Peculiar Pittsburgh

How to use the most Pittsburgh shade of yellow — Aztec Gold — to decorate your home

Shine bright like a sister bridge.

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Nick Amoscato / flickr
MJ Slaby

It’s quickly noticeable.

With frequent gray days in Pittsburgh, its yellow bridges stand out, said PPG Paints color expert Dee Schlotter.

“Yellow is really disruptive outside,” she said.

Just check out how bright the Andy Warhol Bridge is now that it’s repainted and open again. The work was part of a rehab project for the sister bridges, with the Rachel Carson Bridge being redone in summer 2018 and the Roberto Clemente Bridge in summer 2020, per Allegheny County.

Each sister bridge requires 8,000 gallons of paint, but only 1,400 gallons are in Aztec Gold. The rest is layers of primer paint, said Michael Dillon, deputy director for Allegheny County Department of Public Works. The county specifies in its contract that the specific shade of Aztec Gold must be used.

This round of repainting is the first time the 1920s bridges have been painted since the 1980sWESA reported. Before the project started, a 2015 online poll asked Pittsburghers if the sister bridges should stay Aztec Gold or or if they should be painted other colors such as silver for the Warhol Bridge and green for the Rachel Carson Bridge. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of voters — nearly 85 percent — wanted them to stay gold, per KDKA.

That wasn’t the first time the idea of changing the color of the bridges was shot down. Per a 2003 City Paper article:

Back in 2001, when the Downtown-area bridges were due for maintenance, the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation suggested some new paint schemes. Among the colors proposed were such interior-decorator hues as “perfect peach” and “purple ice.” Not everyone was happy with the proposals.

City Paper also noted two reasons that the bridges are Aztec Gold — they are connected to downtown aka the Golden Triangle, and the city’s colors are black and gold.

So what if you want to incorporate the iconic Aztec Gold into your home to make it the most Pittsburgh home of all? Here are tips from Schlotter, senior color marketing manager for PPG Paints:

Calabash on the right and Upbeat on the left

Calabash on the right and Upbeat on the left

Courtesy of PPG Paints

Start with the right shade of yellow

PPG doesn’t have the exact Aztec Gold paint color, but Schlotter said there are two that come close.

  • Calabash (PPG 1213-5) is the closest to the bridges in the daytime.
  • Upbeat (PPG 1106-2) is the closest to the bridges at night.

The Calabash is “bright, but not too bright” and full of energy and optimism, she said, adding that it looks best in rooms with a lot of natural light. The Upbeat is a warmer shade of yellow that goes well with the oak floors and cabinets found in Pittsburgh’s older homes, Schlotter said.

If you want to consider other shades of yellow, she said to keep the following in mind:

  • If you’re looking for a bright yellow, pick the paint that’s one shade lighter than the one you like. Sometimes the brightest shade is too bright, like a traffic signal, Schlotter said.
  • In the PPG Paint store, look at the paint strip that shows a color from light to dark. The bottom color is the root color, so if you think the top shade of yellow is pretty, but the bottom color is green, there will be hints of green in the top shade too, she said.

Where to use yellow

In general, Schlotter said yellow is good for entry ways and rooms with natural light. It’s not so good for ceilings or rooms with no natural light where some shades look dingy. If you’re not ready to commit to a yellow room or a yellow accent wall, she has a few suggestions:

  • Accent doors are the new accent walls, so try painting a closet or basement door yellow for a pop of color.
  • Use yellow for accent pieces like painted furniture.
  • Yellow is good for front doors that are under a porch, because it’s a cheery welcome, and the covered porch prevents it from fading.

Expect yellow accessories to be more and more common, because just like millennials have a shade of pink, Generation Z (born from the late 1990s on) has a shade of bright yellow, Schlotter said. Pale pink fans, don’t worry — she said millennials are buying and decorating homes now, so she expects the color to stay popular for housewares.

Lastly, the most Pittsburgh decorating question of all: What’s the best way to combine black and gold outside of your sports cave?

Go with Calabash yellow, a lot of white and then some black, Schlotter said, suggesting a 60 percent yellow, 30 percent white and 10 percent black ratio.

“Don’t make the yellow and black equal,” she said.