Recreating 1894

So, I recently did a post about trying to ascertain the original colors of the 1894 Cross House kitchen, whereby I sent samples to Frank Welsh, who microscopically analyzed the samples I sent him. And—ta-da!—this is how the kitchen was finished in 1894! The wood trim was simply finished with an orange shellac, and the plaster was a pale orange/yellow color. Golly.


I had thought the wall color would be a pale taupe as this color is evident all though the kitchen. But, Frank knows his business. And well. So, what is the taupe color?


I sanded the taupe, thinking that under would be the pale orange/yellow. But, under was…plaster. And, you can see subtle evidence of the pale orange/yellow on TOP of the taupe.


So, what is the taupe?

It does not seem to be a paint layer. It is really thin, more akin to a stain.

I am going to ask Frank about this mystery color. What is it? Is it some kind of sealer for the plaster?




  1. Eric K Perreault on April 30, 2020 at 8:51 pm

    Are you sure that’s not just the skim coat of plaster as the third and final layer with no stain or paint at all?

    For what it’s worth (nothing, really) I like the pale orange/yellow color.

  2. David McDonald on April 30, 2020 at 8:53 pm

    The “taupe”… could just be what aged white plaster looks like when over 100 years old, or how the original color stained the plaster.
    But the “orange/yellow” (looks like pale peach) and that gorgeous honeyed oak takes me back to the early 80s at a friends house-his mother had just redone the house-these exact colors! But also to the 1890s! Those colors combined with the original exterior colors, I totally see the wild west/frontier, natural look. And how harmonious it actually is!! The green? Same green in my 40s kitchen up under the porcelain coated cast iron sink. Totally 40s. But still waaay cool color!
    I like the “original” colors, but i agree with you Ross, not sure i could actually live with it. My kitchen? Pale minty green walls, white trim, marble tile floor. So, maybe pay tribute to the original colors?? ,yet update the tone/shade, like I did. And whoever mentioned (and you agreed with) that idea of putting prints of the color layers on the wall is a GREAT idea! Paying tribute…..

    • David McDonald on April 30, 2020 at 8:59 pm

      But, that first picture….
      Looks like the Titanic! Lol. All the beauty that was and is now, no longer.
      Think of the conversations, the clicking of heels on the floor, the parties, the ordering around of servants….. like an echoey, wispy musical refrain traling off into the distance. Here’s hopin you get it back to those days!!

      • Ross on April 30, 2020 at 9:13 pm

        David, yes, the kitchen looks like a bomb has gone off in it! Like most rooms in the house.

        It’s also, conversely, quite intact. All the door/window trim is intact. I have all the doors (save one which I don’t need). Most of the wood wainscoting is intact. The original floor is there. And now I know the original wood finish, and wall color!

        I have, stored away, a very simple period-correct 4-arm gas/electric pendant.

        The kitchen will, once restored, be the closest to its original appearance than any room in the house.

    • Ross on April 30, 2020 at 9:00 pm

      Hi, David!

      I will redo the kitchen in the original finishes/colors. This will not be an aesthetic decision, rather a historic decision. I just like the idea of recreating What Was.

  3. David McDonald on April 30, 2020 at 9:18 pm

    Hi back!!
    I got one word…Cool!!! 😁👍

  4. john feuchtenberger on April 30, 2020 at 9:34 pm

    Old plasterers I have talked to about plaster repair referred to three layers of historic plaster–scratch coat over the lath, then brown coat, then finish coat. They said sometimes brown coat was last coat if the room was to be papered, since the last coat or two of the smooth lime-based finish coat(s) could take some time to dry sufficiently for paper. Perhaps, since the kitchen was in 1894 the domain of the staff, brown coat was as far as the plaster finishers got?

  5. john feuchtenberger on April 30, 2020 at 9:37 pm

    And then the brown coat was painted the pale orange/yellow?

  6. Kenneth Dean on April 30, 2020 at 9:37 pm

    I was curious abut what was satin wood. The tree is called Ceylon and comes from East India, Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka and says it is used for fine cabinet making.

  7. Jim Wolf on April 30, 2020 at 9:41 pm

    Ross you may have discovered the remains of the original distemper paint that was applied to the plaster walls temporarily before the final paint coat was applied to your kitchen. It is an important fact that lime plaster walls, likely installed in the lates summer or fall of 1893 were still drying at the time of the home’s occupancy in early 1894. Often because of the long drying time for Victorian plaster walls that they could not be immediately painted or papered with their final finishes. Decorator manuals of the period recommended: “To guard against damp injuring the paint upon a (new) plaster wall, it is safer to distemper the walls for the first two years, and then wash it off and paint, taking care that the walls are perfectly dry.” Distemper was a water-based chalk paint that could be tinted, and would have provided a temporary decorative surface until the plaster dried.

    • Ross on April 30, 2020 at 9:51 pm

      That makes sense, Jim. I am hoping that Frank can reveal the mystery!

    • Ragnar on May 1, 2020 at 5:26 am

      That makes sense as fresh lime plaster is caustic. As it absorbs CO2 from the air, it cures chemically and is neutralised. And oil-based paints are dissolved by caustic chemicals, which is why there are caustic paint strippers. So you can’t paint fresh plaster with that, unless you neutralise it first. My 1956 DIY book from Germany suggests sulphuric acid for that. The walls should also be dry, which of course happens faster with plaster & lath than with plaster on brick or porous stone that absorbed plenty of water from the mortar. The same DIY book suggests waiting at least half a year before finishing walls in a new house and moving in. It also notes that this advice is rarely followed in practice, causing mould and other damp issues as well as cracks from excessively fast drying. Plasterboard only became truly common in Germany in the 1970s and 1980s and even then plaster over brick remained a common feature.

      Waiting for two years seems a bit excessive though.

  8. Linda A. on April 30, 2020 at 11:10 pm

    So what is the taupe? The taupe is depressing. That is what the taupe is. If a servant had to be in that kitchen cooking all day in 1894 surrounded by that color I would beg to be a parlour maid and clean out the fireplace grates.

    • Terri on May 1, 2020 at 7:18 am

      This made me laugh!!! Thanks Linda A. ! I needed that!

  9. Rachel Edmonds on May 1, 2020 at 12:25 am

    Hi Ross, I don’t comment often but my house is the same age as yours, though granted in England and not America. Our house had only had a handful of families live in it from new so it was pretty much intact. I agree with Jim, it could be distemper or Casein paint. Both were used at that time. They were used because they are breathable unlike modern paints. To check if it is either, all you need to do is try washing a patch with warm water and a little washing up liquid added. If it washes off you have your answer. My house had it in every room. We had red, a pale sort of turquoise colour and a taupe similar to the colour on your wall. Our ceilings were also painted with it. One thing to note if you do have either of these paint finishes is not to plaster over them. The plaster will fall off if you don’t wash all the paint off first. Throughout our house we only have one layer of plaster, the traditional lime plaster with horsehair added.

  10. Kim on May 1, 2020 at 9:06 am

    The mushroom hue has interesting qualities but, a kitchen does need light – clean light. A soft morning sun to begin the day, with the warmth of sundown to come home to.
    The origional trim is beautiful and even glows next to the origional orange/yellow. No doubt, everyone and everything will gain strength and confidence from this surrounding hue. Can you tell I vote orange/yellow? ☺
    The mushroom hue is likely the plaster cure coat. Unless plaster is to be burnished, it is painted or papered over so, a thin coat is mixed with a seal and left to cure. There are different ways but, this process cures slightly quicker and, can cure in a few months as the rest of the house is worked on and finished.
    I’ve kept one wall in my house “naked” and even keep it’s cracks untouched. I personally enjoy looking at it. I politely smile when others inquire when it will be painted or papered. 😉
    Exciting progress, Ross! 🌻

  11. Mari on May 1, 2020 at 9:10 am

    I have an antique cookbook from around 1890 called Miss Parloa’s Kitchen Companion. Pages 13-28 deal with the perfect kitchen and pantry layout according to her standard of the time. She explains in detail what the finishes should be and why. What struck me was how similar it seemed to the layout in the Cross House. I’ve tried to find a way to send you pictures of these pages from this cookbook but I simply couldn’t figure it out. I admit I sometimes binge read your blog and just smile. Thank you.

    • David McDonald on May 1, 2020 at 10:47 am

      1.youll need Ross’s direct email. (Can’t do it here)
      2. Then a printer that’s also a copier. That way you can “scan” (lay the book down on the printer like a copier, copying the image into your computer-then click “save as” so you give it a name so you can find it again) then you can just attach that document to an email.
      Hope it helps you. 😊

  12. David McDonald on May 1, 2020 at 10:15 am

    Silly thought here….(with 1890s appropriate slang)…..
    ” EUREKA!! I GOT it! It’s flesh tone! It’s breathing! ”
    With the newly restored colors, the room IS a living, breathing thing once again! LOL…
    Thought it was funny how much the wall color looks like flesh tone.
    Can’t wait til u get Frank’s input. Though, most explanations that peopld herd have given seem to ring true as to what the “taupe” is.

  13. tura wolfe on May 1, 2020 at 6:31 pm

    Paint and trim samples are freshly elegant. Glad taupe color has been discovered for what it is….. distemper paint. Ugh!

    Let the Joy of Cooking and Julia Child waltz on in the magnificent kitchen with a great old fashion kitchen table……. cooking us a feast! Oh well, I guess Ross can eat too!! Ha!!!!!!
    (I am stilling rooting for the kitchen table.)

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