Tuesday, November 06, 2012

The tide of green paint

click photo to enlarge
Over the past twenty years a tide of green paint has lapped over our villages and towns, initially affecting the more well-to-do areas, then extending into less prosperous regions. It started out as almost exclusively sage green, then branched out into other shades of muted green, sometimes with a hint of blue, often leaning more towards grey. If you search out this range of colours you'll find them offered by suppliers of "heritage" paints. However, such is their popularity, some mainstream paint companies now stock them. Is this simply fashion or are there deeper influences at work? The change in the colours of doors, windows, fences and other exterior woodwork from white and strong colours to these more earthy hues is not something that has been widely noted or much commented upon, so here are some of my thoughts on the subject.

The increasing search for authenticity in heritage projects and building restoration during the last quarter of the twentieth century prompted interest and research into the use of paint from the seventeenth century through to the present day. By scrutiny of primary records - job specifications, contractors' estimates and bills, buyers' and visitors' diaries etc, as well as microscopic analysis of the layers of of paint on old surfaces - a revised view of the composition and colours of paint used in the past was formulated. A range of muted greens were found to be popular during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. So too were colours in the off-white, brown, mauve/peach, orange, blue, grey and stone ranges. None of these, especially when used outdoors, were strident colours, though stronger colours were used indoors. For reasons difficult to determine, the range of greens became much more popular than the other muted colours. That's not to say the others weren't used, they were, especially for external render, but also for woodwork. But, the greens were much more widely used. Perhaps their popularity grew as a result of the increase in membership of organisations who first used these colours - bodies such as the National Trust and English Heritage. People visiting houses that were restored using the new thinking about paint may well have been influenced to adopt the new colours too, especially if they lived in a period property.

Today the greens described above are used fairly indiscriminately on buildings old and new. I recently passed some very new flats (styled in a modern way) in Chatteris, Cambridgeshire, that had windows and doors painted sage green and walls that were clad in hardwood. As I've travelled around the country I've also detected that this kind of green paint seems to be used as a badge of belonging by people of a certain class and outlook. This struck me most forcibly when I was recently in Tewkesbury, a town that more than most has succumbed to this fashion.

Today's photograph shows two such doors in Ely, Cambridgeshire. That the tide of green paint continues unabated is clear when you compare the colour of the rightmost house on Google Street View with that of today. As I took my photograph, drawn to the scene by the overlay of tree shadows on the yellow brick walls, I wondered what colour the painter was going to use when he had finished preparing the wood.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 45mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/400
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On