From the 17th Century onwards Paint for woodwork was usually Lead based which was made from a mixture of Lead powder, linseed oil , turpentine & colour dye (indigo, burnt sienna etc.). Certain mixtures were given names of Prussian Blue, Lamp Black and Green Verditer but the colour would often vary depending on the quantities mixed. Dark Colours like Lamp Black or Dark Brown were made using red lead rather than white lead. 'Lead colour' was a mixture of white lead and Indigo while 'Ash colour' was a mixture of white lead and lamp black, Blue Verditer was a colour used on wall and ceilings. (The Colours shown below are as guides not exact colour matches)
Lead Paint was still in use until the late 1960's in the UK. It had a Semi-Gloss finish (depending on the amount of linseed oil used) but during the 1750-1820 a Matt finish became popular requiring a extra expense of "flatting". To recreate an authentic look today it is usual to use a satin or matt finish which gives woodwork an aged look.
View the online Traditional color charts by clicking the images right
Walls and Ceilings were usually painted with Distemper commonly called "whitewash" and this was used up until the 1960s. Distemper consisted of "Whiting" (made from ground Chalk) and Glue Size made from animal bones. It had a very flat brush less finish and was seen as superior to modern emulsion when it first came out. John recalls using distemper in his early days by saying:
" You always worked with 2 painters on a plank and never let the edge dry, the finish was superb, extremely fine"
Limewash was another commonly used Paint that was mainly used on rendered or plastered walls not woodwork. It was made from powdered Lime which was usually sold in a Lime Putty, which just needed water to thin. Unlike Distemper new coats could be applied directly over old coats building up a years of layers which is really useful when analysing old paint samples for historic redecoration.
Modern Nostalgic Interiors
In your home you may want to use historical colours to create an accurate representation of how a room once looked or you might want to mix some new elements together with antique furniture to create a Nostalgic feel. Here (right) is a room recently finished by John that has a nostalgic Victorian feel, the wallpaper new from Osborne & little and is enhanced by antique brass wall lights, Victorian Mirror and Vase, While the Side-table and TV give sharp lines and a modern feel.
Georgian and Victorian exteriors mainly focused the painting of woodwork including windows, fascias, doors etc. The brick façades, stone window surrounds and porch columns were usually left in their natural state. Windows, being mostly made of soft wood, benefited from the protection of lead paint. Hardwood window sills such as oak were left natural and treated with linseed oil. Woodwork was commonly painted in white, stone or lead colour. A true white colour was not common because the linseed oil in the lead paint made it a light cream colour. The resulting colour was therefore slightly softer than modern whites available today. Oak graining was used on windows and doors for more prestigious households and marbling graining was often used on exterior columns and shop fronts. Ironwork and railings were usually painted black with occasional fashions for blue and green-bronze. During the 1780-1820 the most popular front door colour was green.
During the housing boom of the 1930's many houses were painted with a two tone colour schemes with Windows and Door frames in white while the Front Doors and Window sills were black, light cream and dark green was another popular colour combination of the time.
By the 1960s most old buildings had become filthy, spoiled by years of dirt and changing weather conditions. The walls and woodwork were commonly painted White or cream. Above right is an example of two façades in Ealing London: the left property is entirely painted white while the right has an older style with just the woodwork painted.
Life in a Georgian City by Dan Cruickshank & Neil Burton 1990
Papers & Paints.co.uk website by Patrick Baty 2010