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Exterior House Colors: The Traditional and the Wild

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By Bill Primavera

One way that I really enjoy serving my community is as a member of my town’s Advisory Board on Architecture and Community Appearance (ABACA).

All sorts of projects come to our attention for review and recommendations, from solar roof panels to exterior colors for housing developments. More than seeking to be highly restrictive, we aim to help and advise homeowners and their suppliers to better implement their projects.

One of my favorite assignments is to advise builders on their exterior house colors.  We seek variety of color and appropriateness, trying to avoid next-door duplication. That sometimes involves problems when more than one buyer wants the same color as their next-door neighbors. Usually, it works out.

My own experience with choosing exterior colors has been, well, colorful. My first home was in the historic, landmarked neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights. I loved living there, although I could never afford it today. My home there that I sold for $90,000 in 1972, when I moved to Westchester, is now valued at $5 million. I sometimes kick myself for not holding on to that property.

Certainly, appreciation of the first home I bought in Westchester has not been as spectacular over that time. (Stop it, I say to myself! I’m exactly where I was meant to be and have thoroughly enjoyed suburban living as a lifestyle choice.)

At any rate, when I bought that four-story city home, it was painted a dull pale grey. When it was time to repaint the place, I looked at the color charts and selected a color called bark, which was a mauve. It was the most colorful building in the neighborhood and created some comment among neighbors, all positive.

When it was time to move to Westchester, we picked a house that was painted a chocolate brown. After our purchase, we noticed, driving around town, that there were a number of other homes painted the same color. We considered that odd.  Later we learned that a woman who had served for many years on that same advisory committee on which I now serve was greatly enamored with brown and recommended it whenever she could. It was a movement of some kind.

As soon as I could afford it, however, I had the house repainted in a beautiful color we called “griege,” a shade somewhere between grey and beige. Combined with black shutters, it served us well for a number of years until the color began to oxidize without my even realizing it. I caught on, however, when I started receiving compliments on the lovely green shade of my home.

While my house was changing colors without my consent, there was a large house in a development one block from me that suddenly was brought to the attention of the neighborhood when its owner painted it a very vibrant color of marigold yellow. It was so bright that it made me want to shield my eyes. Rumors in the neighborhood surmised that it was painted that color as a spite job toward neighbors who would have to look at it. 

When I met those neighbors when I was doing a prior article on house colors, I asked them if indeed it was done as a spite job.  “Oh, no,” exclaimed the woman owner, “I just love the color!”

Another house that attracted attention in my neighborhood was known as the “purple house.” Its siding was painted lavender and its shutters bright purple.  What really blew me away was the owners’ achievement of locating lavender gravel for their driveway. When I was introduced to the owner of that house in our local diner, I found that she was completely attired in lavender, down to the color of her eyeglass frames.

When I bought an antique house built in 1797, I very much wanted to know its original house color so I could return to it. I was afforded that opportunity when I was restoring the house and found under its asbestos siding that the original color was red, no doubt achieved in the 18th century by mixing milk with oxblood. But I then decided that I didn’t want to live in a red house, so there went that aspiration.

Today, trends for house colors veer more toward neutral warm tones, but surprisingly, white is still the most popular choice. I guess if it’s always been good enough for the President, it should serve the rest of us well.

Bill Primavera is associated with William Raveis Real Estate and founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest-running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com). To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

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