Colour Ranges

Dec 23rd, 2011 | | Colour Ranges | 2 Comments

Ministry of Works Colour Schemes

Ministry of Works Colour Schemes

MINISTRY OF WORKS COLOUR SCHEMES (Official Colour Card No. 1 1952)*

This little aid to the decoration of Ministry of Works offices of the early 1950s really is little, measuring only 16.5cm x 6.5cm. However, as with so many of the official colour standards of the time it is packed with common sense tips and conveys a strong sense of the austerity of the years immediately after the Second World War.

“These short term standards are intended only for the usual run of office accommodation where it is expected that pre-war and war-time types of furniture, fittings and floor coverings will remain in use for some considerable time. Offices outside this range of accommodation must receive special consideration.”

Within its fold-out pages are five sample schemes with colour chips showing how to decorate offices on different sides of a building.

Scheme One is labelled “General Scheme” and was recommended for the redecoration of single rooms where the existing general scheme is cream and green. The remaining schemes are based on their outlook – the warm schemes are recommended for rooms facing north-west to south-east (cool aspects) or on occasion for rooms facing south-east to north-west if they are over-shadowed and do not receive direct sunlight.

The (single) cool scheme is recommended generally for well-lit rooms which receive direct sunlight.

To help clarify this a useful diagram is provided:

cool - warm

The colours referred to were taken from two British Standard colour ranges of the period – BS 1572: 1949 relates to colours for flat finishes and BS 381C to colours for gloss finishes. The Broken White shown was not a British Standard colour, but had been adopted as standard for these schemes.

scheme 2 - Cool

In the above example, which was designed for a well-lit room which received direct sunlight (or faced in a Western or Southerly direction) the walls, skirtings, door frames and architraves were recommended to be painted in Cement Grey (BS 1572 Colour No. 113). Whilst the walls should be painted in a semi-gloss finish the woodwork should be in a more practical gloss paint. Ceilings and beams should be painted with French Beige (BS 1572 Colour No. 101). In this case the finish should be in a non-washable distemper (see Ceilingite). Windows, reveals and window boards (cills) should be painted in a Broken White gloss paint.

Scheme 4 - Warm

In the above example, which was designed for rooms facing NW to SE (cool aspect) the following recommendations were given: walls were to be painted in a semi-gloss paint in French Beige (BS 1572 Colour No. 101). The same colour, but in a gloss paint, might be applied to the skirtings, doors, frames and architraves. However, if the room was overshadowed the doors, frames and architraves might be painted in Aircraft Grey Green (BS 381C Colour No. 283) in gloss. Ceilings and beams were to be painted with a non-washable distemper in Broken White and windows, reveals and cills in Broken White gloss paint.

At the back of the colour card the following notes were provided:

a) All wall surfaces should be in semi-gloss finish and ceilings should be in non-washable distemper.
b) Borrowed lights, cover strips and picture rails should be taken in with the general wall treatment. All other woodwork should be in gloss finish.
c) Skirtings in schemes 2 to 5 should match the wall colour (but in gloss finish) in rooms of ordinary size and should vary in colour only in large rooms.
d) Pipes at skirting level and radiators should match the background colour but be in gloss finish. Pipes etc. above skirting level should be taken in with the background.

For those feeling more adventurous other colours in the small range offered in BS 1572: 1949 Colours for Flat Finishes for Wall Decoration can be seen HERE. The range was broadened considerably with the introduction of the Archrome (Munsell) Colour Range in 1953 and the BS 2660: 1955 Colours for Building and Decorative Paints two years later.

Current Availability of Colours
As with almost all the colours shown on this site those shown here can be mixed into conventional modern paint by Papers and Paints Ltd

Colours and associated data from BS 1572: 1949 and BS381WD: 1945 are reproduced by permission of BSI.

* The edition illustrated was the revised one of 1954.

Papers and Paints can be found here:

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Comments (2)

Hannah RenierNo Gravatar » 15. Mar, 2012

Thanks for terrific blog. Interested to find that the post-war cream – I HAD to have it a few years ago, for my kitchen, and settled on Dorset Cream gloss from F&B – is in fact French Beige. A friend called it ‘beige’ and I was quite disconcerted. Turns out he was right all along. Colours are like smells; they take you back to another time, when every staircase had glistening brown anagalypta up to the dado rail…

PatrickNo Gravatar » 19. Mar, 2012

Thank you. You’re quite right. One can evoke so much with colour.