Painting with Historically Accurate Colors

Architectural conservator Brian Powell helps Bob do some detective work to discover the original exterior paint color scheme. They then look at historically appropriate alternatives.

Clip Summary

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.
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.