Guidelines for Repainting in Haberfield Heritage Conservation Area

The Haberfield Association offers the following guidance for residents to assist them in improving their home while ensuring that we retain the heritage values that our  Garden Suburb cherishes.

Guidelines for Repainting in Haberfield Heritage Conservation Area


Note these guidelines were prepared by MAPCOBO Architects. (See Disclaimer at end of document.)

Paint finishes are renewable surface coatings which rarely remain unaltered during a building’s evolution. Owners and occupiers apply new paint finishes in accordance with changing fashions and to give a fresh, clean appearance to surfaces which have become soiled through use and natural aging. Significant paint schemes do often survive, however, under layers of modern paint or behind wallpapers, furniture and fixtures.

A building may be painted on the outside many times during its life, and we all know what a difference each colour change can make to the way in which we regard that building.  Colour is a sensory perception, and as any sensory perception, it has effects that are symbolic, associative, synesthetic, and emotional. Colour is also part of the cultural identity of a place and a link to its history.

Colour is a very strong and immediate visual element. Over the years, fashions have come and gone for buildings just as they have, for example, in clothes. A paint colour for a building widely used today may have been seen very rarely a hundred years ago, partly because of changes in taste. but also, because some pigments were not then available, were too expensive or not sufficiently durable.

While there is today very widespread support for historic conservation and building restoration, some quite erroneous trends have arisen as to what are authentic historic paint colours and finishes. In any serious building restoration, every attempt should be made to get the paint colours right.

More than a legacy from our past, heritage is a living, integral part of life today. Understanding our heritage gives context to where we are now and where we are headed as a society. By protecting our heritage we conserve valuable community assets and ensure those places can continue to be experienced and enjoyed by future generations.

If you own or manage a building in a heritage conservation area, such as Haberfield, use these guidelines to keep your repainting consistent with its surroundings.


Heritage Conservation Areas (HCA) are significant and of value due to the collective nature of buildings and elements in that area.

Haberfield is significant in the history of Australian domestic architecture for its fine ensemble of Federation houses and their fences, and shops, most with their decorative elements intact.

It is outstanding for its collection of modest Federation houses displaying skilful use of materials and a high standard of workmanship of innovative design and detail particularly reflective of the burgeoning naturalistic spirit of the Federation era in which they were built.

The form, materials, scale and setback of buildings and their landscaped gardens fronting tree lined streets together provide mature streetscapes of aesthetic appeal.

Haberfield is a major research repository of the Federation era, garden design and plant material, architectural detail, modest house planning, public landscaping and utility provision.1

1 Comprehensive Inner West DCP 2016. Chapter E2.

Controls and guidelines for Haberfield are available at Inner West Council website under DCP Chapter E2. It supports the LEP by providing additional objectives and development standards for development within the Haberfield Heritage Conservation Area.

Chapter E2 applies to the Haberfield Heritage Conservation Area listed as C2 in Schedule 5 – Environmental Heritage of the Ashfield LEP 2013.

Heritage protection doesn’t mean to freeze development in time. The right to upgrade older homes to modern standards is recognised. It is a matter of ensuring that what is proposed is sensitive and appropriate.


Historic character can be devalued and compromised by unsympathetic or non-responsive new development, including additions to existing buildings or repainting the exterior. Placing new buildings and additions in an historic context requires careful analysis to identify the important elements of the overall heritage character that must be respected.

The character of an area is influenced by a number of contributing factors including:

  • Landform
  • distinctive landscape elements
  • the pattern of subdivision
  • date and style of buildings
  • scale and form of buildings
  • building setbacks
  • colours and textures of original materials
  • building techniques and details
  • views, vistas and skylines
  • the use mix and activities

The use of traditional colours and finishes is important to maintain the significance and character of historic buildings and heritage conservation areas. It ensures that changes are sympathetic to the heritage setting.

Inappropriate paint schemes such as black and white, can substantially change the character of buildings and streetscapes by introducing colours and textures which could not have been produced over 100 years ago. The buildings painted in this fashion stand out as individuals inside the collective that make up the fabric of a heritage conservation area.

Researching your property can assist you in understanding it and what it important about it.

  • Familiarise yourself with the history of your area
  • Know when the house was built
  • Identify the architectural style of your property
  • Talk to a specialist consultant such an architect, with heritage experience

Painting or re-painting the exterior of a property which is listed as a Heritage Item or within a Heritage Conservation Area is a change to the ‘fabric finish and appearance’ and requires consent, but can generally be considered under the maintenance and minor works heritage exemptions under Clause 5.10(3) of the Ashfield LEP 2013:

However, development consent under this clause is not required if—

  • the applicant has notified the consent authority of the proposed development and the consent authority has advised the applicant in writing before any work is carried out that it is satisfied that the proposed development

You need to submit the minor works application to Council with information about your proposed work including the colour scheme and materials. If Council is satisfied that the work is in keeping with the heritage values, it may approve it in writing. This must be in place before you start work.

If you’re not sure about your building’s status, please call a duty planner from Inner West Council.


Paint comes in a very wide range of colours today. This was not the case 100 years ago when the palette was limited. 150 years ago, there were even greater limitations due to the scarcity of suitable pigments. It is important to understand some consistent principles which dictated how colour was used.

Up until World War 1, paints were made by hand and often on site, and continuing to the 1960s traditional paints were still used on most Australian buildings. Oil paints were generally applied on timber, metal and plaster, while water-based washes and distempers were generally used on plasters and masonry surfaces.

The colour palette was made from pigments readily available at the time. This included stone and earth colours, dark reds, greens, creams and browns. Lime white was the traditional white, rather than brilliant white.

Gloss finishes were based on natural oils such as linseed and fish oil. These paints were used to repel water from wood surfaces as well as protecting structural and decorative cast and wrought iron from corrosion.

During the 1920s, ready-mixed, industrially-made paints emerged as petroleum products and synthetic resins became available. From the late 1940s acrylic paints became available which were water based and easier to use but many painters continued to mix their own paint until the late 1960s.

In more recent years there has been renewed interest in paints such as Limewash which is based on traditional mixes and include the heritage colour palette, and which is more suited to historic buildings in aesthetic finish.


External walls were invariably painted in the stone colours of naturally occurring mineral pigments. Buildings were painted in colours representing natural stone.

In Sydney, throughout the second half of the 19th century, ordinary stuccoed terraces were painted in the predominant yellow ochre to salmon and brown hues of Sydney sandstone. Towards the end of the 19th century red brick and terracotta tiles became the preferred materials for walls and roofs. The fashion was so strong that it resulted in the widespread practice of painting timber walls and even corrugated iron roofs in venetian red and deep oxide red in imitation of the preferred materials.

Joinery trim and architectural details were highlighted in colours such as Indian Red, Venetian Red, Brunswick and Carriage Green, Tobacco, and Chocolate Brown. Off White and Creams were also used to contrast against brick and stone. Primary colours (red, blue and yellow), and their many shades, were avoided altogether.

Dark green or red was generally used for cast iron balustrade to make it look robust although some historic photographs show evidence of light colours with dark handrails and other trims. Light stone colours are historically found on early timber picket fences. Off white is also traditionally used. Bright and dark colours should be avoided for timber fencing. Side fences were often left to weather or were protected with oil.

Ironwork, including so-called Sydney lace, was always painted in a small range of deep greens, browns and reds.

White is strictly a 20th-century colour choice for most architectural elements, although whitewash was used from the early colonial period.

Black is not a colour represented on the heritage palette although black pigments were added to create colours.

Colour choice was personal, but the employment of those colours conformed to accepted principles.


Whether you recreate the original colour scheme or take a more contemporary approach for your heritage house, it pays to look at what has come before you. With any selected colour scheme, concentrate on the details of your building. Don’t hide details by painting them all in one colour.


Selected colours should respond to the original colours used or a contemporary interpretation of those colours. Think about how the proposed colour scheme will impact your street, neighbourhood and conservation area. Effective colour schemes often have a simple range of colours and use tonal differences to highlight architectural features.

It is discouraged the use of black and white schemes or variations of grey. This colour schemes dissociate the building from its history and the relationship with the rest of the buildings on the street.

If you are considering this path, seek advice from a specialist consultant experience on heritage.


Heritage Colour Schemes are not just cream, red and green. The use of authentic heritage colour schemes can make even an ordinary building look more attractive. Your colour scheme should follow the period and style of your building.

Some tips to choose appropriate colours are:

  • Careful scraping back of paint layers may reveal past colours
  • Specialist laboratory paint analysis is possible
  • Old photographs give many clues to tonal relationships
  • Books and heritage colour charts help
  • Some paint companies offer paint charts outlining heritage colour schemes (Berger, Bristol, British, Dulux, Haymes, Resene, Taubmans, Wattyl)

There are many publications with information on traditional colour schemes, including Colour Schemes for Old Australian Houses and More Colour Schemes for Old Australian Houses. A wide range of books is available at Haberfield Local Library.

In the reconstruction of traditional colour schemes, it is usually possible to accurately reproduce the colours and finishes of early paint schemes. However, it is sometimes necessary to introduce conjecture to finalise all of the details. In such cases it is advisable to work from one of the ‘heritage’ colour ranges to choose colours which are known to be correct for the period, since these palettes of heritage colours are based on authentic paint colour palettes.


Australian houses were more elaborate during this period from around 1850-1900, with complex cast iron and plasterwork being the key features. Historically, Victorian houses were painted in colours such as stone and cream, with trims finished in darker colours such as Brunswick Green and Indian Red. Note the bull-nose veranda roof which was popular at the time and was sometimes painted in wide contrasting stripes of colour, derived from the remainder of the paintwork.


As the name suggests the Federation style began around 1900 and continued into the second decade of the 20th century. Usually made from brick, Federation houses are framed and articulated by their wooden trims and detailed fretwork.  Colours became more muted during this time. While Victorian colours such as Red Oxide were still popular, softer tones of blue, green and pink began to be incorporated.

This Federation home demonstrates the move towards the more whimsical tones of the early 20th century.

  • Wall Colours: Unpainted brick, render or stone should be left unpainted. Painted render should be painted in off-whites or pale creams.
  • Weatherboards should be painted in pale browns, pale buff to mid-browns and rich ochres. Half timbering in gables was usually picked out against roughcast in dark browns, reds, blue greys, or greens.
  • Downpipes should be painted to match the wall colour behind.
  • Joinery Colours: Generally, window and door joinery were the same colour. Commonly colours were strong rich browns, reds and greens with lighter creams and off-whites, deeper tawny colours including olive, red oxide, buff, deep ochres as well as a combination of pale and dark greens.
  • Roofs: Generally slate or terracotta Marseille tiles. Corrugated steel roofs were left unpainted, or painted a terra cotta red to look like the terra cotta tiles which were the height of fashion. Slate roofs usually had terra cotta ridge and finials.
  • Fascia and Gutters: Generally, the same or similar colours as the joinery.


This style became widespread in Australia between the two world wars and is recognised by its columned front, gabled roof and stained-glass windows. Again, traditional colours such as Red Oxide, Indian Red and Brunswick Green continued to be used but a trend toward earthier tones developed strongly around this time. Greens became particularly popular with Grey Green and Eau-de-nil being two favourites.

  • Wall Colours: Unpainted brick, render or stone should be left unpainted. Render and roughcast should be painted in off-white, pale creams or light pastels.
  • Weatherboards should be stained or painted in natural colours including off-white, soft browns, greens and some pastels. Half timbering in gables should be painted to match timber trims.
  • Downpipes should be painted to match the wall colour behind.
  • Joinery Colours: Generally, window and door joinery were the same colour, commonly dark browns and greens or the full range of creams, butter, pearl, ivory and off-whites, greys, pale ochres, pastel colours, with highlights in brighter shades of green, black, red or dusky pink.
  • Roofs: Multi-coloured or mottled brown and red tiles or grey slate, painted red, grey or green corrugated iron.
  • Fascia and Gutters: Generally, the same as the roof colours.
  • Only repaint surfaces intended for painting.
  • Do not paint face brickwork, tiles or stone, or apply clear coatings. Face brick or stone should always remain unpainted. Painting of face brickwork detracts from the intactness of the architectural style and character of many buildings. For example, one of the essential qualities of Queen Ann and Arts and Craft buildings is the colour, texture and pattern of the brickwork.
  • Do not repaint over painted bricks.
  • Consider carefully removing the paint on brickwork.
  • Do not remove any original details, such as decorative plasterwork, during repainting.
  • You can paint timber joinery and metalwork
  • Stucco or cement renders were either untreated or finished with pigmented lime wash to emulate stone colours
  • Timber weatherboards were painted in various shades of stone colours, creams, yellows and occasionally a red oxide or venetian red to emulate brick.

Consider the paint type and use one with a vapour-permeable finish, such as a cement based painted finish. This ensures the paint does not seal in moisture or cause the surface beneath it to deteriorate.


There are many situations where paint removal will be considered. For instance, removing paint from surfaces that should not have been painted.

However, it must be remembered that when paint is removed so too is the authentic record of the history of the object or building. Thus, the removal of paint to expose an early decorative scheme, or simply to achieve a sound base for repainting, will result in the loss of very significant historic material. Remember that good conservation practice follows a philosophy of minimal intervention.

The three-principal means of paint removal are physical removal by scraping, chemical removal and heat gun. Do this carefully, so the subsurface is not damaged. Aggressive physical methods such as abrasive grit blasting are not recommended because of their potential to cause significant damage to historic buildings, although hard metals, including wrought and cast iron, can be cleaned very effectively by blasting with an appropriate medium.

Seek always specialist advice for product information to ensure you are using the best product for your situation.


Australian Standard AS2700 (1985) by Standards Association of Australia.

Munsell Book of Colour by Munsell Colour, Macbeth Division of Kollmorgan Corporation,

2441 N. Calvert Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21218.

APT Bulletins by the Association for Preservation Technology International, vol XI No 1, 1979; vol XII No 2, 1980; Vol XV No 2, 1983; and Vol XVI No 3-4, 1984.

The maintenance series. Information sheet 7.2. Paint Finishes. NSW Heritage Office. March 1998, online edition 2004

State Environmental Planning Policy (Exempt and Complying Development Codes) 2008.

NSW Ashfield Local Environmental Plan 2013.

Exterior Paint Colours. Technical Bulletin 1.2. Australian Council of National Trusts

Colour Schemes for historical buildings and heritage Conservation Areas. Tenterfield Shire Council

Mosman Heritage Factsheet – Painting.

Colour Schemes for Old Australian Houses and More Colour Schemes for Old Australian Houses, Ian Evans, Clive Lucas and Ian Stapleton, The Flannel Flower Press, reprinted 2004 and Australian House Styles by Maisy Stapleton and Ian Stapleton, The Flannel Flower Press, reprinted 2010

Australian Heritage Council Strategic Plan


Any representation, statement, opinion or advice expressed or implied in this publication is made in good faith but on the basis that MAPCOBO is not liable (whether by reason of negligence, lack of care or otherwise) to any person for any damage or loss whatsoever which has occurred or may occur in relation to that person taking or not taking (as the case may be) action in respect of any representation, statement or advice referred to above.