Scott Kalmbach featured in the Wall Street Journal!

  • Radhi Ahern
  • 01/25/21

Interior designer Noz Nozawa has made a career out of color. So when the three-unit condominium where she lives in San Francisco needed a fresh coat of paint, she wasn't going to let it remain a "mucky, non-color."  Ms. Nozawa teamed up with her downstairs neighbor, an artist who paints portraits of houses, to adorn the facade in bright cobalt blue with a tomato red door. They hired artist Fnnch to paint orange poppies on the front of the house, and a honey bear on the side.  "We turned it from this unforgivably ugly building into a source of happiness for the neighborhood," says Ms. Nozawa. 

Vibrant homes like Ms. Nozawa's are common in San Francisco, but social media­specifically Instagram-has given candy-colored properties a place to shine.  "It is like a treasure hunt," says photographer Michael Victor, whose Instagram features a regular rotation of kaleidoscopic homes, including Ms. Nozawa's. "They can appear anywhere." 

In New Orleans, Danielle Del Sol, executive director of the city's Preservation Resource Center, believes there is a correlation between the rise of Instagram and bolder homes.

The photo-sharing app, she says, "causes you to stop for a moment and realize how beautiful a little vignette is," whether that is a green palm tree next to a bubble gum pink house or lemon yellow shutters against a turquoise facade. "It inspires people, and emboldens them."

Charles Sullivan, broker and founding partner of Carriage Properties in Charleston, S.C.,  has found that colorful homes are more marketable because of the app. "You compete for people's attention so much, so anytime you can post an eye-catching image, it gets noticed immediately." 

This rings truer in places where colorful homes aren't typical. In September, Mahler Sotheby's International Realty broker Paul Handle marketed property in Oostburg, Wisc., known as the Crayola House. Designed by architect Margaret Mccurry, the gray exterior is made more interesting by its trim, which is painted in a vivid spectrum one would find in a crayon box. "Real estate can be monotonous," says Mr. Handle. "Homes can be formulaic, and they don't jump out at you when you're scrolling through Zillow. But this home just popped off the website."  The home, which was listed at $1.175 million, went into contract in a week and sold for $25,000 over ask.

Dan Beder, a Sotheby's agent in Los Angeles, has also marketed a brightly·colored home, but at a price point where these vivid properties are rarer. He recently listed a yellow Bel•Air mansion with red•carpeted stairs on its exterior for $16.995 million. "It helps show the property," he says.  The home, which also has a colorful history (Zsa Zsa Gabor once owned it), entered escrow in seven days and sold for $16 million. 

Colorful doesn't always have to mean bright. Jasmine Farrow, a Sotheby's agent in California, recently sold a renovated Joshua Tree home with a deep charcoal exterior and a sunset mural.  The dark hue could have easily concerned a buyer given the desert climate, but instead, it is seen "as a curbside design statement," according to Ms. Farrow, who added that locals are taken with their ebonized neighbor. "They realize how easy it is to create a dramatic look with paint."  Dark exteriors, once seen as gloomy or reserved for more modern architecture, have gone mainstream in the last five years. Sherwin Williams Tri corn Black is one of the top 10 bestselling exterior colors in every region of the country.

"Black is striking," says Scott Kalmbach, co-founder of Outpost Real Estate. "It's stately, it has gravitas. It can make a boring facade look a lot more dramatic."  And it sells: Mr. Kalmbach recently marketed a $6.995 million black·stained home in Ross, Calif., that received three offers, all over ask, in two days.  But color isn't always well received. Neighbors lashed out at a Houston area couple in 2015 after they painted their Victorian•style home a bright teal. Despite having permission from the homeowners association, they were ordered to repaint it ( Google Streetview shows that it is currently a pale coral shade). And Austin resident Emilio Rodriguez raised more than a few eyebrows in 2019 when he decided to bathe every inch of his stone house, roof and all, in his favorite shade of hot pink. 

In Chatham, Mass. stands an infamous lime greenhouse, which some claim was painted the garish shade after the town board refused to approve changes the owners wanted to make. Residents called the color "hideous" but more than a decade later, the neon hue remains.

While photos of millennial pink or jet black homes will always garner more likes than boring beige, these facades are more of a Pinterest dream than a reality for most Americans.  The most popular exterior paints for both Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore are various shades of gray and white, though Andrea Magno, director of color marketing and development at Benjamin Moore, notes that homeowners are getting a little more adventurous with the trim and front door.  "People are more willing to play around with combinations and break away from the tried and true," says Ms. Magno. "It is different when you're dealing with exteriors-it is a little more of commitment. If you repaint your house, it is there for the world to see. If you paint your living room something wild, no one will see that unless you invite them in."  "It is a niche market," says Mr. Victor. "People love the idea of a colorful home. It is cool, it is novel, they want to take a photo of it. But no one wants it for themselves."

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