Color Lesson: Defining Colors

After working with hundreds of homeowners I know that a little color knowledge can go a long way to end your frustration when choosing colors for your home exterior. What I'm sharing with you today is quick lesson in how understanding the characteristics of color can make choosing the right color easier.

This home featuring DaVinci Single-Width Slate has chosen colors where the hue, value and chroma all work nicely together.

In order to organize and communicate about color we use three characteristics: hue, value and chroma. Now don't click away because you think I'm about to get all scientific on you because I'm not. These are just the technical terms for how you already talk about color everyday. If you’ve ever described a color as light blue gray or deep dark green, you’ve expressed all three of these attributes of color.

Let's break it down because these three characteristics are actually what you are trying to get right. When you don't like a color you've selected it is because one or more of them is off and thus the color is not what you had in mind. That is when the frustration starts. Knowing how to think of the color in terms of its characteristics can put an end to your frustration.

HUE
Hue and color are often used synonymously, but hue refers more specifically to the colors of the visual spectrum — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. These hues, along with the six intermediate hues of red-orange, yellow-orange, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet, are the pure colors that circle the color wheel. These twelve hues — often called color families– can be blended to produce an untold number of colors.

VALUE

Value describes the lightness or darkness of a color in terms of how close it is to white or black. Blending black with a pure hue darkens it; conversely adding white lightens it. This changes the amount of light emanating from the color, which changes the color’s value. The lighter the color, the higher its value. For example, navy blue emits less light and has a lower value than sky blue.

The value of the color and texture of the material will affect the amount of light reflected. To help you determine the value of different colors most paint companies include the LRV (Light Reflectance Value) on the back of the color samples or an index for their entire line of paints.

The higher the LRV, the more light reflected. Color with lower LRV reflect less light. A white or very light color will have a high LRV, while a dark one will have a lower LRV.  

Some areas specify that colors be within a certain LRV range. In Tucson, Arizona, there are guidelines that homes must be constructed with materials that fall within a certain LRV range, to ensure an earthy desert look is consistent throughout the town.

Guidelines for LRV are also often used to conserve energy consumption in a building. For example, in a hot climate if you want your home to absorbs less heat you would use a lighter (LRV of 50 or higher) and smoother finish. In cooler climates a darker and more coarsely textured service could serve to keep a home warmer.

Also some materials have LRV recommendations. For example most vinyl manufacturers recommend using a LRV of 55 or higher when painting PVC/Vinyl. 

As you can see there is more to understanding color value than you may have realized.

CHROMA
Chroma is the attribute that expresses the brightness or purity of a color. You may not be familiar with the word chroma, because it is often expressed as intensity or saturation. The human eye does not easily perceive the differences between intensity and saturation, thus the terms are often used interchangeably.

The closer colors are to their pure hue the higher their chroma. High chroma colors are described as clear, pure, brilliant, bright, rich, bold, or vivid. Colors that are less intense or saturated are described as toned-down, soft, muted, subtle, misty, dull, drab or dusty.

This is the characteristic of color that trip people up most when it comes to finding a color that matches the idea of the color they have in mind. Here's why.

When we look at paint samples we are naturally attracted to the color we think look prettiest or best on the color swatch. Those colors however are rarely the ones we like painted on our homes. Once that color that looked so pretty in the paint store spread out over one or two stories you may find that it looks too bright and much more colorful than what you had in mind when you were looking at the swatch.

If you were to look at a home painted in a color you love and then went to the store to find the actual color I bet you'd be surprised at how blah it looks compared to the colors in the fan deck. That is because the full beauty isn't apparent when looking at that small sample especially under artificial lighting. Once you see this less "colorful" paint on your home it can come to life.

Colors like SW 7657 Tinsmith or SW 7015 Repose Gray might not jump off the paint chip racks at you yet they may be just the color you need to enhance your cedar shake roofing or the stone around entrance. SW 6215 Rocky River may not look like much when you see only a 2" square but wait until you see how beautiful it looks on your shutters. I think you get the point.

The bottom line is that most of the time the colors that will work best on your home exterior are not the ones you think look the prettiest on the swatches. The color you are actually looking for is far more likely to be one of the colors you passed over a first glance thinking it was too dull. Slow down and give some of those more toned down colors a second look. I bet the color you fall in love with on the exterior of your home will not be a color that first caught your attention.

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