Exterior paints and finishes

Let a coat of fresh colour bring outside spaces to life and protect your house, shed and fencing from the elements

Spending time outdoors in the summer offers the ideal opportunity to assess exterior decor. Freshly painted walls, garden buildings, fences or decking add to the appeal of your home and, if you are planning to sell soon, a smart exterior has good kerb appeal, demonstrating immediately that your home is well-maintained.

There is no one-product-fits-all solution to exterior decorating. While some masonry paints can create a matt finish on exterior woodwork, most can't, so choose between oil-based exterior paints for a high-gloss finish; acrylic eggshell or natural-look satin gloss varnish for front doors, window frames, garden sheds and summerhouses; satin or gloss for ironwork, and proprietary stains for fences and decks.

Preparation for exterior surfaces is not dissimilar to jobs indoors – surfaces need to be clean and dry, and woodwork lightly sanded or, in the case of ironwork, rubbed down with a stiff wire brush to key the surface. Many areas will also need priming, with the exception of those to be treated with special metal paints that can be applied over rust, or timber stains.
Unless you're especially dedicated and have a head for heights, entrust decorating the exterior of your home to the experts. Word of mouth is the best way to find a good decorator.

When it comes to getting the job done, a full weekend of sunshine is not essential because many paint jobs will be touch-dry within a few hours. However, very cold, wet, damp or blustery conditions are not good news for decorators.

Exterior paint for windows and doors

Although the impact of painting the exterior of your home can be huge, it rarely requires planning permission unless you live in a listed building, a conservation area or a designated place of Outstanding Natural Beauty. However, you should give some consideration to how other homes near you are decorated. Whites and creams blend in anywhere, and some historic towns have a prevalence of pink, blue, yellow or rust. Alternatively, you might take your cue from the period of the property – a number of paint companies now offer heritage ranges.

Standard masonry paint comes in two finishes; smooth or textured; the latter giving a rough, sandy effect. Applied properly, it should last for around 15 years on masonry, render, pebbledash, concrete and brick. Many of the well-known DIY stores supply own-brand ranges that offer a good-value solution.

Before starting the job, professional painters recommend preparing with a fungicidal wash and, depending on the state of the walls, an exterior masonry primer as well, to seal porous, chalky or weathered surfaces and provide a stable surface for painting. If you have a period property, it's a good idea to use an external-grade limewash rather than a modern synthetic paint. It gives an authentic finish to older homes, but most importantly, it is a breathable finish that allows moisture to escape. Limewash is available in historic colours, from off-white and cream to sage, grey and umber. It's suitable for use on porous surfaces, such as lime render, stone and brick, but only where modern paints haven't already been used, because these form a barrier.

Windows and doors

As a porous material, it is essential that timber is given a protective coating. Windows and doors can be treated with a stain or exterior varnish to allow the beauty of the wood to shine through. Traditionally, wood stains have all been solvent-based, but modern water-based stains are just as efficient and conform to 2007 EU Paint Regulations, which limit VOCs. Colour is by far the most popular option and you can find exterior paint for wood in pretty much any shade you can imagine.

Timber paint will be labelled as exterior eggshell or gloss, and can also be used on metal. Tougher than interior eggshell, timber paint is also resistant to mould and algae, and won't yellow in the sun. Some masonry paints can also give a matt finish to woodwork, but do check the tin. When choosing a finish, remember that matt gives an understated, uniform appearance and hides dents and bumps, but it can trap dirt and be more prone to fungi. Silky, satin finishes give a just-painted sheen and gloss offers high shine. Water-based formulas are gradually replacing traditional oil-based paints. These tend to hold gloss colour better; brushes are easily washed in soapy water and the finish is less likely to crack and peel.

Fencing and sheds

For rough timber on fencing and sheds, you'll need a timber-care product or stain to colour the wood and provide protection against mould and, often, rot as well. For a brighter look, try water-based coloured stains, which give wood an opaque matt finish; choose a natural shade or dip into a historic palette.

Finishes for decking

After being scrubbed with a proprietary cleaner, decking can be smartened up with a stain in a natural wood shade, from pale cedar or maple to richest teak, walnut or mahogany, or go for a sage green, driftwood grey or beach-hut blue.

Painting metal

To keep railings, drainpipes, garage doors and wrought-iron furniture looking their best, apply a coat of exterior gloss or metal paint at regular intervals. First rub down the surface with a wire brush and fill any pitting with an epoxy filler to prevent further rusting, then wash down with a little detergent and dry well before priming and painting.

Wooden furniture

Smarten up timber garden furniture with an exterior eggshell or gloss if you want a dense coat of colour; or try a suitable masonry paint, or an opaque coloured stain, for a matt finish. Traditional wood stains are ideal for protecting and colouring untreated pine, while furniture oils do the same job for hardwoods.

Ginevra Benedetti
Deputy Editor (Print)

Ginevra Benedetti has been the Deputy Editor of Ideal Home magazine since 2021. With a career in magazines spanning nearly twenty years, she has worked for the majority of the UK’s interiors magazines, both as staff and as a freelancer. She first joined the Ideal Home team in 2011, initially as the Deputy Decorating Editor and has never left! She currently oversees the publication of the brand’s magazine each month, from planning through to publication, editing, writing or commissioning the majority of the content.