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Keep all white or add color to exterior of 1850's house?

December 3, 2018
last modified: December 3, 2018

Our house was recently hit by a tornado and depending on how the insurance goes, we might be looking at all new siding and/or new roof.We do live on the historic main street since our house is built in 1850 but nothing that states we need to run anything by the city for changes.Anyways, I've always felt the house needs SOMETHING. I don't like the roof color (we bought the house almost 2 years ago). The previous owner also removed all the shutters and the wrought iron railings.My question is, does/should the house to stay all white or can we get away with some sort of color? If so, any ideas what color? It looks like a mix of American Foursquare with a Greek Revival.

Comments (32)

  • PRO
    Patricia Colwell Consulting

    I would paint the area around the door a different color since it juts out from the rest of the front and see if it needs anything more. I can’t see shutters on the house so be happy they are gone and maybe a new door.

  • PRO
    Norwood Architects

    I agree that the house is Greek Revival in style (in part). As such painting it white would be in keeping with the style. Like you, Amanda, I'm not a fan of the roof color. A charcoal grey might look good. Do you know much about the history of the house? Are there any historical photos that show the house from earlier periods or even when it was originally built? If there are any they might provide a good roadmap for what to do. Good luck!

  • mimimomy

    Sorry your house was hit by a tornado... yikes! Have you considered a metal roof? They come in so many colors and I personally think they look great on historic homes...plus they last a really long time.


  • sloyder

    I would either paint it white, or yellow. Definitely replace the roof with a granite gray shingle.

  • Amanda

    I haven't been able to find any historic photos unfortunately. The only ones I've been able to find are from the past 15 years. Our town did a historic home tour right after we bought the house. A gentleman that lived in the house about 50 years ago told us about some changes that had been made, but nothing in regards to the color of the exterior. The tornado exposed some of the original exterior wood work under the vynl siding but it seems that was white as well, but who knows how long ago that was last painted.

    Our original porch floor is painted but the storm uncovered layer and layers of paint. From whites to yellows to baby blue to forest green. So who knows.

    I do believe that changing the roof color would help tremendously. Not sure why they ever went with brown. I'll include the oldest photo I've been able to find but again, it's maybe only 15ish year ago.

  • ilovecomputers

    Following. Any secret passageways? Any strange sounds at night, like someone dragging chains? :)

  • threers

    I like the white...and agree a grey or black roof is a good choice. Although you do not have photos of your house as originally built, I would look for photos to see what kind of door style was common at the time it was built. And change your door accordingly. I would like to see a pair of urns on your front steps rather than just the one.

  • chloebud

    Totally agree with a charcoal roof. I could see the house painted a soft, light gray with white trim and black door. All nice with a charcoal roof.

  • bhoorame

    Nice House, may be you could paint the columns and the door projected area the same color! i just tried a quick version.

    I take this back, this looks ugly and does not match historic home. :)

  • raee_gw zone 5b-6a Ohio

    I have seen white houses of that era with red, or green, roofs. One of the very few instances that those colors look right on a house roof, IMO.

  • bhoorame

    This house looks similar to your house, may be adding trim would also help!

  • chiflipper

    Yes to a plain, solid charcoal shingle. Several things about this house are "off". Suggest you take lots of photos of the front, from different angles, and a close-up of the trim around the upper windows. Pay for a one hour consult with an Architect that loves old homes, he/she will be able to guide you. Nice old home that has had some ill-advised "improvements" added.

  • PRO
    Motto Interior Design

    I agree with the above!

  • Mid America Mom

    Sorry to hear this. I would keep the house white as that seems the most traditional. I would go with a dark charcoal /black roof. The door looks to be a replacement? I would go with a door color that pops! Yellow, green, red..

  • PRO
    Nanke Signature Group

    Beautiful home!

    You have idyllic architecture to work with here! With such a great roofline, it may be wise to accent it a bit more. A white house with a deep charcoal gray roof would be a striking combination. A rich teal for a pop of color on the front door would update your home without taking away from its historical value. For some warmth, light to mid-tone wood accents will add a richness to your palette. The natural wood tones would work well for trim, fascia, a wrap on the lower portion of your columns, or perhaps as the siding around your entry door pop-out and/or the dormer. Here is a palette for inspiration:

    Best of luck with your project!

  • Amanda

    I agree with basically all the statements above haha. I'm in the process of getting in touch with the historical society to see if they have any original photos of the house. Or maybe pictures of main street and I could catch a glimpse of it in the background.

    And yeah, there are a lot of things that are "off" about the house. Seems as though various owners in the past have done what they thought were improvements but didn't exactly know what they were doing.Or just strayed too far off from the orginal. Like the protruding door isn't original and it's also off center which drives me insane haha. Because now I can't have something on either side of the door. The giant urn on the porch is to help offset the door not being centered.

    We would really like to try and bring back the homes original beauty. We live in a small town, I don't even know how I would find someone that does advice on historical homes.

    I'm also open to any suggestions on landscaping. Maybe it's just me but I feel the evergreens out front are just too big and taking over. I'm including pictures of the houses around us.

  • raee_gw zone 5b-6a Ohio

    I was wondering if that entire front portico is a later addition.

    Does your county or state have an historical society? Our state organization regularly offers advice on restoring and maintaining old properties like yours.

    Another source for information on the original house design might be old fire insurance maps, if any exist for your town. Several universities maintain digitized collections, as does the Library of Congress: Library of Congress Sanborn Maps

    Amanda thanked raee_gw zone 5b-6a Ohio
  • vivdame

    It is my opinion that the house would look better without the columns and roof extension. I would venture to say that the extension probably collects water.

    It is an American Four Square and I think if you search that you will find some inspiration that is well suited to the original architecture. https://artsandcraftshomes.com/house-styles/foursquare

  • Amanda

    The columns have the 4 out front and then 2 that are built into the house. So it doesnt seem to be an addition. The original porch is built into the columns into the face of the house.

    From what I've read on a few different sites, it wasn't uncommon to add these additional details to an American Foursquare to fancy it up.

  • elunia

    Umm, no. It’s not an American Foursquare, although in its current state it does kind of resemble what would happen if Greek Revival and Foursquare had a baby. American Foursquare really doesn’t get started till the 1890s and the house‘s date of 1850 puts it squarely in the popularity of Greek Revival (yes, I know styles overlap, etc). I would like to propose a third choice and say that the house probably falls under the umbrella of “Antebellum architecture.”

  • kmg11

    So sorry about the tornado, how scary!

    Your hip roof, dormers and small windows say foursquare to me, but confused by the two story height porch and entry. The first white one in your neighborhood photos is greek revival. What is your floor plan like?

    In regards to your updates, another consideration would be to change out the front door as the oval glass says modern. Yes- to new landscaping, the evergreens do look a bit tired. Some new plantings always help to freshen things up. I also think it would be fine to go with a nice color for your house. Maybe a light yellow, a shade of green like sage, olive, jade or a bluish gray. Is there a particular color that speaks to you?

    I hope you are able to find the history of your home and restore it back to its original glory :)

  • elunia

    The two engaged columns built into the house are called pilasters. I purposely posted two houses with hipped roofs, boxy structure and neoclassical details to illustrate the type of architecture (which includes Greek Revival) found during the antebellum period. (NB - Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie style falls in the first decade of the TWENTIETH century)

  • vivdame

    Amanda, if you can get up into the attic you should be able to see some of the framing. This may provide clues as to whether the porch is original or not. Look for where the porch beam terminates (the one that runs to the house), whether inside or out. The framing is going to be the most honest indicator, other than research.

    When we bought our house (it was built in 1884) I contacted the county library system's special collections department to research. We live in Iowa and when you purchase a house it includes a record of all ownership records since the land was first parceled, it's called an Abstract. If you had something like this it could be very helpful too, if even just for finding the names of the original owners and researching them to try and find images of the house in its youth.


    Amanda thanked vivdame
  • vivdame

    Sorry I got a little off topic, regarding your question about whether to keep the house white or not. If you can find out what style your house is that will really help to decide on color. If it is in fact an Antebellum or Greek Revival style then white is appropriate but I truly don't think it was built to be either of those styles.

    There are some really nice color combinations for four square/ arts and crafts style homes.

    We really struggled on color for our home too. Good luck!

    Amanda thanked vivdame
  • Amanda

    We're also located in Iowa and according to our abstract, the lot was first purchased in 1850, but no details as to when the house was actually built.

    The floor plan definitely matches up to a foursquare. As someone posted earlier, the Library of Congress maps have actually been super helpful. I had no idea there was such a thing :D

    According to thothose records, the porch/overhang roof is not an addition. Our kitchen in the back is however. It does show that the house across the street from us, the true Greek revival was built before ours. So maybe it is just a foursquare with that added style .....you know, to keep up with the Jones' haha.

    And I completely agree about the front door. It's awful. It doesn't even seem to properly fit what's been trimmed out.

    Our single car garage was damaged and is going to need to come down. We've decided to remove it completely and fence in that area for some very much needed yard space. So the brown picket fence will be coming down and a 6ft privacy fence will be going up. I'm trying to convince my husband of going with a white vynl fence to help go with the house.

  • Amanda

    So since it looks like it's leaning more towards a foursquare, do you think that opens up the possibility of more than just white? I messed around a little with just darkening up the roof. And the idea of trimming the hedges to two small bushes instead of one overgrown hedge.

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  • elunia

    Hmm, “tornado” should have been my clue that you weren’t in the South! What year is the map/atlas that shows the actual house?

  • Amanda

    So, just looked at the abstract and it shows the lot was bought in 1850 by a gentleman . The old fire maps don't show the house in 1901, but it does show up in 1910. And the year listed on the title is 1890. Hahaha who knows what's going on.

  • elunia

    That’s terrific - it means your house falls squarely in the accepted timeframe (1890s-1930s) for Foursquare! I was really thrown by the 1850 date, although I should have known better than to make assumptions. As for paint - it’s your house do what makes you happy! Plus you have historic precedent in the form of all those colorful paint layers!

  • kmg11

    Some house color examples..

    For the hedges, I would wait till spring right before new growth. Also, some variegated under-plantings for contrast would be nice. Urns with flowers for color by your entry, a pretty bench under your small window and yes to the new front door...:)

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    Amanda thanked kmg11
  • Elaine Ricci
    I'd paint the house a light shade of yellow and keep the columns white. A red door would look beautiful with that color scheme. Like others, I think a grey roof would be nice.

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