Most projects involve repainting. It is the historic appearance
of the interior and the visual impression that will be created
by new paint treatments that must be considered before choosing
a particular course of action. The type and colors of paint
obviously depend on the type of building and the use and interpretation
of its interior spaces. A consistent approach is best.
When the treatment goal is preservation, a building's existing
historic features and finishes are maintained and repaired,
saving as much of the historic paint as possible. Sometimes,
cleaning and washing of painted surfaces is all that is
needed. Or a coating may be applied to protect important
examples of history or art.
If repainting is required, the new paint is matched to
existing paint colors using the safer, modern formulations.
Recreating earlier surface colors and treatments is not
In a typical rehabilitation, more latitude exists in choosing
both the kind of new paint as well as color because the
goal is the efficient reuse of interior spaces. Decisions
about new paint often weigh factors such as economy and
durability — use of a high-quality standard paint
from a local or national company and application by a qualified
Color choices may be based on paint research reports prepared
for interior rooms of comparable date and style. More often,
though, current color values and taste are taken into account.
Again, the safer paint formulations are used.
Interiors of institutional buildings, such as university
buildings, city halls, libraries, and churches often contain
rich decorative detailing. During rehabilitation, careful
choices should be made to retain or restore selected portions
of the decorative work as well as match some of the earlier
colors to evoke the historic sense of time and place. At
the least, it is important to use period-typical paint color
and paint placement.
In a restoration project, the goal is to depict the property
as it appeared during its period of greatest significance.
This may or may not be the time of its original construction.
For example, if a building dated from 1900 but historians
deemed its significance to be the 1920s, the appropriate
paint color match would be the 1920s layer, not the original
Based on historical research, on-site collection of paint
samples, and laboratory analysis, surface colors and treatments
can be recreated to reflect the property at a particular
period of time. It should be noted that scholarly findings
may yield a color scheme that is not suited to the taste
of the contemporary owner, but is nonetheless historically
accurate. In restoration, personal taste in color is not
at issue; the evidence should be strictly followed.
In the restoration process, colors are custom-matched by
professionals to give an accurate representation. If an
artist or artisan can be found, the historically replicated
paint may be applied using techniques appropriate to the
period of the restoration.
Although custom paint manufacture is seldom undertaken,
color and glazing are capable of being customized. In some
projects, paint may be custom-made using linseed oil and,
if building code variances allow it, white lead. [This is
not advised.] For example, the repainting of a number of
rooms at Mount Vernon demonstrates that it is possible to
replicate historic paints and applications in all aspects;
however, as noted, replication of historic paint formulation
is not practical for the majority of projects.