The yellow brick road.

The front, in all its current rusty glory.

If you had happened along our (one-of-these-days, fingers-crossed, dream-on-Sunshine) street one afternoon this week, you’d have passed a huddle of people sheltering outside the RW under dripping brollies.  They would have been staring fixedly at two yellow patches on a wall and listening to someone talking in august tones about the benefits of traditionally slaked lime.  You might even have cursed them softly for taking up the whole pavement and forcing you to detour  onto the road. Amongst their number would have been someone under a golden umbrella with its handle fused shut with rust, making it necessary to hold it rather ludicrously  at ear height.  That would have been me. Adjacent, with a well-trimmed beard, a wicked ironical eye and a fully functioning umbrella (probably neo-classical), would have been Esteemed Architect.  Also present were the other owners of the terrace, someone else’s architect,  the Lovely Housing Heritage Officer (who is also believed  to be an architect), and the Heritage Colour Expert (ditto). Uncle Tom Cobleigh wanted to be there but is not an architect and therefore felt  obliged to send apologies.

The street in the 1860s from Observatory Hill

We then adjourned rather wetly to a local meeting room which is still perfectly intact from the 70s, with a carpet so redolent of that era that it induced hallucinations if looked at for too long.  There we slogged it out for a co-operative two hours in an attempt to find consensus on an exterior colour scheme for the terrace.  Our deliberations were based on a comprehensive and lengthy report previously undertaken by said Heritage Colour Expert, which charted the colourific rise and fall of the terrace through the years. Left to the house owners, the whole process might have taken all of five minutes.  “All in favour of yellow say Aye!  All in favour of dark grey”… you get the gist.  Well, actually, it might have taken six minutes on account of the view of the Opera House rising up between two buildings like a gently curving slice of carved moon, and so close you could see the scales. Actually, nacreous is the word that comes to mind. Oh! I am forever a groupie to that building.


However, things are always more complicated for Those Who Specialise, and so the ins and outs, the merits and demerits of traditional limewash, modern limewash, acrylic paint (shiver his timbers) and various assorted sundry etceteras were hashed and re-hashed exhaustively.  We have ended up with what I believe is called an Interpretative Scheme which incorporates elements of the original, but  is updated.

1875 Bernard Holtermann panorama

Originally, we were informed, the terrace was painted with traditionally slaked limewash, tinted with copperas.  Or copper arse as Mr P has dubbed it, because he can be like that. You know the English – never miss a chance for talk of bottoms and so forth.  Not that I can talk, of course. But anyway, think ochery yellow facade.  Think, rather oddly, Tuscany.  But the cherry on the cake was the fact (we were informed) that not only were the front doors  painted in a faux oak, but the windows and architraves too.  Also, if you can wrap your head around this as a decorative concept –  the railings!  What a sight for sore eyes that would have been. I think he was somewhat saddened when we opted not to reproduce such a piece of marvellousness, but some of us had already done our time  in the 80s with the likes of Jocasta Innes. A bit later, there was mention of dark green, but thankfully that fell unheeded onto the magnificent carpet and disappeared in a purple haze of forgetfulness.


So what we will have is a modern limewash tinted with actual copperas.  Dark grey woodwork and railings.  Various bits and bobs of trim in a paler value of the yellow.  The portico, for instance.  If it has not fallen down.  I did put my hand up for personalised front door colours but that too fell onto its face on the carpet.  No individualism then.  An outdated concept anyway, no doubt – very pre-pomo.

Deeper tones of 1902

One curious and interesting thing to come out of the Colour Expert’s report (he is called Mr Donald Ellesmore, by the way, and all credit to him and I should say here that I have stolen – or borrowed – these photos from his report), is the hypothesis that most of the houses in the street were originally painted this ochre-y buff yellow, with faux oak everything elses.  I find that quite an interesting thing to picture.  Would it have been like coming out of one’s front door to perpetual late-afternoon sunshine?


Btw, I have a microscopic midge dive-bombing my face as I type this – all complaints to be directed there please.

1978 beige


8 Responses to “The yellow brick road.”

  1. Ok. Heritage accepted sepia coated. As long as it doesn’t end up looking like Woolahra.

  2. Thank you for your update.

    I would love a deep dark red front door as that would be my choice for a welcoming entrance. Maybe it’s simply that every house we have lived in has had a deep red front door.

    Okay, you cannot have your choice of front door colour (now) but your portico will make your house very different from the rest.

    I still think that the use of colour is much more exciting than the use of all white as they do in Bath. Love the idea of dark grey iron work, and it’s a very practical choice and acknowledges current trends. I hope we are able to do the same.

    You had me lifting off more of the peeling paint from the walls in the front of the house back to a dirty soft powdery ochre colour which I suspect will need some umber in it to make it look okay. The street will be filled with muted sunshine.

    There are examples of new paint jobs of all sorts of yellows eg Bar 100 I’m, wondering just how much they fade. We might look a bit like “toy town” or a bit jaundiced.

    • Yes, I’ve had red in my mind’s eye for some reason too (never had a red door). Or a moody bruised sky colour – that colour everything goes when the jacaranda is blooming and there are continuous storms. Funny that you found yellow on your house! Maybe DE Esq is right in his conjecture. You can always tell someone involved with art when they start talking umbers – I wished our meeting could have discussed such things but it seemed historical accuracy was far higher on the agenda than poor old aesthetics. So for us it’s limewash with copper arse, however that pans out. I still think I’ll like it better than white, as you say. I did used to like the houses in Chelsea where individual houses in a terrace are painted sorbet colours, each different but somehow compatible. Something to do with them being the same tone or shade of something like that.

  3. ooh fab choice, especially dark grey windows. but what universal door colours did we all agree on then? the dark grey to match the rest or something more tuscan sunshine?
    the faux oak grain – not my cup of tea, no ma’am but theres a little man here who does that sort of thing, interesting for those who dare …

    • t’ank ‘ee! The yellow was not so much a choice as an acquiescence, but I quite like it anyway. As for the woodwork the choices were brown (to simulate simulated faux oak grain!), green, black or grey. Universal front door to be universal dark grey, ho hum.

      Thankyou for the spitalfields blog – I’ve stuck it on my RSS feed. Have to say in the hands of Mr Harper, the faux oak ain’t nearly as bad as I thought. But in the ravening sun here it’d need yearly top ups.

      • Somehow I managed to come upon a collection of metal combs for wood grain. A set with teeth of different widths very neatly contained in sections in a metal pouch. A good object for a museum on the history of house painting and decorating I think. They were in 93 year old Uncle Athol’s possessions and he said they were his wife (Myrtle) fathers who used to do house painting for a living. In the back of my mind I see thick varnish and purple, red and beige swirling patterns. A bit to like the patterns they used to do on the doors and walls of pub toilets before they became gentrified. Ugh! But I guess in the hands of someone skilled it could look really great. But are we into faux surfaces?

        Now I only have to find the old book which actually tells me how to do it! I thought of using them in an artwork not on a house. The combs can be borrowed if you have a mind to experiment.

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