The northeast corner of the Cross House parlor, January, 2015.


The corner in the spring of 2017. It took a while but I realized that the walls were too, well, cartoony.


When I began painting the parlor, my friend Patricia advised that I do the walls in a multi-layered finish using translucent paints. “This will give the walls depth, texture, and richness.”

But I blanched at how much work this would require. My goal was maximum effect for minimal effort. So, what I went ahead with was quite simple. This decision was a reflection of my age at the time, sixty, and a deep awareness of how little time I had available.

The results though…showed my lack of effort, and in slow increments I realized the truth in what Patrica had advised. The parlor is so rich and detailed and elegant, but my wall treatment was simplistic. It just didn’t mesh with the room. If I owned instead, say, a house from the 1970s, what I did would have been fine. But not, as it proved, in the 1894 Cross House.

Patricia also advised that I should do the damask pattern wall-to-wall, like…




But I was adamant about NOT going wall-to-wall. For this is a TON of work and doing inside corners with a stencil is a nightmare. And inside corners also mean every time the walls meets with the base, picture rail, or window or door trim. The thought of all this work made me nauseous.

So, my mind percolated.

Then one day i had an idea of how to transform the walls without much effort. I was breathless with excitement and raced to the house to begin this dramatic transformation!

About two hours later I stepped back to admire my brilliance.

And burst out laughing. OMG! What I did was awful! Laughably awful! I could not stop laughing!

I snapped a picture and sent it to Patricia. Then I called her.

“I just sent you a picture. Are you at your computer?”

She was, and opened the email.




“Patricia, are you there?

“Ahhhhh, yea. Ahhhhh, wow. This is, ahhhhh…interesting.”

I burst out laughing again. “Patricia! It’s awful!”

Then Patricia burst out laughing. “It is! it is! It’s soooooooo bad! But I assumed you liked it, and I didn’t know what to say!”

We both just kept laughing.

Wanna see what I sent Patricia? Scroll way down…




















And now I can hear YOU laughing, too! Over the existing stencil patterns, I painted translucent blue stripes and then added pinky circular stencils.


Just awful.

However, I did like the blue stripes.

OK, so I had to re-percolate.

One morning I woke with an image in my mind:


The Blue Room, White House, 1890s.


Look! A damask pattern that did NOT touch the inside corners!

Gadzooks! That was it!

In addition, I had come to terms with what Patricia had suggested at the very beginning: the walls needed to be rich, layered, and textured.


So Ross went to work on the walls, yet again.


First, I painted out the damask stencils. I taped a border. I painted the large field in clear poly.


I added a layer of translucent gold, using what is called a Woolie.


The next layer was translucent teal, then a layer of teal and pale teal (the ceiling color) mixed together, and a final layer of translucent pale teal. I made all the colors translucent by adding 70% clear poly. The paint then becomes, in effect, water colors.


The stencils added. Note how I shoved a full stencil right into the corner. Then I cut through a stencil (I had three) to easily do the corner.


Remember the blue stripes from the laughable version? They’re baaaaaaaaaack! The blue is also translucent, and you can still see the damask stencils under. I then stepped back…and liked what I saw. But, but, something still wasn’t right.


Ahhh! A teal border! But the chartreuse “frame” now looked…unfinished.


So I added medallions (right side). Which I hated.


After doing the northwest corner, I could see that the teal border was not working.


So I painted it out, as with the stencils on the “frame”. This image nicely shows the Before and After, and really highlights, IMO, how bad my original wall treatment was. Even though the new work still did not feel finished, I liked it a billion times better.


After more percolating, I added a new stencil to the chartreuse frame. This one worked. It took a while though to get the faded quality right. And all this looked really good to me. Although it still did not feel finished. But what more was needed? What? What? I percolated again.


Ahhhhh. The border is back, but in GOLD! And I loved this. It completed the damask field. A few days later an idea then popped into my head. What if….


…I added leaf trim atop the gold border? I remembered that I had a whole box of leaf trim sitting in a closet. This was because I had ordered, the previous spring, leaf trim for the picture rail. After it arrived, it proved too wide. The company, Decorators Supply Corporation, graciously sent me another box of the correct-sized trim.


The “wrong” trim from the previous spring proved the “right” trim for the gold border. I was amazed at how the whole new wall treatment suddenly sprang to life after the leaf trim was applied, and deep inside I experienced a deep knowing: THIS new treatment was right. I felt excitement radiate through my body.


Again, the pre-leaf trim image. While I now loved the walls, the blue leaf trim on the picture rail no longer worked.


It was subdued with gold. In person…


…the picture rail leaf trim is more evident. And with this, and after sooooooooo much ado, the work felt complete.






The four corners of the parlor are now painted but it will be a few weeks until a box of border leaf trim arrives to finish the room.

The new walls have a richness which was previously lacking.

Ross happy.



Even when parlor 1.0 was done, I knew it was not quite working. So I changed out pillows (which helped), and even ordered a new rug (which proved a disaster). But something was still not right. It took until December to recognize that the wall treatment was the issue.


A powerful motivator was the uneasy awareness that if I did not get the parlor right, I would get all the others rooms wrong. And this terrified me.

In 2017, I had “enhanced” the exterior paint job. This was a lot of work but I am THRILLED with the results. I had been very happy with the exterior, but the more I painted, the more I recognized that I had been playing it too safe. And, after looking carefully at an 1895 image of the house, I could see more variation than what I had done.

I have been decorating for four decades and have never experienced so much trouble getting things right. Normally, this is an effortless process. But I have never before worked on anything like the 1894 Cross House. Each room has a strong personality and is rich with detail: stained-glass, trim, elaborate mantels, and gorgeous doors.

What I now know, but did not know last spring, is that to make the Cross House come fully alive there can be no shortcuts; no quick & easy decorating solutions. ALL the walls in the house will need to be rich with colors and layers and texture and patterns.

Today, I feel like I have been through a steep learning curve, and am excited about doing another room. I also suspect that this learning curve ain’t over, baby.




  1. Sandra Lee on February 16, 2018 at 8:59 pm

    Transformational! The revelation you have had about tweaking wall detail into the beautiful damask “wall screens” like the White House or Buckingham palace is extraordinary! Patricia is an artistic genius & combined w your designing vision & creativity sparked the beautiful transformation—just delicious!

  2. Suzanne on February 16, 2018 at 9:40 pm

    I love the richness of version 3.0. I also have to say that blue damask photo was gorgeous. Considering the time and effort put into stencils and paint layering, will you consider wallpaper for some of the rooms? Of course, the painting elevates this room to a unique and lovely work of art. It is immensely satisfying watching your creative process!

    • Ross on February 17, 2018 at 9:36 am

      Hi, Suzanne!

      In the stairhall, I know what the original wallpaper, the original frieze paper, and the original ceiling paper looked like, as small bits of each have been discovered in the hall.

      I plan to recreate all three.

      Also, i will be papering the walls in the library, although most of the walls are covered with book shelves. So, not MUCH paper!

  3. Mike on February 16, 2018 at 11:11 pm

    I wonder sometimes if you realize just how much free education you are providing to us! Largely because of you and your house, my house will soon be pale sage with dark sage trim and dark copper accents, instead of pale gray with white trim. I also wonder what architectural historians will say 100 years from now when they take a paint sample from your parlor wall to determine what color it was…”Holy crap, who was this maniac??”

    • Ross on February 17, 2018 at 9:31 am

      Ya’ made me laugh!

    • Stewart McLean on February 17, 2018 at 8:43 pm

      I am consciously entering the realm of Nostradamus here!

      Huh? What’d he say?I don’t get it.????Is he as crazy as he seems?????

      -One hundred years from now architectural historians who put that question to their personal AIs* will be scoffed at when the response that comes back is, “if you can’t summarize, from memory, the entire blog naming the writer of the blog started in 2014, year the house was built, its architect, the family name of the people for whom it was built, and the significance of the blog in the annals of architectural history you must give up any hope of gaining any respect as an architectural historian.”

      *For those who are unfamiliar with it, an AI is a shorthand designation often used in fiction for the PCs of the future, self aware computers.

  4. Annette on February 17, 2018 at 12:03 am

    I think you’re adding such a wonderful Ross period to Cross House. I love the fact that you haven’t played it safe and made Cross House into a museum but you have honoured the lush complexity of the house. It’s beautiful, thoughtful and clever.

  5. tiffaney jewel on February 17, 2018 at 2:24 am

    I absolutely LOVE that, despite the fact that you have 9000 square feet of disaster area, you’re METICULOUSLY restoring every single thing, and reworking one single room over and over until it’s just perfect.

    You are a force of nature.

  6. Andrea on February 18, 2018 at 2:32 pm

    Ah!! To watch an artist at work. Perfect!

  7. Charlotte on February 22, 2018 at 10:05 am

    Hi Ross, first time commenter. While I’m not a huge fan of the teal/chartreuse, I can appreciate why you chose those colors and the work you’ve put into making it right. So in the spirit of constructive feedback on something you clearly enjoy…

    I don’t think the stenciling on the chartreuse border is doing you any favors. I think it gives an overall muddying effect to the chartreuse and detracts from (what I assume is to be) the focus of the walls – the stripes/damask. It does look more appealing in the close up photos, but assuming most people will not be within 3 inches of the wall at all times, I think the overall effect is lost.

    Just my 2 cents. This blog has been an incredible adventure to follow along. Keep up the good work!

    • Ross on February 22, 2018 at 10:11 am

      Hi, Charlotte!

      Very nice to meet you!

      The stenciling on the chartreuse border is subtle and, in person, really adds to the effect. This is impossible to convey in images.

      I show an image without the stencil, and the chartreuse border looked…odd. Incomplete somehow.

  8. lisa roberts on December 8, 2019 at 1:02 pm

    It is fabulous on a level never before seen. Thank you for loving color and sharing it with the world. Hang in there with the decorating critics – it means you’re doing something different and this world needs a view like yours, mostly because in the end product – I can see all the love. A room designed with love is very different from a designed room. I have no clue but maybe that’s the biggest reason this is challenging – love while wonderful, takes effort like no other.

    • Ross on December 9, 2019 at 6:53 pm

      Thank you, Lisa!

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