Historic Paint Colors

Charleston SC Rainbow Row
Pgiam / Getty Images

Painting your house's interior and exterior often feels like a roll of the dice. You look at paint swatches, you mock up schemes on virtual painters, maybe you even get a sample and paint a section of the intended area.

Instead of taking chances, how about a sure thing? Historic homes are painted in tried-and-true paint color schemes that often have been in place for centuries. While not every historic home's color scheme will be to your taste, there should be one out there that will be.

Paint Companies and Historic Trusts

Sensing that some homeowners who have an avid interest in old homes may want to duplicate elements in their own homes, paint manufacturers in recent years have jumped on the bandwagon to offer up colors from historic homes.

For instance, Valspar and the National Trust for Historic Preservation teamed up to allow Valspar to offer over 250 colors found in historic homes across America.

How You Benefit

While beneficial to the National Trust, this isn't pure altruism. Valspar gets the cachet of historic homes and the National Trust name; the National Trust gets licensing fees and a plug from Valspar. It's very win-win, and you just happen to win, too.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Full palettes: You'll find complete color schemes so that nothing is left to chance.
  • "Inspired by" vs. literal: To increase the palette, most paint manufacturers term their colors "inspired by." This means that the color you're looking at may not be found on the historic site. In a few cases, you will find the actual color for purchase.
  • Applicable to non-historic homes: Your house doesn't need to be historic to take this paint. In fact, it doesn't even need to be of the same style as the historic home. It just has to work.
  • Conversation piece: Bragging rights? Well, we like to be humble here. Let's just say that historic paint color schemes are interesting to talk about over the backyard grill.
  • Help historic homes: Historic trusts don't get money with each gallon you purchase, but indirectly you help them. Purchasing from historic home paint programs indicates to the paint companies that there is consumer interest and thus helps to keep their licensing agreements in place.
  • 01 of 05

    Mixing It Up: Historic Southwestern Colors on a Farmhouse

    Century Old Farmhouse
    davelogan / Getty Images

    A prime example of how you can use historic paint colors from one house on another type of house.

    This farmhouse-style house—porch, gables, dormers, the whole shebang—looks great, right? You wouldn't know it, but it's painted with Southwestern colors inspired by the circa 1922 La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

    Coming from the Valspar/National Trust for Historic Preservation Alliance, these colors are: La Fonda Cactus (field); La Fonda Ecru (trim); and La Fonda Red Geranium (garage doors).

  • 02 of 05

    Historic Georgian Paint Color Bedroom Ideas

    London England Typical White Stucco Georgian Style Row House Belgravia
    Arpad Benedek / Getty Images

    This bedroom gets the Georgian treatment. These Valspar/National Trust for Historic Preservation colors imbue the room with a sense of ease and grace: Gray Expose on the main walls, Smokey Infusion in that nice bump-out, and Filoli Gold Ecru on the trim.

  • 03 of 05

    Classic, Low-Key Paint Colors for a Historic Victorian

    Victorian Style House
    Nancy Brammer / Getty Images

    Sure, there are the Painted Lady-type of Victorian homes. But those were actually sparse: too expensive to paint in the first place, too hard to maintain in the long run. Most Victorians would have been painted in far fewer than the many colors that Painted Ladies demanded.

    This house is complicated and visually interesting enough with its architectural details—turret, porch, scalloped shingles, columns. Why not let those details shine through by keeping the paint scheme low-key and humble?

    We're looking at Behr Riviera Sand for the siding and Beach White for trim. Beautiful.

  • 04 of 05

    Historic Paint Colors: Key West Craftsman Lime Sherbert

    Front Exterior of Craftsman Style Home
    Fotosearch / Getty Images

    When I first saw this house, I said, "Wow. I like this. Nothing about this house I don't like."

    Yeah, really. Revelations can be embarrassing sometimes.

    Key West, Florida isn't known for its Craftsman homes, and this may not even be Key West (It was just those palm trees and vaguely Floridian colors that did it for me; probably Los Angeles). But I like to imagine, and homes are all about imagination.

    These colors come from Behr. I'm a sucker for green, so I like the field color: Spirited Green. The door's color is called Peanut Butter.

    Like that door? Crestview Doors has just that one: "The Grover."

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Historic White Colonial With Dark Shutters

    Immaculate Colonial Home with blue sky
    pamspix / Getty Images

    In Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, and other East Coast states, these types of houses—and the colors—are everywhere. They are as ubiquitous on the Eastern Seaboard as are stucco and red tile roof homes in the Southwest.

    This paint scheme is classic: white house with dark (but not quite black) shutters. Here, the field color is called Frost; shutters, Beluga. Both from Behr.