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20th-Century Paints




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 onward.

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.

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