For as long as I can remember, I have loved the stories told about historical homes, personal tidbits about a certain item of furniture or family “heirlooms”. I always found the romance in the wear pattern on a stone step, or the marks made from years of handling – these things make the past very real for me. I have often thought that is why families have traditions of any sort – turkey at Thanksgiving, honored routines on special occasions – they connect us to our homes, our families and the generations, past, present and future.
The worn stone stairs of Nostell Priory in West Yorkshire, England (1733) speak to me of many generations of “Upstairs, Downstairs”. Just imagine what the back steps of Downton Abbey look like!
Here in New England, we love our old houses and historical landmarks and as a designer, I am often asked “What is the way we are “supposed” to decorate our home? We have a period home ( insert style here) and we want to decorate it the “right” way.” Well, I am here to state that just because you have a “Colonial” home, or a “Victorian” home, you do not have to have a camelback sofa or a heavy, ornate mahogany carved sideboard to decorate your “period” home! I would like to encourage you to create a home for you and your family using comfortable, stylish items and include that special family piece like your mother’s favorite chair for reading you bedtime stories, or your grandfather’s collection of photos! Even the quirky item you purchased on your college spring break, or your first piece of “real” art has a place, and it tells YOUR story.
You don’t have to live in any particular style house for this principle to apply. My experience as an interior designer has shown me that most families have a mix of things that they love, that they have gathered over the years. And it is this very mix that makes a room personal and interesting.
Here is a sitting room by the English architect and designer, Ben Pentreath that illustrates this mix to perfection – no matching sets of furniture, just a casual, comfortable gathering of seating, art and accessories that have personality.
Veranda Magazine shows a more formal space in Virginia that has a mix of furnishings. This illustrates that even a more “traditional” style can still be comfortable and elegant at the same time. Any one of these chairs could be an “important” antique, or it could just be Grandmother’s favorite chair that you remember fondly and spruced up for its next lease on life!
The last room is by Sheila Bridges in Harlem, NY and is in a wonderful old brownstone- but this room looks anything by old and stuffy! The antique original woodwork shines along with the Victorian stained glass, and adds a great contrast to the more modern furniture and decor.
Traditional furniture, such as a classic wing chair, lends itself very well to being updated and refreshed with new upholstery, and there are plenty of versions that you can purchase new. My friend and colleague, Tobi Fairley is known for her bright, bold and tailored traditional style. She is excellent at choosing fresh, bright fabrics and using them on a classic wing chair and mixing them into a home. This is surely one way to let your personality shine in your home.
It’s not every day that you see a pair of wing chairs dressed in a bright orange traditional toile or a kelly green trellis pattern, but it certainly tells you that someone interesting lives there….
So mix in some traditional and classic elements, pull out those family stories and add your chapter to the family history!