A sense of desperation sometimes comes over people when they're choosing a paint color for their house, says Bonnie Rosser Krims, a professional paint-color consultant.
She's heard stories of people peeling paint chips off the homes of strangers, rather than approaching them directly, which is her No. 1 recommended color-hunting strategy.
While Ms. Krims would never advocate pigment pilferage, she discovered how reluctant homeowners can be to share their color choices while working on her book "The Perfectly Painted House: A Foolproof Guide for Choosing Exterior Paint Colors" (Rockport Publishers, $24.99).
"A lot of people said, 'You can use my house in the book, but I'm not going to tell you what color it is,' " she says. "People feel like if somebody gets their paint color, everybody in town will eventually have it, and then their house won't be special anymore."
Despite such resistance, Krims was able to assemble a diverse portfolio of homes. Their many styles and colors make the book useful for those still in the throes of deciding what shade to paint their house.
Photographs of each are accompanied by a brief analysis of the choices and the exact identity of the body and trim colors, including manufacturer name and numbers.
This can be a good starting point, but Krims knows that showing roughly 50 houses barely scratches the surface of possible combinations of architectural styles and colors not when major manufacturers each offer 1,200 to 2,000 shades.
Homeowners should be prepared to make repeated trips to the paint store and invest in a succession of trial colors. "People get sick and tired of trying different colors and tired of spending on quarts," she admits, but it pays off in the end. As she emphasizes in her book: "Paint color is the single most effective way to change the personality of your house and transform it to its best advantage."
Part of the problem in choosing a color is that samples are generally too small to be of much use. And despite some efforts to get around this with oversize paint chips, computer program simulations, or other means there's no substitute for simply painting a small portion of the outside of the house with the sample color.
Indoor testing just isn't the same, she says, because the light is so different inside and outdoors.
Krims suggests testing paint on different parts of the house, in sunny and shady areas, and checking how they look at various times of day.
The painted area needs to be big enough to get a decent idea of the color. She recommends starting off with a 2-by-2-foot section and, if you like the color, enlarging it to 5-by-5. Colors should also be tested on doors and trim.
To get a correct color reading, use at least two coats and let the paint dry completely (one hour for latex paints, and 24 hours for oil).
Historically, there's been a narrow range of colors most people want on their homes, but Krims says the palette has been expanding in recent years.
"The Perfectly Painted House" doesn't ignore such basic colors as taupe, gray, and yellow, but it illustrates the interesting potential in raspberry, deep gold, and forest green.
In the book, a lakeside home employs "mown grass" green with white trim to create a casual elegance in harmony with the tall pines that surround it. In another photo, a boxy Colonial takes on an air of flamboyance when painted a radiant orange.
When choosing colors, what's on a neighbor's house is less important than the colors found on one's own property.
"It's more important to consider your landscape colors and fixed features like brick walks, colored roofs, and fencing," she says, than to try to coordinate with the Joneses.
Paying attention to prominent surfaces such as shutters, deck balustrades, and steps helps establish the mood. To illustrate, she suggests imagining a brick-front Federal house. With black shutters the look is stately. Painted pale blue, it's friendlier.
Another mental exercise involves imagining your whole house painted white. This helps in focusing on the details doors, window frames, even downspouts and deciding what needs emphasis and what is better left to fade into the background.
What you want to avoid is a paint job that is "too much, too bright, too dark, too something," she says.
When it comes to the actual painting, proper preparation is the key. Once, the paint on Krims's house began to peel after just two years.
The probable cause: letting the contractors, who weren't available until late fall, work well into December.
"If people really want a paint job to hold up," she says, "they have to do it the right way. Make sure the temperature is right and the prep work done properly. Then, with a good-quality paint, the job should last 10 or 15 years."