The Best Way to Paint with Historically-Accurate Colours

The Best Way to Paint with Historically-Accurate Colours

Published by Michiel Brouns on 13th May 2021

When it comes to developing new colours, we often get our inspiration from historic buildings. After all, so much of design is influenced by the past.

We’re not the only ones who are inspired in this way. Much of the conventional paint industry puts huge emphasis on recreating historically-accurate colours. You can pay a visit to any DIY shop and purchase paints colour-tinted to mimic the exact shades your great-great-grandparents might’ve used in 1900… but we’d argue that’s all it is: a mimic.

Personally, we’re always amazed at the emphasis the paint industry puts on recreating heritage colours. We’ve attended presentations on microscopic paint analysis, only for the end results to be used to mix up a Dulux equivalent. There are even historic paint experts who have built careers on developing so-called historic ranges and writing books about them. And, of course, institutions like English Heritage and the National Trust have worked with companies such as Farrow & Ball and Little Greene to create and sell ‘historic’ ranges.

The truth, of course, is that there’s nothing of historical value in any of these paints. Pinning down the perfect shade of sage green or dusky beige only to recreate it in modern acrylic just doesn’t work. Contemporary paints simply do not reflect the colours accurately, which means the end result will only ever be an approximation.

We believe there’s a far easier solution, and that’s to replicate historic paint rather than just historic colours. If you’ve spent any time at all on our website, you’ll know that linseed paint is longer lasting, more eco-friendly and often cheaper per square foot than acrylic alternatives. Sometimes there really is no need to reinvent the wheel.

Modern paints are made from plastics (usually acrylic and latex) which are tinted with synthetic pigments and then filled with drying agents. Linseed paint is made by grinding powder pigments into linseed oil to make a paste, then adding more oil until the correct consistency is reached. There is absolutely nothing else added to our exterior paint, and only a very minimal drying agent added to the interior version.

As you can imagine, the two products are very different, and there’s no way modern paints can truly replicate the colour, texture or feel of the traditional product. If you’re hoping to achieve a finish that’s historically accurate, we think the solution is to choose the correct historic paint type. Whether linseed paint or lime paint; only the original ingredients can truly recreate the original colour.