Oh, but what will the neighbors say? Plenty. Some Chevy Chase Village residents were shocked when one of their neighbors had his house redone in canary yellow siding with white trim and black shutters. Then the neighbor across the street chose a psychedelic combination of pink stucco, white window trim and blood-red shutters.
"We got a lot of calls that they just didn't fit in with the neighborhood," admitted Roy Burke, who has served as manager of Chevy Chase Village for eight years. "But we're not a historic area and people can paint their houses any color they want."
Still, those who make unconventional choices may find that neighborhood pressure exists. A Silver Spring couple had just moved into their cozy red brick house with understated reddish-brown trim when a neighbor approached to say how glad he was the house had been sold: "Now you'll be able to change the color of the trim. Can't understand why the people before you didn't use white."
Washington has not been known for the imaginative use of colored paints on houses. Until a few years ago, a casual ride down almost any area street would reveal common red brick boxes with white window trim and dark green or white shutters. Clapboard houses were painted beige or white or perhaps, daringly, muted yellow. It could be worse, of course. In Coral Gables, Fla., owners are allowed to paint their houses only in pastel shades. If the owner chooses something other than a pastel, he must submit the color choice to a city board of architects.
Now, ever so timidly, area residents are abandoning their conservative tastes and bringing color to our streets.
Tracy Porter, for example, a Takoma Park house painter since 1948, two years ago changed his cut-shingle Victorian from the white it has been for 25 years to a colorful peach with white and blue trim. But in Vienna, Tim and Helen Conlan had the advantage of starting from scratch with their new 9,000-square-foot Victorian-style house. They were inspired by trips to California and Cape May.
"The house is really a contemporary home with the lines of a Victorian of the Queen Anne period," Helen Conlan says. "But according to our reading, that period had more somber colors than we really wanted, so picking the right combination was difficult." The Conlans pored over a new book by Roger Moss, A Century of Color. Moss, an authority on decorative arts of the 19th century, describes approaches to exterior decoration in houses in America from 1820 to 1930. The book's photographs, charts and descriptions of the thinking of the period gave the Conlans courage to go ahead with a four-color scheme. They used ivory on the trim, a brick color on the structural elements of the house, peachy beige on some of the shingles (others were stained a red-wood color) and a deep green on the sash, turret and peaked roof of the garage.
"The book by Moss gave us a better understanding of the combinations of colors possible, but the photographs we took in the historic section of Cape May were really the most helpful," Conlan says. "We saw some wonderful uses of dark colors, and we saw a lot of houses that were done horribly. It showed us how easily you could go wrong with random applications of color."
House painter Porter got his inspiration from the book Painted Ladies, a photographic review of San Francisco's Victorians. Porter counsels those who want to paint their houses in a more flamboyant manner to consider the balance of colors.
"In order to give a proper balance, for example, you might want to consider painting a door or a window the same color as the main part of the house. It doesn't always follow that the trim should be one color and the main part of the house another," Porter says.
One of Porter's sons recently transformed a classic boxy Washington colonial by painting the trim white but the window sashes and the porch ceiling a deep maroon. "The color just brought out the character of the house," he says, "made it something to notice as you drive down the street."