Primitive Decorating Colors


Primitive decor often refers to rustic interior design or country living. Common hues used in today's primitive-style decorating are based on colors that were once bright but are now faded or aged. Thus rarely will you find fuschia or sunshine yellow in a traditional primitive home. If you want your kitchen or bedroom to appear rustic, you can still use subtle hints of bold colors in combination with hues from the primitive palette.

Goldenrod and Barn Red

  • Golden yellow or goldenrod, maize, and beige are primitive yellows. Use them for wall paint, in wall hangings and ornamental gourds,and for finishing wood furniture in creamy, chipped milk paint. Find primitive yellows in mixing bowls and ceramic jars at country antique stores. Brass is common in antique clasps on chests, door knobs or in tools such as watering cans, lanterns and buckets. Barn red is a deep, worn red that's stand-out on the side of an old barn or as the finish on your dining room farm cupboard. Soil content regulated the degree of brightness in reds but many primitive reds could as easily be classified as browns.

The Dirt on Brown -- and Red

  • Brown, reddish-brown or barn red, and bronze were dominant shades in primitive decor. Brown is the natural, rustic color of the native woods use for furnishings, floors and sometimes walls. Barn red added a splash of color to window frames and door trimmings, cupboards and shelves, chair upholstery and, of course, the sides of barns. The cheap paint made from digging up dirt with a high iron oxide content, grinding it to fine powder, and mixing it with linseed oil and turpentine to cover wood was called Spanish Brown -- not barn red -- by the colonists, who copied the style from Europe. The slightly dingy tone of barn red was originally due to its dirt base and the variable iron oxide content in the soil. Bronze fireplace tools, cauldrons and lamps are also common motifs in primitive decor.

Blue and Gray

  • Slate blue or bluish-gray, midnight blue -- a cross between navy blue and black, and gray are cool, dark primitive colors. These colors are represented in stone work, paint trim and accessories like ornaments and wood boxes. Blue and gray paint -- even very dark, charcoal grays -- were used on walls in colonial Williamsburg. Public rooms on the main floor of finer houses might have medium blue walls and blue-green trim was popular.

Olive and Pine

  • A primitive shade of green is almost olive or army green. This color may show up in quilts, pine branches and garlands, painted decorations or faux foliage. Boiled leaves were among the early sources for green pigments to add to primitive paints. Copper salts and verdigris scraped off oxidized copper supplied more green pigments. Some paints used for trim and walls were blue mixed with copper pigments that became bright turquoise or an intense blue-green.

Folk Art Colors

  • Folk art is sometimes called primitive art. Folk rugs, quilts, sculptures and paintings tend to incorporate more colors than a subtle rustic design, although the colors are still dark or cool, based on vegetable pigments and tea dyes. Touches of bright color were rare -- and expensive -- but do turn up in braided rugs, scrap-cloth quilts and, occasionally, painted designs. A primitive folk art rug might feature pieced-together bands of beige, brown, light and dark green, maroon, violet, red, white, light and navy blue, black and orange.

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