Thomas J. Story
Current mood: This Big Bear cabin is painted Flat Black by Dunn Edwards.

Buck the white-washed trend and go for a pitchy, attention-grabbing shade instead.

Christine Lennon  – September 23, 2021

If you’ve been paying attention to Sunset‘s home and design coverage over the last 10 years (or more) you may have noticed that dark exterior paint really stops us in our tracks. There’s something about those sooty, saturated colors that just works in the West, whether it’s on a cabin in the forest, or making a bold statement at the beach. Black or near-black paint can make a small house feel more stately, a cottage appear cooler, a modern house moodier, or a colonial house less buttoned-up. And while it may seem like a forward-thinking color choice, it’s actually as traditional as it gets.

raid-inspired beach house leucadia dark exterior
Drawing inspiration from a Moroccan Riad, a traditional style house that’s built around a courtyard, designer Sara Simon left the front exterior of this San Diego-area beach house intentionally somewhat plain. The dark exterior gives the boxy facade a little mystery.

Jenny Siegwart

The first paint colors available for early American houses were mixed from iron oxides and “lamp black,” which is a pure carbon pigment made from the soot from lamp oil. It created a purer pigment than burnt-wood charcoal, and was more fade resistant and longer-wearing. If you’ve ever wandered around Salem or paid a visit to Paul Revere’s house, you’re familiar with that slightly spooky Colonial-era aesthetic, which looks even more stark and imposing in the snow. (See this Mt. Hood chalet, featured in Sunset in 2018, as proof.)

Make Sensible Cool
A Mt. Hood ski chalet painted black looks even more dramatic in the snow.

Thomas J. Story

It’s equally arresting in the misty Pacific Northwest, where you might imagine a roaring fire inside, or next to candy-colored Victorians in San Francisco. In sun-saturated Southern California, with all of that intense, clear light, black houses have a powerful presence, too. But buyer beware: Black paint can absorb more heat, and bubble and peel faster than paler hues. So, it’s not low-maintenance, or for commitment phobes. But the impact of having that one slightly Goth house on the street, and dropping a hint that the people who live inside might have a bit of a rebellious streak, makes it all worth while.

Explore More Homes Painted Black

More Videos From Sunset

Above, a Victorian house in San Francisco gets a full-goth treatment with two shades of black, metallic accents, and a marble stairwell. A two-bedroom modern cottage in the Pacific Palisades (below) is given a more serious demeanor with brownish-black paint.

mid-century-cottage-pacific-palisades
The “tiny but tidy” house was destined to be torn down and replaced with a sprawling new construction until a neighbor intervened with other plans. The charcoal exterior paint plays up the angles and eaves.

Courtesy of Blythe Home

Most Searched Homes: Craftsman Style
The Sunset idea house from 2019 in Santa Monica Canyon leans in to the craftsman inspiration with dark paint and rich wood details.

Thomas J. Story

Two houses on the west side of Los Angeles, the 2019 Sunset Idea House in Santa Monica Canyon (above) and a newly built Barbara Bestor house in Venice (below) embrace their dark side.

A shotgun house in Portland, tucked away among lush trees, has an intriguing sense of mystery, thanks to its black facade.

From Seattle to Pasadena and back to Portland, black houses can be spotted all over the West. We like them the most at dusk, when the color looks the moodiest contrasting with warm interior light and a smudgy sky.

Back Patio
Architect Robert Hutchinson extended the footprint of this Wendell Lovett house in Seattle. The dark paint helps it blend into the lush landscape around it.

Rafael Soldi

A few coats of Black Fox by Sherwin Williams changed the whole personality of this Pasadena home designed by Kirsten Blazek of 1000xBetter.

Alex Zarour of Virtually Here Studios

If white paint makes a house look more expansive, then black can have the opposite effect and enhance a structure’s small stature. A pocket-sized cottage in Portland (above) embraces the charm of small space living by coating the walls in the house-paint equivalent of a slimming black dress. A fresh coat of black paint with bright white trim (below) is an easy, renovation-free, total makeover of a classic California beach bungalow.

A newly built craftsman style house in Jefferson Park has matching siding and trim in a warm, off-black.

Jessica Alexander; Styled by 1000x better.


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