Preservation ABCs: Y is for Yellow Ochre

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.

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Y is for Yellow Ochre

The Chinese Room painted in Yellow Ochre at Gunston Hall. Click photo for source.

The Chinese Room painted yellow ochre at Gunston Hall. Click photo for source.

Y is for Yellow Ochre because historic preservation studies need to discuss paint colors. While ordinances will not (typically) dictate the proper color of your house, each architectural style has appropriate colors. You can easily notice this when browsing the historical colors section of Benjamin Moore (check out the Colonial Willamsburg palate*), California Paints Historic Colors of America, the National Trust Historic Colors Valspar line, and others. Paint is expressive and indicative of architectural trends, cultural statements and fashion of the time. Browse through the California Paints guide for an overview and comparison between the decades of the 20th century.

As for yellow ochre? Simply put, ochre is a naturally occurring earth pigment (mostly clay with iron oxides) that would be used to color the paint. The boldness of the color can be altered by heating the iron oxides. Ochres (the pigment) are more than yellow; they are red, orange and brown.

Colors of previous centuries are not always what we’d expect (you can thank the USA bicentennial red, white, and blue patriotism for that). Colors exhibited wealth, and were not neutral as we once thought. Blues, purples, greens, yellows all made a social statement, in an impressive way.

Do you choose historically accurate colors, or mix your modern vibe with a historic house? When should colors be historically accurate? Any pet peeves you have?

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?