Red Oxide Federal

A red Federal style house in Wiscasset, Maine. Paint made with red oxide pigment, derived from rust, was perhaps the most available and commonly used exterior paint in the 18th and early 19th century.

It was the predominant color of houses in many towns and villages prior to the switch to white paint with the arrival of the Greek Revival style. A switch enabled by advances in the production of white lead pigment.

This brick house of the early 19th century has probably been painted since it was new. This often happened on buildings built of brick fired at a temperature too low to form a hard, weather-resistant outer surface. The house sits in an exposed coastal location and protecting its soft brick from the elements would have been a priority.

Most brick houses have outer walls of harder brick which resists the elements just fine and should not be painted. Paint color can be a sensitive issue in the preservation world. I think historic houses generally look better in period colors, but even the best quality paint is temporary and the opportunity to change the color will come along soon enough.

“Restoring Your Historic House, The Comprehensive Guide for Homeowners” addresses exterior paint and a number of recommended books on the subject are included in the Resources chapter for further research.

Signed and personalized copies of the award-winning and bestselling 720-page hardcover book are available from the author in our shop, YourHistoricHouse.com/shop/.

Select preservation titles by other authors including “A Field Guide to American Houses” (revised edition) by Virginia McAlester are also available in our shop!

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