As we were repairing the roof, we noticed the paint peeling away in places and began to piece together the original color scheme of the underside of the overhanging eaves.
The original house had stucco up to about the height of the top of the windows in most places. Above the stucco, on the gable ends of the main roof, are vertical 1x10" redwood boards. The undersides of the eaves and the gable trim were all painted brown at some point, so that the house would have a unified two tone look - brown on the top half and grey, raw stucco on bottom. The later color scheme was more restrained than the original color scheme, but it masks a key Maybeck feature - the colorfully stained eaves.
Here is the back of the house right now, as it is, under construction
It seems like the soffit was a cerulean blue stain, the rafters were dark brown and the bargeboards (gable end rafters) were green! Here is a drawing I made to show what I think it looked like:
Yes it is pretty wild what the first layer of stain under the eaves looked like. Maybeck didn't like paint on the exterior of the house at this point so the only paint was on the windows, window sills and back doors. The windows which were steel needed paint for protection from rust and the back door was painted to match (though the other doors were 3" thick and faced with redwood). It's unclear whether the bargeboards were painted or stained green. For practicality of already having chrome green paint on hand I'd guess they were painted. The regular rafter tails were brown. The yellow in the pic is for the amber glass in the original windows. The color is a pleasant surprise to visitors to the house - it's almost entirely invisible from the street minus a tiny bit of green window paint and the bargeboards of the master bathroom that overlooks the front walkway.
Maybeck tended to use rich, simple, historic colors that usually echoed from nature. I read in "The Simple Home", by Charles Keeler, that colors from the surroundings were recommended as they were least likely to go out of style or clash with the natural beauty of the surroundings. The colors of our eaves easily match the blue of the sky, the brown of dirt or aged redwood, and the green of English ivy crawling nearby.
I read about a green creosote stain in "The Simple Home" (1904) giving a mossy appearance and thought that it must be what we have that in the master bathroom / changing room. I looked it up and found this in a paint book from 1908
When I read that it mentioned chrome green - which seemed to be the window paint color as that matched best from a Sherwin Williams color wheel - the gears started turning. I had also read in "The Simple Home" about a silver stain made from "sulfate of iron" which seemed to be what was on the pecky cedar in the dining add-on. All the colors were not just "natural" in terms of matching the natural palette, but were also simple in their make-up. Chrome green is simply from chromium oxide and would have been an off the shelf paint color as it still is at Sherwin Williams. The mossy stain is chromium oxide and creosote oil with added umber. The brown exterior stain made to look like aged redwood looked like it matched the paint color "burnt umber." Once I started making the list, I found the assumption of simple colors and stains seem to illuminate the path forward in terms of determining the "intent" of the artist. Intent is important because colors can change a lot in 90 years, especially with the caustic chemicals, so this way I can infer what it looked like originally and use that to recreate the color scheme, rather than just color-matching the existing colors.
Original house colors (best guess):
- chrome green paint - chromium oxide
- moss green stain - creosote oil and chromium oxide
- silver stain - iron sulfate
- brown stain - burnt umber?
- light blue stain - ?mysterey?
Maybeck did not use really use light blue very often, but I think it was worked into the color scheme by the owner - who is described as adding her own artistic touch in the Rowland letter. I think this mainly consisted of her using blue throughout - there's blue on the soffit, blue under the balcony over the fireplace to match the soffit, blue painted inside the kitchen cabinets and possibly blue in the master bedroom. Oh and the same blue in our mystery cuerda seca tiles from ~1938.
Back to the exterior bright blue stain... The stain became a sky blue color when rubbed into the redwood soffit and its makeup is still a mystery. The other colors, from research, sort of all fell into place. I have a large blob of the blue stain in the stucco which I think was a cup of the stuff spilled in the dirt next to the house while someone was on a ladder trying to get the master bedroom pop-out area. It's really bright like cotton candy. Using the simple chemical formula theory - I looked up ancient blue colors. Historically, blue mainly came from indigo dye, or related to minerals or based on copper chemical reactions. The closest color seemed to be copper(II) sulfate, which is made by putting copper into sulfuric acid. I read about it in a book about furniture finishing from the Middle Ages. It used to be called "blue vitriol."
Blue Vitriol seems like something that would go along with the themes here and Maybeck's taste for the Middle Ages as well as simple chemical stains like the iron sulfate stain. I could also believe that it was simply a sky blue colored stain. The color, when not applied to the wood, would have made it a pretty wild stain for the era which is why it might be a home remedy. As you can read in the painters book from 1908 about the creosote stain - people with woodshops apparently used to have jars of caustic chemicals on hand to make these things. I may have a chemistry friend help me try to determine it's makeup. Stay tuned for the mystery of the blue vitriol stain...