Color Month

4 Historic Paint Colors That Real Estate Experts Say Are Making a Comeback

published Jul 20, 2022
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Last time you went to the hardware store and flipped through paint swatches, did you take a look at the historic colors section? Often these hues look like they might be more at home in a Colonial Williamsburg restoration than in your latest home office DIY, but every so often a historic color breaks its way back into the mainstream. (Just look at the painted trim that’s having a moment!)

“We all know that history does repeat itself and so will historic paint colors,” explains Vanessa Deleon of Vanessa Deleon Associates.

These historic colors often fall into the rust, mustard yellow, sage green, and slate blue families. As Leni Popovici of KAP Studios explains, “Traditional earthy, stone colors, like those popular in the mid-to-late 1800s in the Victorian period, were achieved using natural pigments.” Natural pigments are limiting, of course, and yet that also gives them a timeless, organic feel that comes back in style again and again.

But here’s a fun fact: While many historic colors were muted and organic, other colors in the 18th century started as vibrant and electric — think of Mount Vernon’s emerald-kelly green dining room or its saturated robin’s egg blue parlor. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately!), they faded to the subtle colors we think of today, and it was those more muted tones that fell into fashion in early American homes.

Credit: Photo: Alpha Smoot; Prop Styling: Ed Gallagher

So which historic colors are seeing a resurgence in the 21st century? “Historical blues, greens, and blacks are making a comeback, especially in kitchens,” says Zia O’Hara of Douglas Elliman Real Estate. “People are looking for an alternative to the ubiquitous gray and white kitchen and turning toward history and tradition for inspiration.”

Plus, Popovici adds that these historic colors are being used in new ways, “We’re seeing a modern take on this Victorian color palette with frames and trims matching the paint color perfectly to create a unified, seamless look.”

Credit: Tim Hargett

“Historical colors like subtle blue are being used to add a sophisticated and classic look,” says Deleon. But what’s even more interesting about light blue is that it traces its roots to the popularity of the expensive Prussian Blue pigment that was the color du jour among wealthy property owners several centuries ago. The color would fade from its original rich cobalt to a powdery shade, and the resulting blue found its way into homes, particularly those in the Federal and Greek Revival styles of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Now these relaxing blues are trending again, with light blue cabinets finding their way into bathrooms and kitchens alike. 

Credit: Lana Kenney

Deleon says that Benjamin Moore Black Forest Green, a deep classic green, is a historic hue that’s appearing in homes in 2022. This deep, muted green is straight from nature and evokes memories of proper New England homes with wallpaper accented by matching trim, molding, and chair rails. Now, you’re more likely to see it on crisp kitchen cabinets with brass hardware and in moody living rooms offset by cognac leather sofas. 

One historic color that’s making a comeback has its roots in 18th-century America, yet, for most of us, it’s more reminiscent of “I Dream of Jeannie” than the Founding Fathers. Pink, in all its Pepto-Bismol glory, is having a moment again.

Marie Bromberg, a licensed real estate salesperson with Compass, says, “For a long time, designers have shied away from pink because it imbues a more juvenile aesthetic. There was no way to ‘adultify’ pink, and in the bathroom it was just ghastly.” (Though I know a pink bathroom can sometimes be so, so good!) Now Bromberg says, “I am seeing it everywhere, tastefully and well done.”

O’Hara adds one of her own personal anecdotes regarding this candy-colored blush: “We recently listed a townhouse in [Brooklyn’s] Clinton Hill where the owner uncovered original pink and blue stencil walls on the parlor floor and buyers went crazy. Rather than sanitizing the old and historical, there is an authentic connection to the history of the home.”

Vikki Grodner, Realtor and team lead with the Hospitality Network Group at Keller Williams, sees yellows making a comeback and offers a macro-level explanation. She says, “Perhaps a simple matter of infusing our surroundings with something happy during these uncertain times, yellow can be both sophisticated or playful.”

Yellow can take on many personalities and, as Grodner says, “In more golden tones, it can feel rich and pair in unexpected ways with lighter pastels.” Benjamin Moore’s Marblehead Gold is one of those rich yellows that straddles the line between timeless and trendy, particularly when paired with a bold wallpaper or crisp white trim. It feels traditional and grounded, but the type of traditional that needs a little bit of confidence behind it.