When we bought our historic home, we knew it would need ‘special’ paint. I had been on enough historic home tours to know whatever the restoration specialists were putting on the wall was not the same finish or quality as what I had been using in our NYC apartments. Four years later, I have some resources for you, and I’ll keep adding to this post as new products are introduced. If you know of a great resource, or have a favorite, comment below!
The modern state of paint is very ‘plastic’ looking to me. You can see the latex in latex paint when you use anything but a flat finish. Before we put anything on our plaster walls, I researched the options to death. I wanted our walls to have that slightly imperfect, rich feel. Almost matte but not quite. The color is so deep, you think you can see into it. Our solid wood doors get a coat of high gloss paint that is hand brushed on, giving them a historic feel. Figure out how you want your walls to catch light, then find the right product to match. I love the soft light from old windows. The quality of light in a home that was built before electricity has a soft, necessary beauty about it.
Here’s my list go-to brands and products:
The estate emulsion from Farrow and Ball is hands down my favorite go-to paint. It has a little bit of sheen, but looks matte. The color slightly changes based on the time of day, which is mind blowing. We use the high gloss for our doors and estate eggshell for our trim. Almost our whole house is painted in Farrow and Ball, which is saying a lot. Another thing I like about their brand is the paint tends to be a true neutral. Meaning if you get a blue paint, you don’t get strange undertones popping out like you do in other brands. I’m really fussy about undertones and have been really dissatisfied with some of my paint choices in the past because of undertones, but I find this almost never happens with Farrow and Ball. I’ve also had a few black marks (from chairs touching the walls) on the ‘Light Blue’ color on our living room walls, and it scrubbed right off with no damage to the paint.
One line from Benjamin Moore that interests me is their Century line. I haven’t seen it in person, but it is a soft touch paint that could be quite pretty on plaster walls. I’m looking at the Terra Rose color for our bedroom. This line seems to excel at dark colors, which is an art in itself. Outside of the Century line, have a look at the Williamsburg Collection, plus they have a more general collection of historical colors if you want to reference the past. After talking to many old home owners, Benjamin Moore takes the top spot for exterior paint recommendations. And believe me, when you are painting exterior clap board, it is crazy expensive. You want to make sure you specify paint that lasts – hands down Benjamin Moore is what everyone I’ve talked to recommends.
I’m am on the edge of my seat – dying to try these paints. This company based out of LA mixes all their paints right in LA, which I love! They have some beautiful textured finishes – go hang out on their website and dream about what you can do with these paints. They have straight up paint (called Traditional Coatings), but they also have lime washes and a roman clay finishes. These speciality finishes are so beautiful they make my head spin. I’m already planning the color palette for our third floor, which will be lighter and more textured than the rest of the house. I have to paint a room white (photo studio) and my number one most hated thing is plain white paint. The textures offered with a lime wash and roman clay will help me keep it interesting while sticking to a lighter palette. If you have a Colonial house with low ceilings, the lime wash could be really pretty and make the house feel in period. I’ve never used a paint like this but I really want to give it a go cause the texture is beautiful. I’ll be watching this video on repeat and look at their You Tube channel for more. Last thing, I promise: ROMAN CLAY!!! How I need it in my life. It reminds me of romantic European places. *Sigh*
This is a powder lime paint made in Belgium – I’m interested! Their Instagram feed is one of my favorites and full of textured walls. Again, it’s that old European look that drips in history and the past. You have to add water to this powdered paint, which makes shipping costs a bit more reasonable. If you have exterior brick work you want a washed paint look on, this is a good company to look at. They also have a product you can apply to surfaces. Hello rustic dining table, or kitchen renovation?
If you want to paint exterior surfaces this is a brand that caught my eye. I love the look of those time worn brick homes with the white paint fading off. If you have an interior brick fireplace or dated stone wall you want to give a different look to, this could really transform interior surfaces too. They have a line of interior mineral paints which I’m completely interested in, but need to dig in deeper!
I’ve seen this product in person and saw it applied – pretty straight forward with some practice. It’s a really traditional plaster look, with lots of layers to the colors. If you’re managing a historic restoration, this company also does site work. What I like about this product is the fact it’s completely customizable. You could do two coats, you could do eight coats. Also, if you want to be really correct historic work, the look of this product can get you there.
Valspar has a venetian plaster product that is really interesting. I’ve used it several times for photography surfaces and it shoots really nice! It’s easy to apply (in very thin coats) and comes pre mixed. I’ve tried the white and light grey – both are beautiful. The white is a really nice neutral. (It’s the background for the image on this post.) I picked up samples and bought this at Lowe’s.
If you have favorite paints you use for your historic home, leave it in the comments! I love comments on posts like this because they are gold when the old home community chimes in and we all share what’s worked for us.
Hey! Love this post. I own an older home too but have 2 small kids and 2 pups (and a husband…lol). How do you keep these finishes clean? Can they be wiped without losing their texture or messing it up? Thanks in advance!
Yes! We have Farrow and Ball, so I can speak from personal experience. I have a black chair that rubbed against the light blue in our living room, the mark came right off with a magic eraser. Paint looks fine. I wouldn’t push this paint to the limit in super high traffic areas, but it’s way more durable than I expected. I haven’t personally used the others, but if you love something, it’s worth doing a sample and messing it up to see how it cleans. 🙂
Hi! My husband and I are restoring a 1928 Tudor in Detroit. We’ve had some plaster repaired in a room and the plaster repairman said to apply and oil based primer to seal the plaster. Now I’m researching whether water based paints (Farrow and Ball) can go on the oil based primer, and I’m getting mixed answers. Any recommendations from your experience?
This is a great question. I talked to Will and he thinks yes, but suggests buying a small board of dry wall from at the hardware store and testing it. (They sell small pieces used to repair holes in walls.) Because most interior paint in the US is water based, most companies who make an oil based primer like Zinsser make their product so you can paint over it with a water based product. We’ve used Ben Moore high hide primer with Farrow and Ball and it’s been fine. We’ve used Zinsser where we have some water staining and plan on painting over it. When I was chatting with Will about this I asked if you could do one coat of the oil based primer, one coat of F&B primer and two coats of paint. Especially if the walls are staining prone. We have a water damage area where I might go that crazy because the staining doesn’t want to go away. We have plaster walls that we stripped wall paper from, did some light patching, and went straight to F&B primer and it did well. No problems. Good luck! 🙂
Hello! First and foremost, your site is so inspiring! We recently purchased an old home in the Cleveland area. It had been a rental for many years and hence has layers upon layers of paint. The trim, baseboards and windows are the worst. I was wondering if you encountered the same issue in your home and if so, did you strip the existing paint or did you just paint over it? Thanks in advance!