By the early decades of the 20th century, popular taste turned
away from exuberant colors and decoration.Until the late 1920s
both the Colonial Revival and Arts and Crafts styles tended
toward more subdued colors and, in the case of Colonial Revival,
a more limited palette.
The use of faux finishes, however, continued. Residential
architecture often featured stencilling, such as painted borders
above wainscoting or at ceiling and wall edges to imitate
decorative wallpaper. Institutional buildings in both cities
and small towns used wood graining on metal-clad doors, door
and window frames, and staircases, and had stencilled ceilings
as well. Many high style public buildings of the 1920s had
painted ceilings which imitated the Spanish and Italian late
medieval and Renaissance styles.
Although stenciling, gilding, and faux finishes
can be found, they did not express the modern style of the
time. On the other hand, glaze treatments were often used
in the early 20th century to "antique" walls and
trim that had been painted with neutral colors, especially
in Spanish Colonial Revival and Mission architecture. The
glazes were applied by ragging, sponging, and other techniques
which gave an interesting and uneven surface appearance.
Colored plasters were sometimes used, and air brushing employed
to give a craftsman-like appearance to walls, trim, and ceilings.
During the same period, Williamsburg paint colors were produced
and sold to people who wanted their houses to have a "historic
Georgian look." Churches, country clubs, and many private
buildings adopted the Williamsburg style from the late '20s
Often decorated with simple molded plaster designs of the
Art Deco and Art Moderne styles, interiors of the 1930s and
1940s were frequently accented with metal flake paints in
a full range of metallic colors, from copper to bronze. And
enamels, deep but subdued hues, became popular.
Paint technology had progressed and varying degrees of gloss
were also available, including the mid-range enamels, variously
called satin, semigloss, or eggshell. In contrast to Victorian
paint treatments, this period was characterized by simplicity.
To some extent, the Bauhaus aesthetic influenced taste in
the 1950s; interior paints were frequently chosen from a palette
limited to a few "earth" colors and a "nearly
neutral" palette of off-whites and pale greys.
While the trend in colors and decorative treatments was defined
by its simplicity, paint chemists were developing paints of
increasing complexity. Experimentation had started early in
the 20th century and accelerated greatly after World War II.
Of greatest significance was the manufacture of the latex
paints for consumer use. Synthetic resin emulsions carried
in water offered advantages over the traditional oil paints,
and even over the oil/alkyd paints: they did not yellow; they
permitted water cleanup until dried; and they emitted no toxic
or hazardous fumes from solvent evaporation.