So You Want to Paint Your House Black?

Painting the exterior of your house black may seem pretty dramatic—and it is—but black is actually a neutral, and a hardworking one. “If your house is lacking in architecture or character, black can make it more interesting,” says interior designer and HGTV host Brian Patrick Flynn. “If it’s rich in detail, black will bring those details out.” As L.A.- and Miami-based designer Travis London—who is set to release his own paint line—puts it, a black exterior can bring new life to an old house. That’s one reason Bay Area designer Nicole Hollis took her 1870s San Francisco Italianate house from beige to black, and Miley Cyrus chose black for her 1950s clapboard Southern California home. But you needn’t be a professional (or a pop star) to pull it off. We asked a few experts what to think about before going to the dark side.

Where should I start?

There are two decisions to make first, Flynn says. “You’re either painting every single surface the same shade of black—the sides, doors, trim—or, if you’re more nervous, you might choose to paint the sides charcoal, but the trim and door black,” he says. “The eye goes to the door and trim first, so it ends up having the same effect as if you’ve gone all black, but without having to take the full plunge.”

Are all blacks the same?

They are not. Blacks come in various hues with subtle nuances that will impact the end result. “A warm black with red undertones will create a vastly different look and feel from a cool black with inky blue undertones,” says Melissa Lee, the founder and creative director of New York City design firm Bespoke Only, who recently used Benjamin Moore’s Soot on a solarium at a country house in Connecticut. Depending on the strength and direction of the sun on your house, or the influence of the trees or landscaping, a black could actually read purple, brown, or gray.

Flynn suggests painting a few different swatches—three or four—onto the front of the house as well as onto whatever area gets the most light. “And then check your swatches three different times a day: in the morning, at noon, and just after sunset,” he says, noting that among his several favorite shades of black, Sherwin Williams’s Tricorn Black is his go-to for greatest versatility, no matter the light.

What will the neighbors think?

“Neighbors are always offended by anything, but if you honor the architecture and the setting you can’t go wrong,” says Boston designer Sarah Trumbore. (Or as London puts it, “Who cares?”) The only settings Flynn thinks black could be inappropriate for are “remarkably hot places like the desert or, like, Florida,” he says. “But if you live in a city, even if all the houses are close together, or in a wooded area, black can look incredible in the mix. Last summer, I painted a house black in Portland, Maine, and it stood out so much that some of the neighbors did it too.”

Can black work with any style house?

Because black is a neutral, it can work with nearly all building types, London says (with the possible exception of a coastal home, Flynn adds). But the shade you choose matters: Lee says that a cooler hue of black works best on a cabin surrounded by a forested landscape, while a saturated black is better suited to modern architecture. Alternatively, a warm, rich black works well with more traditional styles, like a Colonial or Georgian.

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