8 Tips on Choosing Heritage Paint Colors

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heritage paint colorsA popular painting choice for heritage homes is to capture the authenticity of a period with historic paint colors. Indeed, even a home that isn’t, strictly speaking, a heritage property, can be given a special cache by the effective use of historic house colors. Here are some great tips on choosing heritage paint colors for your home.

8 Tips on Choosing Heritage Paint Colors

1. Know your history. A good place to start is to do some research on the era of the house – or the era which you’re aspiring to evoke. Ready-mixed paints were not commercially available until the 1800s, but that won’t prevent you from discovering the colors you’ll need and doing a little custom mixing to get the right look. The first thing to remember is that historical colors should emulate or evoke local organic materials. For instance, it was the colors of the area’s earth and rocks that gave New England its distinct reds and browns. Since, until the 1900s, many paints were based on organic pigments, colors such as mauves and maroons were not available and you’ll undermine any sense of authenticity by using them.

2. Know the local rules. If you actually live in a designated historic district, the local paint-Nazis might use government regulation to remove the choice from your hands. To avoid getting caught up in that mire of red tape, make inquires with the local heritage board or building officials before you get your heart set on any specific color schemes.

3. Placing your period in place. For those in the USA, this is a popular option, but it pays to know your identifiable periods of American architecture. These will guide you in your choice of historic paint colors.

4. The Colonial Period (from the mid-1600s to 1780):  As they arrived from Europe, early colonists brought with them the popular architectural styles of their homelands. Along the East Coast were built Colonial-style homes. These were also found along the Gulf Coast and portions of the Southwest. Characteristic of the Colonial house are one or two-story buildings, two rooms deep and with symmetrical windows. For this style of house popular colors were earthy reds, indigos, ochre and burnt umber.

5. The Federal Period (from 1780 to 1830):  The dominant style of the new Republic was what is called the Federal style. It was highly concentrated in the prosperous port cities of the East Coast, such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Savannah. These houses may be box-like with sidelights and fanlights surrounding the front door. The characteristic historic house colors of this period were creams, pumpkins, sage greens and muted blues.

6. The Greek Revival Period (from 1825 to 1855): This period’s influence was largely limited to the public buildings of Philadelphia and Washington, DC and the full-colonnaded mansions of the south. A distinguishing feature of the classic look of this style is a portico across the front. These buildings were made of wood and invariably painted white. Only very rarely were accent colors ever used, though they could occasionally have black, dark greens or gold.

7. The Victorian Period (from 1840 to 1900): Ah, the Victorians, few left such distinctive marks upon their followers. The era coincided with the reign of, and is named after, Queen Victoria of Britain. By this period there was a marked growth in the popularity of wooden ornamentation thanks in large measure to the industrial development of mechanized saws and lathes. Consequently, during this period, we see a shift to much more multicolored walls, accented with asymmetrical detailing and characterized by steeply pitched roofs. Other distinguishing features were the wooden lacework, patterned shingles, conical turrets and decorative brackets. As to historic paint colors, if this is the look you’re aspiring to achieve, go with dark mulberries, gingers, moss greens, and brick reds.

8. The Colonial Revival Period (from 1900 to 1940): This period tended to be a bit on the ersatz side of things. The homes of this period were rarely historically correct style copies of the original Colonial period. It might be more useful to think of them as eclectic interpretations, merely (sometimes loosely) inspired by the Colonial era. These houses commonly had balanced facades, front doorways with sidelights, multi-paned windows and gabled roofs. Your palette of historic paint colors for this era should include mid-blues, grays and taupes.

I hope these tips on choosing heritage paint colors helps you in choosing the right historic paint colors for your home, so your period renovation project has the historic house colors true to its period and your tastes.


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