a pretty standard bungalow style home with a single car garage with a slightly lowered roof line but both roof lines run straight across.. Im planning on redoing the siding shingles and windows. We live in the country and i would like it to look like a country style home any ideas???? Thanks

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