By Andy Meredith
So you’ve found a great old property that you want to restore. You’ve done all of the structural work to get the exterior ready to paint…now what? What color should the house be? Should you look up its original color (if there’s a record of it available)? Or should you go with something a little bit more modern?
As much as Candis and I love getting every detail right on our restorations, we know that we live in the twentieth century and that people aren’t going to want wood stoves or ice boxes for their homes. They want central heating and air, and they want refrigerators with ice makers, and we can’t blame them. With six boys and a baby girl, we want as many modern conveniences in our home as you can get, too. But what does that have to do with paint?
Your Restoration Won’t Be 100% Authentic
If we’re being perfectly honest, you’re never going to have a 100% accurate restoration. Even if you’re renovating a house to make it into a museum instead of a place for a modern couple or family to live, you’re going to have some trouble finding people willing to work with lead or arsenic based paint. A lot of the materials that people used to build their houses back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries weren’t really all that safe, and the EPA will have something to say about it if you try to get that authentic with your restoration.
So, with the knowledge that your restoration isn’t going to be completely authentic, you can let go of the idea that your house absolutely has to have the same colors it had when it was first built. That’s good news and bad news. The good news is that you don’t have to match colors or research to try to find out exactly what color your house was when it was first built. The bad news is that you still have to figure out what colors you’re going to use to repaint it. Fortunately, I have a little bit of insight here.
Look Up Popular Colors of the Time
While your house might or might not have photos, paintings, and records to show what color it was when it was new, you can find out about popular colors of the time with a little bit of online digging. For example, Yankee Magazine has a cool article on the history of house colors in New England. With that kind of reference, you can stay really true to the time period your house was built in.
Take a Walk Through the Neighborhood
If you’re having trouble finding likely colors or colors that you like, you can always take a walk for inspiration, too. If you’re restoring in a historic neighborhood, there are going to be some houses like yours around, and you can get a better idea of the kind of colors you want to use by looking at them.
Now, when I recommend looking at the neighbors’ houses for colors, I don’t mean you should just copy them. Instead, think about the shades of the colors they used. Are the palettes bright or pale? Do they use rich, dark colors, or are they more washed out? If you base your decision on what shades of colors your favorite neighborhood houses have, you’ll be pretty likely to find something fairly authentic that you like and that won’t make your house stand out (in a bad way).
In the end, it’s your house, so it’s your decision. However, if you’re restoring a house to sell it, you do have to think about what your buyers will think and how it fits in the neighborhood.