What color do you paint a castle? Reinventing the Palette of the Past

Color is an exact science, but its nature and our perception of it change according to time, place and juxtaposition. “When you talk about historic colors, you see them through the lens of the society you live in,” says interior designer Tim Gosling. “If you look at the Charlton Heston version of” Ben-Huroit’s hysterical because it’s a story about the Romans in first-century Jerusalem, but all the colors [now feel] unbelievably 60s. Color is baked in every era where it becomes popular.”

Gosling started his career with furniture maker David Linley and now creates interiors for superyachts and London hotels such as The Goring and The Berkeley. He’s recently been in a time warp, sitting on the floor of one of 57 rooms in the Norman castle he bought three years ago with his fiancée Steve Holmes, mixing new paint colors for the walls.

Dating back to 1820, the castle was renovated in 1910 by the designer of The Ritz in Paris, Georges Farcy, and the Savary family moved in a year later. The huge halls were occupied by the Nazis during World War II and then by General Eisenhower. The house came into the hands of wealthy Americans from Hawaii, who eventually left it 20 years ago, defeated by the inability to heat it to a livable temperature.

At present, Gosling’s 82-year-old mother is on the scaffolding to gild the gates and tend the exterior of the main entrance, while little by little the ceilings, driveways and epic garden have been restored. Elaborate, floral Madame de Pompadour wallpaper by Schumacher is hung inside and a huge enveloping tapestry, telling the story of the triumph of the gods, is woven for the dining room by Zardi & Zardi.

Gosling (right) and partner Steve Holmes after Schumacher’s hanging of Madame de Pompadour wallpaper on the castle

The driving force behind the entire project is the color palette that Gosling created for the house, which attempts to mimic historically meaningful hues. Twelve of these are now sold by British paint company Graphenstone as The Restoration Château Collection.

The colors are all based on a woman’s clothing depicted in a 17th-century painting by an unknown artist that Gosling bought for the castle’s grand drawing room. “There’s a lot of lace work on her outfit, with splashes of Aubusson reds and blues specific to France,” says Gosling, who talks about how pigments were developed in contrasting ways on different sides of the English Channel.

Geography has a lot to do with how you perceive a color, he says — the light that inspired Titian in the Veneto is completely different from, say, the light of Texas. But above all, it is the chemistry that determines how color is displayed and then perceived.

“The colors that came on the market from the 17th to the 19th century were related to technical innovation,” he says. The Royal Society hosted lectures on science and paint composition, “where Mr. Turner – not the artist – created Turner’s Yellow, which would not oxidize, which [architect] John Soane used.”

'Portrait of a lady of quality' (1860)

‘Portrait of a Lady of Quality’ (1860), which inspired Gosling’s paint collection

A sheet of color swatch

Color samples from Gosling’s palette

Gosling is particularly fascinated by the greens that came from Paris and Versailles between 1680 and 1800. When Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele developed a new vibrant green in 1775, it became all the rage. The standout note came from a unique chemical structure – Scheele heated sodium carbonate and added copper sulfate, but the magic ingredient was arsenic.

Napoleon’s love of poisonous greenery may have contributed to his death. Interestingly, Turner’s Yellow is believed to be a copy of an earlier Scheele brew, mixing chlorine and oxygen.

You could describe Gosling’s new range of paints as ‘Regency’, a word closely associated with his work to date. But aside from the popularity of a wide variety of bright colors at the end of the Georgian era, the term is amorphous – many of the pigments popular in 1811 had been around for years. It just suddenly became fashionable to use them in abundance.

“Often terms like ‘Regency’ are used but are meaningless,” says color historian Patrick Baty, author of The anatomy of color† “And I’m wary of the word ‘restoration’ [too] because it usually just means ‘refurbish’.’

While the name of Gosling’s paint for Graphenstone uses the term ‘restoration’, in reality the project is a playful and personal interpretation of historical ideas. While they try authenticity, the paints are obviously new. Graphenstone’s biggest marketing strategy is to use graphene — a material made up of a hexagonal layer of carbon atoms — which studies show can absorb carbon dioxide. Graphenstone claims that a 15L jar of its Biosphere paint can absorb up to 5.5kg of CO₂ as it cures on a finished surface.

The little salon in Tim Gosling's castle

The castle, near Bayeux, was occupied by the Nazis during the war

A room in Tim Gosling's castle

Developments in paint production were necessary but problematic. “The industry went through painful changes between 2000 and 2010,” Baty says, when “oil-based emulsions were replaced by acrylic emulsions.” The quality of the finish suffered from regulation, but Baty says many in the industry are currently making determined efforts to improve their product.

It makes faithful paint recreation nearly impossible. “In the past, I’ve experimented with recreating historic paints with pigments that no longer exist, but even something like the pH of the water is different these days, so you can’t do it,” Baty says. ‘And why would you? You would only end up with something flawed and poisonous.”

The goal, as Gosling sees it, is to achieve something noticeably better than what existed before, at a time when the goalposts continue to move in terms of acceptable production methods. After all, even if it were possible to faithfully mimic a historical color, it is futile to attempt to mimic the impact of how that color was first received.

“It’s impossible to imagine what it was like to walk into a room in the 1800s that had been newly painted bright yellow,” he says. In 2009, Oregon State University researchers created a new blue called YInMn Blue. “It’s a deep, dark color that’s almost fluorescent. And right now I can’t imagine what it would be like to walk into a room painted that color because nobody has done that yet.”

The process of mixing and testing colors in the castle was long, Gosling says, but so was the question of how extensively a particular color could be used in a room, and what you would call it. “We had to figure out what could work for an entire room and what you could use just for a door,” he says.

One of the new colors, Aquitania Ocean Dawn — Gosling describes it as “a green with a lot of blue in it” — is named after the Cunard ocean liner that first sailed from Liverpool to New York in 1914.

The castle’s grand staircase – one of the attributes the Nazis couldn’t remove as they passed through (they looted all the heating equipment) – is the same design, and made by the same hands and factory, as the first-class staircase on the lining.

Much of the joy of the new paint range comes from how each color works together. Madame Pompadour’s Taffeta, which is a deep green, provides dynamic flowering alongside the lighter Aquitania. “I’ve thought a lot about how colors complement each other in the weave of a carpet,” Gosling says, trying to create colors that harmonize in a similar way.

Much of the palette has been tested at Gosling’s home in Clapham, south-west London, which he uses as a sort of laboratory, repeatedly repainting to experiment with the nuances of tone. It can be revealing to see the colors in situ.

For example, when I first saw the color Inner Shell Pink on the sample card for his new paints, I thought it was quite but unobtrusive. However, if you put it on the wall panel behind Gosling’s four-poster bed, framed by contrasting panels of another new color, Eucalyptus Haze, and with a pastel Le Brun-style portrait in the center, the result is like having an insatiable candy. tooth and looking through the windows of Ladurée.

The Exterior of Tim Gosling's Castle

The exterior of the castle with 57 rooms

“One of the most amazing things about this project is that we have all the documentation related to the building,” Gosling says, unfolding blueprints with the interior walls detailed in a pale pink, then pulling out a box full of receipts and ordering historic buildings. fixtures and fittings.

Plus, all the furniture was tucked away in storage [at the start of the war]† The family had put everything in a shed, which had been left untouched for decades. We’re talking about stuff designed to match all the plasterwork and marble fireplaces.”

The Belle Époque treasures Gosling discovered included the original crystal chandeliers, solid rosewood pieces, and a Three Graces clock. While the concept of a “restoration color” may be fanciful, furniture restoration is methodical and something Gosling is meticulous about.

In Gosling’s London Library — which houses a scale model of both the castle and Aquitania’s cruise ship — are pieces of the castle he’s restoring, including candlesticks he cooks and the dazzling elements of those crystal chandeliers. There are also stacks of photographs describing the Savary family’s life in the house, as well as the disturbing images of the castle’s occupation during the early 1940s.

“We found the most remarkable things,” Gosling says. “We found Nazi paperwork stuffed into the heating vents — passes you needed to go outside to buy food.” When Pierre Savary was shot by the SS, Gosling discovered that his wife Lucienne managed to escape with their children and did not return until after the war. The D-Day landings took place half an hour away.

“The whole thing is like Downton Abbey, but in real life,” he says. “We befriended the children of the children who escaped, Maud and Brigitte. It was great to have them in the house and tell us what they remember.”

The castle has had an eventful 200 years. What will the next 200 look like? Currently, Gosling and Holmes have over 25,000 followers on their @restorationchateau Instagram account following their new journey, watching the 57 rooms slowly take shape and take on the grandeur and shine they once would have had.

There will, of course, come a day when the project is complete – and there will be many rooms to live in. Gosling looks at the original blueprints and points out the eccentricities of the original design: “This is where 11 servants lived, and the billiard room is right across from their bedrooms,” he says. “There is also a bedroom for Charles de Gaulle because he was a friend of his. the family.”

So how will Gosling and Holmes end up using a house significantly larger than a weekend getaway from London? “Oh, we haven’t gotten to that yet,” Gosling says. “There is so much to do first!”

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