Walking through a historic neighborhood can be relaxing and offer a feast for the eyes—tree lined
streets of white clapboard Queen Ann cottages, the earth-toned stucco of Italianate villas, the brick and dark wood
of Arts and Crafts bungalows, perhaps the gray stone façade of a Romanesque-revival church. Then around the
corner looms an imposing gothic revival home with bright teal-colored vertical board-and-batten, trimmed in
school-bus yellow, leading up to salmon-colored ginger breading accenting the steeply pitched roof. Such a site is
impossible to ignore and begs the question, “Who would do this, and why?”
When he began his research for Chromatic Homes: The Joy of Color in Historic Places, John I. “Hans” Gilderbloom
was studying “painted ladies”—Victorian houses with three or more colors that embellish architectural details,
most notably found in San Francisco. During the course of his work, however, he noticed a broader trend of
colorful homes that were not necessarily Victorian or multi-colored, but had a similar impact, both visually and
within their neighborhoods. To talk about this trend, he coined the term “chromatic homes” to encompass the
bright, joyfully decorated houses that are widespread and diverse, ranging from New Orleans to Amsterdam in the
Netherlands. Gilderbloom documents not only where these homes can be found, but also the impact they have on
their neighborhoods and cities.
Gilderbloom’s study of chromatic homes started in San Francisco with the painted ladies that have become a
hallmark of the city’s appeal, but it did not stop there. He focuses the bulk of his attention on what he terms the
five sister cities of chromatic homes. Aside from San Francisco, there is Louisville, also home to numerous painted
ladies; Miami and its art deco homes from the 20s and 30s; New Orleans’ colorful shotgun homes; and Cincinnati,
where color was used to revitalize a largely abandoned neighborhood. The same spirit of revitalization is found
across the Ohio River in Covington, Kentucky, where 100-year-old buildings were renewed with color. He also
outlines an older, international tradition of colorful buildings such as St. Basil’s Cathedral in Russia as well as
homes in Cuba; Burano, Italy; and Arles, France.
John I. “Hans” Gilderbloom is a professor in the Graduate Planning, Public Administration, Public Health, and
Urban Affairs programs at the University of Louisville, where he also directs the Center for Sustainable Urban
Neighborhoods. Considered one of the foremost urban thinkers of our time, he is the author of five books, fifty-
five scholarly articles, and op-eds in Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times.
Bright, vibrant, intriguing, and unique, chromatic homes are speckled across the world's landscape. These historic houses and buildings are saturated with colors -- often highlighting decorative woodwork and architecture -- to enhance, revive, and regenerate various neighborhoods and communities.