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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.

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