Historically Accurate, or Just Ugly?
Q: Have you ever
discovered original home colors that were so hideous that you didn't use them
even though they were "historically correct"?
The debate rages between sticking to the original, or going with more modern hues
Q: I'm always amazed that such care is
taken to return old homes to their original colors, as determined by painstaking investigation, with apparently no consideration that the original owner might have been a tasteless idiot. Have you ever discovered original colors that were so hideous that you didn't use them even though they were "historically correct"?
— Chuck, Black Mountain, NC
Steve Thomas replies: No, but close. In 1991, at our
Kirkside project in Wayland, Massachusetts, we were firsthand witnesses
to a collision between modern taste and historical accuracy. After
exactly the kind of investigation you describe, we found that the
outside of the 1815 house, which had been painted white for many years,
had originally been ochre with green shutters. Not everyone wanted us to
put those colors back on the house—including the members of the Wayland
Historical Commission. But after a lot of discussion, history won out
and the commission okayed the original hues. Many people loved them, but
I'm sure some folks still grumble every time they pass by. There's just
no pleasing everyone when it comes to house colors. Here in New England,
white was the rage during the Greek Revival period in the early to
middle 1800s. But before and after that, colors were widely used. We
tend to think of them as being muted, but that's partly because what we
see has been dulled by time. Some of the original colors were actually
quite vivid. That goes for interiors, too. Remember that colonial rooms
generally had small windows and were lit by candles, not 60-watt bulbs.
Paints that would seem garish now would have been much easier to
tolerate under the less intense lighting conditions of the day.