Revealing a Colorful Past

Recently, I did a post about trying to ascertain the original colors of the 1894 Cross House kitchen, whereby I sent samples to Frank Welsh, who I have previously worked with.

Today, Frank sent me the results!




So, the wood trim in the kitchen simply had an orange shellac finish.

The plaster was painted…




Oh. Oh! OH!

I’m so excited to learn this after six years of pondering.

The trim really surprised me as it seemed like it was all painted a nutmeg-kinda color, as this color is evident in all the service areas where the many paint layers are chipped. But no!

Frank wrote: “Our analyses and color evaluation disclose that both samples exhibit good paint layer evidence. There are 14 layers of paint on the samples. The first layer on the trim is a clear coat finish which our micro-solubility test confirms is orange shellac. This is a typical treatment for wood trim in the late 1800’s. The first layer on the plaster from the walls is a Pale Orange Yellow, matte finish, lead-based, oil paint that we matched to Sherwin Williams color #SW-0028. The subsequent layers of paint above these original finishes are described below. In addition, we photographed the layer structure in both samples and present these two cross section photomicrographs so that you can observe the original layers and also the range of colors that have been applied over time.”

I just love this kind of stuff! It is also amazing to see 126-years of color history revealed!

After receiving Frank’s email, I immediately called Sherwin Williams to order a quart of 0028 in an oil-base eggshell (they don’t have a matt finish in oil base). So, soon, soon, I will paint a section of wall in the original color, and an adjacent section of trim in orange shellac. I have every intention of these being the finishes of the kitchen when I get the room restored.

I am breathless with excitement.

Oh, and I have to wonder about:


…that green! That green! I bet it was radioactive!




  1. Linda A. on April 28, 2020 at 10:06 pm

    Those green layers remind me of this dessert from the 1970’s by JELLO that you made from a package….and when all was said and done it miraculously developed three different layers…one was jello , one was a mousse type layer and I cant remember what the other layer was. We loved them as kids and our mom made them in these fancy glass goblets so you could see all the layers. I remember these came in lime and orange flavors. So 70s! Your micro paint cross section reminds me of those. I must need a snack.😋

    • Ross on April 28, 2020 at 10:17 pm

      Now you got me hungry, too, Linda!

    • Christy B. on April 29, 2020 at 6:19 am

      Ha, dessert was my first thought too! My mom used to make a layered pistachio pudding / Cool Whip / cream cheese dessert all on a pistachio crust that I absolutely loved. This recipe looks exactly like what I remember:

      Fitting for a kitchen 🙂 Also, I think the new color will be gorgeous with all that southern light!

    • Penny on April 29, 2020 at 8:18 am

      My mother made a jello desert on holidays. Green on bottom, then there was a layer of something, ( not sure what), with pineapple and cream cheese. Then red jello on the top. I know she had to let it setup between the layers. Oh the memories. There is one I still make that is lime jello with pineapple and cottage cheese. Looks like the same green in the picture.

  2. Bo Sullivan on April 28, 2020 at 10:12 pm

    Frank knows far more about these things than I do, but I was under the impression that oil paints were always glossy unless hand “stippled” by brush after application to dull the sheen – so if yours was matte, it may have been acheived by stippling. My understanding is that it was not until products like Lowe Bros. “Mellotone” paints were introduced that a durable dull or flat finish was available out of a can. The earliest references to Mellotone paints I can find seem to be around 1909, so they must have been introduced just before then.

    Now, I may be wrong about these understandings, so maybe Frank or others can describe what they know about matte oil finishes in the 1890s and 1900s if it is different the story I’ve heard…

    • Ragnar on April 29, 2020 at 8:00 am

      I’m a bit surprised too. In central Europe, wall finishes at that time were usually water-based and matte, either limewash, distemper or milk paint (caseine). Limewash was most common in rural buildings, cellars etc. while milk paint was popular in fancier rooms. Distemper (essentially wallpaper paste and chalk dissolved in water) was only usable in dry rooms and rubbed off even when dry. It was still a popular and affordable finish for interior walls well into the 1960s. New emulsion binders then made it somewhat more durable but still easy to remove when wet. Proper cellulose distemper is still used for ornamental plasterwork because it can be washed off when it’s time to repaint, preventing build-up of dozens of layers, obscuring all details.

      (Linseed) oil paint was used for woodwork and for high-traffic wall surfaces as a cheaper alternative to tile, e.g. in kitchens, public hallways, bathrooms etc. It usually only went up about 5-6 feet from the floor, as tile would. Woodwork was shellaced if oak, walnut or another suitably fancy species but otherwise painted or faux-grained.

      Walls were usually fancy, dark colours with stencilled or rolled or patterns or even hand-painted murals. Faux grain finishes were oppressively dark in the late 19th century (I tried stripping a few of those) but lighter in the early 20th century, more like natural oak. Occasionally they were even tinted, e.g. green. If painted, interior doors were usually cream or light grey. Windows were often cream, light grey, brown or dark green.

    • Ross on April 29, 2020 at 3:08 pm

      Bo? Frank replied to me:

      Very basically, the appearance of oil paint films (i.e. level of gloss) is controlled by what paint chemists refer to as PVC, which is Pigment-Volume-Concentration. This means for example: that the greater the amount of pigment in a paint the more the surface of the paint contains pigment that refracts (scatters) the incident light, thus controlling reflectance or gloss, which is referred to as appearance. The lesser the amount of pigment in a paint, the greater percentage of oil, thus producing a film that has a smoother surface that reflects more light like a glossy paint.

      Typical pigments that are used to control gloss (but not color) are those that are called extender or inert pigments. The most common extenders used in paints are silicas and calcium carbonates, etc. These extender pigments are white and transparent (in an oil paint), but they are not opaque like white lead, zinc white and titanium dioxide white. The opaque pigments are called hiding pigments because they hide what they cover in a paint layer.

      Naturally, one can learn much, much more about all of this by searching these topics on the web. For example, here:

  3. Kerri on April 28, 2020 at 10:21 pm

    I love this kinda thing! So glad to hear that you plan on bringing the original colors back. If I remember
    correctly, you once shared with us a newspaper article from when the house was first built and a reporter
    was touring the house. They made a lot of mistakes, but I think they said something like “the kitchen
    finishes were natural pine” or words to that affect.

  4. Colin Boss on April 28, 2020 at 10:25 pm

    Hi Ross. That’s fascinating to see all the different layers built up. I’ve always wondered if it was possible and now I know. Hopefully you’re thriving in these strange and unnerving times we live through. Hang in there and keep posting about your wonderful home.

  5. Julie C. on April 28, 2020 at 10:44 pm

    Exciting stuff!
    It will look amazing! Can’t wait to see the finished work.

  6. Jim Wolf on April 28, 2020 at 11:19 pm

    Very cool! I looked up the painter of your house – F.E. Phillips and Co. He was in business in town since 1884, was the head of the painter’s union and mixed his own paints, selling cans of the stuff to locals in the 1920s and still active in the early 1930s. Conceivably he could be responsible for more than one of those layers – perhaps even that lurid green!

  7. Leigh on April 29, 2020 at 12:10 am

    Radioactive green -Ross
    Lurid green -Jim Wolf
    Luminous green/ phosphorescent green -me

  8. Monika Bredesen on April 29, 2020 at 8:34 am

    Wonderful piece of history! Fantastic to see the different layers of color through times

  9. Derek Walvoord on April 29, 2020 at 9:44 am

    Those green’s would be pretty cool! It would be hard to choose which one to go with. The lighter one would certainly be bright!

    • Julie C. on April 29, 2020 at 9:53 am

      I was thinking the same, but maybe just a small wall/area just to give a nod to the historic colors of the kitchen 🙂
      Might be fun!

      • Amanda on April 29, 2020 at 10:22 am

        I was thinking the same thing. I’d be so tempted to put that green somewhere in the kitchen, maybe the main pantry.

        • Stewart McLean on April 29, 2020 at 10:38 am

          I would be tempted to have big blow up prints made of the paint layer sample photos, frame them in wood that matches the trim, and hang them on the wall.

          • Ross on April 29, 2020 at 4:17 pm

            Excellent idea, Stewart! I will do that!

  10. Linda A. on April 29, 2020 at 10:40 am

    I love all the knowledge from everybody that your posts unearth! I thought I knew a lot about paint but, today I learned something new from Jim and Ragner. That peach color reminds me of a prom dress color circa 1980. But my friend who is an art major and interior decorator always told me to NEVER paint a kitchen green. But she wont tell me why. I had wanted to paint my kitchen in my previuos Queen Anne a greyish green but she put her foot down. Maybe too depressing??? Ross, I know the lime green is not on your scanner as a choice for the kitchen, but it is just amazing that a company has the technology to discover every layer that your kitchen had ever been painted! Too cool.

    • Mike on April 29, 2020 at 2:12 pm

      Linda, when we redid out kitchen (1886 Q Anne) in 2018, we went with dark oak cabinets and trim (found original trim in a wall, it was always that dark) and a mint green on the walls. Everyone loves it, or at least they tell us they do, LOL…the wife uses a lot of white, stainless, and dark brown with it and I think it looks really nice. I should, as much as it cost! 🙂

  11. Linda A. on April 29, 2020 at 10:45 am

    P.S. There is enough “luminous” green on the main stairway wall to satisfy ANYBODY !! I call it “martian” green! Lol.

  12. Seth Hoffman on April 29, 2020 at 11:48 am

    Does this mean you’ve got a bunch of paint stripping down to bare wood in your future?

    I’ll be interested to see your process!

  13. Ann on April 29, 2020 at 1:55 pm

    That is Jadite green. Love it!

  14. John Blick on April 29, 2020 at 2:31 pm

    Each one of those paint layers would have great little stories to tell if they could talk. Stories of the people who lived there, the furnishings, how the house looked, the events of those times, etc. Wouldn’t it be great if you could somehow have that information?

    I am curious as to why you will be using an oil based paint? Is the finished appearance different than a latex? I am in Maryland, and we can’t even purchase oil based paint any longer (other than in quarts). We use latex everywhere with great results. Much easier to clean up and much less smell too.

  15. Sandra D Lee on April 29, 2020 at 5:22 pm

    Love the transitions from radioactive green paint, to jade-ite or phosphorescent green! What about 70’s psychedelic?? Personally, I think I like the visual of absinthe green! I think that is charming and especially Art Nouveau with absinthe advertisements! Absinthe is coming back into favor in France! Who woulda thought??

  16. Ann on April 29, 2020 at 5:26 pm

    Several popular green colors in days past contained arsenic which sickened or killed people. They used these colors in paint, wallpaper and even dyes for clothes. And for the white….. white lead that was VERY popular for white paint in kitchens. Don’t do any sanding in that room!

  17. tura wolfe on April 30, 2020 at 12:08 pm

    I really like the Caen Stone. It is so impressive that the original color can be found under fourteen layers of paint. I would have never thought it could be possible to do such a thing. You are so perfect with details. And details make everything outstanding. You are an inspiration to all of us reading your blog.

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