Introduction to colour

Paint and the raw materials to mix paint, were imported into Australia well into the early 20th century, and paint colour was often mixed by hand on site.

Limewash was being used in Australia pre-1800. It was the cheapest form of paint and was used widely. Limewash is a very early form of water paint which was daubed onto surfaces as a hot slurry of slaked lime with added pigments for colour. When commercially available oil paints became more common, limewash was relegated to a coating used for service buildings and the like.

Choosing a tradtional colour scheme for a dwelling should be based on research including the style of the house and the original colour scheme. Details of the original colour scheme can be sourced from historical documents and photographs about the particular dwelling, and also from an investigation of the existing paint layers on various surfaces. Removing successive layers of paint can reveal historical and original colour schemes. Methods of revealing paint layers can be found on the NSW Environment & Heritage website.

With this information, a colour scheme can be worked up from referencing the heritage colours offered by commercial paint manufacturers. Colour charts will usually suggest typical heritage schemes for guidance. Many commercial paint companies also offer colour consultancy services. Various publications, commercial paint companies, and websites give a good background to typical colours schemes seen in architectural styles and periods. Of course, certain colour schemes can be classed as typical, but they were not the only schemes seen during the period. The trend for placing of tonal differences between wall surfaces and trim/decorative detail should guide initial colour value selection, e.g. lighter walls with darker trim or vice versa. Look at other similar original houses in the Maitland area.

External building surfaces were commonly unpainted. Rendered walls were often left as natural grey. Stone was virtually never painted, and in fact the aim in painting other materials was often to simulate stone. Dwellings designed with face brick walls should remain as face brick, and not be painted.

Where quoins were used as a corner detail on masonry houses and were painted, they were typically a shade darker than the wall surface. Where face brick quoins were used, they were typically in a contrasting brick and should be left unpainted.

The use of fixed external louvred casement style timber shutters was common from very early periods, for security and control of sunlight. It is unusual to see adjustable louvre blades in a shutter in Victorian times.

Verandah roof stripes painted in alternating contrasting colours, at the width of the roofing sheets was fashionable in Victorian times, and not only in Australia. This is thought to have originated from the idea of the verandah appearing as a canvas shelter, and canvas was often striped. The tradition of painting the underside of verandahs in a light green is also based on the traditional colour of canvas backing, and referenced the idea of verandahs emulating a canvas shelter.

Verandah floors followed the general style trend of the dwelling, with early floors in simple unfinished materials such as stone and timber and brick. Later, highly decorative house styles employed multi-coloured tessellated tiles.

Unpainted galvanised iron was often used for roofing, even if the verandah roof was painted.

Generally, fencing was designed in a material and colour as an extension of the dwelling. For example, where the dwelling was in face brick, so too was the fence. A weatherboard dwelling would typically have a timber picket fence painted in a colour scheme to match the house.

The Maitland Heritage Kit is an initiative of the Maitland City Council Heritage Group, with assistance from Heritas Heritage & Conservation. Illustrations from the Pender Archives are reproduced with kind permission from the Cultural Collections Department of the University of Newcastle.