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Perfect paint palettes

OHI The editors of <i>Old-House Interiors</i> magazi

Opposites attract in this colorful hallway.

Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Moore & Co.

By Mary Ellen Polson

There are no hard-and-fast rules about finding the perfect partner -- or the perfect paint scheme.

Who would believe, for example, that orange and green could remain happily married after so many years? Perhaps it's a matter of opposites attracting over common ground. Orange is dominated by red, and green is dominated by blue, but they both have yellow in common. Whatever the reason, certain color combinations consistently reappear in interiors through the ages. Wedgwood or sky blue is paired with creamy or greyed whites; salmon with fern green; and midnight blue accented with yellow gold, deep red and olive green.

bold colors
Old houses come to life with rich, deep colors.

Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Moore & Co.

This leads us to a color truism: historic interiors were often saturated with color.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, tints were a precious commodity. Prussian blue -- a bold greenish turquoise which faded over time to pale turquoise -- had to be imported from Europe. Ready-mix paints weren't widely available until the 1880s, so many 19th century colors were literally drawn from the earth, created by mixing dry pigments with iron oxide, burnt umber, and yellow ochre, with a pinch of lampblack to give them depth and subtlety.

Choosing paint schemes
Color matchmaking hints

Look for combinations that visually "pop" when paired up.

Choose bold, rather than washed out colors.

Work with history-based color palates.

Consider tints from the same color family.

Some general guidelines can help you choose paint schemes.

Err on the side of bold, rather than washed out.

With old houses, take the license to use deep, rich colors, from nearly black blues and purples to bold yellows and oranges. This works especially well if your rooms are large, have high ceilings, and get lots of light. If you're uncertain about compatible combinations, pick up one of Benjamin Moore's Color Preview cards to help make selections, or try Martin Senour's online Palette Match.

For richer, more authentic colors, work with history-based color palettes, like the Historic Colors of America collection from Color Guild, sanctioned by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities.

You can also use tints in the same color family, perhaps from the same color card. For example, a single color card in the new Farrow & Ball palette deck (inspired by historic colors from the British National Trust) offers a light turquoise grey (Skylight), a rich medium turquoise (Chinese Blue), and a vibrant periwinkle (Pitch Blue). All related, all complementary, but oh so different.

shades of blue
Using tints in the same color family can be effective. This color scheme uses two shades of blue and a green from the same color card.

Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Moore & Co.

What about white?

If you live in a 20th century Colonial Revival dwelling, white probably does unite -- provided it's not the field color. Trim and other woodwork was traditionally painted ivory or off-white in this period, providing a sense of continuity from room to room.

Other styles can fight with white, especially bungalows or any other house with lots of dark woodwork. The original owners of these economy homes often covered the plaster over the wainscot -- left bare by the builder -- as soon as they could afford paint or wallpaper. While some folks may prefer lighter tints than the traditional deep olive greens, orange-browns, and reds of the era, there's no question that adding color above the woodwork line "lifts" the room and turns it into a beautifully finished space. And that's really the goal, isn't it?

One room, three looks

The walls in this room were painted three different colors, demonstrating that: 1) It's okay to experiment with color 2) Different color schemes yield very different looks.

cool room

warm room

warm cool room

Photos: Courtesy of Benjamin Moore & Co.

Suppliers of paint

The Old House Web's Guide to Suppliers contains information on companies that supply paint, tints, and tools to make your interior decorating a success.

Other resources

The Old House Web has published a variety ofhow-to stories about paint. Additionally, you'll find stories on the site about:

Painting Historic Interiors

Choosing paint brushes and rollers

Repairing holes in plaster

About this story

This story is adapted with permission from a story that appeared in Old-House Interiors magazine's July 2003 edition. If you would like to learn more about the magazine, its editors invite you torequest a free issue of Old-House Interiors magazine.

Paints used in rooms pictured are all from Benjamin Moore & Co.

Photo 1: Entry hall, Straw 2154-50; Steps: Ashley Grey HC-87; Bannister: Amazon Soil 2115-30; Bannister & trim: Cancun Sand 2016-70; Floor: Palladian Blue CH-144.

Photo 2: Far wall: San Clemente Rose AC-10; Hallway: Straw 2154-50; Front: Mill Springs Blue HC-137

Photo 3: Far wall: Salisbury Green HC-139; Bedroom: Whipple Blue HC-152; Hall: Marlboro Blue HC-153

About the Author
by the editors of Old-House Interiors magazine

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