How to choose the best exterior paint for doors and windows

Skip dull white window frames and plain black doors and embrace bold and earthy colors instead – we asked the experts how to pick the best exterior paint for doors and windows

How to pick the perfect external paint
(Image credit: Sinclair Studios)

Picking the best exterior paint for doors and windows can be a challenge. And it's all too easy to fall into the usual, easy trap of white window frames (or gray if you're feeling adventurous) and a classic neutral front door color. But playing with color can seriously up the curb appeal of your property and boost your mood every time you walk up to the front door.

Paint is the perfect tool according to Billy Sinclair, Director at Sinclair Studios. 'Depending on whether you live in a 19th-century townhouse or a 1970’s semi, paint color and tone is the perfect tool to emphasize age or contemporize your home,' says Billy. 'Be it updating a front door with a pop of color, or uniformly matching the color of your windows and walls to provide a cool contemporary look, color transcends age and exudes personality.'

Noted! And these inspiring paint ideas will give you the basic knowledge and confidence to make your house stand out with pride on your street.

How to pick the perfect exterior paint

1. Strip windows and doors back to basics

How to pick the perfect exterior paint

(Image credit: Little Greene)

It can feel like a massive faff, but stripping back old paint to make way for the new will make the finished result far superior. It really is worth the effort in the long run; whether you've got cool crittall doors and windows or simple wooden frames. 

'When renovating existing windows and doors, the only way to achieve a good finish is to first strip off the existing paint or varnish, and get back to the base material,' explains Billy Sinclair. 'Although it’s tempting to simply paint over the existing paint, this will likely make any new layers of paint far more susceptible to flaking in the future.'

'Before applying the finishing paint, make sure to apply a primer, as this provides a sticky base coat and undercoat, to create a flat and stable foundation for the finish,' he adds. 'And remember to stick to the same brand of undercoats and finishing coats, or the final color could vary significantly.'

2. Pay attention to the material of your windows and doors

Shutters and doorway painted in Farrow & Ball's Green Smoke

(Image credit: Farrow & Ball)

Don't just slap on any old paint to the windows and doors of your property. Find out the exact material first so you can make sure you're buying the right paint for a fresh window update or fabulous front door revamp. 

'Depending on whether your windows are steel, timber, or U-PVC, the type of paint and application process varies substantially,' says Billy. 'For example, the most robust way of finishing a steel or aluminum door is via a process called powder coating, where the frame is either dipped or sprayed with a magnetically charged color powder. This produces a very smooth finish which can be matt, satin or gloss.'

'Timber, on the other hand, is traditionally hand-painted leaving brush marks which, if done well, produces an authentic texture. However, if you intend for a more contemporary look, then spray painting the timber will provide a cleaner, sharper finish. U-PVC windows can also be painted as long as you use the correct primer to provide a good key for the finishing paint,' he says.

3. Check the surrounding palette before you pick your color and paint finish

How to pick the perfect external paint

(Image credit: Sinclair Studios)

Always wondered what the most popular paint colors are? It's great to get experimental with paint, but it's important to also consider what actually works for your property.

'When choosing a finish for your windows & doors, start by considering the surrounding palette of materials you’re working with,' explains Billy. 'Is the house built from stock bricks, stucco plaster, stone, or timber? A contemporary approach is to match the color and paint finish of the windows to that of the wall. This provides a uniform effect.'

'On the other hand, by using different but complementary colors and paint finishes, this will make your house look more refined and elegant. The most interesting projects often play with both contemporary and traditional ideas,' he adds. 'Our project on Netherford Road is a good example of this, where the Victorian front door is painted in a contemporary bright orange but in a traditional gloss paint finish. This acknowledges the age of the house whilst adding a playful contemporary twist.'

4. Consider planning permission

How to pick the perfect external paint

(Image credit: Sinclair Studios)

It's always worth thinking about planning permission even when you think it might not apply to save you from undoing any work you've paid for. Checking Planning Portal for more in-depth advice but Billy suggests that for exterior paintwork, 'in general, you don’t need planning permission to paint the exterior of your home.'

'However, if your house is a listed building or located in a conservation area, a world heritage site, an area of outstanding natural beauty, and/or national park then there may be restrictions', he says. 'These restrictions will vary depending on the land designation and therefore it’s always worth approaching your local council for advice before undertaking decoration work. Likewise, if your property is leasehold, then you will need to consult with the freeholder and attain permission before starting work.'

5. Go dark and dramatic 

How to pick the perfect external paint

(Image credit: Future/Matthew Williams)

Whether the exterior updates for your home are as small as changing the front door color, to a complete front of house renovation, consider going to the dark side when it comes to picking that perfect hue.

'Paint colors always look much paler in natural daylight than they do under artificial lighting,' explains Billy. 'So, stick color charts on the outside walls and test out several different color samples before making a decision. And lastly, don’t be scared to go one shade darker.

What type of exterior paint is best?

A white townhouse with yellow door and a olive tree and bicycle

(Image credit: Little Greene)

When it comes to choosing the best exterior paint, then you can't get much sturdier than a high-gloss paint on your windows and doors. Gloss paints are tougher so resist scuffs better, they're easier to clean so they're a popular choice for areas in constant use like doors and windows, especially when open to the elements.

Gloss paint is a traditional choice for a front door so if you're after a more modern look but what the practicalities of gloss, be brave and go for a bright, joyful color like yellow or orange.

In terms of brands to shop for the best exterior paints, we'd always recommend Farrow & Ball, Exterior Eggshell, or Full Gloss, both of which are suitable for softwood and hardwood windows and doors. For a long-lasting, easy to use primer that's perfect for exterior paint jobs, as well as interiors, our top choice would be Zinsser Bulls Eye All Surface Primer.

Which exterior paint lasts the longest?

Purple garage door

(Image credit: Little Greene)

No one wants to repeat the hefty job of repainting the exterior of their property or windows and doors, so it's important to have something that stands the test of time. 

And it's not just about what paint you choose. Ensure the prep work is done and a primer (basecoat) is used to ensure longevity too. It helps the top layer of paint stick. Then, consider whether you want water or oil-based paint. 

Water-based is easy to clean and remove but it won't last as long as an acrylic water-based paint or oil based. However, beware of the downsides of oil-based paint; they're really durable but take longer to cure and can often be mixed with harsh chemicals.

Rachel Christie

As the Houses Editor on Livingetc, Rachel has been obsessed with property ever since she was a kid. With a diploma in interior design and more than a decade working on interior magazines under her belt, she feels very at home sourcing the best contemporary houses the world has to offer for Livingetc. It's not just the day job either, she admits she's spent a scary amount of her own time researching schemes for her own renovations - scrolling Instagram, stalking Rightmove and Modern House, flicking through magazines and snooping in other peoples' windows - so she really does live and breathe houses on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Before Livingetc, Rachel had a stint finding homes for Ikea Family magazine where she was lucky enough to gallivant around the world on shoots meeting and interviewing interesting people, all with a very keen eye for blending high-end design with everyday items from Ikea. It inspired her to not be afraid of mixing new and old, expensive and affordable, vintage and modern and so Rachel's current Victorian terrace in north London is very much an updated, contemporary take on a period property; think open-plan modern kitchen with concrete floors, feature fireplaces and her grandmother’s paintings on the walls. Rachel is currently crushing on reeded glass, large gingham prints, squishy curved furniture; like Buchanan Studio’s Studio chair, and vintage wall sconces; she especially adores Retrouvius for sourcing antique finds and feels inspired by Lonika Chande, Beata Heuman and Matilda Goad and already can’t wait to start planning her next home, wherever that might be.