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Ask Rufus: Where did those colors come from?


A west-facing wall of the Tennessee Williams Home is shown.

A west-facing wall of the Tennessee Williams Home is shown.
Photo by: Luisa Porter  Buy this photo.



Rufus Ward



Most people who grew up in the South think of homes built during the 1800s as being painted white. The "new" exterior paint colors of the Tennessee Williams home have caused many people to ask me, "Where in the world did they get those colors from?" 


Prior to the mid 1800s most house exteriors were painted white. However that was soon to change. That change came principally as a result of Andrew Jackson Downing''s 1842 book, "Cottage Residences." 


That book and subsequent books by Downing and others shepherded a revolution in American residential architecture. In "Cottage Residences," Downing wrote, "There is one colour ... frequently employed by house painters, which we feel bound to protest against most heartily, as entirely unsuitable, and in bad taste. This colour is white ..."  


Downing preferred earth tones that would blend in with the natural setting of a house. My house is an 1860s Gothic/Greek Revival combination in the style of Downing. Before I had it painted, paint scrapings were done to determine its original color. What was discovered was that those colors were smoky gray with blue-gray trim and charcoal window sashes. They are typical of Downing''s suggested color schemes. 


By the mid 1870s, houses were being painted with what were called "richer warmer" colors. These colors included many darker or richer shades of brown, green, red, blue and yellow. 


It was during the mid 1870s that the Tennessee Williams home was built as a rectory for St. Paul''s Episcopal Church. Are its "new" exterior colors appropriate? The 1900-1910 exterior colors of the house were documented by paint scrapings. Its color then was gray with cream and gold trim. The original exterior colors from the 1870s are unknown but might well have been its "new" colors. 


Support for those "new" colors comes from interesting sources. Snowdoun had been painted almost identical colors during the 1880s, and Leighcrest had also been painted in similar colors. The exterior colors of the Tennessee Williams house are colors that were found on Columbus houses around 1880.


Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]


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