Old House Colors

When I first looked into the subject I was a little surprised by historical paint color hues. When I was a child the colors of houses were of three main types as I remember. There was the stark white with forest green trim and gray porches, that was a mainstay throughout the fifties and sixties for conventional older homes. There was the color that was out of fashion when my parents bought their “old house” for renovation which was something of an ochre color. They called it “Columbus yellow” because so many of the older houses of Columbus, Ohio were painted that shade. Then there was the elegant, if ubiquitous gray and white trim of Evanston, Illinois. That was the home of my aunt and uncle where I spent most of my summers. Huge stucco covered homes mostly in that venerable and dignified color combination. It wasn’t til later that I discovered the deep shades of the Craftsman era, and the unusual combinations and shades of the Victorians. Of course, now, there is a revival of the Victorian Painted Ladies and books and examples of imaginative medleys of color.

My own home had an original paint combination of a wheat gold and deep brown trim. This was a recommended color combo for the time. Andrew Downing, the major arbiter of home design tastes felt it was a reflection of rural fruitfulness and melded well with the landscape. As I remember from reading his writings some years ago, he had a decided dislike for that white and dark green combination. The Victorians were all about picturesque and the deeper harmonizing tones. It was a fashion preference that was to last quite awhile, with the rural areas lagging far behind the times. The Colonial Revival style of the fifties resulted in the white and green that my parents covered the old ochre with… And probably was once used here, although the fact that someone at one time experimented with a lath and stucco facade that was then stripped down for an asbestos shingle… That I ended up removing to expose the old clapboards once again meant that I don’t know for sure. There was a remnant of the stucco on an old chimney connected to what was once the summer kitchen, it was white, but maybe to match the shingles. Old houses are such a puzzle when they have had ambitious remodeling. Not high class, just high energy… In the “remuddling” vein.

I went for a look I wanted rather than a historical rendition. My inspiration turned out to be a picture of a farm from a child’s Golden Book. Yellow Cream with dust blue trim. We tired of that after awhile and it is now more of a golden buttercream ( slightly more yellow than before) with gray trim. I wanted a deeper yellow but my husband was really repelled by the thought. Banana cream would have been so lovely…Oh well. Originally we tried the old white with deep green trim look, but it was very unsatisfactory in winter. This present color blends beautifully with the landscape of crops and wide vistas, and the original deep wheat and brown would have looked very nice, too, if I had a liking for that scheme ( which I don’t).

The paint companies now make it very easy to put together a historically faithful color scheme for anyone’s type of house. I think that is a great improvement over “fashion colors”, although we move through tastes and fashions almost without thinking about it. Exterior painting doesn’t really lend itself to much of that, though…Especially for do-it yourselfers.

I used to do a lot of the helping with that job, but we have younger bodies around here, and the last time the house was painted I didn’t have to do much. Of that job, anyway. I’m a trim person, though. I have lots of patience and it is a job my husband hates. I have done a good job on trimwork but we have a difference of opinion in how it is done. He insists that you paint and mess up the window…Which are razor scraped later. I was taught and prefer that you tape the windows and use a guard to work carefully and not need to clean later ( which btw, often doesn’t get taken care of without lots of nagging from moi) I hate sloppy glops of paint and swipes on the windows. That way, if I do seasonal cleaning and actually get those windows clean, they look pretty.

but back to color.

I like to get ideas of color from something that is pleasing to my eye and successful in situ. I like to view other peoples homes for ideas. And I really hate the way some people try to “break out” of the mold with screaming lavender doors and such. If you love lavender, check out some of those Victorian combinations that give some depth and subtlety…But usually they are time consuming and skillful colors of more than three choices. Most of us stay at three colors, maybe four, to paint our exteriors.

Ok, now everyone can get a copy of “The Big Orange Splot” and read it to their children, but some looks just don’t work, no matter how charming the story may be.
Need help with choosing a color scheme? Maybe this will help:

One of the problems we ran into with the old clapboard was the fact that after being used to take nails from the lath, etc, some of the boards had split a bit, there was a difference in the styles of clapboards from the gaps of time between when certain portions of the house were built. But the biggest consternation was the nails rusting through. It took quite a bit of time before my husband found the right kind of deterrent for that. I’ll ask him just what that was and edit this. But priming those nailheads properly to begin with is important! [Bins Three In One Primer- but it still didn’t solve the problem 100%]

Why didn’t we side? I just don’t like siding… But I think my husband would have preferred it. He probably wouldn’t have preferred the top notch type I would have wanted to buy, though.

Last Word of Advice: No matter what color you choose, get the best quality pain that you can. The Very Best Quality. It will make a difference in the coverage and final look, it will have better pigments, and you will be happiest with the result. The biggest problem with poor remodelers is they short change on the quality of their paints, and materials. There are choices to make, but this isn’t one of them.

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