The right Mid-Century House Color isn’t one that’s specific to the period or style of your house. It isn’t the color that looks so great on the house down the street. It’s the color that expresses the feeling you want your home to create in you and in others.
Choosing a color scheme for your home is one of the most effective ways to put your stamp on a house and start the process of making it your home. But before you “pick” the “right” color for your home … I want you to ask yourself a few more questions about what you’re trying to make happen here.
Don’t panic. This is part of the fun, I promise! Because today we’re going to talk about how to apply the Master Plan Method to help you confidently update your mid-century house color scheme.
Oh, and you might want to grab the free guide before you get started …
Note: this was originally posted July 2022. It has been updated and now includes a podcast episode for those who’d rather listen than read!
Don’t paint your mid-century brick any color at all
Painting brick is contrary to the mid-century ideal of honest materials. Materials should look and function as they were originally intended. Need more reasons not to paint your mid-century brick? Check out this whole entire blog post on why it’s a bad idea … for proper MCM design, for trendiness, for your property value and even for the structural integrity of your home!
But good news … you can change the whole vibe of your house by painting the other parts!
Help your gorgeous stone really pop by contrasting it with a bold accent color … or make it blend right into the rest of the house by choosing a close match to focus your eye on the overall shape of the house. Or anything in between!
Like these examples? Get more … grab the free workbook of color combinations right here!
How to choose the right colors for your home
You want to know a secret? The short answer is … you can choose whatever you like. There isn’t a true “right” answer to this question.
But that’s not a very helpful answer when you’re facing down a stack of color cards at the paint store or on the phone with your new siding installer. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. We’ll get to the right answer (for you) soon …
Before you can know the right answer for you and your home you need a little introspection. In fact, I suggest you master plan it a little.
How do the steps of a Mid-century Master Plan process (Dream, Discover, Distill, Draft and Develop) apply to house colors, you ask?
Oh, my sweet summer child, they apply to EVERYTHING!!
Here’s what I want you to believe: The right color isn’t one that’s specific to the period or style of your house. It isn’t the color that looks so great on the house down the street. It’s the color that expresses the feeling you want your home to create in you and in others.
Play with vintage Mid-century House colors
Here are a few fun vintage MCM siding ads and house color collections if you are a vintage purist looking for something truly authentic!
Note: we do not endorse the asbestos shingles … at Mid Mod Midwest … just this fun palette of mid-century house colors!
In Today’s Episode You’ll Hear:
- Why the right color for MY mid-century house isn’t necessarily the right color for YOUR mid-century house.
- Strategies for using mid-century house color to highlight the elements you love about your house.
- How to apply the Master Plan Method to choose an exterior pallet that’s a perfect fit for your style and your home.
Listen Now On
Resources to Help You Choose a Mid-Century House Color
- Get that Mid Mod House Color Carousel RIGHT HERE!
- Resource of the week: Mod Box Mailbox. Get yours right here!!
- Grab my free Mid-Century Resources list to learn more about mid-century design in any way that suits you (video, text, audio, visual, shopping and more)
- Join us on in the Facebook Community for Mid Mod Remodel
- Find me on Instagram: @midmodmidwest
- Find the podcast on Instagram: @midmodremodelpodcast
Read the Full Episode Transcript
What is the right color for your mid century home? We’ve just been talking about why you should not change the look of your home by painting over mid century brick. If you missed it, that was episode 1106. But whether you’ve got an entirely one sided home, you can paint or one that’s mostly brick that you need to tweak the color of. You can make satisfying and dramatic changes by changing the colors of your paintable elements. Today I’m reprising a classic mid mod remodel podcast episode for you. So, you can get right to that satisfying transformation.
So if you’re planning a color update, what is the right mid-century house color? I get this question all the time. And the short version is there’s no right answer. You can pick what you want. But that’s not super helpful. So here’s a longer answer.
Hey there, welcome back to Mid Mod Remodel. This is the show about updating MCM homes helping you match mid century home to your modern life. I’m your host Della Hansmann architect and a mid century ranch enthusiast, you’re listening to season 11 episode 8.
Before we get into the philosophy of mid century colors, and how to pick yours, I have a couple of really helpful tools.
When you’re planning a mid century home update, it helps to have a trove of great mid century oriented resources around you. whether those be educational blog posts, books, etc. Product suppliers that are going to get you on track with great midcentury choices, I have put together a long list of my favorites for you to check out, I think it’s up to 89. Now, just go to mid mod dash midwest.com/resources to grab the latest updated copy. But the one I’m shouting out today specifically is mid mod mailbox. This is a great company that makes vintage style but totally current mailboxes and array of mid century friendly colors.
And as I’ll be talking about later, in this episode, one of the easiest shortcuts you can make towards “what of any color provided by any paint company should I choose from my house? How could I possibly decide”, you can just choose one from that array of mid mod friendly colors of paint of mailboxes and match your front door or your house color to that that started you off on the process of a color scheme for your entire home.
I have a mod box mailbox on my house. This is not a paid ad. By the way, I actually just love them.
So that’s your resource of the week, mod box mailboxes, but it doesn’t stop there.
I’ve also made a collection of mid century house colors in a guide showing over two dozen mid-century house color combinations on actual sketches of mid century houses get inspired by flipping through it while you listen right now. If you want to go straight to the colors guide that I’ll be referring to it to hear on out, go to mid mod dash midwest.com/colors. And it’ll get sent right to your inbox.
All right, show notes. As always, if you want to find those things I’m mentioning, if I’m throwing them at you too fast to capture, you can just go to the show notes page for a transcript, free resource, images and more. In short, everything I’ve mentioned in this episode at mid mod dash midwest.com/ 1108.
So the question we’re answering today is, what’s the right color for my mid century home? And like I said, if you want to know the secret, the short answer is you can do whatever you want. But I understand that’s not helpful.
So, before you can know the right answer for your home, you need to master planet a little.
It’s been a minute since I ran through the steps of the master plan framework. So as a reminder, it goes dream discover distill, draft develop. And how does a master plan apply to colors? It applies to everything. Let’s go through them point by point.
The first thing to do when you’re thinking about colors isn’t necessarily to think about what mid-century house colors look like it’s to think about what colors feel like so ask yourself what you want. That’s dream.
What’s the feeling you want your home to create in you and others? Should it be funky or chic? Should it stand out or blend in the outside of your house is the first thing that of home that you make to yourself and to the outside world so tailor your choice to your own desires? What do you want the color of your house to do for you? If you’re trying to make a statement to catch the eye of your friends or the pizza delivery folk or generally say hello, here we are. That’s one kind of a look. If you’re trying to blend in be unobtrusive step back, make your house feel like a soothing retreat, that’s another.
So you want to know whether you want your house to feel soothing or vitalizing. Color has huge powers to change your perception and mood. And I’m not going to get fully into color theory. But you know, this is obvious. The same T shirt and black white or red can have a totally different look. So can your mid-century house color can also signal your allegiance to certain design movements, your design personality.
Here are some examples.
So for many years, during the mid century era, there was a certain type of barn red. Frank Lloyd Wright called a Cherokee re.d I think that’s not really a term he had the right to appropriate or that we should apply to color anymore. So I personally prefer to call it Usonian red.
But if you can visualize it, that color was often used in the most adventurous of mid century designs. And it became a sort of a signifier, someone who cares about design lives here.
That’s still true and it’s still a great color to choose for someone with a mid century house. If you choose it today. It has a slightly different connotation back when it was – as literally as old as the hills – oxide red. But when it was in the mid century era, it was fresh up to date, hip color. Now, it’s a little bit more of a subtle classic mid century color, but it’s still totally works. It’s a great choice.
For the last decade or so, what Usonian red meant back in the mid century era translates to millennial gray.
Whenever a new usually millennial homeowner moves into a mid century house that was done in dark brown in the 80s, or beige in the early 2000s. The first thing they do to say this is my home is painted gray. The darker the gray, the more dramatic the statement. They’re signifying that they want to bring a fresh sense of design to the house.
And usually when you see a house go gray, you’ll see bold house numbers go up. Then, more interesting landscaping go in. If you peek in the windows, you’ll see mid mod furniture, sometimes vintage, sometimes reproduction. It’s a bit more of a design-feeling house. Not every time. It’s not proof, but it’s certainly a signifier. These days, the trending mid-century house color for MCM homes is shifting.
Gray is trendy so it’s going to go off trend at some point. And it’s looking more and more like the new trend will be white on white. Note: this is not a beginner style. It requires excellent maintenance, even house washing in some climates to pull it off. And it can have the same pure stark designerly effect that gray, or Usonian red can have. By the way, in those three colors gray, white or Usonian red. You want to have basically everything that’s paintable that color, not just the house, but the trim the window frames. Even house numbers really you want to create just an effect of textures with a monolithic color. The only example probably being a pop of color at the front door.
But sometimes with either gray Usonian red or white, you don’t even bring another color into the environment. You just do a wood accent, natural stained wood door and anything else that needs to happen. Perhaps to highlight a brick that’s happening on the house or stone. We’ll get into highlighting your accent materials a little later in the episode.
In any case, word of warning on white houses. White siding, with black details, black trim, black door, black faux shutters that’s not mid century modern. That’s Chip and Joanna Gaines cottage core. So watch out for that is a tricky distinction.
Long story short, the color you choose for your house is about more than how it looks. It’s how it feels, how it presents.
So even as you go around picking, I like pink, I don’t like teal or vice versa. Bear in mind, the moods the signifiers the meaning of the mid-century house color you choose.
The next step in the master plan process is discovery. Taking stock of what you’ve got is basically the simple version of discovering. Make an inventory of your existing visual conditions considering: What colors, types of brick, stone, concrete block etc, do you have around your house right now? What color is your roof? Or do you plan to change that too? Are there flowering trees or plants that show up at a particular color at certain times of year? Is your area likely to have regular snow? What shades of green are you dealing with through the year, all of these affect your color choice.
If there’s a material on your house that you love or hate, great. You can use color to emphasize it or de-emphasize it.
For example, if you’ve got a sandstone feature wall, you might choose to do the entire house in that exact same tone. This would really state that that color is your Touchstone. Or you might want to set it off. You might want to go really contrasting the dark so that that stone pops.
When you’re taking stock of discovery this matters.
You might also think about if the house feels too large to you, this is where dream and discover kind of merge, you can use a monolithic color or a dark color to tone it down.
This is also where you want to take stock of maintenance issues for a couple of reasons. One, if the house is really if it’s in poor shape, if you’ve got original siding that’s been dinged and scratched by previous homeowners. If you feel like some of the details have been patched or replaced, you can actually use a dark monolithic color to conceal some of the damage to the house over time. If you feel like every detail in your house is perfect and you want to show them off a lighter color will have better chance to show off from the shadows. So you can make some choices about that.
This is actually a great place to talk about light versus dark house colors. The two most extreme versions of light and dark are white on white or black on black. And making this choice is about more than just sail because it also affects the way your house stands out from the background. How much detail it shows like I was just saying and how big it feels.
People often shy away from dark colors for their home black, dark grey Navy because they feel overly intense and when you look at them against a white background on a color card, for example or against a rendering on white paper. They do feel very intends. But in reality, that dark colors have the same effect as dark clothing does that can be very slimming, a dark colored house will actually appear smaller than a light one of the exact same size.
There’s a great visual reference to this in my mid century color carousel. Thats the free resource I’ve got of showing off multiple mid-century house colors from its entry houses, which you can grab at mid mod dash midwest.com/colors. But in general, just remember that darker colors are going to obscure the details of your home. This is, again, an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on your preference.
If you really want to show off every little detail of your house where the siding changes from narrow and vertical to wide and horizontal… You probably want a lighter color so that people will be more able to distinguish that detail from the street.
One last thing to do in discovery is to figure out if you can find out what colors your house has been in the past.
You might do this by scraping back layers of paint. Or crawl into the attic of an addition and see what part of the house was formally exposed outside. And they never bothered to paint it when they put on the addition, your neighbors or your neighborhood association might have pictures.
Now there’s no rule, of course stating that you have to paint your house, the same color it once was. But it’s fun to know the history. All right. The third step of the masterplan process is to distill, identify what you like. So don’t hesitate to paint your whole house or a part of it, like your front door, your favorite color, whatever that color is, it’s your house.
Whenever I’m talking about style guides, I’m talking about how to let your life be simple. Remodeling is a complicated, stressful process. So if you like something, listen to that instinct go with it distill is all about what you like. If there’s a house in your neighborhood with siding you love, copy it. Or if you already have a mailbox and your favorite color paint your door to match, choose some deck furniture and the same tone.
Let your options be simple.
Once you’ve anchored your overall decision with some starting point, just carry on from there to finish the job. You can seek out inspiration in the still face for a lot of different things from other houses in your area from the internet. Pinterest is your friend from other colors of things in your life that you love your favorite pair of earrings, favorite shoes, piece of art that you like, here are a couple of places to make your life easier.
As I said at the top of the episode, mod box mailbox has a nice array of super cute mid-century house colors. If you like any of those colors, pick one of them for your mailbox, take it to the paint store, have it matched by their matching color machine, choose that for your front door and go from there. It’s as easy as that. Or look at the choices you’ve already made in your life.
A recent client came to us asking for a visualization package. They’d already made a bunch of choices for their interior, and were now focusing on the outside of their house. Most of those interior color choices had been pulled from a favorite piece of modernist art, they had a lot of primary reds, blues, and browns.
Now, that doesn’t mean they have to do the same thing on the outside of their house. But you better believe that’s where we started when we were helping them visualize various choices for siding, and accent colors, because we already know they like those.
And then one of the lovely homeowners inside my most recent cohort of ready to remodel (you know who you are). pulled a piece of art as the inspiration for all the colors in their house.
She built their entire style guide around this piece, which they plan to hang in the room. She already knew she liked it. It was a longtime favorite. And this was actually not necessarily a mid century piece of art. But it was a way for her to anchor that piece of art in the room in the house. And then just live inside the colors of her favorite painting.
What a win.
After dreaming, discovery and distill the next step is to draft This is where you test multiple options. So there’s a bunch of different ways to do this. You can try photographing your house and adding colors in Photoshop. You can put them in an Instagram story and scribble on them with colors if you want to go low tech or in a notes file. Don’t be afraid though, to test paint swatches in real life. The point is to look at multiple options and narrow them down and figure out what works for you. All right, time for a little rant about specific color choices.
One question I also get all the time is what color is your house? What color is your front door? And I’ll actually tell you the answer right now even though I never give it out on Instagram. The answer is that my house is Gropius Gray from my local paint company Home and Lindsey. Now I highly recommend my local paint company if you’re Madison local. Go check out Matt Holland Lindsey their showroom is wonderful. There Folks are always nice. They’re super helpful, and in fact, they helped me perfectly match my orange front door to the mailbox I’d already picked.
I don’t recommend you choose Gropius gray for your house however, and that’s because the right color for one house isn’t necessarily the right color for another house color is influenced by seasonal foliage the other houses across the street. The way the sun hits your house at different times of day, the ratio of cloudy weather to sunny weather in your climate, and more.
If you love the color of someone else’s house, don’t ask them for their paint swatch number. What you want to do is go to the paint store and find colors that seems similar to you 10 To 20 paint chips might work, take them home and test them around the house to pick your favorite three. Go back to the paint store and get quartz samples so that you can paint big swatches. I’m talking like four foot by four foot all over your house on each side to see how they look in sun versus shade and different times of the day. Pick your favorite from those, and then put it all over your house.
Anyway, you now know a secret I never disclose on Instagram. The reason I chose Gropius gray, and I will confess this to you is I like the name, I will always pick a color that I love. But if it comes down to two colors that I like both pretty well, I will pick the one with the name I like better. And Gropius was great of the early modernist era and architect who taught at the Bauhaus school. So it just felt like an appropriate choice for me. And it makes me smile when I think about it.
Here’s the bottom line for you though. Test test test.
Start with Photoshop. And if you’re looking for an array of samples that don’t perfectly match your house but could match some of the conditions like if you have red brick, a couple of mid-century house colors paired with red brick, if you have a sandstone, we’ve got a couple of house colors paired with a sandstone. If you’ve got cream brick, we’ve got a couple of house colors that look great with cream brick, all gathered together in the mid mod color carousel, which is a free design guide that I put together just a few months ago now. Just two months ago, just one month ago recently.
Anyway, if you haven’t got it yet, you want it. So go to mid mod dash midwest.com and grab your copy. It’s fun. Even if you’re not planning to recolor your house right now it’s just fun to look at.
The last step is to develop your master plan, fill in the blanks. So basically, from what you’ve got and what you like for one color or to put it all together, choose an overall siding color that works with the front door acts and pieces and masonry that you’ve got, you’ve got options. If you want to play it safe, gray is an option. If you want to lean a little back toward the mid mod era, try out a few of the mid-century house color combos that I put on my vintage sheet with some pastels, some mint greens, some see blues, baby pink, they’re really cute. And actually kind of a bold choice now for a mid century house.
Basically, it’s time to swatch let the best color win and choose something that’s going to make you feel happy about your home. The wonderful thing about pink colors is that they can always be read chosen, you’re making a slightly more permanent choice if you’re choosing right now to have your house recited and you’re going with one of the new cement board products like Hardy or LP Smart Side that come with the color embedded in the material. That’s a fantastic low maintenance or no maintenance choice.
By the way, if you pick a color, stick with it for the next 30 years, you will never have to repaint that stuff. But the great news is if you pick a color you’re not wild about now, or you change your mind in 10 years, or next year, you can paint right over that kind of product as well. And then you just start a maintenance cycle as you would for a regular original wooden side of house.
So the short version of all of that is remembered to dream. Think about what you want your house color to say about you and your family discover. Take stock of the status of your maintenance. If there are other things you want to gather in with this repainting process if you’re changing up the roof, if you want to make sure you’re emphasizing a brick that’s great or de-emphasizing a color you don’t like.
All of this are possible now in the house painting process. Then remember to distill once you’ve made a decision, let that decision guide the next one and so forth until you have a simple array of color and material choices you can repeat through this project and many future ones to make your life easier going forward. And then don’t forget to draft try multiple colors in swatches and finally pull together a master plan approach to recolor in your house.
Okay, right now go grab that free color workbook. Have you not downloaded it already. I’ve got examples of charming midcentury color schemes for every type of house from straight siding to stone to multiple common mid century brick colors. Grab it directly from mid mod dash midwest.com/colors or from the show notes page at mid mod dash midwest.com/ 1108.
If you feel like you need more help than that to figure out what’s the right color for your house. I can help you with that. This isn’t a question I can answer in an Instagram DM although I would love to see a picture of your house, please send it but if you really want some advice, we can either schedule a consultation call or you might want to check out my free masterclass on all aspects of planning a great mid century update for your home. If you want even more hand holding mid mom Midwest can plan your whole remodel for you at a mid century master plan. I can’t wait to find out what colors you’re thinking of.