Colonial Paint Colors for Historic Homes

Michelle Radcliff
New England Colonial style home

It's not hard to find colonial paint colors for historic homes if you know what style of colonial home you have and some basic knowledge about this era in history.

Colonial Homes in America

The Eastern United States has an abundance of colonial style homes. The colonial era in America began in the late 1600s, when Europeans began colonizing the eastern coast, and spans through the Revolutionary war, when the 13 British colonies declared independence from England.

Colonial architecture in the 13 colonies and what is now considered New England was influenced by the techniques and styles in Britain and in other parts of Europe. This style of architecture is typically referred to as First Period English or Classic Colonial and buildings built in this style have steep roofs, small casement leaded glass windows and a large central chimney. The front of a colonial style home is very symmetrical, with the front door in the middle and an equal number of windows on each side.

Other colonial architecture styles seen in historical homes include:

  • Georgian
  • Federal
  • Greek revival

Georgian style appears in the early 1700s and is considered the second phase of colonial architecture. It was influenced by the wealthy middle-class society.

Federal style emerged shortly after 1776 and was the dominant style of the new Republic. The style was prevalent in affluent port cities on the east coast such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Savannah. Homes built in this style were still symmetrical, with a lighter and more delicate character.

Government buildings in areas such as Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. are good examples of the Greek revival architecture style influenced by ancient Greek temples. Many of the majestic Southern plantation mansions with their elegant columns reflect this style as well.

Colonial Colors

If you would like to restore your historical home with paint colors true to what might have been originally used when the house was built, you must first try to determine what colonial style your house is.

Classic Colonial Paint Colors

Classic colonial paint colors include modest earth tone colors such as white, creamy yellow, almond, ochre, reddish brown, dark brown, beige, taupe and muted green. These colors were common because the pigments for the dyes came from natural resources such as plants, soil and minerals.

Georgian Paint Colors

The wealthier, more affluent Georgian style homes showed off their status with a range of grays, blues and peach paint colors that were accented with deep rich colors, such as gold, burgundy and navy. Blue pigment was rare and therefore more costly, making it the signature color for upper-class colonial homes.

Federal Paint Colors

The lighter and more delicate federal style homes were also characterized by lighter and pale paint colors such as creams, sage greens, pumpkins, muted blues and stony shades of gray. Brighter colors were used on the interiors with contrasting pale trim in white or off-white.

Greek Revival Paint Colors

The exteriors of Greek revival homes were typically painted white, off-white, gray or ochre, mimicking the natural stone of Greek temples. Exterior shades were painted in a contrasting dark green or black. Interiors were painted in rich tones of gold and green.

Historical Home Investigation

If you live in a historical home, you may be able to find clues as to what types of colors were originally used on your home.

Original paint colors may be hidden underneath many layers of paint. If possible, try removing replaceable trim elements, such as crown moldings, door hardware, stairway trim or a part of a cornice to uncover hidden colors. You may also be able to cut through outer layers of paint in wall or window corners to get a peek at what's underneath.

Finding Inspiration for Authentic Colonial Style

If you happen to live anywhere near Williamsburg, Virginia, you may want to visit the historical area of this colonial town. The historical area covers over 300 acres full of original buildings and reconstructed shops and homes that look just as they did during colonial times. There is no better way to find authentic examples of colonial style home and see authentic colorscapes of the period.

Colonial Paint Colors for Historic Homes