Type “limewash Charleston SC” into any browser, and your search results will undoubtedly deliver multiple pages featuring our downtown home and office at 95 Broad Street.  The bright orange edifice of this historic building, known to local historians as The Major Peter Bocquet House, is the backdrop for many an artist’s rendition or a bride’s wedding dress shots.  This house, which dates from about 1770, was built for the Revolutionary War patriot, Major Peter Bocquet, Jr., and has architecturally significant features, many of which are cataloged in the National Register of Historic Places, and as such, it is highlighted on many local tours. It’s limewashed exterior is an orange color as bright as a rising sun, and one that has endured 25 years since the first application. While it provides a time worn patina that could never be reproduced with a simple latex paint application, it does indeed begin to show wear as seen in recent photos.

The problem is that, as with all good things, they come to an end. With this historic 300 year old home, that end for its current lime washed exterior was evident by thin streaks and edges plus the odd nearly-bald patch.   

It was time for a repaint to last well into the 21st century.  The decision to repaint was made and to repaint in the same way using the same materials.   Firstly it was windows, and doors, refurbished where necessary and two good top coats of oil-based paint.  Then shutters were removed, repaired, and repainted a deep satin black oil paint.  Next, in turn was the walls, to be executed in lime paint, and that material seems to strike fear into many a tradesperson – but why? 

The reason is likely the “fear of the unknown” as historic lime paint is not often used. That’s a real and genuine pity, and here is why. Lime paint is long-lasting, won’t peel, crack or fade; rather, it becomes part of the masonry wall in a slow chemical reaction.  It does not support mold or mildew, and it breathes, allowing damp masonry to dry slowly (that’s very useful hereabouts in Charleston humid, coastal climate).  It is kind to stucco and tolerant of the humid summer weather.  Best of all, with the correct pigments, it will fluoresce in the daylight. Absorbing short wavelength radiation and emitting it in the visible spectrum. That is why it’s so beloved of those artists and brides in that it looks like no other paint can.  Once past the fear factor, lime paint is incredible stuff to use and live within.

So how did we apply it?  Firstly, we turned to a local supplier, Charleston Limewash, who could obtain the correct pigment from their European source.  They supplied the initial batch 25 years ago and do so again now blended to a viscosity suitable for direct brush application. We also brought in our regular paint subcontractor (D. Stofflet of David’s Painting) and formulated the action plan given his crews’ busy location and learning curve.   We pressure washed the building to remove grime and grunge, we masked off windows and doors then began the application process. 

The painters had to work quickly. It’s important to maintain a wet edge, slowly covering with a fresh coat of virgin lime paint.  This paint dries in two stages. The first is when the water evaporates, leaving a coat of pigmented calcium hydroxide on the masonry surface.  This now dry calcium hydroxide reacts with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to form a continuous hard layer of calcium carbonate, aka “lime.”  This layer forms an integral yet porous part of the masonry underneath.  At each stage, the color or shade will alter slightly. You have to be patient; time will be your savior here.    

Rehang the shutters, remove the masking from windows and doors, and voila!  A new, very bright orange, 95 Broad St fit as a backdrop to so many artists and brides for the next 25 years or so.

And my final word? Don’t be scared of using lime paint.  It really is awesome stuff, and can deliver a depth of color that is unmatched by any other painted finish process.

Chris Leigh-Jones

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