Photo by Salt Water New England

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Fundamental Elements of New England’s Variation on the English Country House Style?

 

A reader question for the community

Is there a quintessential New England decorating style? If so, what are its fundamental elements and recognized variations? I'm inclined to think that the English Country House Style, as embodied in the work of John Fowler, Sibyl Colefax, Nancy Lancaster, and others is the closest approximation to a classic New England interior decorating style.

 

19 comments:

  1. In the name of providing an honest answer, I'd say that it's hard to pin a singular style down. I've been in houses across the CT coast, Nantucket, and much of Cape Cod. I can't pin a singular style down, but I think there are a few things they have in common:

    1. Comfort over everything. I've spent many a satisfactory night's sleep on my friends' parents' couches. Rugs should be comfortable to rest your bare feet/socked feet on. Everything in the room should promote a feeling of relaxation.

    2. Decorations are personally significant. Almost all of the decorations in my parents' house were gifts or souvenirs. This alone lends a comfortable feeling to any living space -- it's like being surrounded by the beloved memories of dear friends.

    3. General avoidance of 'risk'. Don't push the boundaries. Don't try to make a statement through your furniture choices. Choose items that are comfortable and sensible. I suppose this is a common theme around here, but I think it holds equally true in the context of furnishing a home.

    The best advice I can offer is this: choose your furniture and decorations for yourself. Guests that like *you* will equally enjoy your decisions. Guests that have a problem with it will likely return anyway, because their opinions about the furnishings you've chosen likely don't matter in their choice to be your friend(s).

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  2. English country style + proper central heating.

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  3. The classic New England decorating style is "not decorated."

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  4. Although my context is Virginia, a significant element of style is a painting or two, but chiefly ones of distinguished, if not well known, ancestors. Sometimes photos of the paintings may have to do because the originals were given to a museum a generation ago. We have one of those. Presumably this is true further north. Another particularly distinctive decorating element are the things picked up overseas when serving in the diplomatic corps. One close friend was stationed somewhere in South America and returned with about two dozen bullfighting prints that covered the walls in their living room. His father, incidentally, was also in South America as a US Army observer to the Chaco War in the 1930s.

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  5. classical elegance, and practical. But above all: unpretentious.

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  6. I think of wood floors, a hodgepodge of old Persian rugs, walls in low key colors like off white, pale grey, or pale green, art that is interesting and means something to the residents, and furniture that is comfortable and probably does not reflect just one single style or era. I can envision a Queen Anne mahogany tilt top coexisting with reupholstered chintz chairs from the 1960s and a waxed pine coffee table. The overall effect is neither spare nor crowded, just welcoming and comforting. It reflects that it has served a household well but also that it has been cared for and assembled with an eye for good composition. The spot where the puppy gnawed the leg on the chair is still evident, but it has been sanded, stained, and waxed.

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    1. My favorite sentence..."the spot where the puppy gnawed the leg on the chair...." That says it all!

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  7. English country all the way!

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  8. I think you need to consider the regional aspect. New England is known for significant snow fall in the winter, so most typical New England homes should have fairly steep
    pitched roofs.

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  9. Definitely similar to English country house style, but perhaps sparer and less cluttered. Nothing trendy or flash. Every piece of furniture and every accessory has a story. Above all, it clearly reflects the personalities of the residents.

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  10. Not New England but. . . In Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia, my late maternal grandmother gradually collected various colonial pieces (the real thing) for her restored fieldstone farmhouse in Berks County. Large braided rugs and wood-birning fireplaces (the large one in the dining room was walk-in and still had its original crane from which to hang cooking pots) completed the picture. In hindsight, it was pretty amazing to grow up around stuff like that. My sister and I have inherited some of the furniture that is left. Hopefully that will make its wake from North Carolina to our homes in Michigan and D.C. next spring.

    Kind Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich

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  11. Again, I come from a different context yet share a similar ethos. Raised in a Midwest home without trends filled with comfortable and meaningful things that told a story. I continued this traditional approach when I married, moved, and started my own home. Especially meaningful heirlooms include a cedar chest, mahogany secretary, wine press, china and other mementos both decorative and useful. I would rather have these timeless pieces than to constantly feel the need to “decorate”. They all have a warm, worn, and welcoming aura about them. Some might say “early attic” but I say it creates an interesting and inviting home.

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  12. Addendum: of course, plenty of books, National Geographic magazines, almanacs and newspapers. Another cherished heirloom is my US made Baldwin piano.

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  13. The only decorating we have ever done is to the Christmas Tree and even that would make a conventional designer cringe. The tree is covered in ornaments that we made as children, passed down from family members, and gifts from friends. The only theme is that there are lights and ornaments. As for the house, it's true that it's undecorated, if you will. Why would I paint the walls the color of the year and then in a few years have it be dated? Our house is filled with a mix of hand-me-downs and cast-offs. Lots of dark wood because we fully embraced my mother's and grandmother's furniture. We do also have the hodgepodge rugs scattered about. I've had many a hand-me-down lamp rewired over the years. It's not a style that a designer can pull off as a planned look. It's unplanned, accumulated, rescued, polished, cleaned, and loved.

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  14. Comfortable with a feeling of timelessness. Overstuffed chairs, my husband’s family had a wonderful chintz chair called the elephant chair which was large, shapeless and perfect place for reading to grandchildren or sharing with a dosing Jack Russell. Paintings and photos with meaning, wether a fine painting, local artist or a child’s colorful masterpiece!:). Books, wooden floors, battered orientals, down sofas, rocking chairs with worn arms from the arms of those who enjoyed it before us, plaid dog beds , warm lightening ,perfectly imperfect. I love Mary Randolph Carter’s quote “A perfectly kept house is a sign of a misspent life.” Make it your own and enjoy.

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  15. Downton Abbey quote: "Your people buy furniture, mine inherit it." If you don't inherit, buy someone else's old brown furniture (OBF). This is totally out of style now. Could be a good time to buy.

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    1. It will also last forever and is cheaper in vintage stores and antique shops than the stuff thrown together overseas.

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  16. As someone noted above, items that are accumulated--however--are infinitely more interesting than hiring someone to create an image, or, God forbid, a style. There's no urgency. Comfort is joyous!

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  17. Practicality--everything is either useful, sparks joy, or isn't plastic. Artwork and tools of similar themes are kept together. Every object has its home, and returns there at the end of the day.
    Love,
    OCD ;)

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