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New England Paint Colors: Put New England in Your Home

New England Paint Colors: Put New England in Your Home
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Boldly, I’m going to say that one of our region’s most significant gifts to America is a palette of extraordinary, New England paint colors.

Inspiration comes from our distinct scenery. We look out upon miles of ocean in all its moods, from sparkling blue to rumbling gray to foamy white; old-growth forests, with mottled bark and leaves of myriad greens, rooted in brown earth; sparkling granite peaks and shimmering russet salt marshes.

And I haven’t even begun to talk about how these vistas change with the seasons, unveiling subtle variations in tone and hue — or about fall here, when our hillsides are dotted with foliage in deep red, burnt orange, brilliant yellow.

Nature comforts and nurtures, and colors derived from what we see around us can do the same in our homes. By reflecting New England’s broad palette, we do more than imitate nature — we bring it inside to nourish the heart and soul. Here, then, are some thoughts, ideas, and tips from some of the region’s design experts — people who care deeply about color, about nature, and about how these two forces can work together, in the form of paint on the surfaces of our homes, to enrich our lives and echo our history.

History is Hip

“Paint is perplexing to people, and expensive,” says Sally Zimmerman, “so they want to get it right the first time.” As a preservation specialist at Historic New England, Sally is part of a stewardship program that advises people across the country on paint colors. Sally refers her clients to a chart of 149 hues called “Historic Colors of America,” inspired by the hundreds of objects and furnishings in Historic New England’s 36 properties and developed by California Paints of Andover, Massachusetts. Carol Bruce, heads up Historic New England’s retail operations and was part of the team that worked for a year to land just the right colors. “We studied tile on our fireplace surrounds, tassels on curtains, clapboards, painted furniture, shutters, wall coverings, and the like,” she explains.

These colors work in homes of all ages. We’ve selected three from the Lyman Estate, a Historic New England property in Waltham, Massachusetts — “Codman Claret,” “Tudor Ice,” and “Parsnip” — to create a new look in the contemporary rooms pictured here.

Find the “Historic Colors” chart ($6.50) online at (go to “Museum Shop,” then “Book Store,” and click on “Reference/How-to Books”). To become a Historic Homeowner member: 617-227-3957 x273;

Passion for Paint

“Lady Bedstraw,” “Persimmon Hill,” “Ditty Box Mustard,” “Hingham House Brown” — sound like titles of British TV shows? No, they’re the names of a few of Sharon Platt’s, most popular paint colors. Sharon’s business specializes in early decorative arts; she sells antiques and her special line of paints in a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, shop called The Antiquarium. “I created Historic Paint Colours because I wanted to capture the hues of original, old painted surfaces,” Sharon says. “I’ve reproduced a rich and subtle palette inspired by a blanket chest, wooden plates, pantry boxes … These everyday items, painted in tones of cream, salmon, brick red, and smoky blue, are my love and inspiration.” Historic Paint Colours are available in 15 interior latex colors and matching primers, including two whitewashes (excellent for old plaster or for creating a textured effect on drywall).

Latex $24/quart, $62/gallon; whitewash $45/gallon; primer $21.50/quart, $48/gallon. Hand-painted samples with brochure: $15; P.O. Box 60, Portsmouth, NH 03802.

Sharon Platt Early American Antiques/The Antiquarium
25 Ceres St.
Portsmouth, NH

The Seer

From her studio in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, Leslie Harrington, makes predictions about what colors will be hot and which ones are not. She consults with manufacturers of paints, pharmaceuticals, building supplies, upholstery, fragrances, cars, and more. “Color isn’t as simple as it might seem,” Leslie explains. “It has profound psychological and emotional effects on people, whether it covers a bedroom wall, a pill, or exterior siding on a house.”

Updated Monday, August 18th, 2008
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