Monday, June 24, 2024

Burgwin-Wright restoration project is unearthing color trends from the 1770s

An unexpected restoration project is revealing home trends embraced by the Burgwin-Wright House's original owners.

WILMINGTON—Time, taste and the advent of electricity have colored interior decorating trends for centuries.

Now, for the first time since the 1770s, the Burgwin-Wright House will return to its original colors.

RELATED: Historic Burgwin-Wright House learns new history of the old jail 

After receiving an unexpected private donation from Lillian Bellamy Boney and her late husband Leslie Boney Jr., museum staff has initiated a restoration project they thought would take years to address. The Boneys have served as lifelong preservationists, Preservation North Carolina award winners and major contributors to the historic community in Wilmington.

Burgwin-Wright’s restoration project has now begun with a paint analysis and recovery of the home’s original colonial colors.

Light up the room

Wilmington’s oldest public house, the Burgwin-Wright museum has not been fully restored in over 70 years. The home on Market Street was occupied from 1770 until 1930 until it was reserved to its current museum status. 

Throughout those years, fashionable home decor trends faded in and out.

Christine Lamberton, museum director, has facilitated in the discovery of the home’s original colors and its trends.

“When the house was saved and restored in the ’40s it was in an era when you just didn’t have the technology, funding or the people that could really get down to the original color,” Lamberton said.

To begin the task Lamberton enlisted Edward Turberg, a restoration consultant.

“It doesn’t sound difficult but the patience and really trying to figure out the layers and the way you hold your tool, you don’t want to gauge into it because some of the layers were really thin and some of them were two coats, and that makes a difference,” Lamberton said.


So far, staff has learned the entire third floor was painted shades of green; from grey-blue to a bright turquoise.

“You sit there and you pray it’s like, fun, beautiful, presidential blue colors and cranberry,” Lamberton said. When she ended up uncovering shades that fall only within the green color spectrum, it wasn’t what Lamberton had initially expected. “You have to realize my modern taste is not necessarily the colonial flavor,” she said.

In rooms with limited lighting, the colonial style was to pick punchier colors for the trim and leave the walls plastered white.

“There’s no electricity so you need light colors on the wall so your trim can have the color,” Lamberton said.  “Later on you’ve got gasoline, you’ve got electricity so you start to see wallpaper you see color on the walls.”

Now electricity is commonplace and modern trim is mostly white to accentuate painted walls.

John Burgwin, the home’s original owner, must have had a fondness for greens.

Notably a main room with three sides of natural light was painted floor to ceiling – trim included – sage green.

“He (John Burgwin) could get away with this because he’s flooded with this beautiful natural light,” Lamberton said. 

The restoration project will continue in the next several weeks, with an official unveiling planned in the spring. For more information on the Burgwin-Wright museum visit or its Facebook page.

Johanna Ferebee can be reached at or @j__ferebee on Twitter

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