When it’s time for some interior decorating in your period home, think paint. Not only is interior painting an easy way to make a room look clean and fresh, it’s relatively inexpensive too.
Thanks to the many fine companies that offer historical paint lines, old-house owners won’t sacrifice authenticity when making this choice.
Of course, like everything else, paint and the way it’s made has changed over the years – for the better. Some paint companies base their historical paint lines on documentary research.
Usually this includes old color cards, product information and books. Some go a step further and base a historical paint color on physical research conducted on existing period buildings.
Layer after layer of old paint is carefully removed until the original coating is found.
Samples are taken of this original coating and through laboratory analysis a reproduction color, based on its pigment, is duplicated in a modern paint.
You must remember, though, that our tastes today aren’t necessarily the same as those of our ancestors.
With this in mind, some companies have modified period colors to appeal to the modern eye. Unfortunately, many suppliers don’t tell you when they’ve done this, so if you’re striving for a museum-like reproduction in your home, you’ll have to study the color cards carefully. If not, these slight adaptations shouldn’t matter.
Paint has changed through the ages. Prior to 1700, whitewash was a popular interior paint used in the Colonies.
An inexpensive and easily available mixture of slaked lime and water, it resembled liquid plaster. (You can still find whitewash paints in some historical lines.)
Easy to use, whitewash was a way to make things look clean and neat. One problem with whitewash, though, was its impermanence.
It didn’t last long and washed off easily with water.
Another early paint that goes back to the founding of this country is milk paint. Often preferred for interior work because it didn’t have an unpleasant odor – like the also available oil-based paints – milk, as its name implies, was used as the water and binder.
No matter what type of paint you’re talking about, if it was made before the onset of the commercial paint industry (around 1860-1870), it was hand-mixed. So you didn’t see the uniform consistency that we take for granted today – it had a different texture and was a bit streaky.
The coloring agents or pigments used in early paints were largely earth-based. For example, some reds came from iron oxide, yellows from ocher, black from lamp black, and blues from cobalt. Because of this you never got the same color twice.
So a painter had to prepare a big enough batch of paint to complete the job on hand to ensure uniformity of color. Many old-house restorers long for the rather uneven look of old, milk-painted walls.