When it came time to paint the exterior of their Queen Anne home in Napa, David and Susan LePage knew Kendall Ulrey, of Pro Finish Painting, was the right contractor for the job.
“Kendall spent so much time contributing to, and experimenting with our color scheme. He was so patient with every detail,” Susan said.
“The project had captured my interest,” said Ulrey.
The LePages’ home was designed by Luther Turton, a prolific architect in Napa whose other buildings include Noyes Mansion, Migliavacca House, and Goodman Library. It was built in 1892 by Charles Henry Starkweather for John O’Neill, a treasurer at the Bank of Napa, and his wife, Harriet. It came to be known as the O’Neill House.
The term “Queen Anne” means different things to different people. We might think of Painted Ladies, otherwise called “Victorians,” here in Napa and in San Francisco. But the original Queen Anne style refers to the architecture built during the reign of Britain’s Queen Anne from 1702 to 1714. It was stately, elegant, and strongly horizontal and symmetrical with an Italianate pediment front and center.
Under the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), the style was revived and thus called Queen Anne Revival. However, the elements of this revival hardly resembled its namesake, especially in the United States. Queen Anne Revivals, in fact, should be referred to as “Victorian-era” architecture rather than Victorians as there were other styles built during this period. They include Italianate, Eastlake, Mansard, Romanesque Revival, and Arts and Crafts. The latter, by the way, was a revolt against the highly decorative Queen Anne Revivals.
I don’t know when the term “Painted Ladies” was first coined but it does not apply just to Queen Anne Revivals. It can also refer to Edwardians, built under Victoria’s successor, King Edward.
This may be a bit confusing but what is clear is that O’Neill House is a Queen Anne Revival and Painted Lady, built during the Later Victorian period (1870-1900). It is defined by its steeply-pitched and irregularly-shaped roof, asymmetrical façade, dominant front-facing gable, vertical-sliding sash windows, large front porch, and layers of ornamental elements.
The LePages are well-versed in this architecture and are big fans. Before moving to Napa in 2011, they had lived in another Painted Lady in Southern California. Susan, in particular, has studied this subject for years. When it came time to paint O’Neill House, she knew that she wanted dark colors with flashes of bold and rich accents. This palette follows Later Victorian convention when dark colors, rather than light, were popular. Such a color scheme would be a drastic change from the house’s pre-makeover pink and white.
Since David likes gray, they used it as a starting point. They chose a light-medium gray for the upper body of the house, a medium gray for the lower body, and a dark gray for the gable, lattice work, geometric balusters and balustrade, turned porch posts, stairs, and larger areas of trim. This contrasting dark gray defined the overall architecture of the house and united the two lighter hues.
Once the main colors were chosen, the fun began. Like adding jewelry to a basic black dress, the accent colors would reflect the personality of the house as well as highlight its details. The LePages chose a purple-maroon for the front door, window sashes, strategically-placed stripes around the porch posts, the circular medallions on the balustrade, and on the porch’s arched headers. They next chose a true orange for the fish scales set within the gable (or “pediment”), as well as the rectangular inset panels and secondary trim. Orange was also used on the two rows of repeating pyramidal squares below the pediment.
Although purple and orange may at first seem like an unconventional duo, it actually constitutes analogous harmony. That is, the two are secondary hues positioned next to each other on a multi-segmented color wheel.
This Painted Lady had become a balance of neutral grays with pops of accent colors just as the LePages had envisioned. But Susan had one more idea. A crowning jewel in the form of gold leaf. It was applied in recessed dots below the pediment, on 16 pyramidal squares inside the pediment, and on the finials inside the purple, circular medallions.
Ulrey describes the gold leaf as the real deal. “I used 22- karat gold leaf. It comes in packets of three-inch squares. There are imitations in craft stores and online but they will break down in the outdoor elements even with a topcoat sealer. Real gold does not need to be sealed.”
Although Ulrey had a big crew for the project, he designated the delicate task of gold leafing to himself. It took about 40 hours and the entire job lasted two months. Ulrey used approximately 30 gallons of Manor Hall Pittsburgh Paints, from Devine Paint Center, for the entire house and epoxy products for the porch.
Ulrey has been in the paint industry for 22 years, including 10 as a foreman at Napco Painting. He established Pro Finish Painting in 2006, and when he was ready to set off on his own, Napco convinced him to stay another nine years. He eventually left in 2015 and has been growing his company ever since. He described working on The O’Neill House as a “thrill and an honor.”
As Susan said, “Kendall brought our vision to life.” The LePages’ Painted Lady not only follows and respects the true convention of Queen Anne architecture during the Victorian age, but with the addition of gold leaf, also glistens with the rising of each morning sun.