Paint colours and finishes in historic towns, and for shop fronts in particular, are an important consideration because they make a significant and important contribution to the character, appearance and special aesthetic qualities of buildings and areas. Inappropriate paint colours can be visually detracting and discordant. This short guidance note provides some general advice on why colour is important, what should be avoided and what is appropriate. It should be read in conjunction with the Council’s Commercial Signage design and conservation guidance and Bath Shopfronts design and conservation guidance, both of which are available on the Council’s website.

Shopfronts are highly visible, prominent and important elements of a town’s streetscape because they are located at ground floor level usually spanning the entire width of the building, often projecting into the street.  They are commonly painted in contrasting colours to the main elevation of the building. Bath in particular has a highly significant and important shopfront heritage with outstanding examples dating from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.   Colour plays an intrinsic and critical role in their appropriate presentation.

‘No single aspect of design has so much effect on the character of a shopfront than its colour. A good design can be spoilt by poor colour, or a nondescript design uplifted by the right choice of colour. Colour also has an effect on the street scene; out of key or aggressive colour will be damaging to everything within the field of vision.’ (Bath Shopfronts, 1993).

Therefore it is critical that the choice of paint colour and finish (and style of signage) is appropriate and takes account of and responds to the special qualities and sensitivities of a traditional historic area. In the 18th and 19th centuries the choice of paint colours was very limited compared to the vast choice now available from a plethora of manufacturers and suppliers, either mainstream or specialist. Whilst choosing authentic and historically correct colours is a worthy aim when considering paint colours this purest approach is not insisted upon and there is flexibility to allow some individual choice and to be consistent, where possible, with a corporate or ‘house’ style. However, this would need to be on the basis of the approach advocated by this advice note. Paint suppliers usually have what is often termed as a ‘heritage’ or ‘vintage’ range and as a rule of thumb these often provide a good basis from which to choose a colour. Traditional ranges of colours such as these are often extensive and therefore offer considerable choice.

The general approach should be to choose a colour or colours that are not too bright, strident or garish such that they would visually detract from the traditional character of the shopfront, host building and the traditional street scene. For instance pink, modern brilliant white, bright versions of orange, green and yellow and so on should be avoided and so should the use of a modern gloss finish. The use of modern brilliant white, for instance, is regarded as too clinical, stark and detracting and at odds with the character of traditional and historic shopfronts, buildings and town centres. However, alternatively, in order to address the needs and requirements of a chain retailer where white is the chosen corporate colour, could be the use of a more traditional white, of which there are many now available. In any event subtle and more muted tones and darker and richer colours using a flat finish, for instance satin or eggshell, is the correct and desired approach.
Bath historic town centre

Bath historic town centre

This approach has been adopted in many instances in Bath and other historic town centres and there are many examples of good practice and appropriate choice of colours such as those shown in the images. Where possible the chosen paint colour of neighbouring shopfronts should also be taken into consideration in order to integrate and achieve a harmonious appearance.

Bath historic town centre

Formal Approvals

Listed building consent is required to change the colour of a shopfront on a listed building where there is a material change affecting its character and appearance. For instance, where there is a fundamental change of colour. However, where there is merely a variation within the same colour range this would not normally require consent however it is advisable to seek the advice from the Planning and Conservation Team. Planning permission is required in cases where external painting is for the purposes of advertisement, announcement or direction. When considering any of the above each case will be assessed on its own merits. However, generally the approach that the Council will adopt is to gain both an understanding of the commercial needs of the retailer/occupier and how they wish to present their business and also to consider the needs of the shopfront, building and street scene within the conservation area. The Council will exercise flexibility and not be prescriptive however the expectation will be that the choice of colour and finish will be appropriate and mindful of the traditional historic context and will be enhancing. Early engagement with the Planning and Conservation Team in the Local Planning Authority is advisable through the Council’s pre-application process.

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