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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.
What about the front door? And the roof?
You could consider an accent color, Lee says, and really, anything goes. “Like selecting a piece of statement jewelry to go with a classic little black dress,” she says, “You can be adventurous.” Or you could go black all the way, including the front door. “As far as I’m concerned, black is a whole mood,” Flynn says. “There’s no need to paint your front door an interesting color. Black is interesting enough.”
One option he will often consider: Keeping the front door a natural or stained wood—or, at most, painting it a deep forest green. As far as the roof, he opts for black metal or black or dark shingles. “People think a black roof will make the house very hot, but most houses already have dark shingles,” Flynn says. “Keep it in the family.”
Do I need to interview a million painters?
You will want to get two or three different quotes, Flynn says. Some won’t want to take the job, or will try to persuade you to choose a different color. Many painters will charge more for labor because they may need to use a dark primer or more than one coat, and because there’s greater chance for a messier clean up. Since black paint can highlight imperfections like blemishes in wood, Nicole Hollis suggests being sure to have the surface patched and prepped before you paint.
What if I hate it?
Painting over a black house is less difficult than one might think, Flynn says. “In four or five years, it’s faded to a dark or medium gray anyway,” he says, noting that fact is also something to consider. If you’re committed to keeping your house super black, you will likely need to repaint more often than you would a lighter house. And, of course, you could start out slowly, going darker in stages by mixing black with green or brown to get something close. “A green or brown paint color cut with 80 or 90 percent black is really very sharp,” Trumbore says.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest