An Authentic Guide to Historic Home Color Combinations

If your home represents a time period in history, choosing exterior colors that faithfully represent your period home need not be daunting. You can be your own color detective and successfully recreate the best colors to make your home authentic. Just apply one of the following techniques and enjoy the newly painted yet historically accurate appearance of your home. 

Find your original home color

Many older homes have layers of coatings all the way back to the original color(s). To find out what colors your house was originally (and subsequently) painted, isolate and remove a single sample chip that contains all of the previous paints – right down to bare wood. Then, take it to your local paint store for analysis of the various layers. Or, you may be able to visualize the layers yourself using the “bull’s eye” approach. In an area that has been most protected from the elements, typically under an overhang or a lower section on the north side of your home, sand away a shallow 3-4 inch circle, exposing a bull’s eye of all the paint layers right down to the wood. Rub with clear mineral oil to bring colors close to their original intensity. With either of the above techniques, be sure to use appropriate personal protection, since paints applied before 1978 may be lead-based.

Go online to identify period-appropriate colors

Do a bit of online research and you’ll quickly understand what colors were popular at the time your house was built. Cape Cod, Victorian, and postwar home styles all popularized certain colors and color combinations. Long-time paint manufacturers like Sherwin-Williams, Pittsburgh Paints and Benjamin Moore, along with other paint companies, have helpful “Historic Color Collections” brochures to guide you in selecting authentic paint color options.

Because Painting is Personal®, do whatever pleases you

If you don’t feel the need to be historically correct, choose a color scheme that suits your personal style, enhances your house, and harmonizes with the neighborhood. With the ‘MyPaintColors’ color visualizer from CertaPro Painters® you can experiment with countless color combinations that will lead you to your perfect personalized solution!

17th century – 1950s

Early New England settlers brought with them a style of architecture that’s now found in virtually every part of North America. Easy to build and efficient to heat, Cape Cod houses have certainly stood the test of time. Those built following World War II often reflected the optimism of that era, boasting an upbeat palette of clean, clear colors.

17th century – present

Symmetrical, with a center door flanked by windows on each side and five windows on the second floor, Colonial Style houses have been one of the most popular architectural styles in North America for 300 years. The traditional “white with black door and shutters” color scheme has evolved to include a wide selection of tasteful color combinations that bring new life to this classic style.

18th century – present

This style is inspired by two major influencing groups: the Spanish, whose architectural style can be seen in the missions built in California during the late 18th century, and Native Americans, whose building materials and techniques provided a constant and comfortable interior temperature. Modern technology can take credit for the range of exterior paint colors now available, though – from the subtle earth tones of original dwellings to the vibrant colors seen today.

1840 – 1910

The Victorian period of North American architecture produced a number of distinctive styles over approximately half a century. Italianate, Eastlake, Folk Victorian, and Queen Anne are just a few of these styles. Houses in these styles were frequently adorned with exuberant paint palettes of up to six colors, thanks to new (at the time) synthetic pigments that allowed for vivid blues, greens, yellows and purples.

1945 – 1980

Traditionally one story, Ranch Style houses evolved from the early 20th century Bungalow Style. After World War II, the simple and economical Ranch Style met the housing needs of many returning soldiers in suburban communities springing up around the country. The design of the basic Ranch Style house, originally painted a neutral color or white to give the impression of greater size, has since been enlarged and modified to include a wide variety of attractive architectural features in colors that continually change.