10 August 2018

Exterior Color: The Nightingale House

The upper bay and tower of the 1882 Nightingale House, San Francisco Landmark #47
The Nightingale House, San Francisco Landmark #47,  is named for John Nightingale, who built  the house in 1882, as a wedding gift for his daughter Florence.   I have long adored this house, ever since I moved to the city. I love the scale of it, the eclectic Victorian Gothic-a-rama style of it. 

The Nightingale House in 2008

The house had seemingly always been white: layers of post-WWII Navy surplus paint and then some, gave it a sunny cottage-like appearance.  Its longtime owner, Jo Hansen, a San Francisco artist and activist, cared for it with everything she had for over 40 years. As a young artist living nearby I met Jo a number of times. It’s still hard to imagine this city without her.

Since 2010, the new owners and current custodians of the Nightingale House have been carefully restoring it.  But by “carefully” I don’t mean living in a museum. They have researched its history, repaired its injured areas, and made it their own. 
I have been thrilled to participate in what has truly been a collaboration between me, the owners, and the house itself.  

Entry and tower after restoration and painting
We started talking about color before the heavier aspects of the restoration work had even started. Envisioning the color was not just the light at the end of the tunnel, but a step towards solidifying the intent and goals.  I asked what they were looking to say with their color scheme;  one said  “historic, important”  the other said  “gothic, unusual …  ”     Elvira may have been mentioned.
Well then, said I, let’s see if we can do both!

Rare in San Francisco, a covered entry porch, with outer pocket doors, which we painted with a faux bois finish
The curved balcony had been missing, and was recreated from a vintage photo
The color scheme I designed is for the most part monochromatic, with different shades of warm greens. The eaves are brightened with a green-gold color, and 23.5 karat gold leaf helps celebrate  some very special details.
Historic homes of this period were often painted with a medium tone body and darker trim.   I have been finding more and more, that the white trim so prevalent in the 20th century is not as appealing, especially when urban dirt accumulates on it. The 19th century style of painting darker trim can give the period architecture a lot of stability and grace.  
A favorite detail:  Gothic pendant under the bay window
Many years of work have gone into the restoration of this landmark home. Dozens of skilled artisans have contributed to its revival along with tireless effort on the part of the owners.  A complicated roof and tower was totally refitted, with copper gutters, working chimneys, and metal cresting sitting atop like tiara. Window sashes have been restored or reproduced, lead paint stripped off, missing ornament and architectural features recreated.   During some of the work evidence of the original paint color was found to be... green.

Sometimes I go a bit out of my way just to pass the corner on which the Nightingale House is perched.   

More about the Nightingale House at  Hoodline
Color Design by Lynne Rutter

I have never heard that the house was haunted, but I'd be happy to start a rumor...


  1. Wow, the new color palette is great! I like the gold accents. It sounds like a fun project to watch and be a part of.

    1. Thanks! We went through many choices but it was well worth the time. I really enjoyed working on this house and I love looking at it.

    2. Hi Lynn! I was so happy to see this blog and your work with Nightengale house! Is it OK if I ask the colors? We have a house that is similarly painted and I am wondering how close our colors are! Thank you so much.

    3. Hi Aj, why don't you tell us all what paints you used and I can tell you how close they are.

    4. Lynn - I actually used an exterior solid stain. At the time, I felt it was superior to an exterior paint. I think that still may be true of some exterior materials, but it is not true of wood. I'd like to post some photos if possible.

    5. Not sure if I can post pics but here is a link in Pinterest - https://www.pinterest.com/pin/421438477637554213/

    6. Hi AJ. Your house appears to be a much lighter, more sage green with white windows so it overall it appears a lot lighter. People tend to be surprised by how dark the paint that I am using turns out to be. But as your home is in a more open setting, it's better you used light colors.

    7. Thank you Lynne, really admiring your artistic vision! :)

  2. Lynn - mind if I guess colors that might be close? I am looking at Valspar "cosmopolitan olive" for the dark green and a valspar "sweet carolina" for the lighter color. How close are those?

    1. Hello A. Based on the Valspar website I'd say that those colors are 50% lighter than what we used here. But, it is not possible to guesswork on color over the internet. Also you cannot use the same colors on a different house in a different location or exposure and have a good result. If you are considering repainting and would like to consult me on colors for your home, please email me at ornamentalist -at-gmail.com and I will design something that makes your house look its best.

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