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Nantucket’s Historic Paint Colors


Building on Island

Fisher Real Estate
historic nantucket paint colors

At Fisher Real Estate, we always keep our eyes peeled for Nantucket stories related to home design. You’d be surprised by how many details in your home—from the widow’s walk to the floorboards—are decided for a very specific reason. We cherish our history more than your average town and love to share the island’s stories as much as we can. 

If you haven’t already noticed, Nantucketers are pretty particular about their paint colors. So much so, that the Nantucket Historic District Commission has a set list of approved exterior paint colors. that require you to go through an application process to change from one color to another. The Nantucket Chronicle has a great article on the HDC’s 12 paint colors and even looked through an archive of 18th and 19th century paintings to see which colors were used. 

Based on Sherry’s article and a little research of our own, here are our biggest takeaways about Nantucket’s 12 historic colors. 

Blue is New

Photo: Fine Art America

Newport and Hamilton blue are relative newcomers to the historic list. But if you drive around town, you’ll see a lot of doors in these oceanic tones. While it may seem like an obvious choice now, blue was once seen as too colorful and expensive. To blend in with the landscape, most homes seemed to have only earth tone exterior paint with the odd Nantucket Red or Main Street Yellow thrown in. 

Before Marine Home Center came to be, Nantucketers once had to mix their own paints. Over time, it seems that the grays slowly began to pick up some blue and two new colors were born. We’re happy they did! There’s just something about those blue doors that remind us how lucky we are to live on the Atlantic. 

Blame Titanium

jethro coffin house nantucket

We incorrectly assumed that the classic Nantucket colors have a faded look and feel because of the sea. As it turns out, their lack of vibrancy is actually due to a lack of titanium. Any brighter paint colors you might see are the result of new paint blends, which include titanium for extra pop. Our historic colors predate that advancement and have a duller sea faded look as a result. 

These muted colors are an ideal way to respect our beautiful history, but also our landscape. If titanium paint had existed at the height of the whaling industry, you might see a few more brightly colored houses here and there. 

Building with Nantucket in Mind

building with nantucket in mind

In 1992, the J. Christopher Lang and Kate Stout created Building with Nantucket in Mind, a thoughtful set of guidelines for preserving the island’s history. It exhaustively details every design detail of a Nantucket home, often citing the desire to maintain a “sense of place.” Interestingly, white trim wasn’t seen as fashionable until the 20th century when it became a unifying design element. Obviously, it’s difficult to imagine the island without it these days. 

Although some of these regulations have relaxed over the years (especially with door color), they are still the defining principles of our architecture. If you want to learn more about design details on the island, it’s definitely worth a read. 

Have a question? Marine Home Center has the answer

If you’re unsure of how to paint your door, shutters, or trim, Marine Home Center has the 12 historic blends. They can help you with all your paint related needs and share a little bit of Nantucket history in the process. “The Nantucket Historic Collection” is in keeping with the colors approved by the Historic District Commission. However, the H.D.C. reserves the right to individually approve each color choice, based on the physical appearance and location of the structure. These colors are also available at Anchor ACE Hardware in Sandwich and South Yarmouth, MA.

While it’s best not to mess around with the exterior of your home, the interior is fair game. The historic paints might inspire some of your home’s interior or, at the very least, open your eyes a little more as you walk around town. 

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Fisher Real Estate