Designing Eye: Working some house paint magic!

The architecture may be remarkable, the setting impressive, yet consciously or not, the first thing we notice about a house is its exterior paint colors.

It captures our attention and speaks to our emotions. Chosen correctly, it can convince us that a small house looks larger, a squat house has height and gives a plain house some much-needed flair. And in a neighborhood full of look-alikes, it can make a single home stand out.

As someone once said, "If the barn needs painting, then paint it." And summer is the best time of year to paint the exterior of your home. But what color?

If the thought of choosing paint colors for your home's exterior paralyzes you to the point of putting it off another year, here are tips to help you get started this summer.

Consider architecture
Look at your home carefully. The architecture and style, or lack there of, often will determine what and how many colors you will need.

One idea that many homeowners have used successfully is to select one primary color for the body, and select a trim color in the same family but a different shade, perhaps two or three shades lighter. This is a safe bet, but if you'd like more interest or drama brought to your home's exterior, choose a trim color that is darker and from a different color family.

A pale yellow home might look more dramatic with a bright white trim and a red front door as opposed to a pale yellow home trimmed in a much lighter version of the same color.

The roof matters
Don't overlook the roof color when selecting the ideal exterior paint colors. You want to ensure that your roof and paint colors flow into a beautiful exterior house design.

Also look at all the existing elements that won't be painted -- the driveway and the chimney, for example. These elements should play a role in shaping your color choices.

For a facade that's partially stone, using a similar color will visually connect the house. If the fixed colors are intense, like a terra-cotta tile roof or a brick red facade, a neutral color such as sand or a warm white will bring balance.

Optical illusions
Remember that when dealing with the major surfaces of your home, a light color will make your house look larger. This may require you to rethink your shade selection and opt for a darker color.

Darker color tones saturated with pigment lend themselves well to very large homes lacking in trim. The color makes the statement, taking the place of missing architectural interests.

It is also a good to choose colors that complement each other. Many paint brands have historical and architectural paint colors already grouped for you.

One such selection that works well here is the "America's Colors, California Expressions" line by Benjamin Moore. The line has great color combinations that work perfectly for most California Ranch, Bungalow and Mission-style homes.

Think big, paint small
Before painting your entire home, consider painting a small area to see how you like the color palette you've chosen. It's a big project, so you don't want to repaint after you realize that those "perfect" colors are making you ill.

I paint two coats on several 20-inch-by-30-inch foam boards and move them to different sides of the home to see how the color changes in alternate lights. The most important side of the house is the front, so make sure you view the painted boards there for several days before making the final decision.