Coats of many colors. In person or by mail, consultant takes guesswork out of painting home exteriors. PAINT ME BEAUTIFUL

A NEW exterior paint job, using the right combination of colors, can give a house real distinction. It can also diminish its less desirable aspects and accentuate its positive ones, says James Martin of Denver, whose one-man consulting firm is called The Color People.

Calling himself an ``exterior designer and color consultant,'' Mr. Martin has given both on-site and mail-order advice to home and business owners in 40 states, guiding them to right paint choices when their properties are ready for a face-lift.

His interest in consulting began in 1979 when he and his friends were renovating old Denver houses and trying to figure out which outside colors worked best.

``I saw people going through gallons of paint, getting effects that ranged from not so good to awful. So I decided to use the color training that came with my degree in graphic design to open my own consulting business.

``I knew that people wanted outside paint colors that were not only warm and interesting, but that made a house look great from the curb, appear to be worth what it had cost, and that held out a promise that the interior could be as attractive as the exterior.

``They wanted colors that made their house look welcoming every time they came home to it.''

In his attempt to make his color recommendations a reflection of the home owner, Martin asks each to fill out a questionnaire. They are to describe the style and color of their interior d'ecor, the kind of clothes they wear, what they like and dislike about their house, and what their personal color choices are.

He welcomes any magazine clippings or illustrations that help say ``this is me.'' And he always asks for a description of the neighborhood, explaining that a house and its paint job must always fit comfortably with neighboring homes.

``I keep my ear tuned to the nuances of what people want so I can work out the right tone and attitude'' for the house, he says. He also keeps in mind its architectural statement.

When working by mail, Martin asks the owners for a photograph of the house. After his analysis of all information, he marks the photo to show which colors go where.

Martin returns it to the owner to give to the house painter, along with paint chips of the recommended colors for the scheme he has worked out.

The chips always represent a national brand of paint that is available locally and that can be applied straight from the can. He never recommends mixing of colors - which keeps the process simple and eliminates guesswork.

Martin says he does not do the elaborate ``painted lady'' schemes that are illustrated by so many Victorian houses in San Francisco.

He opts to keep his schemes more fresh, subtle, and contemporary.

Never has he used the same scheme twice, he adds. And since people paint the outside of their houses only once every seven to 10 years, he tries to stay away from trendy colors that could quickly go out of fashion.

One of the most satisfying things about his job, he says, is transforming ugly-duckling houses into pretty swans, with the right combinations of paint colors.

``I can take the dullest little 1950s ranch-style house and adjust its features and give it balance and proper focus. I can actually manipulate the way a house presents itself by the way I place the colors.''

Martin says he always recommends that at least four colors be used for a house exterior - a body color, a trim color, a punch color, and an accent color.

Martin charges a flat fee of $300 to homeowners for his color schemes, and $375 for every other type of building. If he goes to the site and does personal consulting, he charges an hourly fee.

Although there are many other color consultants, Martin claims to be the only one that operates through a mail-order system that is working all over the country.

Joyce and Ray Crawford of Princeton, Ill., say their newly painted house has been the talk of the town.

The scheme recommended by Martin for their Queen Anne-style home with turret consisted of different shades of rose.

The first floor lap siding is painted a dark rose brown. The shingle siding of the second floor is a lighter rose brown, set off with a brownish terra cotta on the roofline crown molding.

Warm ivory is used for the trim, while aquamarine is the ``punch,'' or accent, color.

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