The Cross House

Intention & Desire

When the Cross House was finished in 1894 it was common for rooms to have:

  • A pattern on the floor (either elaborate wood designs, wall-to-wall carpeting, or area rugs),
  • Patterned wallpaper.
  • A frieze paper with a pattern
  • A ceiling paper with a pattern

In addition, curtains and sofas and chairs and pillows would also have patterns.

In short, pattern mania.


Pattern mania.


Pattern mania.


Pattern mania. There are four room visible; each has a different wallpaper.


This room, by comparison, is rather subdued. But it is nonetheless visually intense. There is a LOT going on.


A recent, period-correct interior. (Courtesy Bradbury & Bradbury)


A recent, period-correct interior. (Courtesy Bradbury & Bradbury)


All the above images show how a Victorian-era house was, and can be still, decorated.

And I have no desire to recreate such an look.

Another approach, quite common, is to create a modern look in a Victorian-era house by painting everything white/taupe, knocking down walls to create the seemingly VITAL open plan seemingly VITAL for modern living, and punching 4,876 can lights into all the ceilings.

And I have no desire to have this look, either.

Instead, I have been determined to be respectful of my 1894 house but somehow make it nonetheless modern. Fresh.

To this aim — respectful yet modern — I have been adamant that the parlor walls have a pattern. And that the lost picture rail be reinstated. And that a frieze pattern be created. And a ceiling pattern. All these would have existed in 1894.

Respectful: I wanted all these elements back in 2017.

Yet Modern: But…in a fresh way. An obviously modern way.

My approach though is not meeting with universal approval. Well, how could it? No matter what I do there will be people who don’t like it. And not only do I expect this response but I am OK with with. I love diversity. Even diversity of opinion.

In previous posts on the parlor updates, Katie and Gabi wrote in, expressing their concern that my decorative paint effects were, well, too much. Gabi thought white walls and ceilings would look better, and Katie felt a more neutral approach would be better. I disagree, of course, but very much appreciate when readers express their views. So, thank you, Katie and Gabi!

I actually love white. My current house has a mostly white living room, an all white dining room, and my office is all white.

For several years the parlor of the Cross House has also been white:


The parlor.


When the Cross House was designed, its architect, Charles Squires, fully expected that his beautiful stained-glass windows would NOT stand in gorgeous isolation but would rather be complemented by a lot of patterns and colors. Squires would be, no doubt, horrified at white walls, a white ceiling, and a plain floor. His stunning windows and luscious wood trim were INTENDED as part of an ensemble.

Ensemble: “a group of items viewed as a whole rather than individually.”

In living with a white parlor these past few years I became increasingly are of how, well, isolated the stained-glass appeared, and how the wood trim seemed detached from everything.

And I ever more yearned for an ensemble:


Which I now have. Contrary to the stained-glass and trim being subsumed by the colors and patterns, I feel, powerfully (particularly while standing in the room), that these elements from 1894 now throb with life and vitality. Rather then being isolated and kinda forlorn, they now contribute, gloriously and spectacularly, to an ensemble. Just as they were designed to do in 1894. Again, compare this image with…


…this. To my eyes, this room looks kinda…dead. It seems without life. But…


…this room seems gloriously incredibly vivaciously alive. Now, compare how radically different my parlor is from…


…this. My parlor, now rich with colors and patterns, is nonetheless VASTLY simpler than the room pictured above. I do not think anyone would mistake the decoration of my parlor as being correct to 1894. My parlor now looks, to me and to others I hope, decidedly contemporary. Yet the decor is respectful of what architect Charles Squires intended 123-years ago.


The rooms in my current house are mostly white because:

  • I like white
  • The rooms lacked personality.

But the rooms in the Cross House are visually intense. Even empty. Even with white primer. To me, these rooms, as with all rooms, have a voice. All rooms call out to be treated a certain way. So, should I impose my long-term default color of white on them? Or should I listen to these voices? Should I learn about the era and norms when the house was built? Should I try and understand what the architect intended? Should I change my aesthetic approach, rather than try and change the personality of the house?

These questions have profoundly absorbed me since buying the house over three years ago. I have greatly enjoyed the challenge these questions have imposed and after a huge amount of thought and worry and damn hard work this…


…is my answer.


I have never done anything like this before. I have never used this much color in a room, and NEVER so much pattern. But learning about what the room was intended to be — an ensemble — combined with my desire to have a comtemporay approach, has resulted in this marriage of intention and desire.

The result is unique in my four decades of interior design work.

CAVEAT: In about two weeks the room will be done and fully furnished. It will look very different than it does now.



36 Responses to Intention & Desire

  1. Is it possible for a ROOM to have fun? If so, I believe the parlor has a big old grin on her face and she is enjoying the sizzle and the pop and the snap that the lively decorative paint has employed. Those dull white walls did nothing to bring out the shimmering colors of those stained glass panels, which we must all agree are a crowning jewel. Yes? I say, “Go for it Ross!” At this point, you have spent so much time and energy and worked hard to RESTORE the bones of the house, as you decorate, have FUN! Slap some gaudy paint and hang some crazy fabrics and please for me… include one ridiculous, silly, and maybe discordant item like a (faux) animal fur upholstered chair with a wink to those Victorian roots. But please dear friend, do NOT slip in boring, colorless, lifeless white walls. That would make me sad and the Cross House would look like any other house on the block. Yuck.

    • Hi aB!

      I had to laugh, because just last week I was considering a table lamp with a leopard skin pattern shade!

  2. I love the way the room looks. It is so very, well, Ross. From what I know of you, this is the perfect blend of the personality of he Cross House and the personality of Ross. I don’t have a Victorian home currently but I do have one room done up with tons of patterns and colors a la a Victorian home in a house from the late 70s. The room makes me happy and that is all I care about. Your home should be a reflection of the people who live there and what makes them happy.

  3. White is so blah. Like those scared of defacing walls in case it offends the next owner. My dad never used his fireplaces because he said it would dirty the brick and affect its resale. And wouldn’t hang pictures because it’d leave holes (again for resale) wha?! Such a shame. 30 years in a house that was white and unlived in.

    I say LIVE IN THE HOUSE YOU ARE IN! If you like white, then great, but if you’re not putting up wallpaper or painting a colour you love (or repainting til you find the right colour!), then you’re not making your house your own!

    Now, I love what you’ve done with the parlour and all the bold colours. I find the ceiling lightening art competes with the rest of the room for attention, but that’s only my opinion, and my opinion doesn’t matter – only yours does!

    I’m so excited to see the finished creation! You can see it in your head already, now to show us your vision completed! woo hoo! It’s getting there!

    • Hi Ms. Davis!

      I appreciate why some people like white, or neutral colors. I do, too.

      But how does one, with a parlor as rich as the parlor in Cross House, paint it white?

      When I had the walls chartreuse, and the frieze and ceiling white (as I then planned to keep them, because I love white), I had to acknowledge: Hey! This ain’t workin’!

  4. Still in awe of your parlor! And I share your dislike of the whiteout “updated” victorian look. Though I will defend true victorian decor, the room whch you used as an example has been overly papered. An 1880-90 room like that would probably have had only three papers; a wall fill, a freize, and a ceiling fill. But nowadays i see many people over doing it with a zillion bradbury papers.

  5. From the beginning, I’ve understood your goal of trying to honor the history of the house while doing so in a modern way. In fact, when I read Katie’s comment yesterday, I almost commented about the point of “Victorian pattern.” There have been times in the process when I have questioned the color combination, but, now that it’s done, I can see that it works. You’ve worked so hard on this and I think it looks great, but, most importantly, it makes YOU happy!

  6. I apologize if I caused any internal turmoil! YOU DO YOU, ROSS! As I said yesterday, this is not my house and my opinion doesn’t matter, because heaven knows YOU are making that house happy for the first time in a very long time!! I never meant to imply that you change this room, only to perhaps try different things in another room. Neutrals don’t have to be boring!



    (please disregard the painted trim)

    Keep doing whatever makes your heart sing!

    • Hi Katie!

      You caused no internal turmoil! And I thank YOU for your voice! I hope you will always feel free to let your thoughts be known here on RestoringRoss. I think differing opinions make for interesting reading, and also help offer new ideas.

      I agree: Neutrals don’t have to be boring! But…I cannot disregard the painted trim! Oh the horror! The horror!

      Much love,


  7. I love your approach! I’ve been reading your blog for a long time, but haven’t commented. Your house needs some color and pattern. Plain white in a Victorian house is lifeless and makes the trim feel chopped up and isolated. What you are doing suits the house and also feels fun and fresh. The original Victorian decor feels overly busy and staid. So this is a great solution to both of those problems! I’ve never used a lot of color at home or worn colorful clothes before, but in the past year, I’ve been drawn to color and am starting to wear different things and bring in more colorful home decor. We have a craftsman house, so we also have to find a balance between traditional and modern/colorful that still suits our home.

  8. Currently I am restoring an 1890 possibly 1880 home that is a second empire. What I have dicided is for everything to be period to the house. What I have learned from you is how to do a period kitchen and that is to have a kitchen that is, shall we say; primitive to the time that we are living in meaning no cabnets, no island and no modern appliances etc. though most would agree that these modern applyiences are an essential part to our life and that one could not possibly live without them but that’s where I mostly disagree. I think the work and the effort to work an old cast iron stove would be well worth it! And I would even love to go with a period correct interior. I myself don’t believe that a house should be updated but should be RESTORED to its former glory meaning that I would no allow for myself to indulge in such contemporary ideas ???? But you Ross are a brave person in doing such outlandish yet seemingly well put together interiors. Though I love period correct interiors I still applaud you for you being brave in your choices for restoring the cross ????

  9. When I go to a coffee shop to order coffee, I typically am asked if I want a flavor in it, and my typical reply is that “Nope. Coffee IS a flavor.”

    I feel the same way about white walls in a room. White IS a color. Whether it’s the right color depends on the room and the person living with it. All the rooms in my house are small, so they’re painted solid colors. If I let too much pattern (or, sadly, clutter) creep in, the rooms ending up feeling small and claustrophobic. I feel like I’m living inside a grade school diorama, minus the Legos or dinosaurs.

    Right now, I’m on a tear to eliminate the clutter from my house and my life. My house will look bigger, and it will better fit the life I want to live in it.

    Ross, it’s been so instructive to read about and see how you’re thinking through your color and pattern choices because they’re completely different than mine. Not because there’s a right or wrong, but because we’re different people living in different spaces. I’m learning a lot, and it’s tremendously helpful. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Thank, Barb!

      One thing impossible to convey in the images of the Cross House is the scale of the rooms. They are huge! I have never lived with such enormity! And what might not work in a normal-sized room does work in the Cross House.

      It has been a learning curve!

      • Hey Ross! For perspective, what is the square footage of just the parlor? And, by the way, I love the room! I would feel claustrophobic in a period correct room; your room makes me smile!

  10. I adore what you’ve done. Although in the same situation I probably would have gone for a Bradbury & Bradbury recreation type direction, yours is gorgeous and fresh and so not boring like white and taupe etc. Keep it up!!!! Can’t wait to see what you do as you make progress!

  11. What you’re doing is perfect! It respects the origins of the house without subjecting you to visual madness. Some folks at that time were *very* concerned that all the pattern, the mass-produced decor items, all thrown together with no plan, were detrimental to one’s moral health. Visual madness was bad for the soul. So in a way, you’re respecting both outlooks. The Cross House has color and pattern, but it’s being planned, and it’s not being overdone.

    I cringe when I see those pictures of Victorian parlors. I mean, I think they’re great pictures and its amazing to have such a historical record, but can you imagine if you dropped something small somewhere? On the floor or a couch or something? With all that pattern you’d never find it!

  12. I’ve never commented before, but I must tell you that I LOVE your color and pattern choices in the parlor. As you and others have noted, they work great with the stained glass and woodwork. I’m also thinking that a proper Victorian lady would never go around with her white underwear showing.:)

  13. I love the eclectic and the colors! The parlor is so YOU & your vision. I would not have been able to pull this together but you have done so amazingly exciting g and fresh! I agree that it also makes me smile:-)

  14. While the colors are not my personal taste, I’m a huge fan of the philosophy. I think maintaining the essential components of the original style, but interpreting them in a fresh and modern way that also emphasizes the amazing millwork is brilliant. The ceiling and painted medallion is incredible too. Great work, Ross! And thank you for not painting any wood! Those people make me cry.

    Btw, I’m always surprised at how haphazard and cluttered a lot of those period interior photos look, even down to the large portraits hung on top of other woodwork, etc.

    • Thanks, Seth!

      While the colors have been much discussed, the philosophy has been the driving force: HOW to recreate a Victorian-era look (pattern walls, pattern frieze, and pattern ceiling) but with a modern take?

      And the colors were also selected to complement the stained-glass.

      Ironically, all the wood IS painted! But not by me. It retains its original faux wood finish! Wild! The whole house is like this save the entry (which is oak).

    • Hi Diane!

      Thank you!

      And I agree: listen to the voices!

      To me, this is about the single most important decision a person can make regarding an old home. I think rooms have distinct personalities (voices). What is a room saying it wants to be? Such an approach is quite different than going in with preconceived ideas and imposing them upon a room. This is why HGTV is so painful; the network epitomizes the latter approach.

  15. I adore your use of color, Mr. Ross. The colors in this room make it come alive.

    A lot of the grief that some of your readers are giving you about your use of color is due to their own cultural and/or sub-cultural norms. I’m Southern California chicana; I find your use of color in this room to be rather sedate, while my Anglo northern Vermonter husband would probably think that it is a bit much.

    This is your house and your money. All that matters is that you like it. Period.

    • Hello CIK!

      I don’t feel that anybody is giving me grief about the colors. I enjoy hearing other views, and have made changes because of some of these views. So, yea, bring it on!

      Your cultural observation is really interesting. Certainly, people who grew up in, say, South America are going to have a very different color sensibility than somebody growing up in Michigan. And, yes, a California sensibility will likely be different than Vermont!

  16. I have a question. Do you have a plan to replace your blinds with ballooned sheer drapes?

    I remember seeing a picture shot from outside and thinking: “What happened to the windows?”
    Then I realized it was the binding holding the blinds together that made the windows look cut in three.

    In the main picture on your page, the one at the top of the main page, all of the windows have sheer ballooned drapes…and they look fantastic.

    I was just wondering if you’ll eventually do the same.

    • Hi, Glenn!

      Originally, the Cross House had pull-down shades in all the windows save the curved windows. These had Austrian-style draperies, as seen here.

      The reason for this is because pull-down shades cannot be installed at a curved window. But Austrian drapes can curve. And I do, very much, plan to reinstall Austrian drapes at all the curved windows.

      • Gorgeous!!
        I put in sweat labor for a friend who buys old houses and brings them back to life.
        My last project was stripping and refinishing 10 French doors… but the result is worth it…
        Keep up the good work! Cross House is beautiful!!

  17. You are creating a work of art within a work of art, which will be filled with works of art. You have no client whose opinion could cost you your job. You have a well of experience in design. My prediction is that when, not if, the Cross House becomes a museum and is listed as a national treasure, one of the things that will likely be studied and preserved will be your decor designs. You will have free reign to change it as you like, but your blog entries as you have made and will make changes, may be studied by design students and art historians.

    Too much?

    Not really. You may become an icon of the early tech age, or not. Artists, if their work lasts, are judged by generations unborn.

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