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Bringing Color Back to the Sun Porch

How do you recreate the rich color palette of a room lost to time and history, a room that was only originally photographed in black and white?

The answer is research, research, a little elbow grease, and then more research.

The historians and artisans at the Henry Ford Estate-Fair Lane have spent the past few years pouring over 100-year-old documents, historical data, reference books and Fair Lane artifacts to develop the plan to recreate the interiors at Fair Lane. They are aiming for the same aesthetic look and feel as Clara, Henry and Edsel Ford knew it in 1919, down to every last detail.

Their first challenge is the Sun Porch, which is the focus of the initial restoration and furnishing efforts this spring and summer.

With just a few original black and white images and clips of film as a reference, the Fair Lane team has been relying on many secondary sources to figure out how to bring color and life back to the room. They are using construction and design records, including those from William Van Tine, Fair Lane's architect, which often reference the colors, materials and sources of the finishes and furnishings. They have also found itemized receipts from original manufacturers and artisans that can be matched with specific rooms and objects.

The restoration team may know the rug was blue and yellow, and the window treatments were green, but what about the hues and textures?

"Those types of details are where historians and curators have to use historical context to fill in the blanks" says Mark Heppner, Vice President of Historic Resources for the estate.'We can get color clues from what was popular in an era, what was used in other homes at the time, and what objects remain at the house, as well as from similar historic objects out there in the public or at other museums."

For example, for the wicker furniture, artisans have worked to match a shade of brown that historians know was used on similar historic pieces of the era. The window treatments were celadon green silk taffeta, and the seamstress has been able to match contemporary fabric to the green hues and texture of fabrics from the era.

Heppner says that while preparing for the restoration and repair work needed in the Sun Porch, artisans have been able to reveal what the palate should be. For example, scraping of layers and layers of paint on the ceiling revealed the original off-white color with a faux patina that Clara Ford favored in the house.

What will it look like after all the research and labor? We won't know for a few month. For now, the room is still a blank slate. But we do know it's going to be a thrill to see how it comes together.

"Bringing all of that color and texture back to life is an exciting part of this project" Heppner says. "Our researchers have been working with a goal to make it look just like the room Henry, Clara and Edsel originally planned and experience. And soon, everyone will be able to share in that experience"