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Back to the future for Bermuda’s houses

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Scientific approach: Jane Ashburn, an architectural conservator, collects paint samples (Photograph by Sekou Hendrickson)

Historic houses could be restored to their original colours thanks to scientists from the United States.

The Bermuda National Trust, with the help of American architects and conservation experts, has taken samples from 15 houses across the island, some more than 300 years old, to chart their changes in colour.

Brent Fortenberry, assistant professor of architecture at Texas A&M University, aims to recreate the colours and produce them on a commercial basis.

Dr Fortenberry said: “We want to create a palette of colours that are historically accurate that anyone could buy and paint their houses in.”

Jane Ashburn, an architectural conservator from Texas, said that archaeologists judged colours by sight, but that damage from the sun and salt spray made their findings inaccurate.

She explained that technological advances such as high-powered microscopes could now be used to look at the structure of a pigment and its reaction to light to reveal its true colour.

Ms Ashburn added: “It’s amazing, as they can look at the shape of a pigment and, based on how it reacts to light and different things, they can be like ‘oh, that’s ochre’.”

The layers in the samples could also reveal environmental factors and stylistic choices a building underwent over time.

Ms Ashburn explained: “You might see lines of dirt which signify they didn’t paint their house for an extended amount of time.”

Dr Fortenberry said the BNT spent last week testing buildings that it either owned or had a strong relationship with.

Cluster Cottage on St Mary’s Road in Warwick, which is about 300 years old, was tested last Thursday.

All the paint samples will be sent to a laboratory in Jamestown, Virginia, and analysed by technicians. Results are expected within four months.

Ms Ashburn said that damage to the buildings was minimal, with only tiny samples removed.

She added: “The ones I’m taking are about half an inch, just because I want them to stay intact during travel, and that’s four times the size of a regular sample.”

Dorcas Roberts, director of preservation at the BNT, said that mapping the original colours of older buildings was a key part of historic conversation.

She explained: “It’s really important for conservation for places like St George’s and other historic protection areas to have an accurate historical depiction of what a building would have looked like at certain points in time.

“We do get a lot of calls at the National Trust specifically about what colours people should use on their buildings and what greens we use on our shutters, so this is something people are interested in.”

Ms Roberts said the team hoped to move on to public buildings such as churches and government buildings to spread their conservation efforts.

She added that taking samples from the interiors of homes was also being consider.

Ms Roberts said: “With the scope of the project, you could, in theory, produce an interior, but again that’s further down the road.”

Historic house: Cluster Cottage in Warwick (Photograph by Sekou Hendrickson)