Most frequently today, the project goal is preservation or
rehabilitation. Because of the impracticality of replicating
historic paints, restoration is least often undertaken. Given
current laws restricting the use of toxic ingredients, such
as lead, solvents, and thinners, contemporary substitute paints
using safer ingredients need to be used. Many paint companies
make latex paints in colors that are close to historic colors
as well as appropriate gloss levels, but contain no white
lead and no hazardous volatile organic compounds.
Work on historic properties generally requires the services
of a qualified paint contractor who has had at least five
years of experience and who can list comparable jobs that
a potential client can see. Then, too, getting a sample or
a mockup of any special work may be advisable before the job
starts. While less experienced workers may be acceptable for
preparing and priming, it is wise to have the most experienced
painters on the finish work.
Today's version of oil paint has a binder that usually
contains some linseed oil (read the paint can label), but
also has one of the improved synthesized oils, frequently
soy based, known as alkyds. They dry hard, have flexibility,
and discolor far less than linseed oil. They can also be
manufactured to dry with a high sheen, and can take enough
tinting pigment to create even the very deep Victorian period
However, they all contain volatile organic compounds, and
thus are forbidden by law in some parts of the United States.
They are also less simple and more dangerous to use, as
cleaning up involves mineral spirits.
Acrylic Waterborne Paints (Latex)
Latex paints are synthetic resins carried in water. Before
the paint dries or crosslinks, it can be cleaned up with
water. Early in the history of latex paints, some contained
styrene/butadiene resins. Now nearly all topgrade latex
paints contain acrylic resins, which are superior. Also,
until fairly recently, the latex paints, while offering
great strength, quick drying, and water cleanup, had some
disadvantages for jobs which needed to have an historic
Today, there are latex product lines with better gloss
characteristics and more historic colors from which to choose.
In addition, latex paints often have excellent color retention
with very little fading. Still, it is always a good idea
to buy a quart and "test paint" the color chosen
for the job on site before making a total commitment.
Modern wate-rbased paints such as calcimine can be purchased
today and have much the same appearance as the early ones.
The same is true of modern whitewash, although today's
whitewashes do not leave the same ropy surface texture as
the early ones.
Glazes were often part of historic paint treatments. Traditionally
oil and turpentine, sometimes with a scant amount of pigment,
today's glazes can be formulated with a water base and are
relatively simple to apply by brush. An experienced decorative
painter should be consulted before deciding whether to use
a glaze coat rather than a high-gloss enamel. The glaze
is capable of providing protection as well as a more accurate
historic appearance that includes a greater depth to the
These were not available until relatively recently and
thus are not appropriate for replication of traditional