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Honor The Architecture

In this episode we return to the important subject of exterior house color but examine it on a more granular level with an eye towards the different architectural styles prevalent in the United States. How was the earliest house paint created and how did that influence the types of colors available to use? What types of color palettes were the norm for different architectural styles historically and has that evolved over the centuries? Tune in to hear more color wisdom from Amy Krane & Amy Woolf.

Ep 14: Honor The Architecture

Krane: Welcome to Let’s Talk Color.

Woolf: I’m Amy Woolf, principal designer at Amy Woolf Color and Design.

Krane: And I’m Amy Krane founding designer at Amy Krane Color. We’re both professional color experts who specialize in architectural color. We met while training and years later the conversation is still going strong.

Woolf: We both live our lives immersed in color and design. We often agree, but sometimes we don’t because color is personal. Color truths, however, are universal.

Krane: In each episode we’ll unravel the mystery of choosing color for your home or business, both inside and out.

Woolf: Hello and welcome back to Let's Talk Paint Color. The holiday is right around the corner and before you know it, exterior painting season will be upon us. It feels like it just ended a couple weeks ago with the long, warm season here in New England. So, for those of you who are thinking about painting next year, next summer, you probably should be thinking about lining up your painter now and also thinking about exterior colors. So we've talked about exterior colors in a previous episode but this time we're going to get a little more granular and talk about particular architectural styles. And we're going to break it down and talk about historic color, classic color, trendy color and what it means to you in terms of your exterior. So tell us, tell us what you brought today, Amy.

Krane: So originally paints were all made from natural pigments found in the earth. And that's one important reason why color was, to some degree, regional. Even if people were using the same mineral pigments to create the paint, it was different from region to region. So you'd get variations on the same colors. Originally there were just a few different minerals that were ground down into a powdered pigment then mixed with some substance to put on the house. Usually it was linseed oil, but it also could be lime or even milk to make a milk paint. The earliest colonial people actually didn't paint their houses back in the earliest 1600s and early 1700s. The materials to make paint wasn't available or affordable. It was all very expensive. And so the wood was left exposed and it turned gray or brown. And of course, you know, if you don't seal the wood, it lasts less long. Then when that rudimentary paint came onto the scene, people would only paint the trim on their house, leaving the siding as the natural wood. In 1866, a company we've all heard of, Sherwin Williams, was the first company to manufacture paint in the US which then could be disseminated to people. Of course, chemically it wasn't made from the same materials that it is now. Synthetics came onto the scene later than that.

So the tints became about eight core colors sourced from iron oxide or copper. The copper would give you the blues and the greens, like verdigris green. I know I have a guest bedroom that's a Farrow and Ball color called arsenic, which is a verdigris green. It's quite a bright color. But you've got colors like brown and burnt orange, red, tan, and a chrome yellow. Then in 1724, a color called Prussian blue came onto the scene. In fact, George Washington painted a room in his house that blue and it is very bright light blue. And speaking of very bright colors, we should get it out of our heads that colors of yore were muted. You know, what we consider tasteful now because they weren't. Many were very, very bright. So a few years ago I took my dog to a vet near you. I had to wait for the dog and I said, "What can I do around here?" And you said, "go to Historic Deerfield and take a look at those houses." I was so pleasantly surprised. It was an amazing experience. Why don't you tell everybody what the houses look like in historic Deerfield?

Woolf: Yeah, they're beautiful. You know, most of them fall into that kind of historic muted, what we've come to think of as historic colors. But there is one house on the main street called the Wells- Thorn House, that sort of dispels the myth that all historic colors were muted. And the Well's Thorn House was painted a robin's egg blue.

Krane: I think that's Prussian Blue.

Woolf: Okay, that would make sense. But that paint was put up in 1803. I remember the first time I saw it and I felt like, Oh my god, somebody came into historic Deerfield and did something radical. And how did that get approved? But it turns out that that color was original to 1803. That's over 200 years ago. I mean, it's wild. It was put on the house by an attorney, a young attorney who'd moved to Deerfield. And he wanted to bring attention to his practice, and to his offices. And so it was, I don't know, I like to think of it as an early form of branding story. Brand color and great, great marketing.

Krane: They used some bright colors. I mean, the house in Maine that I helped decorate, the new owner didn't want to repaint the outside when she bought it. But she didn't love it. I mean, she calls it the Maine Marigold House. And she said to me when we started, how could they have done this? I mean, here we are in Maine with all these historic houses around here. This is a big colonial and it's painted this crazy orange color. And I said, "client, it's actually historic. They had orange paint there. They had deep reds, they had orange, they had chrome yellow, they had this Prussian blue paint colors." Not all of them, but many of them were bright from these different mineral pigments that were used then.

Woolf: Years ago, when Benjamin Moore introduced their Williamsburg collection, I sat with my architectural rep from Ben Moore. And I said, "what is, tell me about the connection between the Williamsburg colors and the historic color collection, the HCs." You know, the HCs have been around forever. And I think that's kind of the palette that we've internalized as being historic. They're very muted, they're restrained, lots of grayed down earthy colors. And what what my rep said to me, which I thought was interesting, was that those are the colors after they've faded. Those are the colors years after the paints have been put on the house. Whereas the Williamsburg collection, which is full of much brighter colors, colors that were, you know, researched in Williamsburg, with a kind of color archeologist chipping through layers of paint to discover what was originally on these houses. The Williamsburg collection has all those brights, which is my very favorite palette, my ride or die palette. And so what they were doing with that collection is taking a step back further in time to colors like Gamboge, and...

Krane: Parrot Green! And Mayo Teal.

Woolf: These are bright colors. I love Mayo Teal. Oh, my God. I love Mayo Teal.

Krane: Good door color.

Woolf: Just I was gonna say I just put it on doors. I haven't been bold enough to put it onto a whole house yet. But, you know, if you're out there and you want a Mayo Teal house, come at me. I'm ready.

Krane: Well, yeah, I think Amy you made a really great distinction in the beginning, which I want more listeners to understand. In our minds, there are the historically correct colors, what really was. There are the classic colors, which is what we've grown to believe was, and then there are what's new and trendy. And I guess a really good question is whether some architectural styles lend themselves to more creative expression than others. Would you choose to put an unusual color more so on a mid century modern than you would on a colonial? Or would you not? Is there something about the architecture and something about the history of that architecture that makes people embrace something different more readily than they would? Yeah, I'm not really sure of the answer of that. Maybe it's the answer is very particular to the style. So why don't we start with colonial, which, you know, happened when folks first got here and led up until the Georgian period.

Woolf: You know, when I'm doing a consult, one of my rules is first honor the architecture.

Krane: Sure.

Woolf: Always, honor the architecture. We can't be doing weird stuff. That's my opinion. And of course, that's a rule and rules are made to be broken. But it's a place to start. It's a baseline for me. And so when we go into historic Deerfield and we're driving along and we see all these houses that are on a very deep level what we consider appropriate, it's what we've internalized... Yes, you know, they are traditionally accepted color palettes. And then we come across the Wells-Thorn house, which is Robin's egg blue and intellectually we understand it's historically correct but it's still jolts us. It still feels weird and makes us go and kind of grinds the gears. So I think when I'm doing color, yes, we can break rules or bend rules. But I think we have to start with color that on a deep level feels right. So that we don't do that. Jolt thing. I don't want to create color palettes on houses that jolt people. Agreed.

Krane: Agreed. You know, I don't think we should neglect mentioning the Shakers also. And I bring them up because they're near me in Pittsfield, Mass. Hancock Shaker Village. And it's so fabulous. You have to go there because the simplicity of the shaker architecture is so, so wonderful. And you can walk around this complex, the round barn, the communal living buildings and the individual buildings where they worked. You know, the Cooper's shop and the blacksmith's shop, and all of that. And again, the lines are so simple and clean and unadorned. And everything from the furniture to their implements to the buildings themselves are so beautiful. But what's really shocking, and I take a picture every time I drive by are the exterior Shaker colors. And this is researched and historically correct. They include a deep red, like a barn red, a slate gray blue, a bright, chrome yellow and my favorite, what they called salmon. It's a yellowy pink and it is really yellowy pink on this big, big house.

It's fantastic. The whole Shaker movement started in the 1740s, I think in England. I'm not sure when they got here. Whether it was the 1700s or the early 1800s, again, we're going back to colonial times and a little bit later and they were painting buildings, some really bright colors. So again, just reinforcing what you said, Amy, just because it's old doesn't mean it's muted. Doesn't mean it's grayed down. Doesn't mean it's brown. Doesn't mean it's taupe or earth colors. There was a wide range of colors used then.

Woolf: And I would say conversely, just because it's historically correct, doesn't mean it's necessarily something we have to adhere to or something that's necessarily going to fit into a neighborhood in a comfortable way. Right. I mean, can you imagine any HOA today approving that Hancock Shaker Village color palette for a planned community? I don't think so. Anyway, no. What's important to think about is how do we walk that line between those two extremes? You know, stuff that's like super, super muted and stuff that's robin's egg blue or chrome yellow or verdigris and, you know, find a palette that feels right, feels appropriate, is just enough, but not too much. I always talk about, getting to the edge and then taking a micro step back. So the question is, you know, where's that edge? I mean, I think, you know, another really amazing example of that kind of stuff, I think of Litchfield, Connecticut, where when you drive the green or walk the green in Litchfield, every single house is white. It's just white. And somehow to think of robin's egg blue or any of the colors that you see in Deerfield, I guess those houses are from a slightly later era.

Krane: There were some styles that white was part of the accepted color palette. Greek Revival, Carpenter Gothic, American Gothic and more. I just want to mention one thing before we go into styles. A conversation I have often with clients, depending on their style of house, you know. I wouldn't say this to a raised ranch owner or necessarily some other style houses, but I do ask for interior clients as well, do you want to call out the trim and give it a contrasting color or do you want the trim to match the house? Which is both historical and modern. Because if we go back to Georgian houses, 1700 to 1780 ish, they were using white, off white and sandy colors as a trim, a contrasting trim. But in the next period, the Federal period of 1780 to 1840, only the doors and shutters contrasted with the body. The trim matched the siding. So we're going all the way back to 1780 to 1840. And there's your historical reference for what is trending now, which is matching the the trim color to the body color. I personally love it on some styles of houses. I love it on colonials. It's great on some other styles as well. It's very serene and you get your... Amy, what what's the word we're using that's not pop? Punch! You get your little punch.

Woolf: Or lift! I like to say lift. It gives you a lift.

Krane: You get a little punch of color from the door if your want. One thing I think we mentioned in our first episode on exteriors is you know Zillow does their review every year or two of interior and exterior house colors and what would garner you if you sold. And last time they did it was just a couple of years ago. And you got six grand more for your house if your front door was black, which is really kind of surprising. I mean, I think it's really stately and elegant. But you know, I would only use it on some houses depending on the body color of the house. So that was very interesting.

Woolf: I do think that, you know, when you think about packaging and branding color, black and white and certainly gold have a certain caché as being luxury. So I can imagine a white house with a glossy black door and a gorgeous real brass door knocker. They kind of embody that luxury look. Luxury class. I don't know. I think that Zillow stuff is a little bit of hooey but it' good clickbait.

Krane: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think it is clickbait, but I think it's based on actual research. So it's kind of fascinating. So why don't we why don't we dive in?

Woolf: Well, let's dive in and actually start to pull it apart. I mean, I think we've talked about colonial.

Krane: Yeah, yeah. You know, you had your brighter colors in the Georgian period - yellow, brown, white, red, orange, Prussian blue. Federal got creamier, like creamy soft yellow, peach, grays and whites. And Greek revival... This is interesting. Think white with dark green shutters. And their windows... The sashes and the grills were dark green or black. And look how that's come back with our modern farmhouse vernacular. The whole idea of the window disappearing, because all the components of the window were dark. It's not brand new folks. It happened in the early 1800s with Greek revivals. Here's a style to talk about. Because I want to get your take on it. Dutch Revival or Dutch Gambrel, by the way, that Gambrel shape that we have here is not exactly what's in Holland. But we call it Dutch Gambrel. I've done quite a number of them. I don't know if there's a classic color palette for them. I had clients who wanted white with very dark gray shutters. So that's what we did. And I can envision historic Gambrels being white but I also think about tans, any toned colors. Not dark like black, but mid to dark like darker grays and gray blues and those kind of colors. I don't really think of a standard color for a Dutch gambrel, a Dutch revival. What do you think about that?

Woolf: You know, it's funny, when I was looking for houses in Florida back in 2002, one of the houses we seriously considered was a Dutch Gambrel and it was yellow. It was a pale yellow. And I think that house always stuck with me. It felt so right to me. This was before I got myself into the color business. But it sort of remained a baseline. There was just something about that house and that yellow that felt appropriate.

Krane: I agree with the idea of white but I also kind of feel that it's sort of a missed opportunity. There's something charming about a Gambrel roof. It's kind of cottage-y and charming. To me, it wants a color. It doesn't just want to be white. I mean, not that the house I did white with gray wasn't really handsome. It was very handsome. But I agree with you. It's a missed opportunity. So for me, I think not white.

Woolf: I did have some clients come to me with a Dutch Gambrel and they wanted to do dark. They were really after the dark gray kind of modern look. And we went through a whole series of possibilities and they happily landed on a soft gray, which I thought was really pretty. So I kind of feel like in the vein of pale yellow, pale gray. I think to me, a Dutch Gambrel wants to be a paler color. I think one of the tricks with these houses is that you have to deal with the roof because there's usually so much roof that's visible. And I think that is probably the biggest reason for me why I wouldn't do white, because you're dealing with so much roof. I want to create a little more balance and a little more interest in the house itself. And I also think that the lines, the roof lines are what make the house special and attractive. And so we want to call them out. And so for me, a color with a little bit of a white trim to call out the lines of the house are really what bring out its special style. And I just got pictures of it recently and it's really beautiful. I'm really happy about it. So anyway, they did good.

Krane: I think light is nice, but I would go to mid tone as well. I think mid tone can hold up nicely to a medium gray or light gray roof. Amy, I agree with you. You know, we will and have already started talking about this trend of dark, dark houses. I don't see it on a Dutch Gambrel. Totally agree.

Woolf: I think the dark with with the prominent roof... It just feels overbearing to me. Yeah, yeah.

Krane: So, craftsmen... It's so lovely. These houses are really about earth tones to me. So tan greens, rust, brown, taupe. It's synonymous to me. I mean, they have very lovely shapes. Their trim is very important. That is definitely a style of house I would put a different trim color on and might even add an accent color besides the body color. But I think of them all being mid-toned, not super dark, not white, not off white. I love them. I love craftsmen and arts and crafts style.

Woolf: I mean, I think that era both for interiors and exteriors for the decorative arts, whether it's fabric or wallpaper, stained glass, any of that, was so connected to nature. There's so many flora and fauna patterns that were inherent to that design era. I think it just carries through to the color palette. It's a very nature driven color palette. So I think that's where that comes from. For sure.

Krane: I would put bungalow and cottage styles in that category too. Of mid-toned earth colors. They're not the same style houses as craftsmen, but I would include that also with your organic colors. Colors from nature, that kind of thing. And also for the Prairie style, we think of Frank Lloyd Wright. 1900 to 1915 or 1920. They're very horizontal houses, often lots of brick. But again, they're in those earth tones.

Woolf: I think brick, slate, natural wood walls on the interiors. Not a lot of embellishment color- wise.

Krane: Right. Right. And then there's Tudor. We were just talking about Tudor offline before we started. In my mind, this is not a place to be adventurous. I mean, there's a range of classic colors. Not stark white for the stucco. But off white, tan, bone, cream. And then there's the wooden beams and trim. That would be dark. Classic is dark brown, maybe a brown black. For me, I would not put navy blue on that trim. I would not put forest green on that trim, maybe a green black. So dark that you can't tell what it is. It's such a definitive style of house. I would stay classic which is historical with that one. How about you?

Woolf: So I think that the whole thing starts with the stucco itself, which originally would not have been painted. It might have been tinted in the stucco. Pigment actually added to the stucco. But for the most part, I think those look best in their most original state derived from the natural material. Just as a stucco Mediterranean or a stucco.

Krane: Pueblo.

Woolf: Yeah, Spanish Pueblo. So to me, that color palette begins and probably should end with the natural tones that are derived from the stucco itself. So I agree. I think getting creative with these kinds of houses, whether it's Tudor or Spanish Med, I just wouldn't. I wouldn't go there. You can push the envelope a tiny bit, but not too much. It starts to feel wrong if it doesn't work well with the natural material of the stucco. So I agree with you. I think I would stay all warm. I don't think I would ever go cool. I wouldn't go a cool black. I'd stick with a warm brown black, you know, for a Tudor's trim and beams. You know, like maybe, yeah, let's go with something brighter on the door. And same with the Spanish Mediterranean house.

Krane: You know, Amy, I can picture myself being on some kind of boat going down the Intracoastal in Florida, east side. And with all of these Mediterranean, Spanish Revivals, and though the majority of them are in the warmer colors like beige, cream, clay, pinky roses, every now and then I'd see a light blue and I'd think, no.

Woolf: Oh, right. No, no. I agree with you. With a terracotta barrel tile roof and light blue? No, I agree with you.

Krane: But, sometimes when you say maybe you can veer a little bit, I agree with you because I've seen golds, which look fine. Yes. And even roses, you know.

Woolf: Some kind of dusty pink that looks fine too. It's all in that family. And it's all about restraint. It's about, you know, finding the edge. But again, rose and gold are both still derived from the natural material. They're just pushing the envelope a little bit. You know, blue is from another planet, in my opinion.

Krane: Let's talk about mid-century modern, you know, and whether that's one area that trendy has taken over. And so we now see different colorations of it because I think when they started they were somewhat monochromatic. They were neutral. Maybe it would have a little bit of vertical wood siding with mixed materials on the outside that might have included wood or even some stone. And I think when they were new there were tans and grays and earthy greens and colors like that. I think people do all different things with mid-century modern now, including black. I've seen a lot of people go for the black and the dark gray on them. And some have contrasting colored materials like, a mid-tone wood stain siding around the vestibule. I've seen a lot of mixed materials on their facades. But this is a style of house where people have embraced dark. And for the most part, I like it. I think they look really cool. On colonials as well. That's one of my favorite styles of houses to go dark. I would go black or navy, dark or olive green and charcoal gray. But I like it on the mid-mods also.

Woolf: And I think the mid-century modern exterior was something that came as a response to previous iterations of previous architectural styles. And it was a minimalist response. And so in terms of exterior color palettes, it follows that they began as minimalist. But what's interesting is that if you think about the color palettes of interiors of the 50s and the 60s, those were anything but minimalist.

Krane: In the 60's and 70's avocado, ochre, yellow, burnt orange.

Woolf: Yeah, those came later. But in the 50s, we had pink kitchens and turquoise kitchens. And so there's this sort of dichotomy between the minimalism of the exteriors as a response to previous architectural styles, and the interiors, which were really very bright, very playful. But I think maybe as we have kind of rediscovered and embraced mid-mod, I think maybe those have been conflated. It's almost like the interior and the exterior palettes have been conflated as we deal with mid-mod today. So now, instead of these sort of minimalist nature-based exteriors for mid-century modern houses, we do see people using brighter colors that may have more to do with the interior palettes of the 50s, the 60s, the 70s. I don't know, because sometimes we see these mid-century modern houses that are kind of wild and crazy colors, which isn't where they started, but it's where they are now.

Krane: I mean, I think that there are all different kinds of mid-century modern homes. Of course, for style-mongers who really want to get their hands on a high end famous architect type, I think it's very common to find not necessarily bright and colorful, but darker colors on the outside. Then you go inside, and what are you going to find? White. It's white. It's that whole sort of modern, elevated, ____ style of white interiors with colorful furniture. Maybe an accent wall here and there to give you that punch of color, but it's black outside, black with wood outside, and white interiors with color in your decor. So that certainly has evolved over the years, because I think the handful of the mid-century modern homes in California and other places that were created by architects that became famous and well-known.

Woolf: Like Eichler.

Krane: Yeah. They're very sought after. The houses are super expensive. The white interiors go hand in hand with this whole look. And contemporary and modern houses too have really embraced the dark outside. I think that's a big thing. You know, black and gray.

Woolf: Yeah, gray. Gray will not go away. You know, it's interesting. I was just at a conference in October in Boston dealing with neuroscience and design, and one of the most striking things I learned was this perspective of one of the architects speaking about the modernist Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, and how that style of architecture was really born out of their PTSD from the war.

Krane: Wow.

Woolf: And yeah, it was really an eye-opener for me that when you look at some of the Le Corbusier architecture, you don't know where the front door is, it looks like a bunker. And that that really was coming out of a need for safety and protection. And that very minimalist, unembellished kind of exterior presentation, which has really flowed right through to today's modern architecture, comes out of trauma. I thought that was a really interesting perspective. These houses certainly aren't happy and joyful. You know, they're elegant and restrained. I have no conclusions, but I found it fascinating and eye-opening, and I will never really look at Le Corbusier or Mies van der Rohe or Breuer the same way again. But we're going to dial it back a little bit and go back to the Victorians because we skipped over them. We're probably saving the best for last, and that would be Victorian style. You know, we're all familiar with the painted ladies and polychrome, and I think, I don't know, would you say you can do anything on a Victorian? I mean, what do you think about an all-white Victorian? That feels wrong to me. Yeah, it feels wrong. All-black Victorian?

Krane: I don't like it. Creepy? Yeah.

Woolf: Adam's Family?

Krane: I did a dark one because the clients really wanted it. I think it is more likely to be viewed as creepy. I hate to use that word. I mean, my client was thrilled. She wanted it. We did an almost black with no contrasting trim and it's somber. It's very somber, and I think it does take us back to, I don't know, old movies or TV shows. If it was haunted it was always a fricking Victorian, and so black, we just associate with that right away. You know?

Woolf: Yeah, and that's that jolt I was talking about earlier, that jolt of driving down the street and seeing something and feeling like, no.

Krane: Yeah. No. I mean, one thing to remember also is that there were subsets of Victorian. There was Folk, Gothic revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Carpenter Gothic, which sometimes was white. I love that style. But I mean, yeah, they were richer hues, deeper hues, you know, roses, greens, blues, golds. There were clear colors and muted colors. I think it was a lot of different colors and it can be a lot of different colors. But I'm in agreement with you I would not do white, would not do black, would not do all gray. Just would not do one color. I wouldn't.

Woolf: I'm actually doing a Victorian that is a couple shades of dark blue and black foundation and a little bit of black accent and bright colored door. And it' as dark and black and monochrome as I would ever go. It's what the client really wants. The house is really dark now. So we're lightening it up. But yeah, I think it's going to be pretty and elegant. I think the blue will make a difference.

Krane: Okay. Well, I hope you've learned a little bit more about using color for the built world.

Woolf: If you have anything you'd like us to talk about, anything you want to discuss, you can find us at And we'd like to also ask you to like us, follow us, leave us a review. If you're listening on Apple podcasts, I know you can scroll down the page and find a place to give us give us some props. Happy painting, happy colors, everybody. We'll see you next time.

Krane: All right. Bye bye.


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