Bob Vila's Guide to Historic Paint Colors

Consider these paint color options to preserve the historical accuracy of your home.

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  1. The Georgian Style


    The earliest colonial houses were unpainted, but during the revolutionary era, stylish architecture began to appear on American streetscapes. Named after the English kings who occupied the throne, the proud Georgian house was often dressed in colonial yellow, Spanish brown, or white. Trim colors were most often whites or off whites like sandstone.  


  2. The Federal Style


    After independence, American builders sought to distance themselves from their former masters. The architectural details of Federal style houses tended to be lighter and more attenuated, and the colors, too, as rich creams, softer yellows, peach, and a mix of grays and whites came into vogue. The flow of influences from Great Britain did not end, however, as the Scotland-born Robert Adam promoted such delicate hues as Wedgewood blue, pale green, primrose, and lemon yellow.


  3. The Greek Revival


    The emerging discipline of archaeology distinguished the Grecian from the Roman, and white became the dominant color choice of Greek Revival style in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, echoing the sun-bleached temples of ancient Greece. The trim might also be white or a subtly different stone or parchment color. Shutters were often green, a color that was long thought to be restful (George Washington called it “grateful to the eye”), but the palette was – temporarily – less colorful. 


  4. The Victorian Age


    As paint became less expensive the choices expanded, too, and middle-class houses became more colorful. In the Victorian era, a sequence of styles gained popularity: the Gothic Revival, followed by the Italianate, Second Empire, the Stick Style, and Queen Anne. They were many greens, rosier hues, vibrant golds, and brilliant blues. Deeper and richer colors came to dominate. 


  5. The Bungalow


    Gustiv Stickley and his magazine, The Craftsman, first set the tone for the turn-of-the-twentieth-century house commonly known as Bungalow. He specified essentially organic colors for the exterior, such as natural gray, greens (dull, warm, and moss), bone, and biscuit. Such shades suited the unpainted natural materials with which he paired them, including stone, bricks of various hues, and redwood. Interior woods were usually left unpainted.


  6. Historic Paint Colors


    To find out more about historic paints and colors—how they are researched, authenticated, and translated for today's homes—check out "Historic Paint Colors: A primer for researching and choosing paint colors for the historic home." In addition to gaining more insights into period colors, the article offers valuable resources to help you find the color best suited to your house style.


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