Connected \\ July 26, 2019

Shades of Bray

Many passers-by on Brown street have doubtless noticed that the scaffolding is coming down at the Daniel Bray House, revealing its restored exterior, new wooden shingle roof and reconstructed center chimney. In the very near future the exterior will be painted. The paint colors will have the effect of transporting the house back over 200 years to when it was extensively renovated by ship rigger and master mariner Daniel Bray in 1806.

Daniel Bray House sign

Photography by Dinah Cardin

As part of the comprehensive restoration of the building, PEM hired Amy Cole Ives of Sutherland Conservation and Consulting in Augusta, Maine to conduct extensive scientific analysis of the surviving original exterior elements to determine the building’s color scheme in 1806. This involved extracting more than 100 samples from original clapboards, window sashes and trim, corner boards, cornice work and other details. These were first examined under a polarized-light microscope at 100x, 200x and 400x. Then the best samples were selected, cast in resin, polished and examined again using cross-polarized transmitted light, reflected visible light and ultraviolet light.

Daniel Bray House siding colors

Photography by Steven Mallory

Fortunately, despite the deteriorated condition of the building in recent years and lots of overall paint loss, Amy was able to find complete sequences of paint layers from 1806 all the way to the present. She was able to identify the original 1806 paint colors, including specific pigments, minerals, resins and oils used to make the paints.

The results are quite exciting. We now know that the main body of the house was painted a very deep, rich chocolate brown. This paint was composed of earthen pigments mixed in pine tar. This is a very unusual substitute for the much more universal linseed oil, and may be a link to Daniel Bray’s work in the maritime industry. The window sashes and trims, cornice elements and main frontispiece were painted a medium orange composed of lead white pigment, yellow ocher and red iron oxide pigments mixed in linseed oil. The resulting color scheme is quite unexpected, and belies traditional assumptions that federal-era buildings were usually painted in pale tones reflecting the Adamesque era.

Daniel Bray House siding colors

Photography by Steven Mallory

Because the original front door was removed in 1903 or even earlier, we do not have any original door material to study. Therefore, we have decided to apply a faux-mahogany, grain-painted finish to the front door, similar to those on the Gardner-Pingree House. This was an elegant, common treatment for doors on buildings of all economic circumstances.

Gardner-Pingree House

© 2018 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert

The custom paint colors, which were donated by Benjamin Moore, were chosen not just for their historical accuracy but for their quality and durability. Benjamin Moore is proud to support efforts that preserve America's architectural heritage and through their generous donation to PEM, the Bray House will be one of many historic structures the company has helped restore.

As we move forward on painting the Bray House, we hope you’ll enjoy watching our progress on this and other projects in our historic house collection.

Daniel Bray House

© 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Ken Sawyer

A new PEM is launching this September -- a new wing, new installations and a whole new museum experience. PEM Members get to see it all first. Join or renew on our Membership page to ensure you don't miss out! Follow along and share in the excitement using #newPEM.

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