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  • Writer's pictureJill Pilaroscia, IACC - NA, ISCC

Back From the Dark Side: San Francisco’s Victorians Don Fresh Hues

Updated: Aug 29, 2022

In recent years, many have asked us to comment on the trend of all-black Victorian exteriors. As readers of color as cultural expression, it was not a direction we celebrated. Although rooted in a similar spirit of individualism and nonconformity that spawned the celebratory hues of the 1960s and 70s, these brooding neighbors signaled a less welcoming aloofness. Today we’re seeing a refreshing return to sophisticated and timeless hues that restore a sense of place and community – and it’s a relief!

Up until the 1960s the city’s stately Victorians typically sported neutral beiges, whites and grays, ornate details and all. Then counterculture pioneers settled in the city and seized the opportunity to express their individuality and free thinking by painting the ornamental Victorian facades in exuberant palettes of rainbow hues.

In the 1980s, when booming prices made real estate in San Francisco the new gold, the free-for-all attitude toward color gave way to a more conservative and less expressive color mindset. Changing tastes shaped, in part, by real estate flippers and marketers – not to mention the financial realities of maintaining bold colors prone to fading — drove a preference for simpler schemes. After a brief return of the all-white Victorian, the trend went dark, shrouding these elegant homes in charcoals and other dark hues.

The palettes we’re seeing today reflect a stronger connection to place. Considerations of how the home will harmonize with the streetscape and reference surrounding landscape, as well as how the colors will maintain their beauty over time, are the new color priorities of homeowners. Here are two of our recent projects illustrating this encouraging trend.

To enhance the streetscape, the hydrangeas planted in the front garden provide the color inspiration for this Queen Anne Victorian.

A warm white plays well with five tones of greyed violet to orchestrate the delicate garlands and unique plaster ornaments found on the façade. The color placement leads your eye upwards to the graceful circular opening which is highlighted by 23 karat gold leaf.

Utilizing a palette of ten colors for this classic Stick-style Victorian, adorned by a plentitude of unique wood ornamentation, a contrast of hue was used to accentuate the multi-story bay windows and the entry portal. A neutral color on the body of the building remains in the background as color contrasts bring the ornaments to life.

Judicious use of 23 karat gold leaf added the sparkle the Clients were seeking.

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