Paint and Color Guidelines
The Detroit Historic Districts Style and Color Guide was originally created and published in 1986. The guide was developed according to the study of architecture styles in designated historic districts and the determination of historically accurate colors for those houses. A basic classification system was developed consisting of twenty-three architecturally stylistic classifications and six color systems. These twenty-three classifications include composite and miscellaneous categories so that every building receives a classification number and corresponding color system.
Paint colors should reflect the historical age and style of the house, show the best features of the design, and represent the current owner's taste.
A house of one period rarely looks good with colors of another period. For example, an 1870s brick or stone house requires a dark sash so that the windows will appear to recede into the facade. A white sash, as would be seen on a Colonial Revival style house of c.1910, makes the windows project, changing the relationship between the walls and the window openings.
There should be some thought given to the styles and colors used by owners of other houses on the street or throughout the district. By ignoring the historically appropriate palette for house style and district period, the owner risks injecting a discordant note into the neighborhood that may directly influence the appearance and property values of the entire area.
When dealing with historic neighborhoods, it is safer to select colors that are contemporary with the date and style of the house, leaving ‘modern' colors for simpler and often characterless suburban homes. This method of selecting colors does not mean that every house in a neighborhood or of a particular period and style should be painted the same color. There is a wide range of attractive color which may be combined in hundreds of ways to provide for individuality with overall neighborhood continuity. All of these combinations are based on colors known to have been available and used in Detroit throughout the 19th and 20th-Centuries.
Nearly all houses built in America prior to World War I were intended to be "defined" by the trimming color(s). Trim color is used to define wood elements such as corner boards, cornices, and outlining belt courses along the siding. All of these elements are usually painted the major trim color to provide contrast or definitions to the body color. In the same fashion, the vertical and horizontal elements of the porches are painted to provide an outline of color in contrast to the body siding.
Today, all historic paints are recognized as semi-gloss. Any high quality latex paint is acceptable for most house painting.
The section of this document "Color Systems" was taken from the original Detroit Historic Districts Style & Color Guide and contains copyrighted text by Roger W. Moss, 1983.
View the complete Style and Color Guide.
DETROIT HISTORIC DISTRICT COMMISSION