From past to present...
When you look at a paint color, have you ever wondered if our predecessors would have used the same color when decorating their homes?
We can learn a great deal from them, because they often had a very good appreciation of such things as color, style and proportion.
Color as part of style
It's important to remember that the colors used in the past were part of the overall scheme. You'll find they fit best when used within their own setting.
For example, you can use Victorian paint colors where ever you want, but they'll look best when used in a room setting which also contains Victorian furniture, fixtures, fabric designs and so on.
Overwhelmed by a vast range of colors?
There are so many colors available today that it's easy to feel lost. One way of limiting your choice and so making decisions easier is to use the colors from a specific period.
Researching a period style
This can be a very rewarding experience. People often start to research a particular period and find it turns into an enjoyable pastime.
You might watch a film, see a play or illustrations in a book, and want to know more. Or a visit to an historical house can set you off on a trail of discovery. Libraries, museums, the Internet - all these can provide you with information on your chosen subject.
And once you've found the information you need, you can apply it to your own home.
Each of the styles shown below has a typical color scheme included, so you can see what sort of colors they would have used.
Want to use a period color in your home?
The period color and styles pages linked to below give you an introduction to the subject.
You'll also find some practical suggestions on how to achieve the style in your home, and a palette of colors on which to base your color scheme.
The American Colonial Style covers the period from the first early settlers in the sixteenth century - mostly European - to the Declaration of Independence in the eighteenth century. It is unique to North America, and is one of the most popular decorating styles in use today.
Because of the wide range of nationalities and the length of the period, there are many variations of this style.
Like the American Colonial Style, the Georgian Style was one of the early decorating styles, originating in the reign of King George I of England. It greatly influenced many of the styles which came after it.
Queen Victoria of England ruled for over 63 years, and the Victorian Style developed over the decades of her reign. It was heavily influenced by the increasing affluence of the time due to trade. Advances in industrialization had a great effect as well. These advances included knowledge of chemistry, which helped to develop the manufacture of improved paints and colors.
But the Victorian style became fixed in its ways and was seen as too industrial. The Art Nouveau Style came about as a reaction to the perceived over decoration of the Victorian era, and a return to real artistic achievement. This style is closely associated the the Arts and Crafts movement.
An exhibition was held in Paris in 1925 called the ‘Exposition des Arts Decoratifs’. The title was the inspiration for the Art Deco Style. You'll often see the influence of this style in Hollywood movies of the 1930's.
When using historical paint colors remember that...
...real people were at work!
When decorating their homes, people in days gone by were subjected to the same irritations as ourselves. Their decorators ran out of paint at a vital moment; they didn't like a paint color once they saw the finished result and it had to be redone; an important item of furniture was lost in transit ... and so on.
In other words, the period styles you see were not copied to the last detail from a book - they made it up as they went along. Use their styles for inspiration, but don't be shackled by them.
...historical styles are not set in stone
If decorators in the past had access to all the furnishing fabrics, paint colors, etc, that we have today, what would they have done with them?
And even when they had finished decorating a room, they often changed details as time went by. Today we might look at the room and assume the portrait on the main wall was an integral part of the scheme. But originally a large mirror hung there. Then someone in the family died, and a portrait was commissioned and put up in place of the mirror.
Or the lady of the house just got fed up with the drab and heavy piece of furniture inherited from her mother-in-law. And one day she just threw it out.
Use period color and styles for inspiration, build on the ideas, but use your own judgment.
...there is nothing new
Fashions borrow from the past. Now and then a truly original idea is born, but most ideas build on previous ones.
Many contemporary decorating ideas build on Art Nouveau characteristics, or incorporate features from foreign lands or cultures unfamiliar to us.
So don't be afraid to learn about period color and styles and adapt them for your own purposes.
We're spoilt. It's true!
The next time you look at a paint color chart, remember that even one hundred years ago they didn't have anywhere near the same choice, let alone two or three hundred years ago. Scientific discoveries have given us the ability to produce virtually any paint color we want.
Period paints are a great way to learn about color schemes. Even if you don't use them, it's helpful to see how the paint palettes developed over the centuries.