What white is the right white to paint my Pettit and Sevitt home?

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Simple question really. If you are familiar with the Pettit and Sevitt project homes that were built in the 1960’s and 1970’s the white walls, contrasted with the dark stained timber were a common feature in the thousands of homes that were built. Due to their success, and the number of Pettit and Sevitt homes that were built, there were many imitators. This guide on selecting the right white paint for a Pettit and Sevitt home could also be useful for anybody looking for the right white for their home.

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Photo 2 – courtesy of Steven Coverdale, “Mid-Century Domestic Architecture Australia”

The question was raised by a member of the “Pettit and Sevitt Owners and Friends Club” on Facebook, and needed a simple answer.  After doing a bit of research for the answer I felt a bit like Alice falling through the rabbit hole, and it wasn’t so simple.  The question of “What white is the right white?” also leads to the question of how authentic you want the house to be? What happens if you don’t actually like the “right white”?

https://www.facebook.com/groups/259388951244530/

 Photo 3 Pettit and Sevitt Owners and Friends Club on Facebook

Photo 3 Pettit and Sevitt Owners and Friends Club on Facebook

It is almost impossible to judge a white from a digital image.  There are dozens of different whites manufactured by the paint companies.  Some are neutral whites, some are warm whites, and some are cool whites.  To the untrained eye they all look like white, but it is only when you compare paint samples directly against each other can the eye pick that there are differences.

Our perception of white is also influenced by the colours around it, so our interpretation of a white may be influenced by the colour of a floor, or a light fitting throwing a cool white light, or the sunlight coming from an adjacent window.  For digital images the variations in monitor adjustments and graphics cards on computers also throw a wild card into the whole equation, with each computer having a slightly different interpretation.  If you compare the same image on a laptop, a smart phone and a PC you may be surprised in the variation of the colours.

I decided to find the right answer I should go to straight to the source – a Pettit and Sevitt paint specification that was used for a home built in Glen Iris, Melbourne from some of Secret Design Studio’s existing clients.  This couple has seen a Pettit and Sevitt display home while visiting Sydney in the early 1970’s, and decided that it would work well for their new home in Melbourne with a few minor tweaks to the floorplan.

Photo 4 Original documentation file from Pettit and Sevitt Two Storey, courtesy of Secret Design Studio

Photo 4 Original documentation file from Pettit and Sevitt Two Storey, courtesy of Secret Design Studio

From their Pettit and Sevitt specification I could see that the walls and ceilings to the lounge, study, dining room, and bedroom 1 were specified as Taubman’s Gaydec formula in 600 Linen.  Gaydec was Taubman’s first water-based paint and was released onto the market at the end of 1957. For bedrooms 2, 3 and 4, hallways walls done in the same colour but with the Taubman’s Revelite formula. For the bathrooms the same colour again but in Revelite semi-gloss.  Revelite was an older oil based formula. This means that for the same Taubman’s Linen colour that was specified there were three different paint types used, so the colour is not going to be precisely the same in every room.

Photo 5 Original Pettit and Sevitt paint schedule, courtesy of Secret Design Studio

Photo 5 Original Pettit and Sevitt paint schedule, courtesy of Secret Design Studio

For anybody interested in the marketing of mid-century paint, and the introduction of the tint systems that are now in every hardware store, I would suggest you follow this link to this research:

http://www.scanz.org.nz/pm/may-tint-systems.

I contacted Taubmans to see if they had any historic information about Pettit and Sevitt’s Linen paint and to see if I could get the colour formula or a sample.  A colour formula is the formula of tint colours that are added to a neutral base to make a colour.  Despite Taubman’s initial reluctance to adopt the new technology of a paint tinting system that was adopted by their competitors in the late 1950’s by the 1970’s the tinting system was widely accepted.

Before the tinting system was invented paint manufacturers had a very limited palette of available colours, compared to today, and hardware stores had to devote huge areas to stock these pre-mixed tins of paint.  Despite my polite enquiry Taubman’s were not prepared to help with any information, the colour formula or a sample.

Even though Taubmans’s weren’t prepared to assist my research, I remembered that their competitor, Dulux, holds all of their competitor formulas, so I ventured into the Dulux Trade Centre in Springvale Road to see if they would make me a sample pot of one of their competitors’ colours. The friendly chap behind the counter couldn’t have been more helpful and was happy to look up the Taubman’s formula on the Dulux computer and made up a sample pot, complete with a sticker on the side with the Taubman’s tint formula so that I could buy a house load of paint if I liked it.

Photo 6 Dulux sample pot of Taubmans “Linen” from the 1970’s with the colour tinting codes, courtesy of Secret Design Studio

Photo 6 Dulux sample pot of Taubmans “Linen” from the 1970’s with the colour tinting codes, courtesy of Secret Design Studio

On opening the Dulux sample pot of “Linen” my first impression was that it was actually yellow, or a white with a hefty dose of yellow. I asked my Glen Iris client’s who had been living in their Pettit and Sevitt home since it was built about the original colour.  They said that the house had been repainted twice since it was built, and they had asked the painter to match the existing colour, but they had not referenced the original specification.Photo 7 Dulux sample pot of Taubmans “Linen” from the 1970’s with the colour tinting codes, courtesy of Secret Design Studio

Photo 7 Dulux sample pot of Taubmans “Linen” from the 1970’s with the colour tinting codes, courtesy of Secret Design Studio.

 

Each repaint had been like a game of Chinese whispers with each repaint getting further away from the original white as the painter attempted to colour match it.  Their current white appears to have a slight green undertone, but they described the original white as a very pale cream with a hint of yellow.  The best way to find the original wall colours for any house is to look to parts of the house that your typical painter will miss.  In this Glen Iris home the painter had neglected to paint the walls to the storage area under the stairs, so it is possible to see the original Taubman’s “Linen”.

Photo 8 Original Taubman’s linen from the Pettit and Sevitt home with the paint schedule.

Photo 8 Original Taubman’s linen from the Pettit and Sevitt home with the paint schedule.

One of the members of the “Petitt and Sevitt Owners and Friends Club” in Sydney has also reported that he found some original wall paint and described it as a “very light yellowy white”, which sounds very much like Taubman’s “Linen”.  I thought that the paint may look whiter when it was dry so proceeded to paint a small canvas with two coats from the sample pot.  While the original paint looked like it was matt (the flattest finish), the sample pot was only available in a low sheen (which is the second flattest finish).  Matt paint tends to show dirt and marks more, and the low sheen is easier to clean.

Photo 9 Original Taubman’s “Linen” from the Pettit and Sevitt paint schedule being applied to a white canvas.

Photo 9 Original Taubman’s “Linen” from the Pettit and Sevitt paint schedule being applied to a white canvas.

Photo 10 Original Taubman’s “Linen” from the Pettit and Sevitt paint schedule being applied to a white canvas.

Photo 10 Original Taubman’s “Linen” from the Pettit and Sevitt paint schedule being applied to a white canvas.

To get a better understanding of how the adjacent colours influence our perception of paint I also applied two coats from the linen sample pot to two walls, one a light yellow/mustard, and the other a light creamy yellow.  It is interesting to note that “Linen” painted on to a virgin white canvas, looks like a light yellow, but the same paint against a light yellow/ mustard wall looks like a warm white.

Photo 11 Original Taubman’s “Linen” from the Pettit and Sevitt paint schedule being applied to an existing cream and yellow wall. "What white is the right white to paint my Pettit and Sevitt home?" Mid Century Modern Blog post by Secret Design Studio and Dr Retro House Calls

Photo 11 Original Taubman’s “Linen” from the Pettit and Sevitt paint schedule being applied to an existing cream and yellow wall.

For my next test I held the canvas against a clear stained, Pettit and Sevitt style cedar feature wall to see if it looked whiter, together with a sample of the base colour “Vivid White”.

Photo 12 Original Taubman’s “Linen” from the Pettit and Sevitt paint schedule on the canvas against a clear stained cedar wall panelling. Sample chip of Dulux “Vivid White” is on top of the canvas. Courtesy of Secret Design Studio.

Photo 12 Original Taubman’s “Linen” from the Pettit and Sevitt paint schedule on the canvas against a clear stained cedar wall panelling. Sample chip of Dulux “Vivid White” is on top of the canvas. Courtesy of Secret Design Studio.

So the answer to the question “What white was originally used internally in Pettit and Sevitt homes?” appears to be Taubman’s “Linen”, however with its yellow/cream undertones is it the right white?  Most of the historic photos of original Pettit and Sevitt displays are black and white, and the few colour ones that I have sourced seem to be a slightly warm, off-white, not a pure white for the internal walls.

I have a couple of theories why Taubman’s “Linen” seems so much more yellow than I had anticipated.

 

  • The obvious one is that the Taubman’s formula held in the Dulux database is wrong, or the Dulux guy who tinted the sample pot got the tint quantities wrong.
  • “Linen” was used in Melbourne homes, or face-brick homes, with another white being used internally and externally for the bagged and painted homes. Warm brown/grey  Clifton Grey facebricks were used in the clients home  and the “Linen” colour does complement them nicely.
  • The fine print at the bottom of the Pettit and Sevitt paint specification “NOTE:ONLY STANDARD COLOURS FROM THE NOMINATED CARDS TO BE USED” suggests that Pettit and Sevitt clients had a small number of colours to choose from, and Taubman’s “Linen” was just one of them.

So if Taubman’s “Linen” is not the right white, especially for those bagged and painted Pettit and Sevitt homes with the same colour used internally and externally, what are some good options? I thought it would be interesting to compare my Taubman’s “Linen” sample canvas with some of the most popular whites that are used in contemporary homes today. I obtained A4 sized brush-outs from Dulux, which have their names printed on the back, and took a photo of each one with the “Linen” sample canvas. These photos were all taken in my mini-photographic studio using artificial light for consistency.  I used two strips of cool, white LED lights. Your perception of the colours would be different under natural light, or warm white lights.

Photo 13 Dulux “Most Loved Whites and Neutrals” brochure from Bunnings is a great starting point.

Photo 13 Dulux “Most Loved Whites and Neutrals” brochure from Bunnings is a great starting point.

DULUX ANTIQUE WHITE USA

https://www.dulux.com.au/colour/whites-and-neutrals/most-loved.html#!/colour/dulux_dulux_26019

The closest popular contemporary white appears to be DULUX SW1H7 Antique White USA as it has a similar light yellow undertone to Taubman’s Linen, but I think it is too cream to work well with a Pettit and Sevitt interior, especially if it still has all of the stained timber. Julia Green of Greenhouse Interiors describes Antique White U.S.A. as “warm, inviting and versatile”.  Dulux says

“Classic and inviting, Antique White U.S.A.® is a perennial favourite. Its beautiful warmth allows artworks and colour details to sing. A versatile white that suits any space, indoors or out. Bring space and warmth to smaller rooms with low lighting or create a timeless, elegant look in an older style home. Works well with warm timber flooring, most tiles and carpets, except cooler greys.

Photo 14 Original Taubman’s “Linen” from the Pettit and Sevitt paint schedule on the canvas with a sample chip of Dulux “Antique White USA” which is on top of the canvas. Courtesy of Secret Design Studio

Photo 14 Original Taubman’s “Linen” from the Pettit and Sevitt paint schedule on the canvas with a sample chip of Dulux “Antique White USA” which is on top of the canvas. Courtesy of Secret Design Studio

Photo 15 Dulux “Antique White USA”, https://www.dulux.com.au/colour/whites-and-neutrals/most-loved.html

Photo 15 Dulux “Antique White USA”, https://www.dulux.com.au/colour/whites-and-neutrals/most-loved.html

DULUX NATURAL WHITE

https://www.dulux.com.au/colour/whites-and-neutrals/most-loved.html#!/colour/dulux_dulux_26017

DULUX SW1F4 NATURAL WHITE is a lighter version of Antique White USA with a faint hint of a reddy/brown warm undertone, but more neutral than Antique White USA.  It is certainly a lot whiter than Taubman’s Linen, and more versatile.  Sara and Amy Chamberlain of The Real Estate Stylists like to use this white in north and west facing rooms that have plenty of light, so may be good colour to consider for a well orientated Pettit and Sevitt home.

Dulux says of Natural White “The lightest of warm whites is also our most popular. Loved by home renovators and interior designers alike, this versatile white will brighten any space. It never fails to impress. With a neutral undertone, Natural White can be used in both lighter and darker spces, inside or out.  Works well with warm timber flooring, and most tiles except those with cool grey undertones.”

Photo 16 Original Taubman’s “Linen” from the Pettit and Sevitt paint schedule on the canvas with a sample chip of Dulux “Natural White” which is on top of the canvas. Courtesy of Secret Design Studio

Photo 16 Original Taubman’s “Linen” from the Pettit and Sevitt paint schedule on the canvas with a sample chip of Dulux “Natural White” which is on top of the canvas. Courtesy of Secret Design Studio

Photo 17 Dulux Natural White. https://www.dulux.com.au/colour/whites-and-neutrals/most-loved.html

Photo 17 Dulux Natural White. https://www.dulux.com.au/colour/whites-and-neutrals/most-loved.html

DULUX WHISPER WHITE

https://www.dulux.com.au/colour/whisper-white#!/colour/dulux_dulux_26021

 

Dulux Whisper White could be an alternative to Natural White, but is creamier, and with slightly more depth. Probably more suited to a cool Pettit and Sevitt home that doesn’t get a lot of light such as those built in the bushy valleys of Ku-ring-gai.

Lucy Feagins of The Design Files describes it as “Warm, welcoming and has a substance to it”.

Dulux says “The most perfect ivory. A lush, warm white that works beautifully with all kinds of colour schemes, Whisper White lets you create a welcoming atmosphere in your home. With its creamy undertone, Whisper White brings warmth into rooms that are low-lit or don’t get much natural light. Works well with all timber flooring, tiles and carpets, except the cooler greys.”

Photo 18 Original Taubman’s “Linen” from the Pettit and Sevitt paint schedule on the canvas with a sample chip of Dulux “Whisper White” which is on top of the canvas. Courtesy of Secret Design Studio

Photo 18 Original Taubman’s “Linen” from the Pettit and Sevitt paint schedule on the canvas with a sample chip of Dulux “Whisper White” which is on top of the canvas. Courtesy of Secret Design Studio

Photo 19 Dulux Whisper White, https://www.dulux.com.au/colour/whites-and-neutrals/most-loved.html

Photo 19 Dulux Whisper White,

 https://www.dulux.com.au/colour/whites-and-neutrals/most-loved.html

DULUX VIVID WHITE

https://www.dulux.com.au/colour/whites-and-neutrals/most-loved.html#!/colour/dulux_dulux_26000

 

Dulux Vivid White is the base colour that was used to make the “Linen” sample pot, and is one of the closest to a pure white without any warm or cool undertones.  Lana and Bonnie form Three Birds Renovations describes it as “Fresh, Crisp and Pure”.  Dulux says of Vivid White “This ultra-pure white is perfect for creating a clean contemporary look. The crisp freshness of Vivid White will brighten any space and give it a luxe modern vibe. A versatile white that works on walls, trims, architraves and ceilings. Use it confidently inside and outside your home and in areas of low light. Works well with all timber floors, tiles and carpets, all kinds of trims.”  With the clear stained cedar wall panelling, and walnut stained timber beams being such a feature of Pettit and Sevitt houses it is strongly recommended that these are NOT painted Vivid White (or any other colour).

Photo 20 Original Taubman’s “Linen” from the Pettit and Sevitt paint schedule on the canvas with a sample chip of Dulux “Vivid White” which is on top of the canvas. Courtesy of Secret Design Studio

Photo 20 Original Taubman’s “Linen” from the Pettit and Sevitt paint schedule on the canvas with a sample chip of Dulux “Vivid White” which is on top of the canvas. Courtesy of Secret Design Studio

Photo 21 Dulux Vivid White, https://www.dulux.com.au/colour/whites-and-neutrals/most-loved.html

Photo 21 Dulux Vivid White, https://www.dulux.com.au/colour/whites-and-neutrals/most-loved.html

DULUX LEXICON QUARTER

https://www.dulux.com.au/colour/whites-and-neutrals/most-loved.html#!/colour/dulux_dulux_36274

 

If the warm or neutral whites don’t appeal then you may want to consider a white with a cool, subtle blue-grey undertone called DULUX SW1E1 LEXICON QUARTER.  The “quarter” represents 25% of the strength of Lexicon, which has a much stronger grey undertone.  Lucy Feagins of The Design Files prefers Lexicon Quarter as it is crisp, clean and bright.

Dulux says “A cool fresh white, Lexicon Quarter is the perfect choice for modern, open plan spaces. Create a vbrant mood that allows you to showcase eclectic artworks and furnishings. With its subtle blue-grey undertone, Lexicon Quarter is the ultimate cool white. It works as a brilliant contrast on skirting, doors, ceilings and trims.”

Unlike warm whites such as Antique White USA and Natural White, Lexicon Quarter, will complement contemporary tiles with cool grey undertones.

Photo 22 Original Taubman’s “Linen” from the Pettit and Sevitt paint schedule on the canvas with a sample chip of Dulux “Lexicon Quarter” which is on top of the canvas. Courtesy of Secret Design Studio

Photo 22 Original Taubman’s “Linen” from the Pettit and Sevitt paint schedule on the canvas with a sample chip of Dulux “Lexicon Quarter” which is on top of the canvas. Courtesy of Secret Design Studio

Photo 23 Dulux Lexicon Quarter, https://www.dulux.com.au/colour/whites-and-neutrals/most-loved.html

Photo 23 Dulux Lexicon Quarter, https://www.dulux.com.au/colour/whites-and-neutrals/most-loved.html

Just for comparison purposes I took these photos of other Dulux whites that would work in a typical Pettit and Sevitt home and compared to the Pettit and Sevitt “Linen”.  If anything it demonstrates the risks of selecting a paint colour based on a digital image. In reality these paint samples are subtlety different, but on a monitor these subtleties are lost.

Photo 24 A cool white - Dulux Casper White Quarter https://www.dulux.com.au/colour/whites-and-neutrals/popular-whites#!/colour/dulux_dulux_26018

Photo 24 A cool white – Dulux Casper White Quarter

https://www.dulux.com.au/colour/whites-and-neutrals/popular-whites#!/colour/dulux_dulux_26018

What should the steps be to painting the internal walls of a Pettit and Sevitt home?

The first step should be to decide on how authentic you want to be. Are you prepared to compromise on the authenticity a little bit to get the right white for your eyes, which may not be close to the original “Linen”?

According to the Pettit and Sevitt paint schedule the plasterboard ceiling was painted in the same colour as the walls – there was no ceiling white, so this should be taken into consideration with your white selection.

Some Pettit and Sevitt homes had external face brick and some were bagged and painted.  For those with painted exteriors the colour of the internal wall paint should also match the colour of the external wall paint.

The next step should be to decide if a warm white, cool white or neutral white looks better in your own eyes. My personal preference is that the warmer whites such as Natural White will complement the clear stained cedar panelling and walnut stained oregon beams found in many Pettit and Sevitt homes more than a cool white, but this will depend on the house, orientation and amount of sunlight.

There is one new online resource for helping with selecting paint colours published on Houzz, in collaboration with Dulux that looks like it has great potential.  When viewing some of the thousands of images on Houzz it is possible to match colours in the photo with the closest Dulux colour.  I don’t know how accurate the system is, but it may be worth investigating.  Here is a link to an explanation of the Houzz/Dulux Colour Picker Tool system:

https://www.houzz.com.au/ideabooks/90459097/list/how-to-find-the-paint-colour-seen-in-a-photo-on-houzz

Here is a link to some more useful information about choosing the right white:

https://www.houzz.com.au/ideabooks/30629697/list/shady-business-how-to-choose-the-right-white-paint

 

Photo 25 A cool white - Dulux Snowy Mountains Quarter https://www.dulux.com.au/colour/whites-and-neutrals/all-swatches#!/colour/dulux_dulux_26001

Photo 25 A cool white – Dulux Snowy Mountains Quarter

https://www.dulux.com.au/colour/whites-and-neutrals/all-swatches#!/colour/dulux_dulux_26001

Pop down to Bunnings and grab a copy of the Dulux “Most Loved Whites and Neutrals” brochure, as well as some of their white paint sample chips that appeal to your eye.  Use some blue tac to stick up the colour chips and live with them for a week.  Look at them at different times of the day over a week to help narrow the choice down.  You will find that some whites look great with natural light, but not so great under artificial light, and vice versa.  You need to select a white that works in your home with your floor finishes, your daylight, your night time lighting and your furniture for all times of the day.

Photo 26 A warm white - Dulux Stowe White https://www.dulux.com.au/colour/whites-and-neutrals/popular-whites#!/colour/dulux_dulux_26012

Photo 26 A warm white – Dulux Stowe White

https://www.dulux.com.au/colour/whites-and-neutrals/popular-whites#!/colour/dulux_dulux_26012

When you have narrowed it down to three (or less) go and purchase a sample pot for each of the finalists, and test them out on a number of different walls and ceiling.  If you are painting over a dark wall colour you may need to give it  a couple of coats to conceal any of the darker colour bleeding through the new lighter colour. After living with the samples for a week or more you should be able to make a clear choice.

Remember not to paint any cedar lining, stained timber trims or oregon beams, as the dramatic contrast in these materials to the white walls gives Pettit and Sevitt homes their distinctive character.  Once these stained timbers have been painted over it is very difficult to re-instate them to their original character.

Pettit and Sevitt homes did not have any feature walls of contrasting paint colours which were a very late 20th century trend so these should be painted over so that all wall colours match.

 

Photo 27 A warm white - Dulux White Dune Quarter

Photo 27 A warm white – Dulux White Dune Quarter

When you have finished painting and it is looking crisp and clean the members of the “Pettit and Sevitt Owners and Friends Club” would love to see some photos and know what colour that you ended up using. https://www.facebook.com/groups/259388951244530/

Photo 3 Pettit and Sevitt Owners and Friends Club on Facebook

Photo 28 Pettit and Sevitt Owners and Friends Club on Facebook

Photo 29 – A beautifully painted and presented Pettit and Sevitt Lowline B, courtesy of Modern House. http://www.modernhouse.co/listings/lowline-b/

Photo 29 – A beautifully painted and presented Pettit and Sevitt Lowline B, courtesy of Modern House. http://www.modernhouse.co/listings/lowline-b/

Photo 30 – A beautifully painted and presented Pettit and Sevitt split level

Photo 30 – A beautifully painted and presented Pettit and Sevitt split level

Photo 31 – A beautifully painted and presented Pettit and Sevitt split level

Photo 31 – A beautifully painted and presented Pettit and Sevitt split level