Nantucket’s Historic Paint Colors
May 30, 2023
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Nantucket is a place of much beauty and charm. Its architecture, spanning many generations, is kept in a state of preservation, creating a sense of harmony in both the old town and the whole island. The contrast between the town and other settlements against the vastness of the moors, plains, and coastline is awe-inspiring. The sea and the land also come together in an eternal struggle. The natural beauty of Nantucket is enjoyed and appreciated by everyone and serves as a cornerstone of the tourist industry, which drives the local economy.

The manual for construction

In 1992, J. Christopher Lang and Kate Stout released Building with Nantucket in Mind, a comprehensive set of guidelines to preserve the island’s cultural heritage. The Nantucket Historic District Commission, established to review and approve all constructions on the island, has the manual to provide a shared point of reference and advice on how to incorporate the best new architecture and renovations with the island’s architectural background and its shared landscape.

This book provides directions on how to design buildings to ensure harmony with both existing buildings and their surroundings, regardless if it’s in an old Nantucket settlement or in an open landscape. Before you make any decisions regarding the color of your structure, it is highly recommended that you look at Building With Nantucket in Mind. It provides all the necessary information to construct the island while preserving its historic architecture.

According to Building With Nantucket in Mindt, the colors of Nantucket should remind us of its unique spirit; a timeless, tranquil town. It is recommended that the paint on the walls of buildings be of a muted hue and light to medium value, while the trim and other details may be a subtle variation or contrast with the house’s main color. Additionally, elements like pilasters, entablatures, etc., should be painted white or some other light neutral color such as gray or sand to reflect their classical heritage.

When selecting a door color, the palette of options is vast. White, black, Brewster green, dark green, beige, barn red, gray-blue, and yellow are all acceptable choices, and these are the colors commonly found at Marine Home Center. However, there are plenty of other colors around Nantucket as well. Wood fences should be white and gates light gray, while shutters can be white, light gray, dark green, or Brewster green.

Colors in the past

The muted tones of the buildings in Nantucket give the town an air of calming harmony. The weathered gray shingle walls have been a signature color throughout the town’s history. During the 18th century, the islanders opted to paint only areas that needed protection from the weather, usually dull shades of gray, red, and brown. White paint wasn’t available, as white lead could not be obtained. With the increasing trend of style in the 19th century, homes began to display various colors, with some even being painted green. The most significant change of the era was the use of white paint, a symbol of classic purity. Clapboard fronts, architectural elements, and trim were all painted white. This tradition was especially evident in the Greek Revival style, as the white or gray paint simulated the original stone tones of the classic columns, pilasters, and other structures. The Victorian era brought with it more intense colors for a bold decorative effect. Photos from that time show dark trim on many houses, such as green and brown. Nevertheless, walls of gray shingles still predominated in the houses built then.

The twentieth century saw a trend of painting all the exterior trim of shingled buildings white – including the window casings. This had a positive effect, as it highlighted the outline of walls and openings, making the buildings more aesthetically pleasing. In addition, this monochromatic look provided unity among island structures.

The titanium

Though the buildings of Nantucket may seem dull to the untrained eye, they are full of beauty and brim with centuries-old history. Some have noted that the color is dreary, but this is due to its muted tone. Explanations for their lackluster hues range from aging paint to the harsh oceanic environment, also that the main culprit is a lack of titanium.

Thanks to modern paint technology, titanium compounds are now included in the mix, giving the painting a brilliant sheen. This advancement was not available when the island first began to thrive centuries ago. Had they known the benefits of titanium, the buildings would be more vibrant, and as it stands, they still bear the faded colors of antiquity.

One may ask why the structures remain wan despite paint developments. The answer is that the faded paint is a part of Nantucket’s identity, and the commission in charge strives to preserve its signature look.

Nonstandard paint colors

Don’t expect to see any fluorescent oranges or purples around the Old Historic District anytime soon. However, if you look closely enough, some eye-catching “nonstandard” paint colors can be found.

  • The George Garnder House at 8 Pine Street has a cheerful robins-egg blue door and shutters. You can spot similar hues around Cliff Road and other nearby areas.
  • 14 Lily Street is a sight to behold with its pretty pink clapboards, while the door at 56 Fair Street sports a similar hue.
  • The Centreboard Inn, situated at the intersection of Centre and Easton Streets, has a fascinating color palette of light blue and faded mauve that beautifully compliments its Victorian architecture. Other Victorians that have been painted in a manner that fits the time period and does not comply with the HDC’s “allowable” list of colors are 19 and 21 Broad Street. These homes offer a pleasing contrast with their own distinctive shades, making them stand out in their respective neighborhoods.

The 12 colors

Property owners and soon-to-be-owners on this island should be mindful of the traditional paint colors. Nantucketers are picky when it comes to their paint colors – so much so that the Nantucket Historic District Commission has a list of pre-approved exterior shades. If you wish to switch from one color to another, you must go through the HDC’s application process. Ultimately, the HDC can approve any exterior color as long as it fits with Nantucket’s historic character. When selecting a color for a building, it’s important to consider how it will blend in with other buildings and the overall landscape. Keep in mind that if you want to change your house’s or building’s appearance, you will need to get the Historic District Commission’s approval; for more information about changing colors, check here.

Approvable Nantucket Historic District Commission Colors are 12: Cottage Red, Main Street Yellow, Hamilton Blue, Cobblestone, Nantucket Blue, Quaker Gray, Chrome Green, Nantucket Gray, Essex Green, Nantucket Red, Newport Blue. Let’s explore some of the acceptable colors in Nantucket.

Quaker Grey

Nantucket Historic color quacker grey

A classic choice for a Nantucket paint job. It helps keep the atmosphere tranquil, mirroring the more subdued atmosphere of the town. It’s easy to find too, which makes it an ideal way to give your house a cool and subdued look that integrates well with the existing buildings.

Nantucket Grey

Nantucket Historic color Nantucket Gray

Another popular option taking its name from the island. It’s not as flashy as some of the other shades, and its toned-down hue gives a subtle yet stylish look.

Cottage Red

Nantucket Historic color Cottage Red

Perfect for those who want to make a statement. It’s similar to maroon, but it has more of a bright and cheerful vibe. You can find this paint job on many of the buildings in town.

Nantucket Red

Nantucket Historic Color Nantucket Red

Another shade that takes its name from the island. It’s a light pinkish hue that will bring life and vibrancy to your home.

Shades of green

Nantucket Historic color Essex green

Nantucket Historic color chrome green

These colors have a long history on Nantucket, and they blend in perfectly with the island’s existing aesthetic. You can choose between Essex green, on the darker side, and chrome green, a bit brighter.


Nantucket Historic color newport blue

Nantucket Historic color nantucket blue

Nantucket Historic color hamilton blue

Nantucket may be home to beautiful beaches, but its buildings are not as blue as one might expect. Historically, blue paint was seen as too expensive and too vibrant to use on the island’s structures. However, times have changed, and now the approved colors are Hamilton blue, Nantucket blue, and Newport blue. It pairs nicely with the grey walls to help keep the atmosphere calm.


If you need a hand with your painting project,  Marine Home Center has the perfect solution for you – the 12 historic blends. With the help of the experts at Marine Home Center, you can get all the paint supplies you need and a glimpse into Nantucket’s fascinating history!

The classic paints could potentially ignite interesting ideas for your home’s design or, if nothing else, make you more aware of your surroundings as you walk the streets on Nantucket.

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