Over the years, homeowners have used on various paint schemes to “hide” their shed in the back yard. Thirty years ago when I was a kid, my mother would send me out back with forest green or tree trunk brown paint to hide the shed in the landscape. Twenty years ago the shed was painted the same color and trim as the house with the hope the shed would be blend in with the home. Today, with the deck and patio used more as an extension of the home’s living space, the shed has become an exterior wall.
The shed is now expected to hold shovels, rakes, fertilizer and all your garden supplies — and also be garden art. As the colors in the natural garden change, the painted shed can be the garden’s visual anchor. The color the shed is painted will depend on many factors including the color of the natural landscape, the surrounding hardscape, and the feeling that is being evoked. Ask yourself:
• What mood do you want to create? Stimulating or restful?
• What colors are predominant in the season that you will be using the area surrounding the shed?
• What color will my outdoor lighting emit?
• What are the colors of the hard surfaces that you cannot change?
• Do you want the space — your yard, deck, or patio — between your home and shed to look greater or smaller?
Basic Color Properties
Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a color. Variations in value lightest to the darkest is determined by the amount of white, gray, or black that is added to the pure color or hue. Adding white to the color creates a tint, adding back to the color creates a shade, and adding grey to a color creates a tone.
Intensity measures the purity or brightness of a color. Intensity sets a mood as subdued or invigorating. When you ask yourself if the color is light or dark, you are relating to its value. When you ask yourself if the color is bright or dull, you are relating it its intensity. On an elementary level colors work well together on three levels:
• In themselves — a monochromatic color scheme uses variations in value and intensity of one color. These color extensions create harmony but can become dull or boring without a mixture of textures or, in variations, in the proportions of each variation that is used. To keep this mixture from looking dull there must be a mix of textures and the color variations must not be used in equal amounts.
• In contrast — the colors do not share a common pigment and are across from each other on the color wheel. Complementary colors balance a warm and cool color. The three simplest pairs of contrasting complementary colors: red and green, yellow and violet, blue and orange. This high contrast invigorating color scheme can be toned down by joining intermediate colors like blue-violet and yellow-orange rather than primaries or secondary colors such as blue and orange. Designers further buffer the contrast by never using contrasting colors in equal amounts. To lessen their impact, separate them by windows or doors so the colors are not touching each other.
• In kinship — three colors are analogous or related when they lie side by side on the color wheel and each contains one of the other colors. Red, red-orange and orange are related colors because they share the color red, while yellow-orange, orange, and red-orange are connected by orange. Blue, blue-violet, and violet are related colors because they share the color blue, as do blue-green, blue and blue-violet. With this color scheme it is easy to have one color dominate and its relatives accessorize it.
The temperature, value, and intensity of the color that you select for your shed will influence the visual relationship the shed will have to the rest of the yard and patio.
• Warm colors are the colors of the sun or fire. They contain elements of yellow or red. Cool colors are the colors of water and grass. They contain the elements of blue and green.
• Within warm colors and cool colors there are “bridging” colors that include both a warm and cool color. The bridge green is composed of warm yellow and cool blue. The bridge violet is composed of warm red and cool blue.
• Cool colors give the illusion of being farther away while warm colors appear to make walls seem closer. Just as painting the “ceiling” of patio (the underside of the patio cover) a cool color will raise the roof and make the structure seem more airy, painting a shed a cool color will make it seem farther away and your yard will seem bigger. Conversely, painting a ceiling a warm color will lower it and painting a shed in a red or yellow will make the shed seem closer and the yard between it and the patio will seem smaller.
Darker colors or more intense colors, warm or cool, will make a room or building seem smaller than it really is, because they reflect less light. Surfaces painted a lighter or less intense color because they reflect more light will make a room or structure feel bigger and more expansive.
Colors and space will look differently because of the colors that they are next to. Sharp contrast between colors will reduce the perceived size of the structure. For example, a shed painted a light green surrounded by dark green vegetation will seem smaller than the same shed painted the same light green but surrounded by light grey concrete.
If the shed is in the shade of trees or on the north side of the house it will receive less direct sunlight year-round and the color and sheen will appear darker and duller. Painting a shed pure yellow brightens a shaded garden and is a happy welcoming color. Painting the same shed a light yellow would seem dingy in a shaded garden.
White with yellow or gold undertones is another possibility to brighten the shaded garden. If the shed is on the south side of the house it will receive the brightness of the sun year around. In bright sun pastel colors will seem to disappear but yellows, red, and browns will intensify. A very sunny garden with a blue or green shed will feel cooler but the cool blues and greens must be dark or they will look dull in bright sunlight.
Sheds on the east and west side of the house will have both sun and shade depending on the time of the day. Color choices should be based on when the area around the shed is going to be used, morning or afternoon.
Painting for the Elements
Exterior finishes must endure sun, snow, and rain and wide fluctuations in temperature and humidity with the wood expanding and contracting. The finish must be flexible enough to adjust without cracking. Water based or latex paints have the needed flexibility.
With outdoor furniture, make sure all six sides of the wood are painted so no areas are left to absorb moisture. If moisture is absorbed it will have to be released which will make the paint blister. Consider using floor and porch paint or trim paint to handle the extra wear that outdoor furniture gets.
Sheds usually have no vapor barrier or insulation. As temperatures drop at night, condensation inside will seek to escape by pushing both the primer and paint off the outside surface. Without a vapor barrier it is necessary to paint the inside (the backside of the exterior siding) to keep the condensation from working its way out through the exterior siding. The condensation will then have to escape through the normal vents or dry by the air circulation the vents supply.
Focal Points or Visual Harmony
Primary colors blue, yellow, and red are attention grabbing colors. The shed door and shutters or a garden gate or trellis painted in a primary color will look fresh and fun. Primary colors are called for to accent a weathered, unpainted or unstained cedar shed. A bright door or bright shutters will invigorate without a whole repaint.
Another way to bring the shed into the garden décor is to paint the lawn furniture in the patio to match the trim color on the shed. Floating a bench, or two or more chairs between the deck or patio and the shed will create flow.
If your shed looks utilitarian, think about hanging ornaments on it.
• Terra cotta, metal, or mosaic plaques can easily make a shed look artistic.
• A large shed can be brought down to size by installing a white picket fence in front of its expanse or putting up a trellis.
• Window boxes are the common window definement, but be certain the window box rests on a rack installed in front of the window so drainage from the window box does not cause mold and mildew on the outside wall of the shed.
• While not many of us hang curtains in our sheds, a tiffany style stained glass/plastic panel hung inside the window can add optical beauty to the yard.
• No window on your shed? Hang a false window and shutters on the outside of the shed like a big picture.
Unless you are aiming for the dollhouse, look skip the white shutters and white trim boards on the shed that is 10 feet or less tall from peak to floor. Instead, think about vertical corner boards in contrasting colors to make the shed have height. A weather vane or cupola added to the roof (watch your step) is decorative. A boxy small shed can seem larger by painting a nearby fence to match or adding a matching bench a few feet out in front of the door. On the other hand, if the shed is tall with a storage loft paint the distance above the windows a darker color than the surface below them.
Finally, don’t be afraid to paint each side of your shed a different color! Eccentric? No, practical. You cannot see all sides of your shed at once and if it is to be the backdrop for your patio or deck entertainment area or your garden, paint it to accompany the specific area. You can find small amounts of paint as miss-tints at paint retailers at a reduced price. MetroPaint also now sells one quart containers of many colors of paint at a low cost. Another consideration is that sheds are usually located near the property line. Your neighbor (if you both have no fence) usually sees the side or the back of your shed as their wall. They may be pleased to give you the paint that they want to see on that side of the shed!
Paulette Rossi is a Certified Master Recycler and a freelance writer located in Portland, OR.