Historic Paint Colors: Give Good Advice with These Resources


darkpanelingAs I painted a den today for a family member, I got to thinking about paint colors & historic houses.  (Not that the house I was painting was historic . . . In fact, I was painting a 1968 Ranch style house with dark, faux panel walls (see right) . . . but still, I needed something to think about, right?).  There are a plethora of resources on the internet that offer help in selecting appropriate paint colors for a historic or vintage home.  Whether just looking for a color that is “close enough” & that can be purchased at Lowes, or if you’re looking for an expert consultant that can visit a property & use forensics to determine the actual original paint color, the following resources can help.  Be sure to bookmark these sites (or at least this post) for future reference if you might have a client needing this kind of advice.  (Click Here for Index of 100+ articles here at Historic House Blog!!)

Historic Paint Products – If you are just looking for something “close enough,” and don’t want to pay much for the guidance, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has worked extensively with Valspar® to develop an exclusive national_trustcollection of historic colors documented from historic sites across the country.  The resulting palette, sold exclusively at Lowe’s, features over 250 historic colors which generate much needed revenue to support our efforts to help people protect the historic places that matter to them.  Find National Trust historic paint colors at your local Lowe’s by visiting the Valspar® color display. Look for chips labeled with National Trust for Historic Preservation logo.   If you want to see the offerings online, click here.  It does not appear that their is much guidance or advice on how to target your house’s appropriate period colors, beyond a link to each “subject” property, containing some history, etc.  Perhaps their is more info at the Lowes display.  Either way, if you just want to brag to all of your friends at the bar about how you have the same house color as Betsy Ross, why not go for it!?  And you are supporting a good cause, since a portion of the proceeds go to support the National Trust.

oldecentury2Other companies specialize in mixing old-style paints, inlcluding simulations of historic “milk” paints.  One of those companies is Olde Century Colors.  Olde Century Colors claims that its paints “have been formulated to lead the renaissance of 18th and 19th century architectural interest with unsurpassed quality and color selection. . . . Our milk paints, acrylic latex paints and oil base paints, and gel stains and varnishes are manufactured in small batches with the same meticulous attention to detail as our skilled forefathers.  Olde Century Colors have been carefully selected from 18th and 19th century architectural examples. These warm, rich earth tones reflect a gracious past and provide contemporary elegance. This careful selection process is followed by our unique pigment grinding process and is then guided through the time honored method of batchmaking.”

Consultants.  There are a lot of specialists & consultants who advise homeowners about proper house colors.  One harrisfront_beforeharrisfront_afteraffordable expert is Robert Schweitzer of Historic House Colors, who will suggest a personalized color sheme for your property for about $500.  Schweitzer is the author of the book Bungalow Colors – Exterior, which details the exterior color combinations of Arts & Crafts era homes.  He has also authored over sixty articles in scholarly journals and popular magazines on American architectural history and historic colors. He is a “judge” for National Color Contest of Victorian Homes magazine where he contributes a column on historic exterior painting. His research collection provided many of the historic visual images for the HGTV special “The American Bungalow.” His client homes have been seen on “Restore America,” and “Curb Appeal” TV shows. In October of 2006 one of Rob’s homes won the Grand Prize in the Chicago’s Painted Lady contest. He performs consulting services for homeowners, architects and businesses in the areas of historic preservation, historic design and historic paint colors. By understanding the architectural history of your building, he can develop paint schemes that reflect the original intent of its design and highlight its important design features. He has been researching and teaching in this field for over 25 years and has consulted with homeowners and businesses in nearly every state, in Canada, Australia and India.  To visit his website, click here.

frankwelsh1For projects where the highest level of historic accuracy is desired, there are high-end companies that perform paint “forensics” to establish the exact colors a house used to be (to learn more about this, visit this interesting article on Wikipedia).  One of the best known experts in this field is Frank Welsh, of Welsh Color & Conservation.  Welsh’s architectural restoration projects range from vernacular 18th-century buildings at Valley Forge, to famous sites like Independence Hall, Monticello, and the University of Virginia. Other well known sites include Colonial Williamsburg, the White House, the homes of Abraham Lincoln and John D. Rockefeller, Grand Central Terminal, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. National landmarks include the United States Capitol and state capitols from Pennsylvania and New Jersey to Virginia, Georgia and Florida, plus three centuries of American houses, churches, courthouses, castles, and light houses.  Visit his website here.

Online Resources – Of course, there are always interesting websites that provide lots of good free information to help historic homeowners make decisions about painting their houses.   One such website is Historic Media’s “Old House Colors” website, which includes a wide array of articles & resources for vintage home painting ideas.  Included on their website are interesting articles such as “The Great Divide:  What Happened to Colors In 1900?,” “Cornice Colors for Victorian Homes,” “Roof Colors of Old Houses,” and many more.  Owners of Victorian and early 20th century homes will find this site most useful, since it focuses mostly on Queen Anne through the Craftsman eras.


Other websites, such as This Old House, Old House Journal, etc., have lots of articles & advice that they offer up for free.   On Old House Journal‘s website, the article “Colorful Issues In Choosing Exterior Paint,” by Gordon Bock offers a nice overview of issues historic homeowners should consider.  For that full article, click here.


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