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20th Century Colors of America

An Expanded Guide to Color, Styles, and Architectural Periods

This guide, organized into four sections, provides expanded recommendations for selecting appropriate paint colors from the 20th Century Colors of America palette. Section One identifies colors on the basis of architectural style and period. The second section includes room by room listings indicating period preferences on the use of colors in interior settings and the third section lists period preferences for color use on exterior siding, trim, and accents. A final Methodology section describes the sources from which these colors were drawn and how the paint palette was developed.

The twentieth-century paint palette represents a high standard of authenticity and documentation in historically-appropriate paint color. All color selections for the palette were made from paint and/or wallpaper colors either present in twentieth-century Historic New England properties or documented as originally intended for decorative use in twentieth-century building interiors and exteriors.

Note: Historic New England museum colors are indicated in bold type.

The recommendations contained herein do not necessarily represent documented applications of paint colors in Historic New England properties nor have the colors been authenticated for use in specific period or stylistic applications by Historic New England; all color selections should be sampled in situ before a final selection is chosen.

I.    General Uses of Interior and Exterior Color by Period

II.    Period Preferences for Paint Color Usage by Room

III.     Period Preferences for Exterior Color Use

 IV.    Color Sources and Methodology

Purpose:  to provide paint users with historically documented twentieth-century paint color choices from colors drawn from period architectural sources representing the major color trends from 1900 to 1980.
The twentieth-century paint palette provides a range of colors drawn from four major sources in the Historic New England architectural collections. These include:

  • paint analysis documentation on file for interior and exterior paint colors used at three Historic New England properties (Beauport/Sleeper-McCann House, Cogswell’s Grant, and the Gropius House) either constructed in the twentieth century or comprehensively restored with twentieth century finishes
  • unanalyzed interior and exterior paint colors present on site at Beauport/Sleeper-McCann House and Cogswell’s Grant;
  • paint color ephemera and trade publications (1900-1980) in the Library and Archives, supplemented with historical trade materials supplied by California Paint Products; and
  • wallpaper sample books (1900-1980) in Historic New England’s decorative arts collections demonstrating the ways in which colors were presented in various periods.

Interior and exterior paint colors were visually matched and optically scanned (using a California Paints "Matchmaker" Color-Helper handheld scanner manufactured by Color Savvy Systems Limited) on site at Beauport, Cogswell’s Grant, and the Gropius House under natural, daylight conditions and corroborated with file documentation where microscopic paint analysis for these properties was available. Interior and exterior colors for paint colors that had not been microscopically analyzed were visually matched and optically scanned on site in daylight. Documentary and archival paint colors in ephemera and trade publications were visually matched and optically scanned for correlation with present day paint colors. While archival materials were not light bleached to correct chemical shifts over time, they were correlated to period color matches in other media. Archival colors were visually matched and optically scanned in daylight.

Matches provided a master list of 530 “twentieth-century” colors from which California Paint Products selected and named the 118 colors and twelve whites that form the 20th Century Colors of America paint palette.

20th Century Colors of America