Painting with Historically Accurate Colors

Project: Bob's Shingle Style Home, Episode 13, Part 3

Work begins on the landscape around the house; Bob assesses the limited space with a landscape architect. An arborist is on site to start trimming the hemlocks away from the house. Inside, Bob explains the lighting and mechanical fixtures going into the walls, and Ryley installs a pocket door in the kitchen. An historical paint expert is on site to do some archaeology and help pinpoint the right colors for the house's exterior.

Part 1: Beginning the Landscaping
Part 2: Looking Behind the Walls and Installing a Pocket Door
Part 3: Painting with Historically Accurate Colors
Bob meets with Brian Powell, an architectural conservator from the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. Brian helps Bob determine the original 1897 exterior paint color scheme. They then look at different color combinations painted on the outside of the house, all of which are historically appropriate alternatives.
This project centers around the remodel of Bob Vila's own gracious Shingle Style home in Cambridge, MA. It's a house with a lot of history and beautiful architectural details, many of which were obliterated in remodels of the 50s and the 70s. On the centennial of the house's construction, Bob gets together the best talents in the business to recreate and renew it to its former glory, making some important modifications along the way that will transform this into a dream house for today.

Also from Bob's Shingle Style Home

Hi I'm Bob Vila. Welcome home again.

You know today really is kind of the midway point in this project. We're just about finished with the rough work.

And we're going to be looking at the some of the stuff that gets hidden in the walls before all the plasterboard gets installed. Also, we'll meet with Rick and Nancy Lamb, our landscape architect here in Cambridge, who are going to help me assess the backyard, figure out what trees to keep and which ones to discard.

Also Rob Riley's on the scene. He's going to be helping us install a pocket door.

Stick around. It's good to have ya home again.

Bob Villa's home again.

You know, I'm a firm believer in bringing in the design professionals. And right now we're going to meet Rick and Nancy Lamb who are landscape architects.

Hi, how are you?

Hi Bob, nice to see you.

Good to see you.

Hi Bob.

And one of the things that we need to talk at this point is what this backyard is gonna do for me. I mean, it's a sizable backyard, maybe 75 by 30 or 35.

That's pretty close.

And yet we know that we don't wanna create a big grassy area that I have to mow every Saturday morning. and we know that it's New England climate. That we have a lot of snow to look at out the windows in the living room, and so forth. So, you're gonna help me figure out what to do with this backyard.

What are the assets?

We'd like to make it a garden for you, not just a yard.

Yeah, we'll you've inherited some good mature material.


Probably put in a generation ago.


It's also been forgotten probably, for a generation. Your hemlocks, as you see, will give you wonderful protection.

In corners of the lot we have these hemlocks, right.

And this hemlock, if it were taken away, you would expose a great big five story building. So, in a good urban garden, that's a nice block.


These hemlocks up here, give you good protection against this house. But also, or their negative, is that it's they're overgrown and they're, very heavy. So they need to be, they need to be really thinned out.

And what about things like these rhododendrons? You know, we've been working here now for several months and they, they in bloom and they're not at all my favorite color. These are white.

Well, these are white.


And these rhodendrons actually. You can, you can actually lower and tighten up rhododendrons by removing their new growth and get them a little bit tighter.

This rhododendron here, some of it has died back 'cause of winter.


This could be cut down. It happens to not be your color.

It's a hot pink, yeah.

And so, this one probably would be best to either totally and completely remove.

I like that.

And this one -

Here's your best plant. Your coosa dogwood.

This one here?

Yeah, your -

The coosa dogwood.

I mean the bargains is really just getting to be wonderful with the modulations.

Of course, this rhododendron has to go so that the coosa can thrive.

It's one, your bad color.


It could be fine with the coosa in competition, but you can't really move it because of its proximity to the dogwood -

To the rootball.


- so to really, it really just gets taken out.

Now the coosa as it gets older has this wonderful peeling or exfoliating bark.

Yeah, isn't that beautiful.

And it needs a little bit of pruning. You've got this one shoot which is not normal to its growth . . .

This one here.

That one.


That goes away. This, this is really a prize tree.

Unlike the flowering dogwood, which we're used to, this blooms on its leaves rather than before it leaves and it's not susceptible to what's killing the regular flowering dogwood.

Speaking of killing, we had all our red cedar shingles, some of them are treated with fire-retardant, we have them all piled up here and are afraid that all of a sudden the kousa started dropping leaves like mad.

Well, you can see that and one of the reasons it did was here, it's a very aromatic shingle.


And either the vapor from being under the cover, or rain in washing down probably affected it.

Now, having moved it a short time ago, look what's happening, you're getting a whole new regrowth of the leaves that had dropped off before. Even though

the orientation of the living room is southerly, we're looking kind of directly here. We

do get views of the neighboring house.


One of my concerns is how do we create some privacy without stealing all there


Well, what we want to do is give privacy to their kitchen area. We'll give them a

filtered view into your garden. It'll be like giving them the good side of a fence,

because they're material will follow this on and they'll get the fullest part of the

material. We do want to extend your view down to the spruce and the maples

further on.

So the trick is, since we are in a tight urban situation, is to try to let the eye go far far

away. The sequence that.

As often as you can.

share and protect.

You want to steal the textures.


You want to build new textures from what you seeing a long way. They'll add

together so the whole pallet is working, whereas in a big country place you're

adjusting it in a whole different manner. that's why you need the professionals. Now, the trees here, the hemlock that we're talking about and the ones along the side are real problems and I noticed you brought us an arborist today.

Charlie Cummings is here and is ready, has mounted the tree, and ready to...


... talk about how to deal with it.

I think I'll climb up there and meet him and interview him and I'll let you guys get back to the drawing board, okay?

Good to see ya.

Great. Thanks.

Thanks. Perfect.

Now Charlie, let me interrupt you here for a minute.

Oh hi, Bob.

Hi. You've got trees here that are probably pretty old, right?

Well you've got four hemlock trees here that are about fifty years old and I really don't think there's been any type of tree-work done in them for that period of time.

No, and we hacked at them a little bit when we were staging up here and rebuilding the roof and stuff, but obviously we haven't done things right. How do you go about removing some of this growth that's kind of coming right on top of the house.

Well, what I'm doing now is I'm Moving any dead limbs that I find in the tree and I'm pruning them back to a healthy limb.

So you'd be putting a cut, where?

I'm putting a cut right at what we call the collar of the of the limb. And that way there it ensures that limb is going to heal over properly.

At what you call the collar of the limb?



In that collar you can almost see it and what the tree does is, it will heal over at that point.

And you cut it at a slash? At an angle, right?

And this particular branch I would cut at an angle because that's where the collar wants to heal.


But what about when you have big branches, like you have up there that are eight or ten feet over the roof?

What we're going to do, we're gonna tip back all of these branches to allow more air circulation around the house to eliminate the branches from touching the buildings. Also -

Lets look at this one, for example. Show me how, where you would tip something like that.

What we're going to do with this one, and every branch is going to be a little different. As for what we could take out of the branch. Because of the fact that what and how many limbs it has growing on it.


So this particular branch, I can clip back into an area like this. And you can see that raises right back and gives us fairly good clearance.

OK. So that the key is kind of gauging how much the big branch is going to lift up.

The key is the... Ronnie, can you take this branch from me?

The key is how healthy the branch is that you are clipping back and how much growth it has on it to do it properly. And then the key is taking a certain amount of
weight on to see how it's going to bounce back.

Yeah. And from the homeowner's perspective, though, the key is not to catch a lot of this stuff in the gutters and on your roof.


And also in the winter, it's great to have all the screening that you get from the tree, the privacy from from the neighboring house and to see the birds and the snow in the bows.

But you don't wanna have these branches rubbing up against you know.

No you don't. The other thing is we want to thin these lightly to allow more air circulation into the tree.


It allows less wind damage. We eliminate any hazards such as large broken limbs, so they don't hurt anybody when they fall.

Okay, all right I know your going to have to climb into some of these. We are going to have to break for messages, don't go away. We're up on the second floor now, and we're in the process of hanging up all the blueboard. And closing in it. And I thought we'd take a minute, and talk about, what's inside the walls and in the ceilings.

If you look at this partition, which is between my bathroom and the back hall. Here, you see evidence of a door that was framed in.

In the original frame, back in 1897. Look at how they trussed it there to carry the load from above.

You know, labor was cheap. There was plentiful talent.

But let's get together with Greg Rockland, our architect, who is here today and we can talk a little bit about some of the very modern day appliances that are going in. These recessed light kits. They're low voltage, right?

Yes, Bob. These are Lightolier low-voltage, miniature, wall washers. And this is, runs on 12 volts, converted from 110 from this wire to the transformer.

So you feed it in. I see. You feed in regular 110 and then the little transformer converts it to a low voltage.

Right. And this this allows allows us to make an extremely small fixture, which is very good in this kind of renovation work where we've got joint spacing. We don't know what it's going to be like, and we're trying to get lighting at an even spacing and it gonna just have this lapasure 3 and a half inches that we have to get and we can space that out you can see fairly evenly.

So we've got six or eight of them. And they can be focused, and you can, like if you had a collection of family photographs on the wall, you can aim right at each one, right.

That's right. These things have a very good advantage. They're called hot focus and that after you install the light and the trim, and you have the art on the walls, you could actually reach inside and adjust the bulb and the lens to get the light exactly where you want it.

I like that.

And it can be changed later on

That's great.

as you change your pictures.

Let's go inside the bathroom and look at some of the framing that been done in there. Now, the ceiling in here has an the usual cornice treatment. What's the story?

You got a set of closets coming in from California Closets. They're pre-made and they're this height, they go to here.


They don't go any farther. So you brought the ceiling down to accomadate those. At the same time, we've taken that revealer that's gonna produce a runner all the way around the room architectural feature.

That's nice. And then we have got more of the same lights in the ceiling here that can be focused in so that you can see your dark suits or whatever in there.

That's right. And again, they're hot adjustable so once you get the closets, you can adjust them.

Then in the bathroom section you've framed in... what do you call it, a soffit? But why have you used metal instead of wooden studs here?

Well, the only thing we're attaching to this is plasterboard.


And we don't have to nail any trim to it and by making out of metal it's very quick to do; you can keep it very straight.

Yeah. You've got everything in here, you have got the hot air being delivered through here and you've got two more of these lighting units here so that you can aim down, and this of course will be a vanity area which I believe the shape of this reflects the shape down here, right?

That's correct.

At the counter, the counter will be the same kind of romboid shape. What is in the chase back here?

Well, this is a little sensor that senses the temperature of the hot water coming up in this pipe. This is the feed to the hot water side of your sink faucet.And when the temperature goes down below a hundred degrees, this sends a signal to the basement, and the boiler fires again, and brings hot water up through this pipe up to this point.

We are bringing this place into the twenty-first century. There's no doubt about it.

Of course we'll have another light underneath the mirror, right?

Underneath, underneath the medicine cabinet.

Sounds good. And and then here what we've got is a pocket door so that we can close off the bath from the dressing area.

And to learn more about how these are installed let's go downstairs and find Bob Riley. Hey, Riley!

Well that saw makes quick work out of that right?

Oh, it sure does, yeah!

This is steel and wood insert.


And this is all the components for our pocket door, right?

Yeah, this is the last stud of right now. I just want to put a pilot hole in the top here.


And we are standing in the entry way from the main hall downstairs, into the kitchen area and I guess the design cost are a pocket door in this location.

Yeah, it sure does.

Because we've got, well it's complex. We've got a closet here, it's like a broom closet, and this will have a swinging door.

And we figured we didn't want a second swinging door into the hall because that ends up being left in the open position all the time. And there's a nice expanse of wall here that would allow us to hang a big poster or something. So, the pocket door is the answer.

And this a kit and the components are pretty basic, right?

Sure is. Just a track on the top which we have already placed.


Put in place. And then we have these metal studs. They're going to create a cavity for the door to ride into.

Can I give you a hand?

You sure can.

Now this is a heavy duty frame, right?

This is, yes, this is a good frame. That's the key to these pocket doors, is making sure you get a good, a good heavy frame with good hardware, which is what we've got here.

Yeah, 'cause there's nothing more frustrating than trying to fix a flimsy pocket door frame after the wallboard's already been put up.


And now where do these go?

This is the "in" piece, it's going right over here. Got to get right up against that header.

Get the bottom first.

You've got to be pretty precise with even though it falls on the round rough carpentry.

Right we've already pre-cut this so that it is going in good and plum.

Alright, now how do you determine that the door line up perfectly with the outer edge of the wall here.

Well that's the most important part of the pocket door installation and what we've got we gonna use this template again. Set it in here.

The template is just a ripped down piece of 2X4 that's the exact 28 inch width of the door.

Right, and this is the mock-up of how our trim is going to be exact exactly, and we want to be sure that we have a stop along that jamb over there.

Okay and so you've already put in some shims to make up the difference and this is a half-inch rubber stop that comes with the door kit, so this goes right here right?


OK, I need a screw gun.

There you go.

Are you gonna go head and put that up there?


Okay. This is the runner for the doors and this nut here is going to help us adjust the door to make it plum when we hang it.

And that's at finished stage, but right now we'll make sure we don't lose any of our hardware by keeping it up there along with the template.

Here you go Joining us now is Bryan Powell, Architectural Conservator with the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities.

Hi Bob.

That's a heck of a handle. How are you?

Pretty good. How you doing?

We've challenged you to try to determine what the original paint scheme was, the original colors for this hundred-year-old house.

And I guess you start off with a little tool like this, huh?

We start out looking for areas where we know we've got thick layering. And after we find that, we'll cut a little plug out, including the paint.

Take it back to our lab and part of that plug, we cast in polyester resin.

Oh, look at this. So you take a sample where there's a lot of paint, thick layering, as you say, and then you've cast it in resin.

Yeah, polish the surface.


Then we put that under the microscope. And we're able to see a layering sequence like this.

And you're able to take a photograph like this?

Yes, through the microscope. We're seeing this at a 125 times magnification.

Alright, well clearly that's the original wood of the column right.

Yeah and we're confident that we're seeing an original paint here. That wood is nice and fresh.
If it has spalled off and weathered we'd be seeing something else, that's our original treatment, kind of an ivory, and as you can see, four more times it gets painted in that color before we move into the darker pallete.

The dark green pallete.

Yes, and if we were to look at your door surround you'd see it begins
in this darker sequence, therefore we're able to known from from paints that your door surround is not original to the house.

Detective work.

Yes it is.

Really cool.

And then continues into tan or earth tones, and then back to what it has now, which is almost the same as it originally had.

Yes, full circle.

Futile anyway, lets go around the back and talk about some different color schemes that we can get on the shingles and the trim.

All right we have an array of colors on the south wall of the house and so This, you suggest, is the original combination?

We've got this dark green body color. This is our ivory trim, classic. You see it all over the landscape

This is 1897 here.

Yeah, kind of very late shingle becoming colonial revival.

Ok, and then an alternative is right next to it, is to not go with such a dark color scheme, but to go something much lighter, like this kind of tan or khaki.

Yeah, of course the classic for a shingle house is a dark brown like the one we have next door. But in speaking to you earlier, to lighten up the pallette, as long we're staying in kind of earth tones and grays, we're safe.


So if we use this light brown as a body color...


We could go with either one of these trim and window combinations. Either this kind of gray with a darker brown sash, darker brown trim and this nice dark green sash.

Now, the greens and the reds that we're looking at over here, are the color schemes that I saw when we visited the Frederick Law Olmsted homestead, here in Brookline Massachusetts. and his house is an 1810 federal that was more or less Victorianized and added onto in the 1880s.

And this is a color scheme that I thought also could be appropriate, what do you think?

That is a real handsome scheme and very appropriate for a house of this age. I must say I really go for those dark colors.

I'm glad to hear that, Bryan thanks for coming along, we got to break for some messages, don't we?

Well that's a rap. Come home again next time we are going to be building a staircase from the basement up to the kitchen.

And it's called a housed staircase, a style that was very common in the early 1800's.

Also we're trimming out the dinning room, putting back the doors that were missing from the sideboard. And upstairs we'll be starting our ceramic tile work.

Until then I'm Bob Vila, it is good to have you home again.



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