Painting can be a fun, economical way to refresh a room or even give your whole house a makeover. While the physical act is seemingly easy for the average homeowner, choosing the correct paint color is extremely important and can be difficult to get right.

It is important to understand that there is a relationship between architectural style and period appropriate paint colors. It’s best to choose colors that are appropriate for the style of your house and that work well together. In 2010, Historic New England —a regional heritage organization – partnered with Andover, MA. based California Paints to design the Historic Colors of America collection, with 149 authentic shades used from the 1600s to 1895. The colors were taken from historic buildings and painted objects, and includes both early earth pigments and more brilliant colors that became available in the 18th & 19th centuries. Each color has been researched and verified for authenticity and captures the shades of the past.

According to Historic New England (HNE), many historians mistakenly assumed the colors of the past were somber and muted, based on colors that appeared when modern paints were scraped away from old surfaces. HNE has won national attention for discovering how paint looked before time, sunlight, and weather altered them.

Surviving 17th century (mid 1600s-1780) houses are extremely rare today, and any paint or color treatments should reflect the limited number of colors available at that time, most of which were derived from earth, stone or other natural pigment. Typical 17th century paint treatments detailed the trim in colors that contrasted boldly with surrounding untreated wood or masonry. 18th century homes fared better and the paint colors for these houses are frequently strong colors, again using naturally-derived pigments. See Fun Facts below to learn more about early color origins.

Most Historical Commissions offer an on-site consultation to homeowners if your home is located in a historic district since many times these properties are required to have exterior paint colors approved by the Historical Commission.

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