Updated: Aug 22
The North Shore of Boston is known for its historic homes and for its appreciation of history. Those two qualities go hand-in-hand when it comes to painting a home that is more than 100 years old. To find out what colors are best for painting the exterior or interior of your historic home, you have four main choices:
Scrape down paint on a surface until you find the oldest paint layer. You can ease the process by scraping paint in an area that was painted infrequently, such as the inside of a closet under the stairs or near the base of a garage. Be careful to wear respiratory protection when you are scraping because old paint will likely contain lead or other contaminants. Those old paint formulas will affect the color, as will fading over time, but you should be able to get a sample that today’s paint stores can match.
Ask older residents if they remember how your house was painted in the past. Reaching back 100 years is unlikely, but knowing how the house was painted 50 or even 60 years ago will help ensure that you don’t stop scraping too soon!
Research in the local museum or newspaper office for period information, photographs, postcards or paintings. In the newspapers of the time, you might find an advertisement describing house paint. Old records of home sales in the early 1900s might even mention the color of your home.
If you cannot discover the original paint colors for your home or for similarly aged homes in your town, you can still choose historically appropriate colors. Many manufacturers of paints provide historical color charts, giving you a selection of paint colors. If your house matches a particular style of the time, such as Greek Revival, you might select from the colors most frequently used to paint houses of that style.
One assumption made by many owners of historic homes is that the original occupants would have painted the interiors in pale and neutral colors; for example, muted Williamsburg blues and whites. Actually, brilliant colors have always been used for interior painting; only the passage of time has made those colors seem faded. As a construction and painting contractor who has restored and painted many historic homes, both interior and exterior, I know that preparation—sanding, stripping and priming—is the key step in quality painting. First, great care should be taken in removing the old paint so as not to damage the wood beneath. Next, underlying problems like wood rot should be addressed before they affect the end result. Because the WORKS team includes construction and painting experts, we can both address those underlying problems and deliver quality painting. Please contact us about painting your historic home. We look forward to bringing it back to its original painted glory.