A Visual Guide to Selecting Your Exterior Color Scheme

Ben and I are in the process of renovating our house in New Orleans, and I can’t help but think about the exterior color scheme. Everywhere you look in this eccentric city, there are colorful buildings and homes painted with bright hues, pastel monochromatics, and neutral shades. The color palette of the architecture here creates unique city blocks that are backdrops for urban photoshoots, and takes us on a colorful, rhythmic ride. With so many examples to look at, why am I having such a hard time making this selection??

The color palette of the architecture here creates unique city blocks that are backdrops for urban photoshoots, and takes us on a colorful, rhythmic ride.

I love color. I have a whole Pinterest Board dedicated to it. I give as much importance to color and materiality as I do to architecture because thoughtful color adds so much. It demonstrates values. It expresses ideas and emotions. Color enriches our perception of space, the same way light and form do. I will touch lightly on the basics of color theory and then jump right into how I put together my exterior color scheme.

Color Basics

Who here has heard of the Color Wheel? I hope you ALL raised your hand. The color wheel represents the presence of light waves in color, each with a unique wavelength, as evidenced by the most magical example, the rainbow.

The Primary, Second and Tertiary colors might be the first box of crayons you ever received, making you an expert in the color wheel! But what about tint and shade? What are those?


  • Tint: The act of lightening a color by adding white to it.

  • Shade: The act of darkening a color by adding black.

  • Tone: Slightly darkening a color by adding gray.

  • Saturation: The highest level of pigmentation, no change with black, white or gray.

  • Value: Variation in light and dark.

Color Combinations

Color combinations, or as a designer may say, color palettes or color schemes, are any combination of colors. These combinations can change the mood or tone of anything you are trying to represent from logo design to architecture.

  • Combinations with less contrast create a mood of restraint, subtlety, discreetness and understatement.

  • Combinations with more contrast create a mood of drama, excitement and conflict.

In planning a color scheme, contrast is not just created by changing the entire color, but by using the same or similar colors with different values and saturations.

Color Palette Selection

Some of my favorite color palettes are created by design-seeds.com. I found the below images on Pinterest by just searching for the term ‘color palettes.’ Here you can get palettes already generated for you, but if you are interested in exploring your own combinations of color, read more below.

Guide to an Exterior Color Scheme (New Orleans Edition):

I would stick to selecting 3 to 4 colors at most. Proper proportions are important. One color must be the dominant color, there must be a subordinate color and then an accent color or two. Think 50%, 30%, 15%, <5% ratio.

Below are some of my favorite examples of colorful New Orleans houses:

Top Row: Monochromatic, colors of varying tones, tints and shades
2nd Row: Complementary colors
3rd Row: Neutrals
Bottom Row: Vibrant, Bold colors

I would stick to selecting 3 to 4 colors at most!

What I know works:

  • For larger color combinations, select colors with varying levels of shades or tints. Your accent colors can be complementary colors. This helps your eyes find a place to rest.

  • When going with darker or deeper shades for siding, use white or vibrant colors to offset the dark color.

  • More than 4 colors almost always feels too busy. But hey, these are just my guidelines, not rules! The 4th color, the brightest/boldest color, should always be used sparingly, <5%. See: Front Door Colors above.

  • In Monochromatic schemes, use the darkest tone to emphasize detail for example, the shutters, doors and quoins, while the siding should be painted the lightest or most neutral of hues.

Color Combo Renderings

Below is a quick color study for our favorite residential project, our own house! We tried on a few of these principles - monochromatic with shifting values, neutrals with a vibrant color on important elements, and never more than 4 different colors. Check out our Instagram story to vote on your favorite scheme!

gray and tourq.jpg

content source: The Complete Color Harmony, Pantone Edition by Leatrice Eiseman

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Our Design Process: Historic Residential Addition

With our busiest time of year quickly approaching, I've had many friends ask about our services and our design process. I thought that now would be a great time to share our process work for a residential addition we are currently working on in a historic district in South Louisiana. 

With a "wish-list" and a budget, we can begin planning your project. We know that budgets are made for a reason but a small upfront investment in thought and planning can pay for itself several times over by increasing final value of a property and finding problems before contractors are mobilized and products are ordered. As architects, we can streamline this process and know the tricks to maximize your return down the road. The following images and paragraphs below describe our planning process for this particular project.

Existing home front view

Existing home front view

The 2,800 square foot home was built in 1920 as a craftsman bungalow style home. Around 1980, its previous owners renovated the home and changed the character of the home with traditional Creole cottage detailing. The current owners want an addition that is both respectful to the historic neighborhood, and the current Creole cottage architectural style. Their wish list consisted of a master suite and art studio on the first floor and a bedroom and bathroom on the second floor. 

Step 1: After spending some time measuring the property inside and out, we began by creating schematic massing studies and developing plan options. We spend time measuring and modeling the existing building to make sure the scale and proportions of our design for the addition are right on. 

As you may expect, a home addition can take various forms and shapes.  In the examples below, we have narrowed down our studies to three options showing different architectural languages and statements. These were presented to our clients not as final product but just to steer our work in a direction that both of us will ultimately be happy with.

Step 2: The second round of design work requires more refinement. In this study, we wanted to present two strong design alternatives to develop. This first option we developed was the integrated option; we called it the "Cascading Creole" because the roof line cascades from main building down to the secondary buildings, borrowing strong references to traditional creole architecture. The second option developed was called the Farmhouse Wing because of its large form, more equal to the original structure in size, and because of its wrap-around porch and geometry referencing a rural farmhouse. 

Step 3: During the Design Development phase, we lock in the plan that translate to the massing model. There are a ton of decisions that get made by the architect during design, for example with this house in particular, we were challenged by a low pitch of the existing roof line that we needed to tie into to increase the living space in the built-out attic. We check in with our clients to help us make decisions because at the end of the day, they need to be 100% happy with the design of the home.

The next phase of our services requires a little less attention from our clients. Once the design is more or less locked in, we can start detailing the home with all the little things that reinforce the design we end up with, and making sure the final product falls in line with any beautiful drawings we've produced!

Final Design Development Rendering of Addition

Final Design Development Rendering of Addition

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