When it comes to painting your house, it’s no private affair.


A few months ago, we painted our house and the whole neighborhood took part. Not in some Amish barn-raising kind of way, like an homage to the film Witness but with cheerier clothes and Aperol spritzes at the end of a hard work day. (That would have been both more cinematic and much cheaper than hiring a professional crew.) Instead, our neighbors weighed in via text, email, and the time-honored stop-the-car-in-the-middle-of-the-street-to-have-a-quick-chat about almost every aspect of the painting, from the prep to the trim color.

At first it was touching how much people cared, I mean really cared, about the color of our house. We are valued members of the community, I thought. But after a half dozen conversations, it was clear to me that their concern was more about how the color of our house might affect the Zestimate of their house.

You see, we picked a statement color, sparking intense interest. It wasn’t against the law, but it did test the unspoken Good Taste Amendment our neighbors abide by. When asked to describe the style of our house, I usually say, “It’s 1920s California stucco.” Like that’s a thing, but it’s not a thing. Monterey colonial. Greene & Green. California Mediterranean. English cottage. Swiss chalet. Midcentury modern. Those are all things, and they all exist in our neighborhood, but our house isn’t any of those.

Our place is stucco, was built in 1922, and exists in California. Other than that, it has no distinguishing architectural features. It’s the one house on the street that looks like the person who was supposed to give it curb appeal must have quit in the middle of the project, but the builder finished it anyway. It’s a fine house, but no movie, commercial, or episode of This Is Us has ever been shot here, an enigma in Pasadena. As my sister says, “You manage to do a lot with decorative flags.”

The upside of living in a “1920s California stucco” is that you can paint it any damn color you like. You’re not bound by convention or the style-appropriate palettes as designated by Dunn-Edwards. The last time we painted the house, we were young and tired, after a major remodel, the births of several children, and the slog of applying those children to kindergarten, so we picked sage green, the “it” color of the ’90s. About 32 seconds after the paint dried, I regretted not using a darker, more dramatic color.

Fast-forward to the present day—and my chance to debut a statement color. Older, bolder, and totally over kowtowing to conventional wisdom, I chose Brooding Storm, a blue/gray/greige that no one would confuse with safe sage. I consulted my friend Chris, a man with exceptional taste, an affinity for Early American anything, and a house flipper in the Hamptons. He approved Brooding Storm, suggested black trim, and then declared my front door should absolutely be the Benjamin Moore classic Geranium, a beautiful deep coral pink. I felt both validated and intimidated. Did I have the courage to paint my front door pink?

I did not. But it wasn’t a lack of conviction. I just like purple better, and who doesn’t love a color named Cloudy Plum? As the painting started, so did the comments, emails, texts, and chats. Once the house color went up, I was fully engaged in front yard conversations with passersby for hours every evening. The dark trim was controversial at first, but the white accents met with approval, winning over the naysayers. One text declared, “Rich in tone!” That’s gotta be good for everyone’s Zestimate.

By the time we were ready to paint the front door, I actually encouraged folks to vote. I put the Germanium up side by side with Cloudy Plum. The self-appointed Taste Posse, a cohort of interior designers, landscape architects, and real estate agents, made their voices heard. (“I wasn’t crazy about the color at first, but then it all came together for me. Go with the plum, btw.” Um, thanks?) The local Tree Commissioner emailed her pick. Friends did drive-bys and texted their choice. Complete strangers walking corgis stopped to comment. Cloudy Plum it was.

Neighborhood associations spend hours planning get-togethers and community builders that involve permits and taco trucks and city council member appearances. It’s grand to have a party so everyone can complain about the increased traffic around town while drinking white wine out of plastic cups. But if you’re really looking to shake things up and meet the new family next door or the gentleman who walks the four Yorkies, might I suggest painting your house? And paint it any damn color you’d like.

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