Paint, a common and natural part of interior spaces, probably seems like the least interesting aspect of your home. If, however, you explore the rich and interesting history, you’ll discover that there’s a lot more to it than you think!
Paint, as a form, was invented thousands of years ago. The Laas Geel cave paintings are about 5,000 years old and include wild animals, cows, and herders. They were discovered in 2002 by a French team exploring in northwestern Somaliland. This paint was used to create depictions across the interiors of caves. Then, in more contemporary times (relatively), paint became something we started coating our walls with. Archival materials illustrate the ways in which paints and coatings were marketed to consumers and the building trade has changed from the late 19th century to the present.
Paint has two key functions in the built environment—protection and decoration. Documents contained in the BTHL(Building Technology Heritage Library) explore how these different purposes were marketed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries; for example, exterior paints and coatings were generally marketed for their durability whereas interior products were more often promoted for their finishing qualities. The changing preference in colors for decor is another pattern that we will analyze.
Ancient colored walls at Dendera, Egypt, which were exposed for years to the elements, still possess their brilliant color, as vivid as when they were painted about 2,000 years ago. The Egyptians mixed their colors with a gummy substance and applied them separately from each other without any blending or mixture. They appear to have used six colors: white, black, blue, red, yellow, and green. They first covered the area entirely with white, then traced the design in black, leaving out the lights of the ground color. They used minium for red, generally of a dark tinge.
Prior to the 19th century, painting the interior walls of a home would have been an on-site job done by a small cohort of professionals. An artisan would show up with an assortment of grinders, pots, and powdered pigments. The pigments were made from a variety of ingredients, ranging from innocuous sources like fish, nuts, seeds, and clay, to more squirmish inclusions like bug extracts. Lead and arsenic were on the list, too, although they shouldn’t have been. The painter placed the desired options on a slab and mixed them together using a conical stone. Once he was satisfied with the color and consistency of the paint, he would scrape up the resulting paste, put it in a pot, and add additional oil. There was no swatch book, no celebrated “color of the year.” Instead, there were a handful of options and little guarantees. When the color was applied to the wall, that was it.
The printing press didn’t come along until 1440, leaving little evidence of when interior painting officially became a common practice. Although some evidence points to the turn of the thirteenth century, many believe house painting was a profession even before that time. During the 1400s, house painters were in “guilds” that practiced as either a painting or staining company. The processes they used to mix and apply paint were treated as top secrets that were only shared among those who participated in the trade. Although house painting was considered a respectable profession during the fifteenth century, the Pilgrims did not share this opinion in the early seventeenth century. The settlers of the early American colonies believed that painting your home symbolized wealth, immodesty, and vanity. While this belief led to legal charges of sacrilege against a preacher, many home owners continued to seek out painters to paint their homes, which often featured murals and landscapes
The invention of aniline dyes in the 19th century expanded choices even more. And once color was more attainable to a wider audience, it was no longer as aspirational. So to wow their neighbors, the wealthy looked to a paint’s sheen instead: the glossier the paint, the more expensive it was. The ultimate in high gloss was enamel wall paint that was introduced to European and American homes in the late 19th century. It required at least 10 undercoats, and each one was carefully rubbed down and left to dry completely between each layer. The final coat of enamel was applied to the wall with minimal brush strokes, resulting in a sheen that could rival that of a new car.
In the period following the Civil War, the paint industry focused on producing ready-mixed paints, which we still use today. This era also marked the completion of a national rail network, which spurred the availability of branded products across the country. Some of the first paint marketing materials of the period were called “color chip cards,” which comprised a sheet of paper with attached color samples. The BTHL contains several color cards from the late 19th century, including a 1884 booklet (shown below) from the Harrison Bros. of Philadelphia that features images of exterior residential paint schemes and ample detail about this highly decorative period of domestic architecture.
In 1833, Benjamine Moore opened it’s doors. This would come a few decades behind its current most notable competitor, Sheriwn-Williams. Throughout the 1900s, Benjamin Moor invested a massive amount of resources into researching and developing chemicals designed to improve paint mixing. In 1982, the paint company designed the computer based color matching system, which is now an indispensable tool when it comes to paint color selection.
The mid-20th century is known, as far as paint is concerned, for more than just the pink bathroom. Catalogs from Sherwin-Williams offer a particularly useful snapshot of the era by showing how paint schemes were applied in the residential sphere. The company’s Home Decorator series was produced annually for more than 30 years, including a noteworthy 1939 edition with custom illustrations by artist Rockwell Kent. As you may be familiar with, the Pantone colour of the year has become a staple of the paint industry and the art world at large. The midcentury homeowner had a variety of options when it came to using paint. Color schemes characterized as “harmonious,” “complementary,” or “analogous” were illustrated for both traditional and modern house designs.
All paints generally have four main ingredients — pigments, binders, solvents (liquids) and additives. Pigments provide color and hide, while binders work to “bind” the pigment together and create the paint film. Paints are formulated according to their proposed use – primer, undercoat, special finishes (matt, gloss, heat resistance, anti-corrosion, abrasion resistance). The pigment powder is broken down into individual particles which are coated by and dispersed in the binder (resin) – known as ‘wetting out’. Solvent is then added to give the required consistency. Each batch of ingredients is thoroughly mixed in large, stirred containers with the required additives (Figure 1). Amounts ranging up to 40 000 dm3 of paint may be made in a single batch. Water-borne emulsion paints are used as decorative paints, particularly for the inside and outside of buildings (including masonry paints and exterior primers). However, it wasn’t always this way.
Best Paint Options Available Today:
There’s a lot more to choosing an interior paint than picking a color. You have to consider the colors of the furniture and flooring, and the amount of light a room gets, too. Picking a paint that’s too shiny can reflect too much light, and one that’s too flat may appear dull. It’s the paint sheen, or finish, that affects how the color appears. And that depends on whether it absorbs light or reflects it. In addition, for paint to hold up well over time, it has to be durable enough for the surface and the situation. You’ve probably heard people saying eggshell paint, which you may assume is a colour, but that is also in fact a finish.
1. For Repelling Water and Stains
Often, the best paint for the bathtub or shower walls and bathing surfaces is not a common paint found in the home center’s paint aisle. Instead, this is a coating usually found as part of a do-it-yourself refinishing kit. You’ll want a paint that is made with Acrylic resin consisting of two parts, base color, and base hardener. While you can use water-soluble latex enamel paint, oil-based paints (only available in quart sizes and where allowed) provide smoother surfaces. While oil-based paints do emit strong fumes and have extended drying times, the payoff is a rock-solid, glass-smooth surface. For the kitchen, where you’re likely to experience stains, this may be the best option!
2. For non-toxicity
Even Zero-VOC formulations contain some small amounts of toxins. Here are three general categories of non-toxic (or low-toxic) paints: Natural Paints, Zero VOC, and Low VOC. So, whatever paint brand you are looking for, or colour, you will want to look for ones that say zero VOC or low VOC. Any paint with VOC’s in the range of 5 grams/litre or less can be called “Zero VOC”, according to the EPA Reference Test Method 24. Some manufacturers may claim “Zero-VOC’s”, but these paints may still use colorants, biocides and fungicides with some VOC’s. Adding a color tint usually brings the VOC level up to 10 grams/liter, which is still quite low. I can recommend Earthpaint as a brand that is non-toxic, and has many beautiful paint.
3. For Vibrant Colour
Glossy paint is a great choice for bright colors because of its long-lasting wear and ease of use when cleaning. Remember to always use primer for prepping surfaces which will also enhance the finish.“Enamel” is another paint term that has become generalized. It means that it is an incredibly long-lasting and durable paint that can put up with wear and tear. It is generally more common for exterior paints but can also apply indoors. In the past, nearly all enamel paints were by default oil-based, but recently some water-based paints have started to use this label as well. This can be a great option for a strong bold finish that doesn’t fade, which you can get with the less toxic option now.
From using clay, berries and flowers to produce the first paints and binding them with animal fat, cow’s milk and eggs, the paint industry has evolved a lot. Now there are cleaner binders, a variety of finishes and practically endless colors to choose from. The history shows the way paint is clearly something very vital to human creative expression. From early cave dwellings, paint was created and used to decorate interiors. It has developed so much even since the 20th century, when water based paints were a major breakthrough. Our homes can contain so many toxins we remain unaware of, so considering the levels of VOC’s in your paint is an important step in creating a safe and happy home. With so many choices to make when it comes to paint, knowing the different types of paint is key to making the best decision. Aside from types of paint, you should also consider the average paint cost in your budget, and whether you want to work with a painting contractor. The price can vary greatly, so doing your research before jumping in is a good idea. I hope this article gave you a solid base for understanding the options ahead of you, as well as connecting more to the rich history of the substance and its uses in human society.