Learn about Historical Paint Colors …. resource list with links

Timeless Colors in Every Sense of the Word

Many modern paint companies have developed historical paint color lines and I use these valuable resources to try and help you maintain just the right level of authenticity in your home. We’re looking for the perfect colors, rich in history, yet fitting seamlessly into the modern world. Your home need not be a period piece to reflect what it was.

Consider the clues to be found; like a surface within a rarely repainted closet, original color exposed on top of moldings, or what is behind the old wallpaper. You may even wish to undertake a sand-and-scrape analysis – if you do, keep in mind the colors are likely faded.

Yet, if you do it in an unexposed corner on the inside of a closet, it will likely be the original color. Many people have the impression that our ancestors lived in a world of muted and “tasteful” shades when – at the time – the color was fresh, new and vibrant.

Color historians have compiled information from sources including paint company archival color card collections, historical color trends, art and fashion, and micro-analysis of paints and pigments.

Below is a resource list of articles and websites devoted to historical paint color with the hope that it offers more information to support you in making good paint color choices.

Painting in Partnership Inc. – The History of Paint Colors in America

This post – derived from a 1946 supplement to the Armstrong Paint Company’s employee magazine, “The Armstrong Paint Pot” – is a short, but rich history of house painting in America beginning in Charleston in 1630, when a clergyman was charged with the sacrilegious crime of painting the interior of his house. It was then the Dutch that created whitewash with lime and oyster shells, and they used Red Oxide and Copper Oxide for red and green interior wall hues. The Dutch also made paint with milk, egg white, coffee and boiled rice. In 1804 the first white lead plant was built in Philadelphia and then in 1855 zinc oxide white pigment was invented in Europe and the process of making paint in America was eventually called zinc oxide making.

US Department of the Interior – National Park Service Historical Preservation Briefs

This Brief is about historic interior paints and choosing new paints for historic interiors. It discusses the constituents of historic paints and what they were used for. It also discusses the two major types of paint – water based and oil based, and in the mid 20th century paints could be divided according to the type of binder used. The article explores the difference between historical and modern paints, production, color and type of brush marks they create. It then discusses decorative painting techniques and the role they played in the restoration of churches, theaters, courthouses and historic preservation in general. The document goes on to relate how paint is investigated by experts for the purpose of preservation, rehabilitation, and restoration of historic buildings and then suggestions for particular circumstances. Intriguing!!

Old House Journal – Article 1

This is a guide to historic color palettes available today through Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams and other specialty companies. From historic color palettes to old-fashioned paint formulas, find the right fit for your house’s walls with this source list.

Old House Journal – Article 2

This article goes inside paint research. High-tech methods make it easier than ever to uncover and re-create historic paint finishes.

Old House Journal – Researching early paint colors and schemes at a landmark house

House of Seven Gables, 17th century mansion, made famous by Hawthorne’s novel, is a curious preservation study. Researchers explored a closet by the hearth that had very little repainting done. With scientific sleuthing a verdigris varnish finish was reproduced.

The Money Pit – New Hints for Old Tints

This article highlights the Benjamin Moore Collections of ready-mixed historical color paint and refers to five American architectural styles and paint color characteristics thereof.

Colonial (mid-1600s to 1780):. Earthy reds, indigos, ochre and burnt umber were popular and these organic pigments were easy to transform into oil-based paints.
Federal (1780 to 1830): Creams, pumpkins, sage greens and muted blues characterized the style.
Greek Revival (1825 to 1855): Made from wood, these buildings are invariably painted white. Accent colors were rarely used but could include black, dark greens and gold.
Victorian (1840 to 1900): Multicolored walls, asymmetrical detailing and steeply pitched roofs are common features. Wooden lacework, patterned shingles, conical turrets and decorative brackets completed the look. Dark mulberries, gingers, moss greens, brick reds and buffs were used in decoration.
Colonial Revival (1900 to 1940): Features commonly associated with the revival period are a balanced facade, front doorways with sidelights, multi-paned windows and gabled roofs. Mid-blues, grays and taupes define the style’s palette.

Retro Renovation Blog – a reference list of historic paint color collections available today

Retro Renovation’s own list of historic paint colors from Colonial to Mid Century homes available today.

ArtFirst – Mary MacMurray – Portland based historical color consultant

This Portland based color consultant has a comprehensive portfolio of historical color and color consulting projects. She’s rich in experience and ideas and I enjoy being her competitor.

Follow our work below: