I did a double take last month when I passed the National Bank of Middlebury's drive-through location on Seymour Street. The big farmhouse-style building has been pale yellow for as long as I can remember. Seemingly overnight, it had been painted a shocking Smurf blue, with trim the color of Cookie Monster. There was a green accent in there somewhere, too.
Whoa, I thought. That's some serious blue.
I didn't dwell on the matter, but, several weeks later, as I tootled into the drive-through to drop off a check, I spotted workmen painting over the blue. Next time I drove by, the bank was pale yellow again. The change was so abrupt that I had to ask friends in town if anyone else had seen the blue. Had it all been a dream?
No, it really happened, they confirmed. And a Seven Days reader from Monkton wrote to ask if we could find out why.
"Seems like a lot of work," D. Maloney noted. "It didn't look like [the building] needed painting in the first place. [Was it] a colorblind painter? A feng shui mishap? An investor who doesn't like blue?"
Some locals took to Front Porch Forum to express their confusion. Thomas Curran wrote, "Someone didn't like the nice blue paint on the bank? So they are changing it back. The paint contractor is laughing all the way to the bank. Must be someone with power and influence at the bank ... probably not very cheerful, either."
Sandra Carletti expressed disappointment. "I was not aware of the intention to change that new, beautiful blue," she wrote. "I know a lot of people, including myself, really like it. It cheers you up every time you drive by."
Not everyone felt that way, I learned as I dug into Middlebury's Paintgate.
Having decided to go directly to the source, I cruised through the NBM drive-through, looking in vain for traces of blue beneath the pale yellow siding as I waited for my turn with the teller. Then I sidled up to the window.
From the teller's sheepish smile, I guessed I was not the first person to ask about the building's face-lift and subsequent reversal. She blamed it on the shade of blue. There had been a mock-up of the building's new look, she said, and the blue was supposed to be more "slatey." People in town didn't like the big, bold color, she told me, and they let the bank know about it.
The teller urged me to consult the folks at the main office — who, she assured me, could give me a clearer explanation. So I moseyed over to the NBM Main Street headquarters.
There I met Grover Usilton, senior vice president. He sighed when I brought up the Seymour Street paint job. He'd been hoping the dust would settle on this issue already, he said, and passed my query on to the bank's president and CEO, Caroline Carpenter.
"We have received many comments about our paint choices," Carpenter wrote in an email. "Some liked the blue we tried, and some like the new color. Our final color may not get everyone's vote, and we respect that is part of community life — different points of views and different opinions. We appreciate and value the interest our community has shown. We are happy that our Seymour Street office has a fresh coat of paint."
Fair enough, but I still had questions. How much does a project like that cost? And if people didn't like the swimming-pool blue, why go back to the pale yellow and not try again for the intended slate shade?
I called my friend Joe Schine, who paints houses for a living. He, too, happened to be passing by while contractors painted over the blue hue.
Such a project would cost at least $12,000, he and a colleague estimated. "Painting is expensive work," Schine said. "People think it's an easy thing to do. But it actually requires close attention and methodical work to do a good job."
Schine guessed that something must have been off in the original mockup. "Paint colors these days are very exact," he told me. Precise shades can be replicated using just a quarter-size sample.
Or perhaps the bank simply didn't take into account that a bold color always looks bolder when scaled up. "One thing that painters know is that when you look at the swatch, [and then] when you cover a whole wall with that, it's going to be brighter," Schine said.
Schine connected me to another contractor, who tipped me off to Lanny Smith & Sons Painting, the New Haven-based contractors hired to redo the bank post-Smurf coat.
Smith emphasized that his company was not responsible for the blue. "I'm the painter who painted it yellow," he said.
Working through Labor Day weekend, he and his crew finished the job in six days. The bank had only been blue for about a month. When people saw him painting it yellow again, Smith says, some thanked him.
But he couldn't tell me the name of the contractor responsible for the blue.
Schine was tickled by the drama a little color had caused in his town. The paint job was a "big fucking deal," he said, laughing. Middlebury is a fairly conservative burg, he noted, where big changes — especially when it comes to aesthetics — are few and far between. The bank broke the mold with its fresh coat of blue, but now it's back to business as usual.