Have you ever heard the expression ‘Painted Lady’ and wondered what it meant? If it was your great-grandmother who said it, she was probably referring to a ‘loose’ or ‘fallen’ woman, or a floozy who wore make-up (heaven forbid!). Women who were gently-bred did not use cosmetics or any facial adornment.
The term now commonly refers to Victorian and Edwardian Homes that have been painted in loud but harmonious colors to accentuate the stunning architectural details that were prevalent during the 19th Century. After World War I and II, the bright and striking colors of the San Francisco skyline were painted over with the surplus battleship-gray paint that was left from the war effort. During the late 1970’s, as they uncovered and rediscovered the excitement of the original tones, the term ‘Painted Lady’ was coined to refer to these colorful houses.
When my husband and I were restoring Victorian Homes in Downtown Colorado Springs, one of the first things we realized was that a house went from ho-hum to exciting with the addition of a third color. We subsequently discovered that it is the addition of a third contrasting shade (or more) that is one of the qualifiers of making it a true Painted Lady. The paint must be used to accentuate and embellish the decorative architectural details of the home, and the color and architecture are supposed to be harmonious and balanced – the harmony of which is certainly subjective. (As in a tuba and the cymbals – they are contrasted but not always harmonious.) Sometimes as many as a dozen colors are used to draw out the beauty of the intricate craftsmanship.
Victorians loved color – bold was beautiful, and white was not an option, contrary to many houses that you currently see in Downtown Colorado Springs. Shades of nature were sought, and they weren’t afraid to use extreme hues. Deep red, bright yellow, rich chocolate, bold blue, vivid green, shocking pink, fresh orange – all were colors that were used liberally and lovingly when decorating not only their mansions, but also their smaller homes.
If you are fortunate enough to live in an older home, get creative. Look out your window. Pull from the colors of nature and don’t be afraid. The trick will be to choose colors that your neighbors won’t have to turn up their radios to overcome the loudness of your choices.