For a carefree few, choosing a house color is as simple as pointing to paint chips in a contractor's brochure.
For Pasadena homeowner Mary Hayden, it was far more arduous. She purchased no fewer than 24 sample quarts on her quest for the perfect three-color palette. The process soon became an exercise in higher math, with more than 500 possible combinations. And that didn't take into account a fourth color for the front door.
Painting contractor Richard V. Lewis of Laguna Canyon advises his clients to drive around in search of similar homes with pleasing color schemes. If the owners aren't available to reveal paint names, Lewis pulls out his fan deck and matches the hues. It's a process that Margaret Finnegan of South Pasadena calls "paint poaching."
"Someone once saw me outside and asked the colors of my house, which had recently been painted," she said. "It was so wonderful. I felt like I'd aced a test."
Indeed, choosing paint colors can be a test that becomes an obsession, particularly when paint-matching technology allows homeowners to have any color under the sun -- or in the shade. (Pasadena designer Michelle Minch reminds everyone to consider the house's position in relation to the sun and to test colors in morning, afternoon and dusk light.)
These days, technology only fuels the mania. For $10, Benjamin Moore sells software that allows users to upload a photograph of their house, experiment with palettes and order paint samples.
Elizabeth Delgado took a more do-it-yourself approach. She used a book on bungalow colors to narrow selections for a Craftsman in Monrovia, finally settling on deep green, burgundy and cream. The question then became: "What color goes where?" Delgado used Adobe Photoshop to alter a photo of her house and experiment with various combinations for eaves, cross beams and other architectural elements.
Emilio Graff, a Pasadena engineer, went a step further. He created a Java program to simulate scenarios for his house's wood, stucco, chimney and trim. He and his wife, teacher Christina Wenger, have posted the application online so that members of their Facebook communities can submit their favorite combinations.
For the less ambitious, poaching makes perfect. Point out one homeowner who bristles at color clones, and you just may find someone else like Harry Olivar, who lives in a Tudor-style house in San Marino. He didn't just reveal his unusual paint choices to a poacher. He turned over his leftovers.
"It was a confirmation that the house looked good, and it gave me the chance to help someone," Oliver said.
Terry Esparza-Morcos of Hacienda Heights was flattered when her neighbors next door and across the street copied her colors. It prevented the houses from clashing, she said. And it made life easy. When Esparza-Morcos was ready to repaint her home again earlier this year, the decision was practically made for her, she said. "We went with the exact same colors."