Life in the big old house: Exterior painting season arrives | Coastal Life

A two tone Craftsman color palette, featuring a light yellow trim.

Soon, as the weather warms, owners of historic homes will begin thinking about painting exterior surfaces. Though modern paint technology has given us a plethora of colors to choose from, painting remains an unending cycle.

The color selection process can be overwhelming. Choosing exterior paint is a commitment and expense, one not easy to change.

I separate the historic paint selection process into three strategies, varying between homeowners. Some purists insist on using strictly historic and accurate tones, limiting choices to colors that were previously used on the structure. This strategy is often reserved for restorations of important historical buildings.

Others prefer to choose a historically appropriate palette. I prefer this strategy, but I can be a purist at times. I look to choose color palettes that were available and popular for the style and period of the house. Each period had a selection of fashionable colors. The further back in time, the fewer colors there were to choose from.

Then there are other homeowners simply uninterested in previous paint hues or historic color charts. There is nothing that says a house has to be any color other than what the owner wants. Paint colors are changeable, temporary and do not cause permanent damage.

Tritone harmony

Paint swatches show a set of three tones intended for use on a sash, body and trim.

That said, residents need to choose a color scheme they can live with for a long time.

Though colors like gray, blue or white may be often used or not historic, sometimes owners may want to simply use colors they prefer. I wanted the Forsstrom House to feature Falu or Finnish Red to celebrate the heritage of Dr. Forsstrom, the home’s original owner. Ironically, this was found to be an original color, so the purist in me is satisfied.

Color choices for historic homes are important, but even more essential is their placement. Great results can come from a dark window sash and door, medium body shade and light colored trim. This pattern appears repeatedly in attractive exterior paint schemes. The dark color makes the window sash and door recede into the architecture. There are a limited number of architectural styles, such as Victorian stick that call for another color placement.

Match color palettes with architecture age and style. Historic architecture pops with appropriate color choices. Colonial Revival has a narrow color palette and is easy to design. Victorian homes in polychromes are complicated and require careful planning.

I was recently contacted by a neighbor for a color consult. He owns a 1920s vernacular Craftsman cottage with a tritone gray palette. His goal is to compliment nearby homes. I plan to add an adventurous color choice.

Historic homes

A vernacular Craftsman cottage sits on a block of historic homes in Astoria.

A well chosen and placed color palette will improve the curb appeal of this home. Colors will be from the Craftsman color palette, with the darkest tones placed on the window sash and door. The front door can be a fourth color of the owner’s choice.

The basement level of this home is separated from its shingled body. This level can be the same color as the window sash or a just a bit lighter or darker. I’ll suggest a light color for trim, though not white, finished up with a medium tone for the first and second floor shingles. There is no demarcation between floors. I do like to paint first and second floors different colors for visual interest.

Color palettes used for this project are from the Benjamin Moore Affinity and Historic Colors Collection. Affinity is a curated color palette with colors of the same undertone. They match no matter what colors are chosen. This is my favorite historic color collection, though other collections have lovely color selections also.

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