Paint technology has come a long way. We think of technological changes as a contemporary situation. But the way we design, decorate and build our homes has always been affected by modern advances. In fact, over 100 years ago a technological change in paint created a massive change in the style of exterior house paint, a style that we still see today.
The death of Queen Victoria in 1901 officially marked the end of the Victorian period of décor and with it, the trend of exterior house paint changed from dark to light. Homeowners were looking to shake off some of the Victorian fussiness and restraint and were discovering new ways of thinking and living, which can be seen very apparently in the style change of the decorative arts. With house paint colors, not only did the new lighter color schemes change the appearance of houses, the placement of the color changed. Prior to 1900 it was the trend to paint the trim and accent pieces a dark color. After 1900 it became common to paint the trim a lighter, nearly white color. Overall the shades used became much lighter.
“A restored Italianate house built 1886. The colour scheme follows the recommended treatment for an Italianate-style house: warm paler body with rich trim colours.”
Prior to the 1890’s the style of exterior house paint was usually dark. Both the body of the house and the trim and detail pieces were usually painted in darker hues and palettes (see image below).
“A selection of colours popular in the 1880’s. The blue colours would be used sparingly for fine trim or for signs.”
Aside from an overall style-shift, technology was a huge catalyst for color change. According to one source “the titanium pigment, titanium dioxide was discovered in 1821 but it was not until 1921 that a titanium white oil color suitable for artistic purposes was introduced by an American manufacturer.” The ability to capture titanium dioxide in paint created a whole new palette for homeowners. This new, brighter white became popular on the inside of homes as well, especially in the kitchen where the hygienic-appearing white was easy to clean. Another influence was the all-white buildings showcased at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.
“The same house in 1913. The colours have been reversed. Still sporting a mid-tone body colour, the house now has pale trim boards and dark painted window sash (and a new chimney).”
Top image credit: Witt Construction