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Ask Maria: Should I Paint my Stone Retaining Wall?

Ask Maria Colour Advice
My lovely reader Gina has an excellent question I wanted to share with you all. Getting colour right for exteriors means that you have a highly limited number of elements to balance, and while sometimes with interior styling and decorating, more is more, with exteriors, LESS IS DEFINITELY MORE.
So the trick to getting exterior colour right is usually about editing. Figuring out what is fighting, disjointed and creating a busy look.
Here’s her question:
We “inherited” the color scheme of our home when we bought it but because we will be adding solar panels, we will be getting a new roof in a more neutral color in the coming year and also will be changing the paint color of the body of the house as well.  The trim will be staying white because it is aluminum and cannot be re-painted.  
We are wondering, if this was Maria’s home, would she paint the house a neutral coordinating with the pink-beige retaining wall, or would she stain the pink-beige stone of the wall another color in order to be able to paint the house a color?  (The retaining wall runs along the front sides of our home as well, so there’s a lot of it). ~Gina 

The first thing I notice when I look at Gina’s exterior is that there is too much going. And the many things are quite linear and hard. If I could invest in just one thing to improve the curb appeal of this house, it would be the landscape. The swath of hot boring and hard rocks surrounded by a linear contrasting border is not nearly as attractive as PLANTS. If this yard was lush with well designed climate appropriate plantings, would we be looking at the retaining wall? Not likely.

But more on that below.

The first thing I would do is simplify the look by removing the unnecessary shutters. They are not adding anything, and the window is too wide for them.

But what do you notice about the colour combination?

If you said the yellow paint is clashing with the pink beige stone, YES, you’re right. Pink beige and yellow don’t work well together.

So which element should be shifted?

To my eye, the stone retaining wall looks good with the sidewalk and checkered paving beyond that, the warm brick “border” and even the roof (which is really not a bad colour for this house at all).

I would eliminate the yellow for sure, and leave the stone as is. I would also paint the brick to create a less busy and disjointed look in this case. 

Here is a rough mockup of this house painted a pink beige complex cream to calm the look down and relate to the stone. If you purchased my Exterior masterclass, the colour of this house can be found on the Facebook page.

Much better right? I added the cool cactus sculpture to the left side in a lime green to pick up the foliage of the palm tree.

I would go further with water smart plantings along the foundation and the border of the yard at least. While installing rocks instead of lawn might seem water smart, in the grand scheme of things, stark rock-scapes, like urban areas lacking in green life, are HOT, plants moderate temperatures, attract and retain cool moisture, build and preserve soil and create fresh air. 

They are worth a bit of maintenance. 

Xeriscape Inspiration

Here’s an inspiring article for creating a landscape that is an alternative to water hungry lawn. 


Aside from a new coat of paint, this is where I would start. Thinking of your exterior facade as an elegant and simple backdrop for a beautiful landscape is always the best strategy. 

If you’d like your house to fill you with happiness when you arrive, see our exterior eDesign packages here.

Learn how to choose exterior colours in my masterclass here.

Related posts:

Ask Maria: Help me Choose a Colour for my Retaining Wall

The Best Way to Choose Exterior Stone (Ugly is on Sale, DON’T buy It)

Dos and Don’ts for Choosing the Right Fence Colour


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  • Marguerite says:

    Elegant amd calming solution. Maria you’re a genius.

  • Holly says:

    Why can’t you re-paint aluminum? The last time I checked, you can, and we plan on painting our 12 dark bronze windows white to match the three new white windows we just put in. Would that be a mistake?

    • Christine says:

      I also painted my Aluminum Chocolate Brown windows 15 years ago. Never looked back. It’s totally doable.

      Somewhat tedious and labour intensive to start, as you will need a good cleaning & bonding primer and a really good quality topcoat ie Ben Moore Aura Exterior Soft Gloss with 2 coats to finish.

      We have had very little problems and has bought us 15 years of crisp white trim.

      • Holly says:

        Oh, thank you for responding to this question, Christine! All I could think of when I started reading this post is there goes $1000.00 in white windows! Phew!

    • Jane Beard says:

      in my experience, it peels off. I hope yours doesn’t. But it happened to the neighbors on either side of us.

      • Holly says:

        Ugh….I feel defeated. I’m not sure which way to go here. All I know is I’ve got a mixture of window colors right now. Thanks for your response, Jane. Maybe your neighbors didn’t prep and primer the windows good enough before painting.

    • Gina says:

      Hi Holly. Thanks for your comments! I should clarify… The windows themselves are vinyl, but the roof trim and exterior windowsills are white powder coated aluminum. ~Gina

    • June says:

      My neighbors painted their bronze aluminum, too. It’s white now. They did it 5 years ago and it’s looking fine.

  • Shannon Nembach says:

    So smart as always Maria!

  • Ruthie says:

    Wonderful post! Thank goodness she is not paining the retaining wall on top of the sidewalk. Your idea of more plantings will really help the look!!

  • Bette says:

    Yay. So glad you recommended what you did. We can’t see the house in context, but my guess is, other houses on that block have the same sidewalks, bricks, and retaining walls. Keeping them makes sense. What we also can’t see are the hard, glare-y, dark glass solar panels the owner is installing on the roof, nor the hard, shiny metal car(s) parked in the driveway. Too much hot, shiny, hard, glaring metal and glass. I love your recommendation to add desert-appropriate plantings.

    • Gina says:

      Hi Betty. Thank you for your comment! What you say makes sense, but as it turns out we are the only one on the entire block with a retaining wall so that’s why I wondered about changing it. ~Gina

  • Wendy says:

    Your suggestions are A+++…well done Maria!

    But I do think the pink retaining wall could go. Yes, it’s not awful with its surrounding colors, but painting it the new body color would calm things further, esp with new handsome specimen plantings. I also believe some xeriscape plants can drape over the wall and soften the horizontal lines.

  • Linda Gail Trammel says:

    I love the solution. Looks totally different and much better for less cost it seems. I am a little confused though about the brick. Maria said to eliminate the yellow and paint the brick. Aren’t they the same thing? Maybe she meant they are the same.

    • Maria Killam says:

      The brick has not been deleted, it should all simply be the same colour which it now has been photoshopped to be. Stone or brick installed on a waterline like this rarely looks amazing. Better painted out. Good question! Maria

  • michelle says:

    I rarely disagree with Maria but I prefer the house with the shutters. In the finished photo with the cream paint the house lacks something. Wouldn’t shutters in the same color as the roof or brick border pull it all together? Cream + terra cotta + cacti?

    • Stephanie says:

      I was wondering about that too Michelle. With the original colors, the house looks better without the shutters. I like the proposed complex cream but it seems as though something is missing. Maybe painting the shutters and front door the roof color to provide some interest? Maria what are your thoughts about that?

      • Maria Killam says:

        Well it’s missing landscaping. . . and sure if this was your house you could keep the shutters but mostly shutters should look like they can close over the window so I think it’s really rare when shutters work on a large window although sometimes they do. It’s a case by case basis and in this case, I feel it’s better without them. However, it’s just my opinion, doesn’t mean it’s right. Thanks for your comment! Maria

    • murt says:

      I think the shutters on only one window is weird so I can see removing them, but I agree, the final look is way too boring/depressing for me.

  • Fran W. says:

    So much better!

  • Anne says:

    As landscaping is considered, I would think about succulents, especially those that can “trail” down over the wall a bit. Flowering Mezoo, trailing ice plant (Aptenia cordifolia variegata) and many more would be lovely in a xeriscape garden and soften the wall.

  • Sheree L says:

    Love the color of the exterior that you have chosen, Maria. And I 100% agree about landscaping being a major factor in helping the home to really shine! I live in the Phoenix AZ area and have some lovely low-water, no-grass desert landscaping (thanks to the homeowners from whom we purchased the house). With the right plans and plants, it can make a world of difference! Best wishes to Gina and would love to see how it all turns out!

  • Gina says:

    Yaaaaayyyy! I almost jumped out of my chair when I pulled up this post… Because it’s my house! Maria….I feel so honored that you answered my question in a post. I read everything you post so this is a big deal for me. My one regret is that I didn’t mention we were considering a medium charcoal colored roof, because the paint color we have chosen is a medium-light pinkish taupe (Benjamin Moore “Shabby Chic”) and we like this combination as we’ve seen it on a few houses in the area, and the color relates well with the pink retaining wall. Had I included that detail, I suspect you would’ve worked your Photoshop magic to show us if that would work as well. Oh, well..
    I missed that opportunity, but I am so appreciative of the other details, some of which I had already decided to do thanks to learning from you!!
    If anyone else out there wants to weigh in on that color combination, please comment! I’d love to hear from y’all.

    • jess says:

      This looks like a hot area, might a medium charcoal roof get pretty hot?

      Agree with the xeriscaping ideas, add some softness. Wavy clumpy grasses are good for that and would also suggest using native plants to the area. they will grow better and use less water.

      I see so many homeowners (not you, Gina 😉 not understand that they have exterior fixed design elements within which to work. Mismatched roofs to house paint colors, trim, driveways, walls, seem to be the norm. Few homeowners seem to grasp that it all needs to be cohesive, to look best.

      • ClaireSN says:

        I agree, Gina. Charcoal seems out of place in your environment, which seems a calm pinky sand. There’s another article on Maria’s blog that shows another desert environment done well. Search for “Ralph Lauren Home” on this site. Are you thinking charcoal so those solar panels will blend into the roof better? Can you find some already-installed solar panels in your area to see what colors they really reflect?

  • Patti says:

    I wonder how you determine retaining wall color, do you try to coordinate with house color? Or Flagstone or driveway color? What if you have a concrete driveway that would go up against the retaining wall then is grey the best choice even if your house is pink beige? I think that would be such a difficult choice given the expense. I am glad this person doesn’t need to paint their wall, that sounds like a lot and I love the cream Maria chose!

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