Investigating the roots of Bristol’s colourful houses

14th September 2017
Investigating the roots of Bristol’s colourful houses

Warning: If you like your architecture to be minimalist grey then this article (and Bristol) may not be for you.

Colourful houses have been popping up in increasing numbers in Bristol and their spread seems to be widening – like an infectious smile across the city. But why is this happening? What impact is it having on the city? Should we care?

These were the main themes of our Bristol Doors Open Days ‘Colour Capital’ seminar, attended by over 100 local residents, planners, landlords, agents and business owners – held, naturally, at Paintworks.

What’s the catalyst for the colourful houses?

To kick off the morning I summarised the results our Bristol Colour Capital survey.

It seems colourful houses have been generated by a unique cocktail of Bristol traits – its topography, which makes them visible from around the city; its often unrelenting terraces in which colour is a way of distinguishing your house from your neighbours – in streets often devoid of trees (making them perfect to see unbroken rainbows of colour); its artistic and creative vibe from which the likes of Banksy and Upfest are using buildings as canvases; its colourful maritime character; and its liberal attitude in which individualism and rule-breaking are encouraged.

bristol colourful houses seminar

These traits have started it – and a combination of factors have seen the tide of colour gather momentum. Some want to out-do their neighbours with increasingly bright hues, others support what they see as a uniquely Bristol thing, and some simply want to join the fun for the feel-good factor.

An identity for the city

Local colour photographer and social media influencer, Jess Siggers, neatly demonstrated how there is a ring of colour encircling the city, with brightly coloured properties now visible in Hotwells, Cliftonwood, Clifton Down, Redland, Montpelier, Stokes Croft, St Pauls, St Werburghs, Easton, Totterdown, Windmill Hill, Bedminster, Southville and Redcliffe.

These painted houses have now become the very visual emblem of the city’s qualities, which has not gone unnoticed by VisitBristol and other groups interested in understanding and showing off what Bristol stands for today.

bristol colour capital event

Head of Destination Bristol, Kathryn Davis, captured this in her talk, showing a sequence of Bristol tourism brochures in which colourful houses have slowly emerged from a few small background shots, amongst the obvious suspension bridge views, to taking centre stage in their current literature and social media.

Bristol City Council’s Marketing & Communications Officer, James Sterling, picked up how Bristol residents, signing up for their external insulated render options as part of their Warm Up Bristol scheme, have been asking for brighter colours over the standard offer.

Katherine Hatch Morelli, Colour Psychology Student and Interior Designer at Stride Treglown, explored some examples from other cities around the world, many more colourful than Bristol. What was apparent was that most of these were from interventions by artists, rather than the resident-led movement happening in Bristol.

bristol colour capital seminar

That is not to say that there isn’t a place for artist involvement in Bristol. Dave Bain brilliantly demonstrated this with his transformation of the dismal Cumberland Basin flyover, creating a forest of colourful columns which have helped invigorate the area.

Sandra Dixon, Marketing Director for Crest Nicholson, concluded by showing how colour had been used in our Paintworks Phase 3 housing development and had been a major element in marketing the scheme.

Where next for Bristol’s coloured homes?

Jess has long campaigned for us to get onto more of the ‘most colourful cities’ lists, which would help bring Bristol’s qualities to the attention of a more global audience.

We hope that more residents will explore the Warm up Bristol scheme and make their houses more thermally efficient (and continue to badger Bristol City Council for brighter colour options).

jess siggers bristol photos

We continue to encourage the use of colour as a means of investing pride and love into our built environment, which can help to reduce anti-social behaviour. We hope that more developers, designers and design panels will recognise this and help influence more colour in the Bristol vernacular.

And finally, we acknowledge that whether we badge and promote what’s happening under ‘Bristol Colour Capital’ or not, the infectious nature of colourful houses will take its own course. Best to just submit to its charm, resistance is futile…

See what people are saying – #BristolColourUK


Bristol Colour Capital is an initiative by Stride Treglown and Jess Siggers, which celebrates the city’s colourful houses and establishes Bristol as the ‘Colour Capital’ of the UK. The initiative is Idea no.1 in our 52 Big Ideas for Bristol publication

The Colour Capital exhibition is now on display at Bristol’s Architecture Centre until October 2017. 

You can find out more about our other Initiatives here, and more about our Paintworks development on our residential architecture page.

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