Painting a Historic House…Historically. PART III

Today started out…breathlessly.

I woke, and walked to the computer with cereal bowl in hand.

The computer was switched on.

And there, there, was a response from Frank Welsh.

My heart stopped.

You see, I did a recent post on trying to ascertain the exact shade of exterior wall color for the Cross House. This may seem kinda nuts two years after starting to paint the house, but my curiously had been nagging me all the while and I wanted to silence this voice.

Why a nagging voice?

  1. All the exterior paint was stripped off the house by the previous owner.
  2. As such, it has proved difficult finding any examples of the original paint.
  3. I nonetheless did find a pristine example of the trim color. And had this copied.
  4. I also discovered a so-so example of the wall color, and went with this discovery. I think the results were stunning:



The Cross House, a few months ago.


Frank owns Welsh Color & Conservation, which does color analysis for historic buildings. His email this morning (drum roll, please) revealed the finding regarding the sample I had sent him.

Thus, my breathlessness.

My eyes devoured his email. My heart raced. For, here was what I had been seeking for two years.

Frank wrote:

The best color match is actually an old DURON paint company color #8194, called Capertree. As you may know, DURON was purchased by Sherwin Williams a number of years ago; however, they have the formulas for the DURON colors in their computer system. They can make a quart of this color to provide a visual color reference sample. 

Of course, #8194 meant nothing to me. So I called my local Sherwin-Williams store, spoke with Trevor, and conveyed the above information. As I talked, Trevor typed the information into his computer, and then casually stated that they had #8194 in their system.

“Would I like a sample made?”

Oh my. Oh my! Oh my, YES!

I told Trevor that I could come by in a few hours to pick up the sample.



I wanted to leave that instant. Right that minute. NOW.

But I had to finish restoring a circa-1910 Gothic-style wall sconce for a buyer. And the sconce then had to be packed, and put on the porch for FedEx.

Drat! Drat!

However, with super-human effort, the task was completed, but with each passing minute counted.

Then it was lunch time.

I have a ritual of lunching every Friday at Ad Astra, just two blocks away. I live for this ritual. I love rituals. It’s Friday at AA! Friday at AA!

But today? Lunching at Ad Astra would take about an hour.

And I could eat at home in twenty minutes.

I pondered.

Time won.

So I rushed through lunch at home, jumped in the car, and headed to Emporia for the answer to a two-year-old question.

As soon as I hit Highway 50, I clicked on the cruise-control to exactly 65. Because I knew that, in my state of high anticipation, I might otherwise floor it to 200 miles per hour.

And then I was there. In the parking lot of Sherwin-Williams. I stepped into the store, sorta tipsy with anticipation and anxiety, and Trevor was there with my sample quart.

“Would you like me to open it? he asked.

My hands, to my surprise, moved to cover my eyes. For, what if the sample did NOT match the painting already completed?

What if?

What if?

What if?

Trevor was looking at me, waiting for an answer.

THIS was the moment of truth.

Was I strong enough for the answer?

I nodded, yes.

And Trevor revealed…the answer.



With sample quart in hand, I drove the few more blocks to the Cross House.

Upon arriving, I raced up three flights of stairs, crawled out through a window onto the scaffolding, painted the now-historically-confirmed sample onto the wall, and…

Scroll down for the results.





















Damn. Damn, damn, damn. DAMN! The pale color IS the 1894 wall color. The olive color below is what I have been painting the house since 2014.


After painting the sample on the wall, I stood back…in shock.


I had been anticipating something just a bit different than what I had been using for two years.

But the 1894 color was a LOT different.

I continued staring. And all the joy in my heart poured out of my body and fell three stories to the ground.



I feel utterly devastated. Punched in the stomach. Sucker-punched.

HOW could I have gotten the wall color so wrong. How?

In working with the so-so sample I had in 2014, I recall finding the pale color, and just assumed it was the primer. It was so pale, and I had an 1895 newspaper article about the house describing the exterior as being in “shades of olive”.

Does the actual 1894 wall color look like olive to you?

In the sample I sent Frank (a wall shingle), he wrote me this morning:

1. Prime: Light Olive (original)
2. Finish: Light Olive (original)
3. Finish: Medium Olive
4. Finish: Light Olive
5. 20+ later layers of paint of various colors.

So, I am guessing that what I have been using the past two years was Finish #3. So, an old color but not the original color.

Geez. I am an idiot.


WHAT TO DO????????????

As the day progressed, my emotional self spiraled into, to my surprise, a deep depression.

My intellectual self knew, of course, that all this was just about friggin’ paint, but the emotional self felt slammed against a wall.

I have been SO focused and SO dedicated and SO interested in historical accuracy, yet I nonetheless screwed up, big time, with something as vital as the original exterior colors.

Geez. I am an idiot.

In contacting Frank, I had been anticipating a bit of variance with what I found in 2014, and felt that I could change colors on the north facade without such a change being readily observable from the already painted west facade.

But now I know that this is impossible.

The end result? I have screwed things up royally.

At the moment (subject to change) I will continue with my inauthentic color scheme. However, I plan to continue working with Frank (if he will have me) to ascertain all the original colors of the Cross House as best as can be determined considering the fact that the house was stripped of exterior paint a decade ago. I would like to, at the very least, have the original colors on file. Then, when it comes time to repaint the house in, say, seven years, I could switch to the actual original colors.

While this is the plan-of-the-moment, I nonetheless still feel demolished.






  1. Michael Bazikos on May 6, 2016 at 9:39 pm

    Ross both look good. I think the present wall color is awesome. You might re-evaluate your disappointment later, and still change the colors next time the house is painted.

  2. Tony on May 6, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    Wow I may have finally found something original about your house that I don’t like. I think the colors you have currently are absolutely perfect. The contrast of the medium and dark colors are perfect. Just keep calm and carry on, Ross. Restoring a home is a process and the original colors can be the cherry on top at the end.

  3. Carla on May 6, 2016 at 10:02 pm

    I agree! Sometimes we make mid course adjustments and I think that’s what happened with that original color! They weren’t happy with what the house looked like so they changed it to what you have now! That first color was an oops!!????

  4. Brandy Mulvaine on May 6, 2016 at 10:07 pm

    Ross, you don’t know how long the Cross House stayed the lighter color. What if they used that color first, but they HATED it and repainted it the darker color right away!

  5. Brandy Mulvaine on May 6, 2016 at 10:25 pm

    To me this paint chip looks darker than your sample paint

    • Ross on May 7, 2016 at 7:32 am


      That totally blows me away!

      You are right, the color sample is really different than the Sherwin-Williams sample made for me.

      I will see what is going on this morning!

      A great paint mystery!


      • Brandy Mulvaine on May 8, 2016 at 6:26 am

        Glad I could help?

  6. AmyB on May 6, 2016 at 10:30 pm

    You know that the Crosses changed things from the original plans, who knows if the house color was one of them. They could have changed to paint # 3 before they even moved in. I think the color you are painting is just fantastic.

  7. Barb Sanford on May 6, 2016 at 10:54 pm

    I wish I could say something comforting, but I know from personal experience that it is difficult, if not impossible, to comfort a disappointed perfectionist.

    I think the colors you chose for the Cross House were based on the best information you had available at the time — and ended up being beautiful, and perfect for the house.

    Whatever you decide to do next, I know you’ll make the right choice. Just remember: It’s your house, too. Maybe — just maybe — for the paint colors, it should be the Ross House.

  8. Marie on May 6, 2016 at 11:10 pm

    I think the color choices you have now speak beautifully to the architecture and character of the house. And they’re still historically accurate! Just not original. Remember: original does not always mean it was final… just like the staircase, some things can change before all is said and done! I’m with the idea that the lighter color could have been an oops! paint.

  9. Hanna on May 6, 2016 at 11:49 pm

    Ross I have never commented before but I think what you painted it is perfect and it looks much better with the richer olivey/gold color! I had no interest in old houses til coming across your blog when someone mentioned it on the old, abandoned and interesing places in Kansas facebook page and now thanks to you I spend hours obsessing over old house dreams and checking your blog for progress.

  10. nathan on May 7, 2016 at 3:17 am

    Firstly, both look fantastic, and I think that down the road the pale colour will look fantastic, it’ll really brighten up the house. Secondly, I SO called this!

  11. Seth Hoffman on November 2, 2016 at 9:46 am

    I’d echo what others have said:
    1: The colors you are using look fantastic
    2: The colors you are using are consistent with the architecture, and appear to be from the period.
    3: The blessing and curse of painted siding, is it will always need to be repainted again, so it’s no extra work to use a different color next time.

    Bottom line, you’re doing an incredible job, and more authentic and careful a restoration than the vast majority of homeowners, even restoration-minded ones. Keep it up!

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