Vernacular Farmhouse Exterior Color Scheme

Questions and answers relating to houses built in the 1800s and before.

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Vernacular Farmhouse Exterior Color Scheme

Postby Caoimhin on Mon Apr 17, 2006 9:52 am

Our 1870's "Vernacular Farmhouse" needs some new paint, and we'd like to take this opportunity to change colors. I'd like to stay historically appropriate, but I'd also like not to cringe when I see the great white beast looming above the hood of my car.

The house was built after the Civil War, but houses around here (middle of Maine) tend to be about 50 years behind trends. So, the houses like mine in the area are all white, or white with dark trim. This wouldn't be too bad if the house was a true Gr. Revival, but the trim is pretty thin. So, the choice of white base & white trim or white base & dark trim is like old, white-haired lady with no eyebrows, or old, white-haired lady with skinny, dark eyebrows drawn with a felt-tipped marker.

An alternative is to make the base an olive or grey and keep the trim white (this is a common soluition around here for new paint jobs, but doesn't appear from 1930's to the 1990's).

Questions: (1) Does my house suggest a scheme to you? (2) Would a connected Maine farmhouse (with almost no Gr. Revival influence) built around 1860 have had a color scheme that wasn't white on white on white?

I've scoured the Web for color combos, but thought I'd throw some pictures up on the Web and get some advice from some relatively disinterested folks:

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Postby Tony Gagliardi on Mon Apr 17, 2006 12:34 pm

By far the best resource I have found is the Detroit Historic commission. Try the link below.

1915 Bungalow
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Postby Hanzakos on Mon Apr 17, 2006 2:25 pm

Given that the syle of the building is uncomplicated, I would try to keep to that concept. Also, given that your home was built in 1870(ish), she is, in fact, a lovely little old lady--dressing her up in short-shorts and blue eye-shadow would, I think, take away from her simplistic beauty.

What strikes me right off the bat tho, is the lack of shutters. With stronger greenery directly around the house, even perhaps a heritage climbing rose (note the end with the shrubs on it; does not leap out quite so nakedly as the front which has no shadowing and no protection from your eye), and with the addition of shutters, which would break up the "whiteness" of the siding, you may not end up so blinded as you move up the driveway. Also, if you plant more greenery (trees, shrubs) farther away from the house (between your driveway and the house), you create yet another element for your eye to be drawn too--it would de-emphasize the building itself.

The storm door also adds a splash of something nice.

The other thought is to paint her barn red--but this looks best (I think) if the house is the only building in site and offers considerable variation in greenery and dramatic views around it. But then, I don't know how far back the color red was used on the exterior of farm houses.
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Postby lrkrgrrl on Mon Apr 17, 2006 2:55 pm

You could go with a warmer, creamy white, or even move into the yellow family, and barn red or deep green trim. That would give it a little punch without screaming "painted lady" (which would be, of course, appropriate if it was a "painted lady" but it's not.) I agree with Hanzakos that some new landscaping would also add a little zing.
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Postby rrobinson720 on Mon Apr 17, 2006 3:41 pm

I also have a large white vernacular home, sans shutters. I personally cannot stand looking at fake shutters -- I swear every house around ere has siding and teeny shutters that don't even sort of look likethey would cover the wondow. (Nothing like a 4' window with a 12' shutter on each side of it. :roll: ) But I really like lrkrgrrl's suggestion of a creamy yellow. It would definitely blend in to nature better, and you could spruce it up with colorful landscaping.
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Postby Don M on Mon Apr 17, 2006 5:06 pm

It's a nice house and I agree you don't want to use those crumby fake plastic shutters but I bet you could find true wood shutters that are the correct size for the windows if you did decide to go that route. There are probably barns full of old shutters around you! Have you tried doing some detective work on your house? Do some judicious paint scraping & see what the original colors might have been. New England houses only became white during the Victorian period when they discovered how to make paint white. Now all New England towns are supposed to have white houses, green or black shutters surrounding their town greens. We painted our stone farmhouse trim a cream and the wood body parts grey with the original 1840s shutters a nice green; no white on her at all! Don
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Postby bookish on Mon Apr 17, 2006 5:44 pm

I live in southern Maine, and I have to say that most everybody in that period used to paint their houses white. There were chapters in books and articles in periodicals that railed against the oh so common look of the white painted house with perhaps green shutters. Of course, the cheapest color to paint your house was white.
Leafing through books of photos taken in Maine in the 1870's I have seen houses here and there that were definitely not white. If you want to be correct for the period check out the color options of the time. It doesn't matter if Maine was conservative in its color preferences. There were free spirits everywhere who picked a color just because they liked it.
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Postby oldhouseluvr on Mon Apr 17, 2006 10:13 pm

Here's a link to Martin Seymour's website including exterior paint color options. http://architecture.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://www.martinsenour.com/home%5Fdecorating/pmatch%5Fstyle%5Fselect.asp

You can click on the different color paint chips and the photo will automatically display the selected color on the house.
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Postby bookish on Mon Apr 17, 2006 11:40 pm

I just remembered an excellent book you could check out. Actually the authors have two on Victorian exteriors.
Moss, Roger W. Century of Color, Exterior Decoration for American Buildings, 1820-1920. The American Life Foundation: Watkins Glen, NY, 1981.

Moss, Roger W. and Gail Caskey Winkler. Victorian Exterior Decoration. Henry Holt: New York, 1987.

I have their book on American victorian era decorating and it is outstanding. The authors' books are used by landmark societies and museum curators. I found a copy of the interiors book in a local library and enjoyed it so much I bought a copy for myself. I got it through ABE booksellers for @ $20, but I think I saw it at Amazon.com too. You could see if they have either of the exterior books available, or maybe your library might have it.
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