Growing up, Louisa Campbell didn’t give much thought to the exterior of her home, which was a traditional white with dark Charleston green shutters. But in 1991, when she and Bill, her husband, purchased a home in Greenbrier, Louisa decided that she wanted to give it a more distinctive color scheme.
“Green is my favorite color, particularly soft green,” says Louisa. “I really wanted to do something different with the exterior, so I decided to go with a pale, pale yellow — it’s actually Benjamin Moore’s ‘Navajo White’ — with the shutters painted in Benjamin Moore ‘Kennebunkport Green,’ which is soft and soothing. The trim is Benjamin Moore ‘White Dove.’”
Although her selection was a bit less traditional than her childhood home, Louisa never expected her choice to create so much discussion. “I had never seen the combination before, so I knew it was a gamble, but I heard from everyone,” she says. “My parents said, ‘What are you doing? You should paint the shutters dark green.’ My children agreed. Even the painter asked if I was sure. But I was. I also knew I could change it up if I really didn’t like it. That’s the beauty of paint.”
Fortunately, she didn’t have to abandon her exterior paint color ideas. Nearly 30 years later, Louisa is still happy with her choice. Her family has come around as well. “We’ve all really enjoyed it over the years,” she says.
Stan O’Brien with Paradime Construction is also seeing more color these days. “We recently did a house in dark blue, with white trim and white shutters. It was a bold statement, but it looks really good.”
Pulliam-Morris designer Pam Plowden Rawson, ASID, who helps clients choose colors for both their interior and exterior surfaces, says the key to creating an attractive, distinctive color scheme is to work within the tones of the home’s permanent features, such as the roof and concrete or stone steps and walkways. “A brownish-black roof dictates warmer tones, whereas a pure black one can really go either way,” she says. “The bluestone steps that lead to my house, for example, work well with the cool gray greens that we painted the exterior.”
Pam notes that swatches can be deceiving because their look may vary according to the light. “Taupe can turn pink, for example, and gray can look a little purple. Instead, just drive around. When you see a color or colors you like, knock on the door and ask the owner for the name and brand. Most people are flattered.”
Like all design elements, paint colors do have trends. Pam reports that right now, she is seeing tone-on-tone color schemes, which offer less contrast between the house, the shutters, and the trim. “Particularly on painted brick homes, we’re seeing the shutters painted just a shade or two darker than the brick. It’s softer and lighter than the classic — and always beautiful — white or pale background with dark green or black shutters.”
For clients who choose not to paint their brick, Pam says to look more toward the mortar color than the brick color when determining paint for the trim, although this advice is also flexible. “Charleston green looks fabulous with that orangey-red brick that’s all over South Carolina,” she says.
She also notes that these days front doors don’t necessarily need to match the shutters. “I saw a house in Atlanta recently with a gorgeous pink door,” she says. “Aqua is another trendy front door accent color.”
When Ami and James Leventis purchased their Williamsburg-style home in Kilbourne Park, the shutters and front door glowed in deep Charleston green. While Ami wanted to maintain that traditional look, she wanted to achieve it with a fresher hue. She succeeded with Sherwin-Williams’ “Rocky River,” a deep, shadowy teal that, in some light, can look green. “It gives the house a little more personality, but without being too trendy,” she says. “It’s been two years, and we’re still thrilled with the way it turned out!”
Some color schemes, however, go beyond trends. Take the palette of dark khaki, off white, and Charleston green that was selected many years ago for a home on Winthrop Avenue. It has proven to be so timeless that the current owners, Carla and Michael Graf, haven’t changed a thing since they bought the home in 2004. “I’m so glad I knew the previous owners because when it came time to repaint, I could call them and get the names of the colors,” says Carla. “We never get tired of it. The shutters are Sherwin-Williams ‘Sea Beach Green,’ and the house color, called ‘Lanyard,’ and the trim, ‘Pillar,’ are both by Glidden.”
Another classic color scheme can be found on Roslyn Drive at the home of Jill and Steve Parham. Here, the home’s unpainted brick is a perfect foil for dark brown shutters and warm beige trim. It was built in the 1970s in a Williamsburg style. “I’ve been told that the original exterior color scheme was based on classic Williamsburg colors, with golden yellow trim and brown shutters,” says Jill. “The previous owners, Kathy and Johnny Bowen, created the current color scheme, and we haven’t changed it a bit.”
Jill laughs when she tells the story of how she and Steve came to acquire the home. “I loved it from the moment I saw it when we moved to Columbia in 2012, but it wasn’t for sale,” she explains. “So we bought the house next door. After the flood, the Bowens moved out for eight months or so. When they returned, Kathy mentioned to me that they were thinking about putting the house on the market. I said, ‘No you’re not — we’re buying it!’ And we did. It’s an amazing house.”
Over in Shandon, Shari Hutchinson clearly remembers the day her husband, Tim Carrier, told her that the Columbia home she had always dreamed of owning was for sale. “All he said was, ‘The Pink House is on the market,’” she says, referring to the sunset-hued stucco home that has occupied the corner of Sims and Wilmot avenues for more than 80 years. “We’d moved out of Shandon several years before and were looking for a way to get back. This allowed us to do that in the best way possible!”
White in color until sometime during the 1940s or ’50s, when a previous owner tinted it orange, The Pink House is a Shandon landmark that has become so well-known that Shari and Tim have often heard it referred to as ‘Shandon’s GPS.’
“People give directions to other homes in the neighborhood based on where they are in relation to our home,” says Tim. “We never considered for a moment changing the color.”
After enjoying their new home for seven years, tragedy struck on June 17, 2016, when a microburst storm completely uprooted a massive tree and deposited it on top of the house. “It was completely destroyed,” recalls Shari. “We couldn’t even save the foundation.”
Rebuilding took nearly a year, and while a number of changes had to be made to the home’s design and placement on the lot, one aspect would remain constant: the color. “During construction, before the stucco was applied, the sheathing board was gray, and it caused a lot of discussion around town,” says Tim. “Neighbors, ‘pink house groupies,’ and even strangers made it clear they were nervous we wouldn’t paint it pink again. Although we’d always planned to, we realized that we really had no choice!”
The real challenge was matching the warm pink tone that lies somewhere at the intersection of peach, pink, and coral. Stucco can be painted, but they opted to go with a pre-colored stucco. For Shari and Tim, that meant they just had one shot to get it right. Using pieces of stucco salvaged from the original home, the couple worked with the team at Stucco Unlimited to find a match. “A color called ‘New Coral’ turned out to be the right shade,” says Shari. “We’ll use ‘Mellow Coral’ from Sherwin-Williams when we need to touch up. We stuck with Sherwin-Williams’ basic white for the trim and the columns. We’re so happy with the results and are so glad to be back in our pink house!”
Paint IQ: Dealing with the Shadow of Mildew
The current trend of barely there shades of white, taupe, and gray has a significant impact for Columbia-area homeowners: mildew is more visible than ever. A Sherwin-Williams representative for more than 25 years, Chris Arthur says that although new paint formulations do not attract mildew as readily as the older, oil-based paints, mildew is still a major problem all over the state. “Mildew will grow on anything, so it cannot be completely avoided,” he says. “The best you can do is kill the spores, which is best achieved by pressure washing as needed with a four-to-one mixture of one part bleach to four parts water and a small amount of laundry detergent, like Tide. Let it sit a minute — don’t let it dry — then rinse well. The Tide cuts the dirt and allows the bleach to really reach the mildew.” Chris pressure washes his home twice a year. He points out that homeowners can do it themselves or they can always call a professional pressure washing company.
If that seems excessive, Chris says to remember that the pollen and dirt that naturally adhere to a home compound the problem by providing a near-perfect breeding ground for mildew. Add Columbia’s hot, humid summer and plethora of beautiful old shade trees, and the reason is clear why the gray scourge seems to crop up overnight.
Chris cautions against ignoring the problem since leaving mildew unchecked for several years will allow it to penetrate into the paint film, where it will have to be scrubbed off instead of merely rinsed. “Think of power washing as weed control,” he says. “Let it go, and it isn’t long before it takes over.”