What Are Painted Lady Houses?

The term “painted lady” has a double meaning. It is often used to refer to “soiled doves” or fallen women of the Old West, who painted their faces with makeup when respectable women did not wear cosmetics. Houses of that same era painted in a multi-colored scheme are also often referred to as “Painted Ladies.”

Though the terms are believed to be unrelated, these lovely homes, like our more flamboyant sisters, are the showy peacocks of architecture. Dating back to the mid to late 1800s, many of these historic homes throughout the United States have been remodeled and turned into bed and breakfasts.

How to Identify a Painted Lady House

Though many Victorian styles may qualify as Painted Ladies, the architectural style most identified with the Painted Lady is the Queen Anne. The Queen Anne is usually a smaller home, with 3 stories, which may have a tower or turret.

Whatever the architectural style, which may range from Greek Revival to Colonial, Painted Ladies can easily be identified not only by their brilliant, rainbow hues but by the intricate detailing on porches, shutters, and molding around windows and eaves. The woodwork is often lacy in appearance. Because of this detailing, they are sometimes also referred to as “Gingerbread Houses”.

Originally painted in brilliant colors, many of the old Painted Ladies were coated over with a white or cream color in the early 1900s. In the 1970s the Painted Lady made a comeback and many were restored to their original color schemes and brilliance.

According to contemporary standards, to qualify as a true Painted Lady, the house must meet 3 important criteria. The house must be a balanced, harmonious blend of color and architecture, it must be painted in 3 or more contrasting colors, and the colors must be used to bring out the decorative embellishments of the house.

Many Painted Ladies are done up in brilliant, contrasting colors. Any color can be used, as long as it draws out the architecture of the house. Examples of startling, yet successful blends of colors may be slate blue walls with contrasting sea green and mauve trim, or perhaps rose-colored walls with brilliant green and tan detailing. Some more sedate painted ladies may have white or tan outer walls with trim of pale pinks, blues, or mauves. The bolder ladies may be done in shocking pink, blue and orange.

A Resurgence in Popularity

The term Painted Lady, as it refers to houses, is a relatively new one. It originated in the early 1970s when San Francisco residents began painting their Victorian homes in three or more contrasting colors. The trend spread to other places, such as Colorado, where there are a wealth of Victorian homes still standing.

Where to See Painted Lady Houses

While examples of this architecture can be found scattered in all parts of the United States from the Northeast to the Southwest, many areas are known for their lovely Painted Lady districts. A person might come across a Painted Lady anywhere, from the East and West coast to the Midwest, but they will be found in greater number in gold rush towns such as San Francisco where Victorians settled to build.

California has many areas along the coast where Painted Ladies can be seen in abundance. Though many were destroyed by fire, or demolished, San Francisco has long been known as the best place to view this type of architecture. A row of Victorian houses on Steiner Street in San Francisco is one of the most popular areas for these houses.

Colorful and unique Painted Ladies are also prevalent in Denver, Colorado and in the many small, neighboring gold mining towns such as Georgetown.