Paint colors for Allison’s 1967 Seattle embankment ranch house

mid-century-house-exteriorDesignDilemmaReader Allison is excited to jazz up the front of the 1967 house she moved into last summer. She’s not afraid to give the house a bold new look, but isn’t sure exactly where to begin when choosing a new color scheme for her exterior. She need to take into consideration” (1) the coloring of the brick, (2) the prominence of the garage, which sits below grade, and (3) the fact that she plans to simplify the landscaping, which will open up the facade further. She has asked for our ideas to add new life to her blank-slate beige exterior.

retro-bricksAllison writes:

We bought this great 1967 Seattle house last summer, and will need to paint it this summer. Pretty much anything goes, though the color of the brickwork accent on the lower front part of the house should be considered.

The photo of the entire front of the house shows mature plantings, many of them topiary, but these will go away when we get to landscaping the yard with low-maintenance native plants. My SO also has asked that I not pick anything too dark, as he is a firm believer that dark paints fade in the sun no matter what type of paint is used. We’re not afraid to do something bold, as long as it’s not so crazy that the neighbors hate us.

Readers — what colors would you recommend for Allison’s exterior?

Kate’s solution: Green dream

mid century house exteriorSherwin-williams-suburban-modernMy first thought when looking at Allison’s house was: This house needs  color. I’ve seen countless homeowners in my neighborhood make the same mistake as the former owner of Allison’s house — painting a house’s siding the same color beige as the brick. This kind of monochromatic paint treatment neutralizes a home’s character, making it feel blah. Since Allison’s brick reads as a versatile light beige, it works well with a large variety of shades. To narrow it down to one, I looked at Sherwin Williams Suburban Modern paint palettes, which features some fabulous color combination ideas for mid century homes. I chose the Burma Jade color grouping for Allison’s house because the light beige color was very similar to her brick and the green really brightens up her siding while contrasting nicely with the brick foundation. Using white for the trim helps accentuate the interesting roofline and makes the front door feel clean and inviting. Using the beige color for the garage door helps to visually ground the house by repeating the color of the brick at the base of the house. Beige is also used on the front door accent squares, which repeat the square shape from the garage doors.

To finish off this look, I’d add some vintage mid century cursive address numbers like these from Etsy seller MintyKeen near the front door or above the garage door. If vintage can’t be found, she can have new ones made, like this Home Address Lettering from Etsy seller ModernHomeIdeas, or possibly even find some at a local hardware store. If Allison’s mailman doesn’t mind doing stairs, Allison could get a retro house mount mailbox like this atomic starburst mailbox from Etsy seller EleanorMeriwether to mount near the front door. Allison mentioned that she will be taking out some of the overgrown shrubs and planting new, low maintenance plants this spring. I’d advise adding a touch more color and interest with one nice planter, like this Iris Speckled Planter from West Elm near the curve in her sidewalk. Planting the pot with some cheerful, bright red geraniums will bump up the curb appeal and add even more emphasis to the home’s entry.

Pam’s Harmony House light oak exterior paint idea

Mid century exteriorHi Allison,

Idea #1, above: I know you said “not too dark” and maybe this is. So, consider it a general “idea”. I was originally thinking “caramel”, but in looking at vintage paint palettes found this “Light oak” in a Sears Harmony House brochure from my collection. When Kate sampled it into her photoshop (we do this “live” together via google hangouts), I liked the way it looked. Again, though, you could go lighter — more like coffee with lots of cream. Caffe latte. Over on our Facebook page, a commenter called this “Mocha”. You’re in Seattle, golly, they make their own palette of “Barista Marrones.” That’s Italian for “brown”. As in Chestnut. Haha, now I am having too much fun, I am surely annoying you.

Honestly, you could use many colors with that brickwork as a start. Except maybe stuff that’s too yellow. We tried harvest gold for the paint color, and we did not like the look.

As you can see from the mockup, I also thought it might be fun to continue the raised wood door decoration — the squares — onto the garage door. I would use real wood just like the door (don’t paint it on.) Kate and I tried the square-in-a-squares in a variety of ways. I liked the Charlie Brown stripe (my term, hehe) the best. If you go with this idea, there definitely will be a not too many, not too few, just right solution, I think.

In addition, I asked Kate to beef up the window trim to see how that would like. I like it. But of course, adding more trim around the windows will involve more dough re mi than just paint, and I don’t know how much you are up for that.

Finally, I don’t think that the current bullet light near the front door is doing much for the facade. It’s too small, and I think any light needs to move closer to the doorway. How about something more atomic, like the vintage porch light I found on ebay from ChromeTiki. Note, the mockup makes the fixture look brown — but it should be wrought iron black (like the mailbox) for pop. Note, with the mailbox and the lettering and decor decor, a decorative light might be one thing too many up there. Layer/edit all these elements/ideas carefully for best effect.

Pam’s Get-yee-an-architect to carefully redesign the facade 

mid century house exteriorIdea #2, above: I do not like this rendering — it is not right — but I show it to convey the thought that: That big front section with the garage seems, to me, to be ripe for some architectural exploitation. I suspect the original treatment — all clapboards for two stories — was common in your neighborhood, the choice of the “merchant builder” who built all the houses. If you want to add more dimension… more architectural interest… especially given that long tall front gable set up and the planes and angles (if those are the right words) of the house already in place… I think the answer is to get with a good architect or other such professional to work up some ideas. Back in the day, it was quite common to use different facing materials, often painted out with different colors, to give unique personality to similar “little boxes” all built in a row. For example: Horizontal clapboards on most of the house — vertical board and battens in strategic places — with masonry half-walls and such also carefully designed in. Those three facings combined — in particular — very common.

In this vein in general, I thought of the book, Rob Keil’s Little Boxes: The Architecture Of A Classic Midcentury Suburb *affiliate link. It’s features a number of little houses with different kinds of facade treatments and incorporating levels and garages on the bottom like a split level house. Now, this book is about Westlake Village in suburban San Francisco, and most all the houses shown have wacky mod rooflines. But if you can dish out the dough for the book — which is now out of print and has become pricey — I sure like eyeballing the ideas. If you don’t want to spend the money, check out some of our vintage house plan catalogs. The designers and illustrators of vintage marketing materials like these worked hard to make their houses pretty, and their illustrations can contain lots and lots of great curb appeal ideas straight from the years the houses were conceived.

Good luck, Allison — thank you for submitting your Retro Design Dilemma — and send us photos when you decide a course of action and finish up with your new paint job!


  1. Judy H. says:

    I agree with you on the “lighter wood” color and would prefer the coffee with lots of cream shade (plenty of coffee though). I can’t believe what a difference the porch light makes! My eye went directly to that and I felt like it just polished everything right up. If it was my house and I wanted to keep the look as authentic as possible, I wouldn’t want to fool around with the facade too much, if at all. Homes in that era just don’t have that much on their facade. BTW, the garage door treatment it fabulous. My parents built a split level in 1964. I grew up in that house. It went from a minty green exterior, to an avocado exterior to a deep golden brown right before I left for college. The greens, still make me a little green.

  2. Allison Woods says:

    I agree with the olive green idea suggested by many, but there is a really nice MCM a few houses up that is that color. We definitely won’t do that color for that reason.

  3. lisa says:

    Hi Allison! I think you know me from the Ballard blog — I’m Angeline there. I’m putting in my vote for the aubergine trim if you go with Tiffany blue for the main exterior color. I am not as adventurous with color and was thinking a dark grey would be nice, with cream trim and an orange or teal front door.

    Not sure about what color to paint the garage door — but if you really hate it and would like it to go … what size is it? I need one and actually like yours. Our opening is 7′ x 8′

  4. Susan says:

    Hello! I always love a good design dilemma. I didn’t read the other comments, so forgive me if this has already been suggested. Here is my mockup: http://www.flickr.com/photos/56983981@N07/12123641224/ The main idea is to use 2 shades of blue, a Crestview door in Esspresso, and match the trim to the door, or a shade or 2 lighter if you prefer. I usually like the door to be its own accent color, but using 2 shades of blue is quite bold, so keeping everything else understated would be best. I think the dark trim grounds the house a bit, with its height. It’s such a lovely house and you really have SO many options that would look great.

    About the brick, the lighter you go with the paint, the more the brick will stand out. If you want to keep it harmonious with the paint, choose a medium light color, sort of like the brick. Not too dark. The least contrast in shade will harmonize the best, no matter the hue. You can see what I mean by making the pic black and white and seeing what stands out/where the contrast is: http://www.flickr.com/photos/56983981@N07/12123783144/ I used the lighter shade of blue on the wall with the brick for contrast, and the darker blue on the garage so that it repeats the shade of the brick and offers continuity. but, it can also be switched if you want to accent the garage area more (which I don’t think you do.)

    Good luck and I’d love to see what you decide!

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