Colonial Revival Decor

Early American to 18th C. Colonial

The Colonial Revival style, prompted in part by events such as the Sesquicentennial in Philadelphia in 1926, took hold and maintained its grip on American homeowners throughout the 1950s. In one form or another since, it has continued to be a popular, durable look for home interiors with its traditional color schemes and themes.

From early Foursquares to the minimal, traditional post-WWII Cape Cod, Colonial Revival is evident almost everywhere you look. While it encompasses a multitude of sins, it also includes a multitude of types. The two basic types are Early American and a later 18th Century Colonial.

Both types typically included in main living rooms:

In the first decades of the 20th century, homemakers adhered to the following guidelines when planning Early American or Colonial style rooms.

Early American

The Early American room was a bit more informal than the 18th C. Colonial type. The walls were plaster, often painted, or with a very simple small-figured or delicately-striped Colonial style paper. Stenciling, common in early rooms, could be employed to good effect. Woodwork was often painted a light color such as ivory with correspondingly light walls and ceiling. Rooms with fireplaces often had mantels or mantel shelves painted the same light color as the other woodwork. Floors might be stained a walnut, which would have effectively grounded the space.

Depending on the room's type and use, a carpet in a neutral shade might be used as a background for colorful hooked or braided rugs. Many craft magazines of the period published patterns every month for the ever-busy American housewife.

Furnishings for the Early American Colonial style included pine ladderback chairs with rush seats and tavern tables. Combined with more contemporary overstuffed davenports and armchairs, and enhanced by "electrified lamps" a very cozy and comfortable living area could be achieved. Wing chairs were popular with either wooden arms or fully upholstered. During the 1920s, manufacturers flocked to the market with various pieces of furniture designed to satisfy this desire for tradition and stability. Such furniture as butterfly tables, Windsor chairs, and candlestands abounded. Vignette decorating strategies included a wingback armchair with a small splay-legged table for reading or enjoying the fire. Other pieces included drop-front secretaries and plate racks.

Where the furniture left off, fabrics and accessories provided the final embellishment. "The draperies may be brightly colored and gaily patterned. The Colonials used fewer draperies than we do today, but, without marring the atmosphere, we may use, with good effect, pretty chintzes in the small patterns." Suggested window treatments were often simple scrim or dotted Swiss with a white cotton ball fringe.

The simple appeal of the early Colonial look was reinforced by its affordability and ease of use. Iron-based reading lamps and converted oil lamps with painted parchment shades were recommended. Various accessories such as candlesticks, brass andirons with ball tops, books, and magazines all contributed to the overall look. As one writer put it, "...cigarette boxes, a ship picture, a hunting scene, or a group of silhouettes, would complete such a room."

18th Century Colonial

In larger Colonial Revival style homes with rooms of larger proportion and slightly higher ceilings, the demand was for more formal furnishings. The pine and chintz were replaced with mahogany, linen toiles, and a bit more polish.

The walls may have been painted, papered, or paneled again usually in a light neutral. However, wood floors, though often stained, then covered with Oriental carpets or larger patterned hooked rugs.

Furnishings for this period included those of the great cabinetmakers such as Chippendale, Sheridan, Hepplewhite, and Adam, and their American counterparts, Duncan Phyfe and Savory. There was a huge demand by homemakers for high-quality reproductions. (Now such reproductions are in demand as antiques too.) Wing and barrel chairs, a Sheridan secretary, and pie crust tables lent their grace to these rooms even as more modern furnishing like the davenport were inevitably included. The Winthrop desks with their curved fronts and ball and claw feet were common.

Chintzes were used as well as linen. Vauxhall prints and toiles were recommended. One writer in 1930 suggested "a mulberry figure on a cream ground."

Lighting included wall sconces, often with the candle-shaped light and the crystal prism drops.

Decorative accessories included old glass for vases, gold leaf mirrors, and Wedgwood.

"Modern rooms with Colonial Feeling"

Many homes built in the first quarter of the 1900s, were relatively stripped down lacking those period details of the older homes. It was recommended by some designers that to achieve a Colonial style, one should paint the walls a soft tint such as ivory, parchment, green, or apricot. A cornice was often applied to the ceiling line and painted to match the other light colored woodwork. Additional touches included adding small period details, fabric, lighting, and small Colonial style furniture including tilt-top tables, the rush seated chairs, and other small pieces as might fit into a small house or apartment.

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