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Authentic Paints Stay True Blue to Old Homes

September 21, 1996|From Associated Press

When it's time for some interior decorating in your home, think paint. Not only is interior painting an easy way to make a room look clean and fresh, but it's also relatively inexpensive--especially in an older home, where it can seem like everything costs more than new.

Thanks to the many fine companies that offer historical paint lines, old-house owners won't sacrifice authenticity when making this choice.

Paint and the way it's made have changed over the years--for the better. Some paint companies base historical paint lines on documentary research. Usually this includes old color cards, product information and books. Some go a step further and actually base a historical paint color on physical research conducted on existing period buildings.

Layer after layer of old paint is carefully removed until the original coating is found. Samples are taken of this original coating. Through laboratory analysis, a reproduction color, based on its pigment, is duplicated in a modern paint.

Remember, though, that tastes today aren't necessarily those of our ancestors. Some companies have modified period colors to appeal to the modern eye.

Unfortunately, many suppliers don't tell you when they've done this. If you're striving for a museum-like reproduction, study the color cards carefully. Otherwise, these slight adaptations shouldn't matter.

Prior to 1700, whitewash was a popular interior paint used in the Colonies. An inexpensive and easily available mixture of slaked lime and water, it resembled liquid plaster. (Some historic lines carry whitewash paints.)

Whitewash was easy to use and made things look clean and neat. The problem with whitewash was it didn't last long and washed off easily with water.

Milk paint is another that goes back to the founding of this country. It was often preferred for interior work because it didn't have an unpleasant odor, like the also available oil-based paints. Milk was used as the water and binder.

No matter what type of paint, if it was made before the onset of the commercial paint industry (1860-1870), it was hand-mixed. You didn't see the uniform consistency we take for granted today--it had a different texture and was a bit streaky.

The coloring agents or pigments used in early paints were largely earth-based. Some reds came from iron oxide, yellows from ocher, black from lampblack and blues from cobalt. Painters never got the same color twice. They had to prepare a big enough batch of paint to complete the job on hand to ensure uniformity of color.

Many old-house restorers long for the rather uneven look of old, milk-painted walls. One company still makes milk paint the old-fashioned way, using earth-based pigments for an authentic look: The Old-Fashioned Milk Paint Co., Box 222, Groton, MA 01450.

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