A Client’s Experience with the Color Selection Process

Below is a smmary of the house coloring process by Marcie & Bobby Schulien of West Chicago, Illinois

The Currier-Reed home (located in the East Washington Street Historic District in West Chicago) celebrated its 150th year this summer with a Civil War Era Pig Roast to benefit The Friends of the West Chicago City Museum.  Built in 1856 by William and Roxanna Currier, the original design was a classic Italianate.  When the Civil War erupted, Currier, age 51, enlisted as a private in the Union Army.  He was ultimately captured and spent time in Southern prison camps – one of which was reportedly Andersonville.  Old and in ill health, the South released him and he began the long journey home.  It was a journey he never completed as he died in St Louis before he could reach it.

Around 1935, the original Italianate porch long since gone, the home was purchased by Chauncey Reed, a former DuPage County States Attorney and newly elected member of Congress.  Local lore has it that Reed used ride his bike past the big, old home, stop and say, “Some day I’m going to own that house.”  While in Congress, Reed came to admire the architecture in and around the nation’s capitol and it is believed this inspired his addition of the 2 story columns and front porch in 1942.  Though Mr. Reed died in 1956 after more than 20 years in congress, his widow and family continued to live in the home until the mid-1980’s.

By the time Len & Willine Mahony bought the home in the mid 1990’s, it needed some significant TLC.  However, from Willine & Len’s perspective, this was their chance to actually own a historic home instead of just touring them.  For the next 10 years, enhancing and restoring the place became a family affair which continues with the present owners – their daughter & son-in-law, Marcie & Bobby Schulien.

When Bobby & Marcie contracted for the home, it had been almost 10 years since the home was last painted.  Bobby and Marcie began gathering information pertaining to Painted Ladies.  They thought this style particularly suited to drawing out the wonderful details of the home with its layered molding, recessed panels, corbels and belvedere.  While struggling with color selection (not to mention the proper placement!), they discovered the website of Robert Schweitzer (www.historichousecolors.comSchweitzer is a professor of Architectural History at the University of Michigan, an author and a regular contributor for Victorian Homes magazine.  One of the services he offers assists his clients with appropriate color selection and placement for their homes and businesses.  After seeing examples of his past projects, the Schulien’s contacted Mr. Schweitzer to see if he was in a position to help.

The Schuliens completed Schweitzer’s questionnaire and indicated the desire for a finished scheme that would convey warmth/welcome, harmony with the surroundings in all seasons and a sense of timelessness.  They forwarded the questionnaire along with pictures of all sides of the home, coach house and notable details and Schweitzer went to work.  Utilizing his more than 30 years of experience in addition to his extensive personal collection of period reference publications, Mr. Schweitzer provided Bob & Marcie with 6 potential choices for the body color of the home in addition to instructions as to how to approach test painting and evaluation.  At first, Bobby and Marcie thought the test painting could be a bit expensive, but then they decided it would be more expensive to get it wrong and Schweitzer had a point when he wrote that it’s hard to tell a lot from a 2 inch paint chip.  Schweitzer also suggested they involve family and friends.  The Schuliens thought this was such a good idea, they decided to take it one step further and hold “Color Evaluation Parties” inviting friends, family, neighbors (residents of the Historic District) and members of the local Historic Commission.

The Schuliens made up a form and, at the first party, asked attendees to anonymously rank the color’s ability to support and convey the desired effect on a scale of 1 to 10 as well as note any comments they felt pertinent.  Attendees were also asked to visualize each color in all seasons.  Marcie then averaged the rankings and recorded the comments.  The Schuliens then looked at the two highest ranked colors and chose one.  This was difficult as there was just over half a point separating the two; they both held possibilities and the participants had such good ideas/comments.  It was also a surprise to the Schuliens how right Schweitzer was about what one could tell from a paint chip – the color they selected was one they had originally thought they would reject as too dark!!  They then forwarded all the scores/feedback and ultimate choice back to Schweitzer to factor into the Trim & Accent portion of the process.

When he responded with several potential combinations, the Schuliens completed the test painting, altered their original form and scheduled the second evaluation party.  This part was more of a challenge for all the participants and their comments were a critical factor in the Schulien’s decision.  Again, the Schuliens looked at the combinations with highest points.  Based on the comments, they chose 2 colors from the top combination, 1 from the second, and asked Schweitzer to recommend a variation of a 4th (the dark green) as the original shade (more bronze) looked too brown in the home’s setting.  Once again, Schweitzer was able to find the perfect shade for the setting and still remain true to the period of the home and the effect the Schuliens wanted.  The ultimate scheme: Renwick Olive for the body, trim in Secret Garden Green, and accents in Rookwood Red, Rookwood Antique Gold, and Ivorie (the columns are in Vellum.)

Armed with this information, Schweitzer produced detailed color placement maps for the contractors.  When the Schuliens received the maps, they sat down to review them with Suleyman Altun (painting for College Pro) and his crew.  They then walked through the maps in relation to the house and noted any questions the Altun had for feedback to Schweitzer.  With Altun’s years of experience, he quickly saw the effect that the group’s color choices and Schweitzer’s placement were striving to achieve.  This enabled him to expertly address several previously unnoticed trouble spots that all old homes possess in a way that would support rather than detract from the overall scheme.  At the end of each day, he and his crew would review the maps for the areas they had just worked as well as those they planned to work the next day.  Always, they were surprised at the number of people who would stop and watch and the participants who would come by to check the progress.  As they began work on the front of the house, they often commented on the slowing traffic!

On completion of the job in late September 2005, a third party was held for all of the participants to celebrate the success of the transformation.  As for what the Schuliens did on hearing that this community effort had been selected as the GRAND PRIZE winner in Chicago Paint & Coating’s Painted Lady contest?  They selected representatives to attend the awards ceremony and, naturally, started planning another party.

Visit the link below for more information on this client’s project.