The True Colours palette contains 35 original colours that were used on houses and buildings in Vancouver from the 1880s to the 1920s, often chosen by the first owners and builders. It can be a valuable tool when the goal is to restore a house or building to its original appearance or to select a combination and placement of colours that reflect its early history, construction and residents. The palette can also be useful in identifying the placement of light and dark colours to complement the architectural style. For some houses and buildings, a colour scheme from a later period might have greater significance in reflecting the history and heritage values, and may be considered in a restoration or rehabilitation plan for the site.
The colours were identified through sampling and analysis from many different houses and buildings. They were named for the streets and neighbourhoods where they were first documented, often reflecting the different eras of development, architecture and changing tastes from the 1880s to the 1920s.
Hard copies may be available at the VHF office.
Scroll down to see examples of historical colour schemes that have been implemented in different neighbourhoods around the city.
When it started, True Colours was a unique program in Canada. From its inception in 1999 until 2018 the True Colours Grant Program awarded close to $100,000 in grants and Benjamin Moore distributed over 2,000 gallons of paint to more than four dozen paint projects. The program won both City of Vancouver and Province of British Columbia Heritage Awards.
The True Colours grant offered by VHF only tells part of the story. There are many building owners who paint their buildings in the True Colours palette, regardless of receiving a grant from VHF. The impact of True Colours can be seen in neighbourhoods throughout Vancouver.
Funding to support repainting in the True Colours Historical Paint Palette is now available for eligible projects through the Heritage Conservation Grant Program.
Donald Luxton, the Heritage Consultant who volunteered hundreds of hours scraping Vancouver homes to uncover these original paint schemes, reflects on the True Colours Program.
“The True Colours program has been a remarkable experience. When the program started, we could not have anticipated the depth and richness of the historical palette that we would uncover, the interest that this would generate among homeowners and the general public and the ongoing desire for information about authentic heritage colours. What I have learned through this program is how carefully colours were chosen to highlight different types of historic architecture, and how paint technology and appearance was so well understood by the designers and builders of the time. The use of colour was not arbitrary, and was an integral part of design. The restoration of authentic colours has provided another level of accuracy and sophistication in our understanding of our heritage buildings.”
The colours in the Palette were used in particular combinations depending on the style of the house. Some colours were only used for trim or window sash while others were applied to the main body of the house. Following this pattern of colour placement will help provide an authentic colour scheme.
Main exterior walls of the house that are usually wood shingles, siding or stucco and can include the gable ends. Body colours from the True Colours Palette:
This can include trim around windows, columns, fascia board, deck and porch railing, brackets, water table board, soffts and rafters. Trim colours from the Palette:
The window sash framework contains a sheet of glass or a number of window panes in a window or a door. Sash colours in the Palette:
Porch Floor & Stair Treads
The placement of colour changed significantly from the Victorian era to the Edwardian and later styles.
For Victorian homes, the exterior colour scheme typically used dark trim and lighter to mid-range body colour.
During this era there’s a shift in the application of colour. Exterior colour schemes typically used a light trim, dark body and dark window sashes.