What Color is Your House?

Brattleboro, VT

Brattleboro, VT.

Before we get started talking about paint colors, let’s get one thing straight: historic preservation is not about telling you what color to paint your building. Really. While some colors are more historically appropriate than others (in restoration work, paint might be important), but paint is reversible.

Yet, despite its temporal nature, paint color is an important decision for many of us, whether painting a room or the exterior of our homes and other buildings. So feel free to offer up your opinion. How do you choose? Are there some colors that you think are more house appropriate than others? Are there colors that are more popular than others in your region? Often color speaks to the architectural style and era. For examples, Greek Revival buildings are often painted white while the Queen Anne style is known for many, varied color patterns.

Brattleboro, VT. Shingle style.

Brattleboro, VT.

Do you have a favorite house color? Do you prefer light palettes or dark palettes? What crazy paint patterns have you seen? Have you ever seen a house painted black?

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18 thoughts on “What Color is Your House?

  1. Nice – my hometown is featured in your examples! I recognize the Queen Anne, in particular; we are fortunate to have many fine examples from many periods here in Brattleboro.
    I am struck by your beginning comments about paint: it IS a temporal characteristic, but so many people (and official boards/regulations) become bogged down and even incensed over this detail, which is completely ephemeral. It’s the integrity and veracity of the structure itself that matters most (or at all) when it comes to conservation and appreciation of an architectural heritage. At one time I lived in a small Vermont town which was a graphic example of some of this misdirected mindset: while there was a heavy hand enforcing “appropriate” color schemes in the Historic Village, vinyl re-siding was allowed to slip through the regulatory loopholes. It was ridiculous, but once there was a precedent, it was a gate-crasher.

  2. Stonington Borough in the southeast corner of CT had a couple protest their difficulty with zoning by painting their house black: http://www.nytimes.com/2000/12/03/nyregion/development-there-goes-the-neighborhood.html

    Had the “misfortune” of buying not only in a historic district but also right next to the Stonington Point Lighthouse, old and beloved and a Stonington landmark dear to the Historical Society.

    A dramatic choice, but there was nothing in design review standards about paint!

  3. I know of a district that was heavy handed about color. Once the owner proved that her house was an early 1940′s reproduction, therefore not subject to the rules, she painted it purple. It is purple today.
    I have found personally that period colors bring life to a house, just as period furniture ‘fits’. Sometimes it’s tricky though: my c.1920, 4-square had Edwardian tendencies, not Colonial Revival or Arts and Crafts/Bungalow: small as it was it had airs!
    Victorians painted the right colors make me smile – painted white they are dried-up spinster aunts who deserved a better life!

  4. I live in Bedford, NY, a small town of many historic homes, the houses on The Village Green are required to be white, forever and ever amen. White is classic, so crisp and clean, especially with a contrasting dark green or black real shutter. One town away, Katonah, NY, is famous for its painted ladies homes, Victorians of every hue imaginable. While I can enjoy the colorful homes, I find them busy to my eye – whereas a white home it’s the architectural features that shine. All that said, I’m going to be a total hypocrite and admit my dream color of a home is yellow. Not a bright yellow, not the historic burnt umber/gold yellow, but a crisp solid yellow that says Welcome the instant you see it.

  5. Good colors and good color combinations are great but more important is the placement of these colors on a house. If placement is wrong, your house will not look right. Correct placement is understanding the bones of the house and how the architectural details work with each other and the structure. I do consulting for this and sometimes keeping the same colors but just fixing the placement in only a few areas can drastically improve the overall appearance and feel.

    One big bit of advise is use caution with white. White cannot be used as an accent color. Either use lots of white – like all white trim with a base color or the reverse or no white at all. If you have white plastic windows and don’t want to paint them, then you should paint your trim white or off white also. Do not have all earth tones and leave the window sash white.

    • yes – thanks for this – I have seen it done badly and conversely, very well.
      Greek Revival houses were supposed to be like temples. So they could be painted to look like stone – grey and tan shades, not just white.

  6. There’s a purple Queen Anne house on Chapin Street, not far from the two houses you photographed.

    By the way, I did the National Register nomination for the Shingle Style house! The owner took it upon herself to have it listed! Wish there were more people like that.

    • Paula!

      I am not surprised to find you here, of course – I recently discovered Kaitlin’s PIP blog and have been enjoying the discourse. I forgot to turn on email notifications to comments on this post so I missed your replies til now… :) We DO live in a great town for structural eye-candy. I’ve been getting into the railroad side of that lately, although it’s all very fascinating. Hope to see you roundabout Bratt!

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