A Question of Color
Today, we often think of Victorian-era houses as having many many colors, and all quite bright. However, this is the after-effect of the Painted Ladies craze which began in San Francisco in the 1970s. Wild & crazy hippies took old, unloved houses and painted them in exciting, bold colors, the more the better. Images of these homes swept across the nation, and several books were published.
But…this is not how houses looked in the Victorian era.
In the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries, houses were painted in subdued earth tones. White was never used, unless the house was, say, in the Greek-Revival style.
Later, white became THE color for houses, and by the 1920s few Victorian-era homes remained untouched by this new fashion. This fate even befell the Cross House, and it remained white for another eighty years.
After being purchased by Debbi and Bob Rodak in 1999, Bob began the laborious task of removing a century of lead-based paint from the exterior. Bob then painted the main facade (west), and the highly visible north facade. The two other exterior facades were stripped of paint.
The Rodak’s selected a blue-ish gray for the main color. They also picked out in a wine color the many stamped tin swirls which are a feature of the exterior.
Although Bob’s work was expensive and laborious, it was never completed. Neither the west and north facades were entirely finished, and the east and south facades are still bare wood today.
By the time I purchased the house in 2014, even Bob’s paint needed repainting.
My guide was the 1895 image of the house. Encoded within was a wealth of information. While the black and white image could not convey color, it conveyed tone and other important clues.
An 1895 article in the Emporia Gazette stated that the exterior was in several shades of olive. The window sashes were classic black. Even though Bob had removed the paint from the exterior, I found traces of the original colors tucked behind some shingles and trim, and these colors were, indeed, in several shades of olive. These traces were matched by Sherwin-Williams, and with the aid of the 1895 image I was able to ascertain what was Light and what was Dark.
Originally, the tin swirls were painted the same color as the background they were attached to. After recreating this it became evident as to why the architect of the house, Charles W. Squires, chose this. With the swirls picked out, one’s eye is drawn to them, instead of the massing and overall effect of the house. It is like noticing jewelry worn by a woman, without noticing the beauty of the wearer.
Unexpectedly, once some areas were painted in the historic colors, I and others were amazed at how good the gorgeous limestone foundation looked, and even the many stained-glass windows. The original colors complemented these important features, and the brilliance of the original architect was reaffirmed.
My goal is to have the main facade fully painted by the end of 2014, if the weather holds out. The other facades are scheduled for completion, I hope, by 2018.
When this work is completed, the exterior of the Cross House will look like it did a century ago. The thought makes me tingle.
NOTE: In the newer images below, the main porch is missing vital elements, such as columns, railings, and lattice. These will be discussed in later posts.
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