Before and After – mid-century modern external paint colours
Alistair McLean
Category: Colours

Alistair: Posted on Sunday, 4 September 2011 5:27 PM


The Saturday Age newspaper recently published an article in the Domain real estate section to talk about the trend in exterior colour schemes for residential housing in Melbourne, for both new and renovated housing.   Fiona Austin, of Austin Design Associates, who previously worked for the Age Home section was quoted extensively in the article, and concluded that the up and coming exterior colours were:

  • Charcoal greys
  • Mossy and dark olive greens
  • Cherry and Maroons
  • Ochre
  • Purples, from soft to strong.

What drew my eye to the article was the interesting mid-century modern home complete with butterfly roof, smart white trim, charcoal grey ground floor and lightweight red panels upstairs.


In the Age article Fiona Austin says that when she did the red house several years ago she scraped back the boards to discover the architects original intention and there was the red. I think that this really raises the question of heritage, renovation and architecture – to me the final scheme looks quite contemporary, and the most authentic part is the sparkling white trim.  This is really emphasized by some of the interiors, where the external colours are carried in – refer below, and it could easily be a contemporary house.


My understanding of this period is that the the interiors were less somber and more colorful, with lots of zingy citrus type colours.  However the colours in this interior with the muted charcoals and warm greys speaks more of the 21st century than mid century modern of the 20th century.

This demonstrates one of the dilemmas that many designers face with a client who has a “heritage” property, and this is a prime example of mid-century modern heritage.   Is it best to bring it up to date, but preserve the character of the place – which may mean a colour scheme that is more contemporary than retro, or is it better to be as authentic in every aspect as possible, down to the colours, furniture and materials?  At the end of the day it is the client’s money (and house), and they may prefer to live in a contemporary home than a mid-century modern museum.  For me, I prefer the colour and quirkiness of mid-century modern interiors,that celebrate the original character of the home.

Fortunately, the client recognised and appreciated the value of the home, and while the colours are not authentic, I believe that they do not detract from the building. Hopefully this new lease of life will mean that this house is preserved well into next century.

Out of curiosity I did a bit of research on this house and discovered it was originally designed by Melbourne architects Mockridge, Stahle & Mitchell in 1956, who I suspect are long since gone.  I managed to find a couple of old photos of the house and it is interesting to compare the “before” photos with the “after” photos:


This photo is almost the same angle as the first photo (above).  Since this photo was taken the downstairs undercroft area, which was probably used for parking, has been filled in for additional rooms.  What is interesting is that the eucalyptus trees have gone as well, and the front panels tone in really well with the leaf colour – a sort of bluey-green colour.


Here is the same house from a slightly different angle, which is showing the end wall, which is now red.  I am not sure if this was the original colour scheme, however it looks and feels quite authentic to me.  I am not sure where Fiona Austin’s red paint scrappings came from, there may have been an earlier scheme, or a later one after this photo was taken, however what is consistent with the “before” and “after” photos is the white trim.

I have some original paint colour cards from the 1950’s and 1960’s, which have a really mid-century modern feel to them, and reflect some of the colours in these last two photos, which I will have to scan and post.