Exterior Color: The Fulton Street Sisters

In which we learn that the whole is greater than the sum of its details.

Cranston and Keenan-designed Queen Anne Victorian circa 1890 recently restored, with color design by Lynne Rutter
My work as a colorist is often more involved than simply choosing paint colors for a "Painted Lady."  
Working with the historic homes of San Francisco has given me a deep understanding of the regional architecture, and it is so rewarding when I can collaborate with people who appreciate and work to preserve that architecture.  The owners of neighboring Cranston and Keenan-designed "Queen Anne" style homes on Fulton Street wanted their sister houses to look good next to each other, and to set a precedent for the rest of the street. They knew things were missing and that they needed more than just a paint job. Both owners enlisted San Francisco Local Color Painting, and asked that their façades be restored in tandem.

Here is a "before" picture from 2016:
Before:  aging sisters on Fulton Street, hanging onto their dignity
As you can see, these sisters share the great bones they were born with. Like many grand old homes in our fair city, this pair of Queen Anne mansions endured many decades of slow neglect.  Changes in the neighborhood, deferred maintenance, hidden damage, and past expedient repairs over time, can add up to a very shaggy appearance and what looks like a really daunting project.  Praise is due to the dedicated owners who coordinated their efforts and committed considerable resources and energy to rejuvenating these beauties.

Now, here is our glorious "after" photo of 1374 and 1368 Fulton Street.
Sister houses: "Queen Anne" style Victorians with their newly restored and painted façades.  color design: Lynne Rutter

For those of you who'd like to know a bit more about how this renaissance was accomplished, read on.

1368 Fulton "before."  I stopped here at the base of the stairs and wondered, what's going on with the mismatched crown at the roofline? Also, please, don't ever paint your steps with battleship gray porch paint ~this is not your garage floor, it's your entrance.
Analysis and Research
I met with the owners of both homes to discuss what they'd like to see. Naturally, each house would have colors according to the taste of its respective owner, but as neighbors they wanted the colors of both homes to be compatible, and to be somewhat consistent as to the use of ornament and color placement.  As the houses face south, we needed to use colors that work well in full sun and won't fade easily.  But before I could finalize where those colors would be used, both façades needed some resolution about missing ornament and other carpentry matters.

1374: some areas we needed to resolve prior to painting
A Queen Anne style house, especially one built by Cranston and Keenan, tends to have a lot of ornament on its façade. Unlike many other period styles of architecture, these designs don't follow any classical rules about proportions or column height or window size. It can be extremely difficult to figure out where to put colors to complement this style of home. There is no clear "body" or "trim" as their façades are mostly mouldings and ornament. It's like the builder  pulled up with a cart full of surface ornaments and threw them on the house. 
All the same, there is a style, and details that really work, and when they are missing or replaced with undersized elements, it's terribly obvious and  can result in a lopsided or unstable appearance. So I worked up a list of problem areas I felt needed to be addressed.
For example, due to a code change requiring railings to be higher, each house had had its original balcony replaced with taller, fairly indifferent-looking railings.  At 1374 the rounded balcony (7) had been straightened and its bowed "clamshell" (8), no longer protected properly, began to rot. Missing ornament in the frieze (6)  had been covered over with shingles, which resulted in a shaggy, heavy-looking area over the arch.
We looked at other houses in the area by the same builders which have similar details, to find solutions. 
Even better, one of our homeowners located an archive photo that would answer many of our questions!

1374 Fulton Street, circa 1910
This amazing photo from 1910 showed us the original ornament plan of BOTH houses. I was then able to place colors for them using this photo as a guide.
To solve the issue of the modern requirements for balcony railing height, I recommended continuing the horizontal band from under the window clear across, and then adding better proportioned balusters above that. And then of course, finials or vases on top of that. And then of course some little balls atop those, so we can gild them!

Rallying Resources
It is my distinct honor to belong to a group called  Artistic License - A Guild of Artisans. It is through this guild that I met Bruce Nelson, owner of SF Local Color Painting, and many other skilled carpenters, architects, painters, and designers. Like me, most of the members of this guild could not look at that "before" photo without making a mental inventory of everything that was wrong or missing from these façades.  So Bruce recommended several members of the guild to our homeowners, to help set things right. 

Chris Yerke of Restoration Workshop mastered the restoration of the façade at 1368. Missing mouldings were custom milled and replaced, and copious amounts of ornament cast by Lorna Kollmeyer Ornamental Plaster were added where appropriate. Chris re-designed the balcony with a parapet and turned balusters, in a very pleasing proportion that seamlessly integrates with the original design. Urns were placed on top of the balcony railing of course. With little balls on top.

1368 Fulton after painting. Color design by Lynne Rutter
Local Color's team restored the old wood surfaces and painted the subtle scheme of six colors with 23.5 karat gilt details. As the house is so high from the street and faces south, some ornament was dry-brushed with an accent color,  to bring up more of the detail in the full sun.
This color wasn't a big departure from the previous scheme, which the owners liked.  But to note is the relatively minimal contrast between colors, and this was done to give the façade a more unified and and elegant look.  

Layers of wood and cast rosettes were used to recreate the ornamentation of the upper pediment
Meanwhile, next door... at 1374, new wooden window sashes were built with stained glass panels, recreating the originals in the antique photo.  Skeeter Jones of Clearheart Fine Design and Building lead the revival of this façade including restoring the curved balcony with custom turned  balusters and finials, replacing rotted wood and missing ornament, again with castings from Lorna Kollmeyer. Dozens of elements were painstakingly assembled to create the richly textured surface of the original façade.

1374 Fulton Street restored 2018. color design by Lynne Rutter

Finishing touches
Years of old paint were removed, epoxy repairs and minute details carefully prepared by Local Color painters prior to painting this six-color scheme. Some ornament was enhanced with a glaze, by painting a thin layer of color over the surface, then wiping back the raised parts to create more depth.  Finally, special details and buttons were gilt with 23.5 karat gold leaf, which adds a warm accent color as well as shimmery finesse.

1374 and 1368 Fulton Street newly restored and painted. color design: Lynne Rutter
In addition to expressing my admiration to my colleagues for their fine work, I want to express once  again my deep appreciation to the owners of these important homes, for their stewardship, and for their commitment to the beauty of our city's shared history.


Period Revival Artisans of the San Francisco Bay Area 
Artistic License,-A Guild of Artisans

Find an archive image or learn more about your Victorian house:
San Francisco Public Library Historical Photo Collection
SF Heritage Historical Research Guide
Open SF History historical images and maps
Guide to San Francisco Architecture at the Bold Italic


  1. Great post and beautiful photos. They are lovely examples of Queen Anne style architecture. Wishing you a Happy New Year.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. It's the enormous knowledge behind the simplest of details that continues to amaze me. Superb workmanship and a stunning final result!


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