The Cross House

Decorating. INSANITY!

I have been a bit quiet of late, blog-wise.

In January I sold a ton of lighting (I restore vintage lighting for a living) and have been frantically getting all these fixtures restored and packed and shipped. Whew!

Yesterday, I had a VERY important meeting and am breathless about the results. Please stand by,

Because I have — at last! — figured out how to have 32-hour days, I have also been spending hours upon hours pondering decorating choices for the Cross House.

Whoee!!!!!!!!

REVEALING NOTE: For months now I had no intention of doing this post. I feared that, by presenting half-formed ideas, I would get taken to task. “I hate that idea!” “WHAT are you thinking?” “That is SO ugly!” Then it occurred to me that readers might enjoy a window into my…thinking process. So, by going ahead with this post it is official: I am a fool. Or a masochist!

It seems that there are but two, entrenched, approaches to a historic house:

  • Restore the house to its original appearance. Then do a period-correct decor.
  • “Update” the house. You know, knock down walls for an open plan, punch 2,854,742 can lights into the ceiling, paint all the wood doors and trim white, and install hipster furnishings.

Neither of these approaches appeals to me. Rather, I yearn for — escandaloso! — a brave new approach. A brave new Option #3:

  • Restore the house to its original appearance. Do whatever the hell you want with the decor.

There are two rooms in the house I am focused on: Parlor and Library.

 

PARLOR:

It feels as if I have pondered 5,694 options for the parlor. Actually, upon reflection, I have pondered 5,694 options!

There are remnants of the original 1894 wallpaper. THIS IS AMAZING. There is no evidence though of the 1894 frieze and ceiling paper. Sigh.

With Bo’s help, it seems that I can get the original wallpaper recreated. At great cost. GREAT cost. And, being the wild & crazy guy I am, I will likely do this. One day. One day like, you know, after all the sensible things are done like having a finished kitchen and at least one (likely two) finished bathrooms and a finished bedroom and a finished office and MOST IMPORTANTLY a finished telephone closet!

Thus, while patiently awaiting the perfect wallpaper, the ideal wallpaper, the most wondrous wallpaper, I would like to get the parlor lookin’ good but at minimum expense/effort.

Thus, the above thoughts inform the following.

 

The parlor. I will be installing picture railing about 20-inches below the ceiling. This will recreate a lost feature. While I have pondered countless decorating options for over a year I have come full circle to pretty much what I decided upon a year ago:

 

The walls will be chartreuse. Above the picture rail and the ceiling will be white.

 

On the walls I will stencil this pattern. There will also be a frieze stencil of some kind, and some kind of asymmetrical ceiling stencils.

 

What I REALLY like about the wall stencil is the fact that I can do an asymmetrical pattern. This will be a ton easier, will prevent the pattern from awkwardly bashing into the mantel or trim (because I can place the pattern wherever it looks best), and I can even skip the skinny walls between the window trim of the bay. The stencil colors will be white (subtly applied), silver (subtle again), and copper (subtle).

 

The same stencil done symmetrically. It looks totally different. And I really dislike this.

 

Another thing I like about the stencil is its scale. The rooms in the Cross House are HUGE and 95% of what I look at proves too small for the house.

 

The drapes were purchased a year ago when they were 80% on sale. 100% silk! Thanks, Matt, for the tip! The color looks incredible with the stained-glass.

 

The sofa. It is perfectly scaled for the room, and I love how it mimics the sweep of the bay window.

 

I have spent three years looking for this table. It is an iconic 1950s design by Eero Saarinen, for Knoll, and is known as the Tulip Table. With a white marble top, a 42-inch-wide table is $3500. EEK! So, this is why I have been searching for three years for one within driving distance for like $1200! Anyway, the table will sit in the center of the room, under the gas/electric 1890s chandelier, and the gorgeous curved sofa will sweep around the Tulip.

 

The pair of recently purchased little chairs on little wheels will nestle close to the Tulip. They need to be reupholstered.

 

I was planning to buy this 8×11 wool rug from Pier One. Just $520!

 

This was a stencil I was considering but decided against. It will be WAY too much work, and the overall pattern will be hard to “fit” in many areas. I loved the bold scale though.

 

I fell madly passionately in love this this wildly unexpected choice. I even ordered a sample! But it is just not right for the parlor. To console my broken heart I decided to use it in the Long Bedroom! It will look fabulous with the 1950s Hollywood-Regency aesthetic planned for the room.

 

I also considered this paper, the conventional choice. I even ordered samples! But the scale was way too small for the huge parlor. This wallpaper though had a…

 

…matching frieze AND…

 

…matching ceiling paper!!!!!!!! But, the scale made the set a no go.

 

 

LIBRARY

The library is almost entirely wall-to-wall shelves. The only visible walls are above the mantle/overmantel, and tall skinny spaces between the three windows and to each side. Really, just hardly any wall space, and the skinny verticals will get covered by curtains.

The walls and ceiling are now Tiffany blue. The shelves are white. I wanted to assure that there was no mistake that anybody would assume they were original, and wanted them to appear clearly contemporary.

The missing picture rail will be reinstalled, but only above the mantel and between the windows as the shelves otherwise preclude this.

 

The drapes. The blue complements the wall color, the white complements the shelving, and the chartreuse complements the parlor. 

 

I was thinking about doing this anthemion stencil on the little bit of visible wall. Anthemion’s are featured throughout the house in the hardware and stained-glass.

 

And this might be the stenciled frieze. This would actually go around the whole room, above the upper-most shelf. There would also be some kind of stenciling on the ceiling.

 

Because I am insane, I am also strongly leaning to this instead, and even ordered a sample. While the anthemion patterns are lovely, they are also the conventional choice. And I have always been a more contrary kind of person (my Scottish heritage, I suspect). This wild 1970s pattern is from the well-known Bradbury & Bradbury! I know! Who would have thunk? The paper works really well with the drapery, picks up the colors of the room, and complements the five 1970s Hollywood-Regency pendants which will hang over the island shelving.

 

Well, there you have it.

Nothing is carved in stone yet.

The stencil for the parlor arrives next week, and my brilliant artist friend Patricia will be advising me. I will paint one corner, and then do the stencil. If I like the results, only then will I make a definitive decision. And then I will have to find a frieze and ceiling stencils.

A sample of the crazy 1970s paper for the library is already taped to the wall, and am 50/50 between it and the anthemion designs. I prefer the former but the latter has a matching frieze and it will be easy to find ceiling stencils. I have had zero success so far in coming up with frieze/ceiling stencils to complement the 1970s paper.

I have a long career in interior design and have learned that design really is an art form rather than science. So, too, I have learned that doing the unexpected can result in rooms which feel alive. In my experience, making safe choices normally results in rooms which, while pretty, feel lifeless. So, my Scottish heritage seems a good complement to the art of interior design!

Oh, and my next post will be astounding…

 

57 Responses to Decorating. INSANITY!

  1. Overstock has Saarinen knock-off tables. They are marble and metal, just like the real ones. I have two Saarinen tables. They are cold in the winter. Overstock has free shipping and I’ve had really good customer service from them.

    I like the giant gold ferns better!

  2. Lovely! Like the asymmetric large Stencil for parlor! I can’t see the burgundy couch with the teal curtains though lol. That’s your perogotive though!!

    Love the last wallpaper! Since you have new shelves in there why go authentic style with the walls? (This comes from a girl who went with period-correct approach!)

    • Hi Mary!

      The drapes are what I call ice blue. I do not see them as teal. But they may look as such on your computer screen!

      The wine-colored sofa is going to have blue pillows. I loath the brown ones now in place, but they came with the sofa!

  3. Like Mary, I’m having trouble picturing how the couch color fits. But no one in their right mind would ask me to decorate — so I’m looking forward to seeing the finished room. It will likely prove me wrong. I love your other choices (the ones you’ve made. I can’t help you with your choices, because no one in their right mind would ask me for decorating opinions).

    • The sofa color is not ideal but I am unconcerned. Long ago I learned the value of the “discordant element”. This is when something isn’t quite right. Oddly though, it will make a room come alive.

  4. I prefer your option number three way of thinking about the decor.

    Keep the house original but design it how you love it.

    I am of the opinion that there are two ways to decorate a house. One is to decorate or update for a resale value, going as neutral as possible (boring). The second way is to decorate it the way you want to live in it never mind what everybody else thinks. If this is to be your home, your house… Then you need to love it and it really doesn’t matter what we think. If you are fixing it up for the purpose of it being a museum then you need to keep it.. If you’re fixing it up with the idea of resale then you do need to consider your choices of how others would think about it.

    You are in a difficult position my dear But ultimately this is your house. Your decision is right because it is yours.

  5. OK, Ross have you given any thought to William Morris wallpapers imported from England? There are no friezes, however, you can use a lincrusta frieze above the chair rail. Bradbury and Bradbury’s Victorian patterns are amazing. Amazing is not cheap. But there is no doubt when you look at them that they are not discount wallpaper. They look expensive. I know you must have seen Bradbury’s catalog. What did you think of their patterns? Obviously, I love them.

    • Hi Michael,

      I have admired the papers produced by Bradbury & Bradbury for thirty years.

      Their William Morris papers are gorgeous but pre-date, I think, the 1894 date of the Cross House. So, I never gave them any consideration. The almost $300 a roll price also scares me!

      I have POURED over all the B&B patterns but few things really worked for the Cross House. Even when I liked some patterns the colors were not what I am looking for. As I have grown older I have developed an intense desire to be surrounded by really STRONG colors, like the chartreuse I plan to use in the parlor, and the Tiffany blue now in the library.

      It is ironic that the one pattern I may choose from B&B is a new one from the pop-art era!

  6. William Morris papers were still in production and new patterns were still being introduced at the time the Cross house was built. I have Bradbury’s Aesthetic Movement in the Terra Cotta colorway in my front parlor. It is intense. It was also installed in a smaller room. I wondered if it would work, but it did and made the room really intimate. I am not rich, it was not cheap, but it feels wonderful to be in that room. My house did have ghosts, and I am certain the spirits are well pleased with that room. The Victorian aesthetic really pleases my soul.

    • I agree that Morris papers were still being created in 1894. Indeed, to well after.

      To clarify my comments above, it has always been my sense though that the Morris look was a bit passé by 1894. I might well be wrong. Bo?

      If the Cross House were built ten years earlier I would have no hesitation about using Morris papers or Aesthetic Movement papers.

      The Cross House was extremely stylish when built. It was on the forefront of the new Queen Anne Free Classic style. The interior was also fully outfitted with the very latest conveniences and technologies. Thus, I suspect that the decor would have also reflected whatever was seen as fresh in 1894.

      • In 1894 William Morris, still active, was personally known by the general public foremost as a poet, but his company’s products were very much in circulation and very much in demand. In the 1890’s Morris and Co. was consistently producing new designs for wallpaper with the immense talent of John Henry Dearle. It is impossible to overstate the significance of Morris’s impact on American designers from Henry Richardson’s personal visit to meet the great man himself in 1882 to Gustav Stickley’s dedication to Morris in the first issue of The Craftsman, seven years after your house was built. As Frank Lloyd Wright said “All artists love and honor William Morris.”

  7. The Cross House has such good strong bones and teeth… the wood, windows, floor plan and walls. With all you have done to restore her I think your wanting and willingness to have FUN with the decor is only fitting. I say, “GO FOR IT!” Its only paint and upholstery, fabric and fixtures… they can allays be changed as your mood (and pocket book) allow.

  8. I like your approach: keep the “hard” parts original (the layout, beautiful millwork, windows, etc), and give yourself more freedom with the “soft” decor. Decor was changed frequently in the era your house was built anyway (as you’ve discovered with layers of wallpaper averaging 5 year intervals), and that’s temporary anyway. Painting over millwork, installing can lights everywhere and other aberrations like that are far more permanent and destructive. Paint and wallpaper, drapes, and furniture are like changing clothes; easy and done regularly.

    • Right! Ross’ Time Traveler esthetic will be a lively complement to the somewhat self-consciously dignified High Victorian architectural woodwork.

  9. I think some of those are from the stencil library site, correct? Their assortment is astounding, have you gone through the vintage and modern categories?

    I could see this applied horizontally (with no vertical repeat) as the frieze.

    And one of these.

    Or this on the ceiling.

    With the flower power paper as the fill it would be pretty damn wild! I’m sure Bradbury and Bradbury could offer up some ideas as well.

    • Hi Meg!

      Yes, the anthemion stencils are from the Stencil Library.

      I love some of your ideas! Whoee! The 1970s Bradbury paper is lookin’ better all the time!

  10. I hesitated to comment, the others said it so well, so I’ll just agree that you should just follow your own instinct, it hasn’t failed you yet on this house. There are so many things to do, it isn’t as though you only have one or two projects that must be decided at once. You are smart to do one area, and then see how it looks before doing the entire room.

  11. I’m loving your color choices, Ross. They’ll bring out the blues and greenish-gold of the stained-glass windows perfectly. The eclectic furniture and wall treatments will suit the house well, too. Best of all, I know you will love your surroundings. I will love seeing it pulled together.

  12. The parlor I can “see” and I think the sofa color will be great with everything else. I think I’m seeing a little bit of deep red in the stained glass in the picture which should more than justify the sofa. However, I dearly looooovvvveee the black & white for the Long Bedroom and really can’t wait to see that finished project! Actually I can’t wait to see any of this, so get busy and bring it on!

  13. My dear Ross,
    I don’t quite think you realize just how impossibly, incredibly jealous of you I am. I’m going to school to do EXACTLY what you’re doing right now with that fabulous pile of yours. I CANNOT WAIT to be in your shoes. You’re living my dream! You’re the person I always envisioned myself to be. I love your quirky style!

  14. I hope you don’t remove walls and make an open floor plan. You have a beautiful house as it is. Furniture, paint, wallpaper; all can be changed. Internal walls are much more difficult. Use whatever furniture/decor that makes you happy. Your taste is different than mine, but it’s your house. 🙂

    • 🙂 Sharon, you’ll be happy to hear that an open floor plan is NOT in the future for the Cross House. The home will return to the way it looked in 1894 except for the addition of a door or two. This will allow access to the kitchen without traipsing through the dining room and butler’s pantry every time. The kitchen was the domain of servants and access was virtually cut off from the main part of the house.

  15. I like it all! But esp the library. The flowers and stripes with all those shelves and books will look amazing. Meg, would the fading circles but constantly regenerating and fading around the room? Is that what you mean?

    • You can also have someone with a die cut machine, scan in the existing stencil, re-size to the scale you want, then cut from the stencil plastic. A fairly simple process if you are familiar with the software. PS I am sooo addicted to this house and to the way you write this blog. It’s always a delight to come catch up with you and the Cross House.

  16. What is panache?

    A stylish, original, and very confident way of doing things that makes people admire you (e.g., Ross & the Cross house.)

  17. It’s gonna be a lot of fun to see this come together. And as for those ruinously expensive wallpapers, I think technological advancements could drive down the price of custom printed papers in the future, so definitely wait it out.

    • Chad, the Morris papers imported from England are over $200 /roll. Scary expensive. I think they are pricey in England and one or two companies have distribution rights in North America and double or triple the price for us. Bradbury and Bradbury’s papers are not cheap, but they are a fraction of the cost. For Morris papers they are $67/roll all they way up to $249/roll for the Morris specialty line. The Morris specialty line has I think 18 stenciled colors and is a adaptation of a pattern made for Victoria and Albert of England. The majority of the patterns are between $67 and $97 a roll. I know it is expensive but it looks so much better than anything else made by their competitors.

      • But when it comes to replicating an original paper that he found during demolition, the cost of that kind of custom work is likely to go down with automation and he wouldn’t have to pay royalties to anyone. So I endorse having fun with something current and seeing if custom wallpaper is cost effective in 20 years.

    • The cost to hand screen the 1894 wallpaper discovered in the stair hall is $600 a fool for the first ten tools, then $300 a roll thereafter. Ouch.

      The cost to computer print is half. But the effect, as I understand it, will not be as rich.

      • Perhaps a framed copy of the original would suffice, then, placed appropriately and thoughtfully, infront of a coordinating today’s paper or painted wall. Nobody is going to judge you or the house for not taking an exact step back in time. You’re showing respect to the original. I think the house appreciates that.

        • I do have a framed copy of a pristine sample Bo found of the stair hall paper!

          Because I know exactly what the stairhall wallpaper was, and frieze, AND ceiling paper, I do plan on recreating all three.

  18. Also, although I’m still not over how my floors looked with sander gouges, dirt, joint compound gloops, bits of wall-to-wall carpeting, staples, and coins highlighted with a high-gloss finish, I’m liking the glossy floors in your house

  19. I dig the eclectic vibe you are going for. Question – does that room have a lot of light? Or would you say you are brightening with color, texture, and pattern? LOVE the asymmetrical stencil. I am so glad you got a hold of that place and not someone else!

    • All the rooms in the house are bright to very bright.

      The parlor light is bright (BIG windows), but receives little direct sun because of the wrap-around porch. The late sun though shines right in.

  20. Ross,the colour choices are fantastic and will complement the stained glass perfectly. I’m looking forward to seeing how these rooms look in the ‘big reveal’ and know you’ll knock our socks off!
    Happy painting!

  21. Ross you are faithful to the esthetic of the house with all the flourishes and design excellence. Decor is emotional and sensory and comfort are key! I think easily changeable decor are in order and change when tired of it! While the nurse and bolts of the bones of the house are intact. You will be much happier and it also is a way to be outside the box & let off steam and stresses. Almost meditative especially after the drapery drama. Please please pix when completed:-)

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