Painting Historic Homes

What colors should I use on my historic home?

Paint colors are a very individualized need, which is in part why Fall River’s Local Historic District does not dictate what colors can be used.

Professional historic paint color guidelines can be found in many books and on-line reference sites, and we can give you a few tips here too.

The best way to find what color your house used to be is by hiring a paint consultant. Paint consultants can literally whittle away your homes layers of paint to get all the way down to the original. If you don’t want to go through that expense, you can always look at history. A century ago, many Fall River homes were painted grey. Why is that?

Soot, of course. Given all of the mills (130 of them), and burning of coal as the primary heating source, Fall River had a lot of damned soot, that made white, and other bright colors bad choices for exterior paint color, and made grey a safe bet. But look around Fall River, you also see a lot of shingles. A good many homes used red cedar shingles. Red cedar was and still is considered naturally rot resistant, and you do not need to paint it at all, but don’t forget to paint the trim…grey maybe.

Fall River doesn’t have so much soot anymore, so being historically accurate is great, but most people won’t fault you for wanting to add a little color. There are some great photo books of the Victorian Painted Ladies. The Painted Ladies expressed a time frame when Victorian home-owners became especially flamboyant with bright paint colors, and using multiple colors to exemplify their homes architectural styles and features. San Francisco is well known for their historic districts’ painted ladies. 

Just in case that isn’t enough information to confuse you, another common guideline is to use natural colors, blues for the sky, red as in brick or clay, tans, browns, and greens for earth. You see these combinations frequently in Cape May’s historic district.

Color themes changed during different historic periods, and also the architectural styles which of course changed during different historic periods: Colonial1625-1725, Georgian 1725-1780, Federal 1780-1820, Greek Revival 1820-1860, Italianate 1840-1880, Gothic 1840-1880, Victorian 1860-1900, Second Empire1855-1885, Stick Style 1860-1890, Queen Anne 1880-1915, Colonial Revival 1885-1920, Shingle 1880-1900, and Craftsman 1900-1935.

Please note that this is only a very basic guideline, and we can assure you that if you research hard enough, you will find opinions that vary just as much as you might imagine your options to be.

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