Unquestionably the quickest way to freshen the look of a house or room is to paint it. For a historic structure like the Hammond-Harwood House, how it was first painted offers clues to the vision of its builders and owners. One of the mysteries of what the house looked like in 1774 was solved this fall when Susan Buck, an expert from Williamsburg, analyzed paint chips from the exterior trim and doors.
Tiny quarter-inch chips were analyzed with 21st century techniques – and the results are surprising. After studying 24 layers of paint, Dr. Buck determined that the original color of the doors and trim was a creamy white, close to the color of the mortar. And she found evidence that the front door was originally stained with a brown glaze and decorated to simulate mahogany. Called grain painting, this type of finish was considered very elegant in the late 18th century.
The door now has the original cream color painted by William Doherty and the faux graining has been completed by Baltimore-based artisan Betsy Greene. While it is impossible to know the original graining pattern, the new graining chosen was inspired by doors at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. The Hammond-Harwood House already shares a connection with Monticello: Jefferson sketched the Hammond-Harwood House in 1783 and admired its semi-octagonal bays, a design feature he used at Monticello.
The museum has also begun a phased series of interior paint analyses to determine the colors used in 1811. That is when the young Loockerman family moved to Hammond-Harwood House. Dr. Buck’s study revealed some unexpected color combinations, for example gold paint in the entryway and blue trim in the study.
We can now understand better what William Buckland, the architect, and Matthias Hammond, the original owner, envisioned for the house. And we can imagine the Loockerman family and their descendants who lived in the house over the years and the 24 layers of paint represented in that history. Each coat presented a new, fresh start for the house.
Thank you to Hammond-Harwood House trustees Mark Wenger and Rick Struse, docent Cathleen Farr, docent Fran Harwood, and former trustee Phil Richmond for funding these discoveries.
Painting: William Doherty (trim) and Betsy Greene (faux graining)
Paint donated by Maryland Paint and Decorating LLC