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Home Interior Advice and FAQs

Interior Decorating

Q: Was stenciling on walls, floors, beams and furniture a common practice in homes during the Arts and Crafts period?

A: Most definitely! Although I have found no references regarding floor or beam stenciling, there were many articles and "How-Tos" directly relating to decorating your Craftsman home or bungalow by hand, whether it be through the use of stencils on walls or furniture, hand-embroidered table cloths, curtains and pillows, or handmade metal accessories.

There are several considerations, however. Keep in mind that the whole philosophy revolved around the themes of nature, simplicity and handicraft. Stencils were the A&C response to the heavy, ornate, mass-produced wallpapers found in Victorian homes. Stencils should be beautiful in their simplicity and its colors should be based on tones and hues found in nature -- not necessarily muted, but they should be soothing to look at and not call attention to themselves. And, just as home decor was meant to be uncomplicated and uncluttered, do not go crazy with your stenciling. A simple repeated pattern using a palette of no more than 4 or 5 colors should suffice. And it is my own recommendation not to stencil everything in sight. Stenciling your walls and beams and furniture and floors will be assaulting to the eye, which is exactly the opposite of what hand-stenciling was supposed to achieve. Pick two at most: one near the ceiling and one nearer the floor (walls/floor, beams/floor, walls/furniture, beams/furniture).

Ideas: iris, roses, waterlilies, ginko leaves, oak leaves and acorns, geometrics using one or two colors. Sources: children's books from 1900-1930, original designs by Rennie Macintosh, early geometric designs by Frank Lloyd Wright, various design elements from period accessories (Harvey Ellis, Rookwood pottery, Grueby tile). For more information, check out these books: Craftsman Homes by Gustav Stickley, (1915). Also, The Beautiful Necessity: Decorating with Arts & Crafts by Bruce Smith and Yoshiko Yamamoto, (1996).

As for painting your beams, I have seen it done at the Fechin Inn in Taos, NM. However, I see this as being a Southwestern style and not an Arts and Crafts style. (I do recommend a trip to the Fechin estate -- the Russian artist's 1929 Mission home is worth seeing).

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Interior Color

Q: What colors were popular in the Arts and Crafts era?

A: The Arts and Crafts color scheme contained harmonious tones that reflect the subtlety of nature. Stay away from bright primary colors and pastels. Dusty hues are fine, as are muted colors. My own preference is to use vegetables and stone as my color sources: mustard, zucchini, squash, eggplant, as well as limestone, sandstone, feldspar and the various blue-grays and browns of river rock. Go on a little nature hunt and collect things with colors you like, choose your palette and take them to the paint store and ask them to make paint of the same color (they create colors from fabric swatches and such, so why not rocks and plants??)

The excitement of adding color to your home may not allow for an extended search for your own personal color palette. With that in mind, Pittsburgh Paints has earthy colors including a summer squash and Mission beige. And I've heard that Sherwin-Williams has a palette of Arts & Crafts colors, created in conjunction with Roycroft Associates in 1991, and based on the hues used by Roycroft and others during the early 1900's. By the way, did you know that Hunter green (one of today's standard colors) was originally created by Dard Hunter, an important Arts and Crafts designer?

It is impossible to capture paint colors on-screen so they will appear accurate on all monitors, but here is a sample of Sherwin-Williams paint based on original A&C hues developed by Roycroft Associates. These colors were offered as of 1998.

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Updating an Old House with Paint and Stain

Q: I would like to do as much as I can to use the Arts and Crafts idea in my new old house. Presently it is wood shingle, granite and stucco, but it has all been painted white! There are pocket doors in the main rooms. However, all are painted a dull light green. EVERYTHING is painted this dull green except for the boxed beams, which are cherry color. Can you give me any expert advice about rennovation of this house?

A: First, let's focus on the exterior. The range of colors you can use is tremendous. With stucco and shingle, plus trim, you can incorporate three colors into the exterior very nicely. My personal taste would be to choose a light color for the stucco -- taupe, coffee au lait, or a light reddish tan -- and a meduim tone for the shingles -- such as rust or dusty blue -- the trim could be white or a darker variation of the stucco or shingles.

As for the inside, First thing I'd do is strip the pocket doors (they are on rollers so you can take them out and strip them flat, which should make it very easy using Strip-Ez and a heat gun ($20 at your hardware chain). Strip the doors and frames and other painted woodwork in the downstairs. If you sand the floors before you stain the woodwork, you will reduce the need to remove the dust twice from the woodwork. Sanding the the floors should make them like new, so don't worry if they look less than perfect to start with. You should be able to find a floor sander at a hardware rental shop. Stain and finish the floors with several coats of polyurethane. Finally, stain the pocket doors and other woodwork a cherry color to match the beams.

Just by refinishing the wood, you will make your home cosy, beautiful and authentic. It's the first thing people notice and comment on. Upstairs, woodwork was usually of a lesser quality and was most often painted. So it's fine to paint it rather than strip it. Use the colors shown in the "advice" section of Craftsman Perspective for some ideas on interior color choices.

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Kitchen Remodeling

Q: I want to remodel my kitchen. How can I recreate a period kitchen? Are there companies that offer Craftsman-style cabinets and where do I start?

A: Remodeling your kitchen may be the most challenging part of renovating your Arts & Craft home. For one, there is no obvious style as there is with the living room and dining room. True period kitchens were, to be honest, ugly and utilitarian. Typical kitchens were extremely small and the focus was on cleanliness and efficiency. Little thought was given to style. White walls, tile, sinks and appliances showed dirt and crumbs easily so they could be cleaned up before they attracted germs and vermin. (This is one reason why freestanding sinks were used up until the 1930's).

Few people would enjoy living with a period kitchen of this sort. Luckily, there are several manufacturers who offer kitchens with a Craftsman appearance similar to Arts & Craft furniture. There are also companies who offer modern appliances with an old-fashioned appearance. Below are a few books, magazines and manufacturers to help you get some remodeling ideas.

  • "The Kitchen Plan Book" reprint of a 1917 book, includes 50 model kitchen plans submitted in a competition of 343 leading architects of the time. This book shows exactly how Arts and Crafts kitchens would have been -- it's up to you to interpret the designs for modern living. ($29.95) Fax your credit card number to American Bungalow magazine at 626-355-1200. (advertised in Issue 16 Jan/Feb 98, page 60) You can call them for info at 888-286-4256.
  • "Period Kitchens" by Judith Miller ($24.95) shows everything you need to create a period kitchen (including Craftsman style) including mixing old and new, surfaces, layouts, storage, paint, built-ins. Call the "Old-House Bookshop" (part of Old-House Journal" magazine) at 800-931-2931 to order or info.
  • The Antique Hardware Store offers "the look of period pieces and the quality of modern construction" for kitchen appliances and accessories. So if you want modern appliances with that old-fashioned look, this is your source. 1-800-422-9982 for free catalog.
  • Elmira Stove Works offers modern stoves with period styling Website: http://www.elmirastoveworks.com
  • Crownpoint Cabinetry features Mission style. Website: http://www.crown-point.com
  • Old-House Journal (October 1997 issue featured recreating Craftsman kitchens. 800-234-3797 for back issues and to subscribe. This is a must issue for kitchen remodelers! Tons of good advertisers.
  • Finally, I recommend picking up a few other magazines that cover A&C and A&C kitchens regularly:

    Old-House Interiors (Winter 1996 issue had a feature on A&C) 800-462-0211 to order back issue and subscribe

    Old-House Interiors (Fall 1997 issue includes a big feature on A&C Kitchens) same phone as above for back issues and subscriptions

    I pick up these magazines at my local Barnes & Noble or Borders bookstore. You may be able to find them at a large bookstore in your area. I recommend them for all around enjoyment.

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Affordable Arts and Crafts Styling

Q: How can I create the Arts and Crafts look affordably?

A: Some years ago, when I was completely enthralled with the style, having just discovered a passion for it myself, I would have gone on and on about how the investment you make in purchasing authentic, high-end Mission furniture would reward you with heirloom quality that would last a lifetime and therefore worth every penny. That rings true to a great extent, but I think that advice was hard to swallow for many people on a budget.

Here are some general suggestions to consider. (you may need to do some online browsing in the stores listed are no in your area)

The A&C look needn't be old, nor does it necessarily clash with contenporary furniture. The idea to follow is simply that the furniture should have clean, straight lines, and the focus should be on natural materials and colors. If you can't find the color naturally in your neck of the woods then it isn't right. Turquoise is good in Florida and New Mexico, but would be out of place in New England. The best colors tend to be earth tones would be the more common browns, greens, maize and tans (the color of corn, wheat, oats, livestock and the landscape) with some natural reds and light blues thrown in for accent. This goes for paint AND upholstery.

  • Buy one highlight Mission furniture piece and build your collection around it. Just one important piece, such as a sofa, easy chair, or dining table, can convey the theme over and entire room.
  • Affordable accessories will enhance the look without adding a huge cost. In addition to furniture, adding period lighting will tie the decor in with the house style. If there is a Target store in your area, look for Mission lamps in both Tiffany and mica styles for $50-$100. Buy two and you'll instantly add a cosy feeling (they have a website). Lowes and Home Depot (whichever are in your area) sell nice, affordable Mission/Craftsman lighting too, though you may have to browse their lighting catelog and special order it. Lighting makes an enormous difference in how you and other will perceive your house.
  • A collection of ANYTHING adds interest and buying affordable pottery from the teens-30's will still give you the charm you're looking for. And finding pieces is fun. I recommend considering buying on ebay (www.ebay.com). You can start a McCoy pottery collection. One of America's original Art pottery companies, McCoy is still very affordable but prices are beginning to creep up as interest gains. You can still find many items (vases, planters, etc) in the $20-$50 range. And only a purist would know that affordable McCoy dates from the 1930-40's. Along with McCoy, consider Hull and Weller pottery. And, if you can find it, Van Briggle (a Colo Springs pottery). Forget Roseville as the popularity is so high and prices over-inflated that you'll quickly spend all your money.