Painted houses


Modernist Vancouver house of the painter BC Binning, who painted his own interior and exterior murals. Photo by Arne Haraldsson. See here for more information on this heritage-protected house.

In my neighbourhood there’s a heritage program called True Colours wherein you can receive a pat on the back from heritage types and sometimes free paint if you agree to paint your house in the original house colours circa 1901. Unfortunately, most True Colours are the official colours of depression: muddy hunter green, dark drab maroon, watery urine-sample yellow, sickly ivory. Before the creep of drabness extends any further, I’m planting my flag for Untrue Colours and championing these exuberant and adventurous feats of house and door painting. If we can’t have innovations this exciting here, maybe we could at least have more true colour. One old heritage neighbourhood in Vancouver is already heading in a more cheerful, anti-rainy-day-blues direction. If you’ve been to Vancouver in February, you’ll know how crucially important some form of cheerful intervention is. Beautiful photo of house in Indiana, above, by i am krisan on Flickr.

stanley donwood house
London house decorated by the painter Stanley Donwood, photo by artofthestate.

Sydney street by loveroni on Flickr
Painted facade in Sydney, Australia, by loveroni.

painted house in Basel, detail
Painted house in Basel, by m.a.r.c.

Psychedelic House, Leiden by Karl O'Brien.
Psychedelic house in Leiden by Karl O’Brien.

Rainbow house on Clipper Street, San Francisco, by jordanpattern.

Old mural on a housing building by the Polish art group TWOŻYWO, which turns 20 this year. “Dom” means house or home. By zorro za trzepakiem on Flickr and see also misiekgreen.

471 Broadway, and someone left their keys in the door
Doors in Soho, NYC, taken last week.

Final note: I’m not against heritage preservation; on the contrary. But I’m against slavish, unimaginative heritage preservation. Sarah adds that around 1900 “houses were originally painted those ugly dark colours because the air was so choked with coal pollution it was the only way to hide the dirt and grime. Why continue with an idea based on something that is no longer relevant?” I would also like to add the salient fact that many of the European settlers here were Scots Presbyterian, and since that’s my own heritage I know of what I speak concerning its dour aesthetics. To read about San Francisco’s painted houses, see an interesting entry on Wikipedia.

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7 Responses to “Painted houses”

  1. iinekore Says:


  2. Mina Widding Says:

    That’s one thing I love about London, it’s full of oddly colored houses! Makes one happy, and that’s something we all need more of!

  3. youhavebeenheresometime Says:

    such an amazing post! (again :))

    each of these houses makes me smile! breaks you out of the day to day reality, and makes you realize how important art is to a community.

  4. Alex Morrison Says:

    The connection between drabness and victoriana i think refers mostly to a period during world war II when a lot of houses were up kept up with surplus navy greys and other similar drab colours. from my research of the san francisco colourists movement there was a lot of bright colours used in the late nineteenth century, this re-discovered fact was one of the inspirations behind the painted ladies movement in the late 60s/early 70s. Wikipedia…

    “About 48,000 houses in the Victorian and Edwardian styles were built in San Francisco between 1849 and 1915 (with the change from Victorian to Edwardian occurring on the death of Queen Victoria in 1901), and many were painted in bright colors. As one newspaper critic noted in 1885, “…red, yellow, chocolate, orange, everything that is loud is in fashion…if the upper stories are not of red or blue… they are painted up into uncouth panels of yellow and brown…”[5] During World War I and World War II, many of these houses were battleship gray with war-surplus Navy paint. Another sixteen thousand were demolished, and many others had the Victorian decor stripped off or covered with tarpaper, brick, stucco, or aluminum siding.”

  5. Elbnymphe Says:

    Some cool painted houses in my hometown Dresden here
    and here.

  6. DD4 « learn4kicks Says:

    […] frameworks to business models in an MBA? Applying sustainable principles as designers, a great painted house (doesn’t it make you want to just run out and grab a paintbrush) and an interesting take on […]

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