The paint Americans used in the past is undeniably part of
a technological and commercial record. But beyond that, the
colors we have chosen and continue to select for our interior
living and working spaces — bright and exuberant, purposefully
somber, or a combination of hues — reflect our nation's
cultural influences and our individual and collective spirit.
Paint color is a simple, direct expression of the time, and
of taste, values, and mood. To consider paint only as a protective
coating is to misunderstand its meaning as an important aspect
of America's heritage.
This Brief is about historic interior paints and
choosing new paints for historic interiors if repainting is
necessary or desirable. It addresses a variety of materials
and features: plaster walls and ceilings; wooden doors, molding,
and trim; and metal items such as radiators and railings.
It provides background information about some of the types
of paint which were used in the past, discusses the more common
causes and effects of interior paint failure, and explains
the principal factors guiding decisions about repainting,
including what level of paint investigation may be appropriate.
Careful thought should be given to each interior paint project,
depending on the history of the building and its painted surfaces.
Treatments may range from protecting extant decorative surfaces,
to ordering custommade paint that replicates the original
paint color, to using today's paint straight off the shelf
and out of the can.
Finally, stripping old paints or applying new oil/alkyd paints
poses serious health and safety concerns; the State Historic
Preservation Officer should be contacted for current legal
and technical information on removal, disposal, and health
and safety precautions.