“Evangelist of Color” Elizabeth Pomada on Painting Victorian Homes

From on February 27, 2008 in Painting

Victorian ExteriorsIt’s impossible to feature a series on Victorian homes without dedicating at least one article to their fabulous exteriors. Whether they’re exquisite or simply unique, we’ve all seen them – the Victorians you can’t simply walk past. They demand you to stop and pay attention, not only because of their architectural detail, but because of the way they’re painted to highlight every feature.

So the third segment of the Right Style, Right Remodel series will be dedicated to Victorian homes of the more colorful variety. I was fortunate enough to interview Elizabeth Pomada, one of the authors of the Painted Ladies series. Elizabeth Pomada and her husband, Michael Larsen, were the first to use the term “Painted Ladies” to define Victorian homes of three or more colors. Called an “evangelist of color” by the media, Elizabeth will inspire any homeowner planning to paint their home, whether it’s a Victorian or other architectural beauty.

Painted LadiesElizabeth and Michael moved to San Francisco from NYC in the early 70s and they published the first book of the Painted Ladies series in 1978. It wasn’t easy getting the book published, but the public’s reaction spurred the creation of a second book. Elizabeth explains: “We did Daughters 10 years later after tons of people from around the country had sent us photos of their homes. Painted because of our book. People would come to San Francisco, see the Painted Ladies, and then go home to Ohio or New Jersey and want one of their own. Then they wanted to share. It was totally accidental on our part.”

I asked Elizabeth if she had any advice for homeowners on color combinations or critical steps to create a flawless Painted Lady. While she isn’t a color designer, she and her husband worked with five to write How to Create Your Own Painted Lady. They’ve also had their own Edwardian painted. Here’s Elizabeth’s advice on the process:

  • Uneven numbers work better than even ones in highlighting the architectural ruffles and fluorishes. So 5 colors is better than 4; 7 better than 6, etc.
  • Preparation is vital: 75-80% of the job. Old cracked paint, “alligators,” mildew, etc. must be removed and smoothed over. You have to take into consideration the roof, the ground floor, and the neighboring houses or vegetation as these things can’t change. Then choose colors you are happy with (light on the biggest areas, down to dark on the smaller areas, and a final accent or “punch” color to give the whole thing “zip”).
  • Use good paint that will last—and whether the house is north or south facing does matter. A good paint job should last at least ten years.

In her travels with Michael, Elizabeth has noticed that no matter what type of painted architecture they own, homeowners have one thing in common: the joy in sharing their homes with people on the street. Painted Ladies homeowners are no different. Elizabeth says,

“Painted Ladies homeowners are house proud (as were the Victorians in that era) and love sharing and showing off. Victorians stand out simply because of the “ruffles and fluorishes” in the architecture, the many surfaces one can paint—the soffits, the outlines, the cornices, the shingles, the gables, the spindles, etc.”

In addition, Elizabeth points out that not many countries have Victorians, only America, Canada, and, rarely, England. But no matter the type of home you own, there’s always a way to celebrate it with color. This is evidenced by homes throughout the world. Elizabeth noticed the following:

“Cottages in the Caribbean, huts in Africa, temples in the Far East all have different kinds of color schemes. The Italians and French use trompe l’oil to give their flat houses architectural flair. In Spain the architectural color is either from the 30’s and the time of Gaudi and friends, or the absolute present—the recent modern architecture that sings with color.”


I hope you have enjoyed this entry on Painted Ladies. Look out for the last article on the Victorian homes series, coming out tomorrow. It will be all about “Famous Victorians,” and Elizabeth directed me to close to ten of them, located across the country.

In the meanwhile, to find out more about Victorian homes, check out Victorian Homes Magazine and magazines and books by Old House Journal. And in the spirit of Elizabeth’s parting words: Just keep beautifying America!

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