…and now comes the fun part: DECORATING!

THE GOOD NEWS

The living room of the Cross House is — it seems hard to believe — sorta kinda somewhat ready to decorate. Not this minute, mind you, but (crossing my fingers) in April.

Golly.

I have been so preoccupied with structural, electrical, restoration, and other non-decor issues that the idea of being able to, at last, make one room pretty seems like a dream.

One room pretty!

 

THE WORRISOME NEWS

It seems that the majority of people who buy a historic house really really really like to decorate according to the era when the house was built.

The Cross House was built in 1894, the high Victorian-era. Well, you all know what that means: a lot and lot and lot and lot of…stuff. I mean heavy curtains (dripping in trim) and carpets with bold patterns and wallpaper (walls and ceiling) with bold patterns and chairs everywhere and sofas and lots-o-side chairs and potted palms and nick-knacks galore and lions and tigers and bears, oh my.

I get dizzy just trying to take all this in.

So, does my 1894 house TRAP me into a Victorian-era decor in 2015?

If I deviate from what-most-people-do-with-old-houses I fear that I will be tar & feathered by legions of Old House Devotes. I imagine scathing comments on this blog and sneering looks at cocktail parties and invitations not sent to parties. In short, I will be a pariah.

Oh dear.

 

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A historic house with an historic decor. A great many old house lovers ADORE this aesthetic.

 

IS THERE AN ALTERNATIVE?

I cannot explain fully the WHY but I have no desire for the decor of the Cross House to recreate 1894. Why not? Well…because it is…2015. And I rather like that 121 years have ensued. And I would like the house to reflect this.

So, is there an alternative to The One And Only Way, an alternative to a Ye Olde Look?

 

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Here is a historic home with a fresh and contemporary decor. I love this. Mind you, I am NOT going to paint all the trim in the Cross House white! What I like is that this decor reflects the age we are living in. Oh, and I would KILL for the bold, over-scaled fabric on the sofas. This is exactly what I have been seeking for the curtains of the Cross House living room but cannot find. Quite vexing!

 

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Another old house with a contemporary decor. So, I am not alone!

 

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Yet another old house with a contemporary decor. So, I am REALLY not alone.

 

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Mark and Phillip have spent years restoring their 1860 home. The table top is made from old floor hoists salvaged from the house. The top is sitting on old radiators. The period-correct gas chandelier — extraordinary and stunning — has been RETURNED to gas after decades of being electrified. On the walls, the owners hired an artist to develop a look you do not normally see in a historic house, but which creates a contemporary feel to a 150-year-old structure. The owners have a blog.

 

A DANGEROUS PLAN

Make no mistake: I am highly committed to restoring the structure of the Cross House to its original appearance.

But the decor?

I feel like I have many options.

What excites me is NOT having the decor be a museum recreation of 1894 but rather something which instantly makes clear that 121-years have ensued since the house was built and that it is, oh baby, 2015. 2015! An age with cars and computers and smart devices and wireless speakers and flat-panel TV screens and all the cool stuff, and aesthetic, reflective of the age we live in T O D A Y.

But all in a house built in 1894.

 

A PROVOCATIVE QUESTION

Can 1894 and 2015 co-exist aesthetically?

I look forward, with great anticipation, to finding out.

 

NOTE

1) Again, I am NOT going to paint any of the interior trim/doors.

2) I am not going to punch can lights into the ceilings.

3) No rooms will be disfigured (soffits, bumped-out corners) to install AC.

20 Comments

  1. Marta on March 8, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    Definitely “Fresh and Contemporary”!!! A house has to be a home that you feel comfortable living in.

  2. Lynn on March 8, 2015 at 9:17 pm

    Hi Ross. I just wanted to reassure you that it’s perfectly ok to decorate your house however you want! I am an interior designer and decorator and also an old house fanatic who would absolutely love to live in an old house decorated in very high Victorian traditional décor. But that’s me and what I would feel comfortable with. It’s not you and that’s ok. Our homes should be our havens from all that the outside world entails. They’re our refuge and as such, our spaces should reflect us and should surround us with the things that make us happy, comfortable and alive. One thing you have to remember about home décor in 1894, is that while many people may have liked the style at that time, it was all about impressing other people–guests, etc. I have a feeling that if it wasn’t for that fact, a lot of home owners would have chosen much more comfortable and simplistic furnishings and décor. You are taking great care to make sure the Cross House is restored to its original state and that is remarkable. Now go LIVE in it and create the haven for you that makes YOU happy rather than others! Keep up the fantastic work! Rah, rah, rah! (That’s my cheerleading)

  3. Kitra Cooper on March 8, 2015 at 9:35 pm

    Trust your instinct. I think it’s good! Loooove the last dining room photo. Have fun, Ross!

  4. Chad's Crooked House on March 9, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    I think we have pretty similar approaches here, although I compromised (begrudgingly) with 3 recessed lights in the living room and a pipe chase in the kitchen… and then inherited enough Victorian furniture that I might be dragged into having period decor in parts of the house anyway. I can’t imagine that anyone will hold a grudge over your decor after you’ve put so much into preserving every existing detail you found in the house.

    I’m pretty sure that a single short duct mini-split air conditioner will cool most of my house and only require a drop ceiling in a closet and maybe crown molding in the bathroom. Might a few of those work for you? Running ducts through your unconditioned third floor/attic would not be advisable.

    Also, I’d love your feedback on paint colors. My parents might come down and help me paint 2/3 of the house this weekend!!!

    • Ross on March 9, 2015 at 12:40 pm

      I have almost all the new ductwork in. I did have to drop a ceiling in a hall. I can live with that! The other ducts are threaded inside the floor/ceiling joists.

      My third floor IS heated and cooled. It is a wholly finished space; just one huge incredible mind-blowing room. People gasp every time they first see it. I love watching their faces!

      Even the basement is heated/cooled.

      • Chad's Crooked House on March 9, 2015 at 2:09 pm

        ah right. you have walls that are not made of solid brick. That’s handy.

  5. DCT61 on March 10, 2015 at 7:25 am

    I think there is no higher compliment you can pay to your house, than to allow it to age and enter each decade gracefully. Its a house, NOT a museum. Better Maggie Smith than Joan Rivers. GREAT blog by the way. It absolutely makes my day when I see an update. Keep up the good work, and BLESS YOU for saving this beauty.

  6. Chad's Crooked House on March 10, 2015 at 7:50 am

    Oh, here’s another house you should see. This woman is kind of my hero.

    And the New York Times did not include a before photo, but you can see one here.

  7. Betsy on March 10, 2015 at 9:41 pm

    I agree, the house has to be lived in, not a silly museum with uncomfortable bordello style chairs. Nothing more interesting than an authentic old style house decor merged with beautiful modern comfortable furniture and decor. This house has some nice examples .

  8. Sara Beth on March 19, 2015 at 7:26 pm

    I am so thankful to read this! Victorian interiors make me hyperventilate! Traditional decor with some pops of spunk seems like you!

  9. Becky on March 22, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    Decorate how you like. We aren’t decorating to period, our house is a home that will continue to grow and change with us. I would hate for it to stagnate and be stuck where it was born.

  10. Montana Channing on February 25, 2016 at 3:54 am

    I have a laval amp and one of those quirky steamboat plywood chairs from the 50’s. Wouldn’t they fit right in.

  11. Jhofffman on September 16, 2016 at 11:37 pm

    Yes. Do a Houzz search on Victorian modern. Simple solids, square furniture, drapes or bilinds inside, rather than over moldings allows the lines of the house to take center stage. Sure, a few awesome antique pieces for balance & interest iare great but a house you can’t be comfortable in isn’t a home and there are enough museums already.

  12. David Wallis on November 27, 2016 at 11:35 am

    Being male, I don’t much care for that fussy, spindly Victorian in the first picture. I prefer more robust, timeless, men’s club decor. Things like comfortable leather sofas with round arms upholstered with rows of brass tacks; large wing-back chairs rather than those dainty little uncomfortable chairs. Substantial wooden tables that won’t collapse if you prop your feet up on them. A palm tree, Ficus Benjamina, or Boston Fern in a corner or a window is fine, but not a lot of clutter. Take a look:

    Here.

    Here.

    Here.

    You probably want to make things lighter and brighter than these examples but please don’t go all white.

  13. Amanda on January 7, 2017 at 1:50 pm

    To me the best decorating treatment would be to have something more contemporary that reflects our time period, but also has an antique or two that I find simply gorgeous. As it is your house (still jealous of the work you get to do..lol), follow your heart.

    • Ross on January 7, 2017 at 2:02 pm

      Thank you.

      In the parlor for example will be a modern sofa (a sweeping CURVED sofa!) with a very high tufted back; two modern style chairs (also with high backs to fit the scale of the room), and a MCM Tulip Table in the center.

      But then I will also be adding two 1890s chairs, the kind with wheels on their legs. So, just a bit of antique.

      In the round receiving room there will be a matching sweeping sofa, with two more 1890s wheeled chairs. A bit more antique.

  14. Dorothee on March 12, 2018 at 10:52 pm

    Three words: Interior Decorator consultation

    I cannot imagine a sectional sofa & lazyboy recliner next to ornate carved woodwork and stained glass. But perhaps certain fabrics can bridge eras, certain color combinations. This doesn’t always leap to mind in the form of what we think we ‘like’, but as you have learned, being authentic to a good degree may just please you very much! You don’t need period antiques & lace, it will be SCALE that will be the biggest problem. Bigger pieces for bigger rooms/walls, etc. Small pieces for nooks & crannies. Stick with colors that occur naturally in nature and you should be fine. I think you are smart to avoid white ANYTHING.

    • Ross on March 12, 2018 at 11:00 pm

      A sectional sofa & lazyboy recliner?????????

  15. Owen on March 22, 2020 at 9:59 pm

    If I owned a house like this, I would feel compelled to make the “obligatory” modern updates such as insulation, central air/AC, etc simply because I know they are expected by the modern buyer, and I know that many people wouldn’t do them right. Make the kitchen so good that nobody will come in and try to “open it up” by punching out walls and removing trim. I’d get storm windows because I know that if I didn’t, a future owner might replace the original sashes with modern double paned ones. I think you should feel no qualms about decorating with contemporary furniture either. I did this in my own home, and personally love the contrast it creates.

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