And Then What Happened?: The power of positive painting


For the Recorder
Published: 4/26/2021 5:01:19 PM

Those of you who have catalogued every column I’ve written may remember my anguish about a year and a half ago over the potential painting of my Ashfield house. New Englanders have rules about acceptable house colors, and my own happy ideas just didn’t fit the tradition.

The Ashfield Film Festival even made a short “commercial” for the festival a few years ago, mocking the “Nan-o-Painter,” a paint device that, when rolled over a house, magically produced huge blue polka dots over any color background, making every house (they insinuated) one I would want to live in.

A short recap: When I painted the inn I owned at the corner of Main Street and Norton Hill Road a deep, welcoming gold back in 2008, I was nearly run out of town, despite my insistence that gold was the color I found below the white when I scraped it down, and pointed to Historic Deerfield to prove it. When I tried painting my dad’s house on Main Street an earthy terracotta eight years after that, I got protests complete with pitchforks, tar and cudgels.

Wanting to continue living in town made it easy to butt the decision further down the path while I had better things to do, and in the spring of last year I decided to focus on other financial ideas, like a new roof. Who can complain about a new roof? What if I decided to put a shiny red metal roof on it — would that upset anyone? My real estate agent sister-in-law Kim said that most likely it would in any state, so I came back around to regular old shingles again.

I decided to roll the new roof into a refinancing of my mortgage in these pandemic-stricken days of cheaper rates, and called upon a new mortgage company to do so. They sent the man around to appraise the house in a time when I had been out of town for a bit and the appraisal came back irresponsibly low. Then I traveled back home and found that the company that had maintained my lawn for the previous 15 years had not been around yet that year, and the grass stood up about, oh, 3 or 4 feet. That, set against a house that had not been painted since Jimmy Carter was president made it look like a set for a Halloween movie.

Oh. No refinancing, huh?

But here’s what I’ve learned. If you let your house go until it looks abandoned, with paint that was last fresh in 1978, people will finally throw in the swatch book and let you do what you want. (Don’t tell them I said that. They still have those clubs and rails stored away in their back barns.)

Recognizing that just about any color I loved would not fit the Ashfield Palette of Historically Acceptable Colors, I threw caution in the recycling bin (so I could get it back out if the pitchforks were produced) and went with a bright yellow house with orange window trim and a door color one shade darker. (The two colors seemed further apart on the bench when I chose them in the book, but they look like twin brothers now.) The window frames and sashes are an honorable and responsible white.

In a fit of Southern exuberance, I decided to paint the garage a deeper, more golden version of the yellow and it just calls my heart home with a hallelujah every time I look at it. I asked Kim what she thought of my color choices and she said she thought they would be fine as long as I didn’t plan to sell the house anytime soon.

Well, we’re on about the six-month anniversary of my Happy Paint Job’s inauguration, and the true 2021 miracle is the compliments I’m getting on it. And not from alien-immigrants to New England like myself, but from bona fide, six-generations-back originals. They don’t generally tell me their adulatory thoughts to my face, however; the approvals usually arrive in a clandestine 2 a.m. email, probably after a bottle of wine that’s let their inner color-loving souls slip out and dance around, whispering to their imaginations, “What might my house look like if I were to ... ?”

Or maybe they’re just so happy I finally did something about that haunted-looking house over there that they’ve made a pact to cheerfully praise me for my good behavior in hopes that it keeps up and I’ll plant a garden or something. (Please note: I’d rather talk about flesh-eating worms than gardening, so that won’t be happening.)

But for whatever reason, the compliments come marching in and I am grateful for every one of them. If you’d like to turn over a New England leaf and encourage your town to look like a Caribbean island neighborhood, call me! I’ve got a whole 3-inch-thick swatch book in my back pocket and, with all this encouragement, I ain’t afraid to use it!

Nan Parati lives and works in Ashfield, where she found home and community following Hurricane Katrina. She can be reached at

Greenfield Recorder

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Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906


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