Design Resources
December 10, 2004 12:33 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for books and/or magazines with lots of photos of pre-20th Century living spaces. Why, you ask? Because I'm trying to paint the walls of my 115 year-old brownstone apartment in a color that (1) I like and (2) complements the architecture.
posted by ParisParamus to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Jack Finney's Time and Again is full of photos of NYC interiors and exteriors from the 1880s-1890s, plus it's a great time-travel book.
posted by languagehat at 1:04 PM on December 10, 2004

The colors you'll probably be looking for will be found in the milk paint variety (another vendor). Commercial oils didn't start to come in vogue until the it was probably only the well to dos who used oil.

I don't have any recommendations for print resources, but an Amazon search has a few different results depending on the style your are looking for. Many of those books will have photos of modern examples
posted by pedantic at 1:04 PM on December 10, 2004

Have you tried contacting your local historic preservation society and asking if they have resources? I know my local preservation society was able to provide my office with color charts of historically accurate paint colors when we were thinking about painting our office, which is in a "protected" building.

According to your user page, it seems that the Brooklyn Historical Socitey might be a good place to start asking.
posted by ScottUltra at 2:06 PM on December 10, 2004

Response by poster: ScottUltra, that's a different Brooklyn, but thanks.

On second thought, and FWIW, my problem may be more one of paint than history: I have about five quarts, plus three sample jars of paint sittiing on my floor, and somehow, when the colors go from little square to bigger blotch, they lose the appeal I thought they had....oh well, this is for another thread...
posted by ParisParamus at 2:14 PM on December 10, 2004

Roger Moss has a few good books on Victorian paint and decoration. Victorian Interior Decoration would probably be a good starting place. I used his Exterior Decoration book to pick colors for my old house in the Friendship neighborhood in Pittsburgh and it came out very well. My house was actually edwardian but Pittsburgh is usually 10 - 20 years behind the curve so I figured I was safe in picking some of the more muted victorian colors.

I don't think milk paint would have been used in an urban 1890s brownstone. At that point they were using oil based paint thinned with turpentine and full of lots good white lead. I'd go with a modern latex based paint. But I'd be pretty wary of what the big paint companies try to sell you as historic colors, they're generally brighter and more pastelly than the victorians would have liked.

I'm a little jealous, my current modern townhouse is comfortable and pretty low maintenance but lacks in style and grace that pre-WWI houses have.
posted by octothorpe at 2:17 PM on December 10, 2004

This may or may not be helpful to you, but you might be inspired by looking at art books on William Morris and the pre-Raphaelite circle, though this may be a little earlier than the design era you're looking for. Morris designed some beautiful wallpapers and tapestries, and you can sometimes find his wallpaper designs still in print. Even if you're not into wallpapering (and I sure wouldn't be), you might like the color schemes. Any art library with a good decorative arts section should have tons of stuff on Morris's designs.
posted by butternut at 2:32 PM on December 10, 2004

Wouldn't all the photos be in black and white?
posted by joelf at 2:50 PM on December 10, 2004

I think you'll be happy with octothorpe's recommendation, a contemporary adaptation of period interiors. Authentic late-Victorian interior design is pretty overbearing -- extremely dark and cluttered, with lots of fussy patterns and fringey drapery and dust-gathering knick-knacks. Unless you're a nonagenarian spinster (are you?), it's hard to imagine that it'd have much appeal.

butternut's Morris/Arts & Crafts suggestion is a bit later than you asked for (early 20th century) but the colors and patterns feel much cleaner, more open and vivid, and could be adapted for your purposes.

Dover Publications has several reprints of Victorian exterior color design, e.g., Authentic Color Schemes for Victorian Houses. Again, you could adapt these combos for use indoors.

As far as your square-v.-blotch dilemma -- that's inevitable. Just keep blotching until you find something that works.
posted by vetiver at 3:42 PM on December 10, 2004

Re: square vs. blotch: I generally find that it's wise to go 1 or 3 shades lighter than the square that you like, or at least buy some white or another neutral color to cut it with. What looks vivid and endearing on a square can be, "uh, whoah." when you get to blotch or even wall.
posted by SpecialK at 3:54 PM on December 10, 2004

vetiver, English Arts and Crafts, William Morris, etc. is somewhat earlier (as butternut said) -- it's the American A&C style that came into vogue in the early 20th C.

At any rate, I applaud PP for attempting this. We have a 1911 house, with dark woodwork trim (Craftsman style), and when we repainted the living room and refinished the floor in period colors we were amazed at how it made the room come alive and made the woodwork nearly glow. Dark mahogany-colored woodwork against white walls just looks black. That same woodwork against olive green is gorgeous.

We also noticed that Gustav Stickley recommended dark floors in Craftsman houses. We restored the dark finish on our floor, and you know what? He was right. For this house, anyway. It grounds the room and makes it look solid and right.

Whenever you base your design on the home's original intent, I think it tends to work well. Our house wants deep colors, not light Swedish design. :) My mom's house is a 1948 ranch house, and her Victorian tastes look odd there, but would probably look good in your place. Your house is late Victorian, so late-Victorian colors and design will suit it. Of course you don't have to make the place a museum piece. The colors of the era, alone, will make a big difference.
posted by litlnemo at 5:50 PM on December 10, 2004

Wallpaper was very common in the 1880s. Reproduction Bradbury Wallpaper has interior photos showing the muted colors that were popular then, and dividing the high walls into horizontal sections.
posted by jjj606 at 8:49 PM on December 10, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice. I'm going to try a paler-than-seemingly-what-I-want-on-the-Benjamin-Moore square, and see if I can be happy. Yellow seems too happy, oppressively so, but maybe a pale yellow, Bejamin Moore's Windham Cream, will work.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:11 PM on December 10, 2004

Response by poster: (perhaps)
posted by ParisParamus at 9:12 PM on December 10, 2004

thanks, litlnemo -- always exciting to lose a bit of straw from my massive haystack of ignorance. I'm envious of your olive green and mahogany -- sounds luscious.

PP -- I used a very, very pale yellow from BMoore (can't remember the name) and love it. On the wall, it reads as creamy sunlight instead of happy smiley crayola-color.
posted by vetiver at 3:30 PM on December 11, 2004

vetiver, thanks. :) We were very lucky; the woodwork in our house had never been refinished and was nearly new in appearance after nearly 100 years. (It was Douglas Fir, stained and then coated with shellac. Still shiny and rich.) So anything we do for the house is based on what will complement this wood. (The floor, OTOH, was not nearly new in appearance... but it also had never been refinished.)

I love pale yellow on walls myself. But don't be afraid of strong colors. The great thing about paint is that you can just paint over it. :) I was awfully freaked out by the olive green when we first started to paint it but once we were used to it we loved it. (Pics here if anyone is curious.)
posted by litlnemo at 5:06 PM on December 11, 2004

joelf: My thoughts exactly. Then I realized that one could take pictures after the advent of color photography of rooms that were painted before then.
posted by rustcellar at 5:53 PM on December 11, 2004

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