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29 Jan

The story of the painted ladies

Article submitted by James Martin of The Color People

The Victorians for the history of mankind had explored the farthest reaches of the known world- and often built a railroad there. They saw themselves as the culmination of all culture reaching back to the iron age, Western Civilization of course. They felt an exaltation in this reach and breadth of their culture and it reflected in the inside and outside of their houses. Umbrella stands made from elephant feet to Chinese porcelain- the diversity of objects celebrated that for the first time ever people had access to all this stuff. While the numerous house styles of the long years of Queen Victoria's reign were fairly common all over the western influenced world they reached the height of there expression in the United States of America. Victorian era houses in the US were a very special architectural phenomenon. Despite this, their intricate details often go unnoticed. (image above is an example from the High Victorian period ranging from 1880 to 1890)

  Combination of Stick and Queen Anne styles

Combination of the Stick and Queen Anne styles

Detail of above home


The outside of their homes reflected the glory of the machine age. You could choose between 20 different newell posts at the lumber yard because they were manufactured cheaply en mass in new factories and brought to where ever you were on the pervasive railways. The exterior architecture was a celebration of style, form, and taste stretching back to early civilizations like the Italians, Greeks and Egyptians. Along with historic house forms they invented fresh new ones with names like Second Empire, Stick Style and Queen Anne. What was characteristic of them all was an innate sense of form, massing, balance and proportion that has been lost today.

'Painted Ladies" is the name that gained popularity when people in San Francisco started painting up Victorians in wild colors. It's true spirit was steeped in Psychedelia rather than Victoriana. Due to the wild colors, people started noticing all the grand detail and intricacy of the architecture and realized they had never paid attention to these elements or houses before. A real love affair with them began and rapidly spread across the United States. Indeed, historic homes of the whole midwest had been repainted white years before this and people were delighted to find they could look different.

 white and colored examples of painted ladies

White and colored examples of middle class homes


These homes historically had always been painted in colors and toward the end of the era quite a few colors and a lot of detailing were common. But colors tended to be natural colors: ochres, russets, browns, greens (see examples below). This was because paint was made from ground organic substances and bright, colorful colors were expensive and faded quickly.


                 Typical paint scheme of painted ladiesTypical paint scheme of painted ladies


Today we use lots of colors on the Painted ladies because we love the colors and detailing and we love to show off the intricacies of the architecture. I did a building one time and after we were through painting a man came by and told me, "You know I've walked by here for 35 years and never noticed this building and how beautiful it is." This is the point. As we go zipping around in our lives at 80 miles an hour we need to have these beautiful buildings pointed out to us because they are truly pieces of art.


Kindly submitted to Color Objects by James Martin of Color People


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Color Objects encourages you to get a better eye and appreciation for colors and characters. To get a special selection of pics and info for you, we find designers and artists that make colorful work from all over the world. There's a lot of character in colors, and having a closer look will change your view of the world and people around you. So we share a host of pics and info from design, art, cultures and the natural world. All about colors.

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