A PALETTE INSPIRED BY OUR PAST
The Paint Shop and Heritage NL are pleased to present this collection of historic paint colours – the result of extensive research on over 200 years of paint use in Newfoundland & Labrador. Old newspaper ads, vintage colour samples, and personal recollections mapped the evolution of palettes and techniques. Benjamin Moore colour matching technology was used to create the collection.
In the past, paints were mixed by hand and ranged in hues, depending on the person mixing and the materials used. Colours were often identified in generic terms, making it tricky to specify exact “historic colours.” This collection is meant to inspire you, in the spirit of the colourful places, buildings, and people of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Disclaimer: Always review a real colour chip in the actual lighting conditions you are planning for. Digital representations will vary, as will colour chips in different light. If you are planning to paint over vinyl, please ensure your colour selection is approved for vinyl-use, to avoid warping.
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IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS…
In the early days of European settlement wooden buildings were mostly unpainted. By the first half of the 19th century, whitewash was being used to protect wood from the effects of wind, rain, and sun. Lime mixed with water was the most popular method of coating a building. Whitewashing tended to turn grey and had to be reapplied every few years. White oil paint derived from lead or zinc later became a more durable choice.
In 1610, a container of red paint was spilled in Cupids Cove. Four centuries later, archaeologists discovered the spill – the earliest evidence of red ochre paint on a building in Newfoundland and Labrador. Indigenous use of red ochre stretches back much further, as the Beothuk used it to colour their tools, clothes, and bodies, a practice which is believed to have had spiritual significance.
Generations of fisherman used red ochre to coat their stages and stores. It produced varied hues when mixed with natural oils. Seal oil produced a truer red, while fish oil resulted in ruddy-brown. Ochre paints were often thinned with turpentine or kerosene. By the early 20th century, red paint was being sold in many shades, including oxblood, carmine, vermillion, and rose pink.
“Ochre” comes from the Greek word ochros, meaning yellow – which is the element’s raw colour. Yellow ochre was a key ingredient in iconic “buff” colours, which ranged from soft gold to chrome yellow. Dories are customarily painted buff yellow, but the colour also made its way to the exterior walls of mercantile buildings and railway depots.
In the mid to late 20th century Matchless Paints introduced Dory Buff as an official colour. With the Matchless line of historic paint colours discontinued, the debate continues whether the original colour was a lighter buff or brighter yellow. Custom recipes still abound.
Downtown St. John’s wasn’t always as bright and colourful as it is today. The coal soot that blanketed St. John’s in much of the 19th and 20th centuries made light exterior paint colours impractical. Houses along downtown streets and lanes were mostly dark shades of green, red, brown, and grey. On working class houses, clapboard and trim were generally painted a single colour. Trim accent colours were typically found on more substantial homes. In the outports, white was still the most common house colour, often with a secondary trim colour.
By the mid-20th century advances in technology allowed virtually any paint colour to be produced. Pale pastel shades of yellow, blue, green, and pink became popular, particularly in outport communities. Some homeowners were quite creative, applying one colour on the top half of a house and another on the bottom. Lighter shades were also being used in the growing suburbs of St. John’s – where coal soot wasn’t a problem. Meanwhile, in the capital’s old historic core, coal continued to be used up until the 1970s, which meant darker colours continued to prevail.
THE LEGEND OF JELLY BEAN ROW
In the 1970s and 80s downtown St. John’s began to burst with bright colours. A report commissioned by the St. John’s Downtown Development Corporation in 1969 recommended a brighter set of colours. But the restoration of a row of houses on Gower Street in the 1970s (a project managed by the St. John’s Heritage Foundation) just might have been the starting point for this colour revolution. The project used brighter colours and accents on several houses. Bold blues, reds, yellows, greens, and purples started popping up on every downtown street. Someone used the phrase “Jelly Bean Row” to describe the mix of colours and the phrase stuck. Bold colours are now synonymous with downtown homes and the palette has spread to communities across the province.
A PEEK INSIDE
In the first half of the 19th century, deep interior hues were used to evoke the rich tapestries that hung on the walls of wealthy English homeowners. In prominent structures like churches, convents, merchant homes, and government buildings like the Colonial Building, paints and glazes were used to create complex marble, granite, or wood grain finishes.
In the early 1900s, some outport homes had cherry red parlour floors, marine green stair bannisters, and yellow kitchen floors. Furniture was often painted in brown, grey, and creamy yellow tones.
Around the mid 20th century, pastels became the interior trend, with colours ranging from pink to green. Colours such as white, cream, and brown were popular for trims and furniture.
CHOOSING YOUR COLOURS
When choosing colours for your home there are number of different approaches that you may decide to take. If you have a restored period home, you may choose to employ colours that were historically used during a particular time. Or you may decide to express your personal colour preferences with bright, bold hues that highlight your building’s architectural features: one shade for clapboard, another for trim, a third for ornamental brackets and window caps, and a fourth to accent your front door. Either way, we encourage you to select colours from this special Benjamin Moore Historic Paint Colours of Newfoundland & Labrador collection.