site logo

Outside Color

We are not among those who cast off, and on a sudden condemn, as out of all good taste, the time-honored white house with its green blinds, often so tastefully gleaming out from beneath the shade of summer trees; nor do we doggedly adhere to it, except when in keeping, by contrast or otherwise, with everything around it. For a century past white has been the chief color of our wooden houses, and often so of brick ones, in the United States. This color has been supposed to be strong and durable,
eing composed chiefly of white lead; and as it reflected the rays of the sun instead of absorbing them, as some of the darker colors do, it was thus considered a better preserver of the weather-boarding from the cracks which the fervid heat of the sun is apt to make upon it, than the darker colors. White, consequently, has always been considered, until within a few years past, as a fitting and tasteful color for dwellings, both in town and country. A new school of taste in colors has risen, however, within a few years past, among us; about the same time, too, that the recent gingerbread and beadwork 43 style of country building was introduced. And these were both, as all new things are apt to be, carried to extremes. Instead of toning down the glare of the white into some quiet, neutral shade, as a straw color; a drab of different hues—always an agreeable and appropriate color for a dwelling, particularly when the door and window casings are dressed with a deeper or lighter shade, as those shades predominate in the main body of the house; or a natural and soft wood color, which also may be of various shades; or even the warm russet hue of some of our rich stones—quite appropriate, too, as applied to wood, or bricks—the fashion must be followed without either rhyme or reason, and hundreds of our otherwise pretty and imposing country houses have been daubed over with the dirtiest, gloomiest pigment imaginable, making every habitation which it touched look more like a funeral appendage than a cheerful, life-enjoying home. We candidly say that we have no sort of affection for such sooty daubs. The fashion which dictates them is a barbarous, false, and arbitrary fashion; void of all natural taste in its inception; and to one who has a cheerful, life-loving spirit about him, such colors have no more fitness on his dwelling or out-buildings, than a tomb would have in his lawn or dooryard.

Locality, amplitude of the buildings, the purpose to which they are applied—every consideration connected with them, in fact, should be consulted, as to color. Stone will give its own color; which, by the way, some prodigiously smart folks paint—quite as decorous or essential, as to paint the lily. Brick 44 sometimes must be painted, but it should be of a color in keeping with its character,—of substance and dignity; not a counterfeit of stone, or to cheat him who looks upon it into a belief that it may be marble, or other unfounded pretension. A warm russet is most appropriate for brick-work of any kind of color—the color of a russet apple, or undressed leather—shades that comport with Milton's beautiful idea of

Russet lawns and fallows gray.

Red and yellow are both too glaring, and slate, or lead colors too somber and cold. It is, in fact, a strong argument in favor of bricks in building, where they can be had as cheap as stone or wood, that any color can be given to them which the good taste of the builder may require, in addition to their durability, which, when made of good material, and properly burned, is quite equal to stone. In a wooden structure one may play with his fancy in the way of color, minding in the operation, that he does not play the mountebank, and like the clown in the circus, make his tattooed tenement the derision of men of correct taste, as the other does his burlesque visage the ridicule of his auditors.

A wooden country house, together with its out-buildings, should always be of a cheerful and softly-toned color—a color giving a feeling of warmth and comfort; nothing glaring or flashy about it. And yet, such buildings should not, in their color, any more than in their architecture, appear as if imitating either stone or brick. Wood, of itself, is light. One cannot build 45 a heavy house of wood, as compared with brick or stone. Therefore all imitation or device which may lead to a belief that it may be other than what it really is, is nothing less than a fraud—not criminal, we admit, but none the less a fraud upon good taste and architectural truth.

It is true that in this country we cannot afford to place in stone and brick buildings those ornate trimmings and appendages which, perhaps, if economy were not to be consulted, might be more durably constructed of stone, but at an expense too great to be borne by those of moderate means. Yet it is not essential that such appendages should be of so expensive material. The very purposes to which they are applied, as a parapet, a railing, a balustrade, a portico, piazza, or porch; all these may be of wood, even when the material of the house proper is of the most durable kind; and by being painted in keeping with the building itself, produce a fine effect, and do no violence to good taste or the most fastidious propriety. They may be even sanded to a color, and grained, stained, or otherwise brought to an identity, almost, with the material of the house, and be quite proper, because they simply are appendages of convenience, necessity, or luxury, to the building itself, and may be taken away without injuring or without defacing the main structure. They are not a material part of the building itself, but reared for purposes which may be dispensed with. It is a matter of taste or preference, that they were either built there, or that they remain permanently afterward, and of consequence, proper that 46 they be of wood. Yet they should not imitate stone or brick. They should still show that they are of wood, but in color and outside preservation denote that they are appendages to a stone or brick house, by complying with the proper shades in color which predominate in the building itself, and become their own subordinate character.

Not being a professional painter, or compounder of colors, we shall offer no receipts or specifics for painting or washing buildings. Climate affects the composition of both paints and washes, and those who are competent in this line, are the proper persons to dictate their various compositions; and we do but common justice to the skill and intelligence of our numerous mechanics, when we recommend to those who contemplate building, to apply forthwith to such as are masters of their trade for all the information they require on the various subjects connected with it. One who sets out to be his own architect, builder, and painter, is akin to the lawyer in the proverb, who has a fool for his client, when pleading his own case, and quite as apt to have quack in them all. Hints, general outlines, and oftentimes matters of detail in interior convenience, and many other minor affairs may be given by the proprietor, when he is neither a professional architect, mechanic, or even an amateur; but in all things affecting the substantial and important parts of his buildings, he should consult those who are proficient and experienced in the department on which he consults them. And it may perhaps be added that none professing to be such, are competent, unless well 47 instructed, and whose labors have met the approbation of those competent to judge.

There is one kind of color, prevailing to a great extent in many parts of our country, particularly the northern and eastern, which, in its effect upon any one having an eye to a fitness of things in country buildings, is a monstrous perversion of good taste. That is the glaring red, made up of Venetian red, ochre, or Spanish brown, with doors and windows touched off with white. The only apology we have ever heard given for such a barbarism was, that it is a good, strong, and lasting color. We shall not go into an examination as to that fact, but simply answer, that if it be so, there are other colors, not more expensive, which are equally strong and durable, and infinitely more tasteful and fitting. There can be nothing less comporting with the simplicity of rural scenery, than a glaring red color on a building. It connects with nothing natural about it; it neither fades into any surrounding shade of soil or vegetation, and must of necessity, stand out in its own bold and unshrouded impudence, a perfect Ishmaelite in color, and a perversion of every thing harmonious in the design. We eschew red, therefore, from every thing in rural architecture.