Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Monticello : Historic Trends for a Modern World

This week at Colour Studio, we have been researching historic color palettes and thinking about what exactly makes a  palette "historic".   When we are asked to consider historic palettes, we are essentially looking at color trends from a past era.  While some colors may be more popular than others at a given period of time, the fact is, trends are fleeting.  What is trending this year will be inevitably be replaced by something new the next year.   So what is it about these historic colors that continues to inspire us today?

Thomas Jefferson's Dining Room at Monticello

West facade of the Palladian inspired plantation in Virginia

In historic preservation, recreating historic palettes means maintaining pieces of history, allowing us to experience monuments of our past as they were originally intended.  Paint analysis research being conducted at Thomas Jefferson's famous home Monticello in Virginia has allowed color experts to recreate historic colors by providing scientific information about the chemicals and pigments used to make them.  Until the mid-1880s, paint colors were custom mixed by hand, and so your colors were only as good as the ingredients available to mix them.

Dining Room interior with table setting designed by Charlotte Moss

The Dome Room

Thomas Jefferson himself rejected the idea of trends, turning away from the somber Georgian blues, grays, and greens popular in America at the time in favor of more vibrant hues being developed in France.  The dining room at his Monticello home, for instance, was painted a brilliant chrome yellow in 1815.  The color was new at the time, mixed with lead chromate yellow pigments that had only just been discovered in France in 1810.

Entry Hall

The original palette was designed while the plantation was under construction in the early part of the nineteenth century.  It was an exciting time for color.  Advancements in color pigments in Berlin were making new hues possible like Prussian Blue and  Verdigris Green.  Both colors have been identified in samples of the original palette used at Monticello.  This historic palette is more than just a collection of colors, but a collection of new ideas stemming from cross continental travels, scientific discoveries of pigments and the cultivation of knowledge.  Many of the rooms have now been restored to their original color thanks to a generous donation from Ralph Lauren.

Tea Room

Monticello in Fall

Historic color palettes are more than just specific pairings of colors used on old buildings.  Each palette  represents a moment in time allowing us to channel the feel of generations past. This is why they continue to color our built environments today, so many generations later.


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