Meet Dr. Color, the Man Behind SF’s Iconic and Vibrant Victorians

For over 50 years, Bob Buchter has surfed the spectrum to make San Francisco the vivid town it is

March 18, 2022 9:00 am
Painted Victorian house
One of Dr Color's painted Victorians.
Dr Color

Take a close look at the most intricately painted Victorians in the city and you may well spot a sign indicating that the work on display comes courtesy of one “Dr. Color.” For 52 years, San Francisco native Bob Buckter has been helping homeowners, developers, and institutions tell their color stories. “I’ve done everything that rises from the ground except people,” says Buckter, who long ago took on the moniker, Dr. Color. “Condominium complexes, business parks, churches, hospitals —  whenever people want something that looks special and attractive, they come to me.”

By his count, Dr. Color has had 23,000 gigs over the course of his career, having started painting old Victorians in the 1970s, right after college. Hard work and savvy real estate investments allowed him to retire at 30. After taking  a year to sail around the world, he was back home and back at it, hanging out his shingle as a color consultant. “By 2006 I was producing over 660 jobs a year by myself and have not had anybody working for me since 1978.” But he’s not slapping Sherwin-Williams on clapboard himself: Like any consultant worth his salt, he provides his expertise devising color combos, and the clients contract the painters.

When Buckter first started painting houses, earth tones ruled. He quickly grew bored with that palette and started to think outside the box. “In San Francisco,” he notes, “the general attitude has always been you can do anything you want.” So Buckter opted for maroon and gold, burgundy and dark blue, or turquoise and gunmetal. And while more than happy to concoct a scheme of purple and pink if that’s what a homeowner wants, Buckter is never blinded by the opportunity to explore the spectrum.  No matter how vivid a homeowner wants to go, balance and weight are always uppermost in his mind. Whether dressing up an ornately detailed Victorian or brightening up a boxy Mid-Century Modern home, choosing just the right shade for each part of a home — cornice, fascia, or column — is key to his program. “I also take a look at what’s next door and across the street and consider that in the design too,” says Buckter.  “And also what part of town the property is in, whether it’s an extremely conservative neighborhood like Pacific Heights, or an all out, balls-to-the-wall area, like Haight-Ashbury.” 

After so many years in business, Buckter has become something of an architectural historian, conversant with styles of yesteryear, but not at all interested in looking to the past when it comes to color. With a voice reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway (and a self-assurance to match), Buckter says, “That’s not my bag at all and rarely does anybody ask to go that route. When they do, I tell them we can research those colors, but chances are they won’t really like them. Those colors were viable once, but tastes have changed.”

Buckter’s portfolio isn’t limited to exteriors. And he exercises the same comprehensive approach  when creating color plans for spaces beyond the front door. “There are just as many variables inside as out, he notes.  “I always pay attention to the givens. Outside, that might be the brick at the bottom of the building that will not get painted. Inside, that could be carpet, drapes, upholstery. If the colors someone likes will make for a dark room, I tell them. If they say they want a dark room, then we go for it.  But I share every move I make to make sure they are in accord with what I am suggesting. We do a little bit of adjusting back-and-forth to get it exactly right and 95 percent of the time, people love it.”

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