The Cross House

Ross Did….WHAT????????

Last spring, when finally decorating the parlor of the 1894 Cross House, a lot of readers came to the conclusion that I had no taste.

Some came around when the parlor was finished. “I love it!”

I am uncertain if everybody came around.

During the ensuing months and months, I developed an uneasy awareness that I was actually part of the latter group. I don’t love it.

At first, I thought new pillows would help. They did. But something was still not right.

I then purchased another rug. That did not help. At all. I put the first rug back.

Then I stopped thinking about the issue.

In December, I was sitting in the room, just staring. My mind was basically blank. Then a thought popped into my head: The walls are too cartoonish.

And I, at once, realized that this was true.

The ceiling thrilled me still. The frieze, too. But the walls? I suddenly knew: Too cartoonish.

The wall color, chartreuse, was just too radioactive for the room. And the stencils were too infrequent. Rather than enhance they distracted.

Too cartoonish.

And I knew I would not be able to focus on anything else until the walls were redone.


The trick would be to minimize the work.

One goal was NOT to tediously tape off the miles of trim and picture rails and base. And even with taping, paint always seeps down anyway, thus marring my laboriously achieved perfect edges. Oh, the horror.

So, I had to come up with a way to repaint the walls without actually touching all the perimeter edges.


My mind percolated on this idea. Which seemed impossible.

Then the White House popped into my head.



In the early 1960s, Jacqueline Kennedy oversaw a major redecoration of the rooms in the White House. As a kid, I devoured everything I could on the effort, and the resulting Treaty Room always stayed with me. Note the elaborate wall borders.


While pondering my parlor, I came across this 1890s image of the Blue Room in the White House. Note how the damask wall pattern is contained within frames. Note the plain surrounding borders. This image became my guide.


June, 2017.


February, 2018. All the images hugely enlarge if you click on them.


February, 2018.








2018. You can see here just what was done. The damask pattern is contained inside a “frame”. I did not have to repaint the chartreuse edges, but was easily able to add a new stencil to the frame.




2018. For all the change, chartreuse is still a part of the room. The damask stencil is the same. There was quite a bit of trial and error in achieving the finial results, and I will later post some truly terrifying images.


The Cross House has a lot of rooms.

My concern, and a significant one, is that if I don’t get the parlor right, I will get every room wrong.

The thought freaks me out.

There are some readers who would suggest that until I decorate the parlor in a truly period-correct manner, it will never look right. But I reject this. Still. My aim is, and always has been, to create a decidedly contemporary decor while being respectful of the 1890s origin of the parlor. I have recreated the original pattern on pattern on pattern which the room would have had in 1894, but endevoured to do so with a fresh quality. The colors were chosen to complement the stained-glass.

My aim, moreover, is not to have a…serious room. I am seeking a youthful, bold, and slightly irreverent quality. I want a parlor which is relaxed rather than haughty.

I have been decorating rooms since I was a teenager. It is normally effortless for me. Indeed, I once had a career doing apartments for the rich & famous in New York City.

But the Cross House is unlike anything I have ever dealt with. I am used to essentially banal rooms where I can impose a vision. But, the Cross House is the polar opposite of banal. Each room radiates with personality. And the trick, as I am learning in fits & starts, is to enhance the rooms rather than dominate them.

I am much happier with Parlor 2.0. The cartoon quality is, I hope, vanquished. But is the parlor the most fabulous it can be?

I don’t know. My much vaunted confidence is shaken.

Who knows what it will look like in 2019.



59 Responses to Ross Did….WHAT????????

  1. I loved what you did before… you dragged me along and showed me your unique vision. And the ride was bumpy and I was scared, and you were always full of unexpected surprises, but I could follow your vision and see the incredible beauty even in the discordant notes. But now it feels too discordant and when you toned down the color, you made it feel too busy. It no longer feels like a room I want to sit back and relax in. I’m so sorry, but I fell off in the middle of the ride. I’m so sad because you drove off and left me behind. How could you? We were having such a good time on this wild ride together.

  2. Oh no. I’m not going to rant. Nor will I rave. I’m going to sit back and contemplate. I get a bit irritated at the commenters who do not want Ross to have fun with the choices made in the Cross House decoration. But this time… the photos must not do justice? I see big vertical chalky looking “panels” of paint and I am distracted. I will give it a few days, let the newness settle, and then come back to it.

    • The 2018 images are not as good as the 2017 images.

      I have had trouble capturing the same quality of light.

      The room is much nicer in person. It’s all quite subtle, but has a rich quality. The walls are actually four layers of different translucent colors. This is obvious in person.

  3. You are right, Ross. The colours now flow nicely together and the room seems warmer and cozier, a place where you can easily feel at home. There were a few days in between postings, and I thought, hmmm…. that Ross is up to something!

  4. I like the walls better now. 🙂

    But I still can’t get past the curtains. I still feel they take away from the beautiful windows. They interrupt the lines, And the only thing I can think of to explain my thinking is show horses. When you show a horse you want the judges to SEE without distorting the lines of the horse with a bulky halter.

    Compare these two images.

    Now there is nothing WRONG with the first halter. But if you are trying to show a horse this is not what you would use.

    Your windows are like arabian show horses to me, and I don’t like it when you cover them up. Is basicly what I’m saying 😛

    • I have mentioned previously the absolute importance of the drapes:

      People walk onto the porch ALL THE TIME and peer into the windows. Even with the blinds closed, one can still peer in through the slats. And the curved windows??????

      There is no way that I will ever enjoy enjoy the parlor with the uneasy sense that somebody might be staring in.

      No way. No way. No way.

      Privacy is good.

      • I’m sorry to hear that the rude habit of walking on to a stranger’s front porch, cupping your hands in front of your eyes, and peering through the windows has spread as far west as Kansas. I had some old-house sight-seers at my window again last week…I try not to be rude, but I really want to build a trap door with a lever inside the house…but then I would be faced with the problem of what to do with the tourists in the basement, LOL.

  5. I do like this effect a bit more than how bold and in-your face the stencils were before. It does seem more subtle now, and the borders really help with that.

    I personally, though, am getting a slightly uncomfortable feeling from how the borders drop right off into the interior panels. It isn’t a distinction you can make at a glance, it’s one that you have to search for, and in that way, it isn’t coming off with the effortless vibe it wants to have. The borders blend in with the interior panels, and in doing so, the stenciling becomes confused in that we expect it to be the same but it’s different.

    Long story short, I think there needs to be a slightly darker, thin strip dividing the border stenciling from the striped panels.

      • I have been looking at the pictures over and over. I think that A.H. has captured what I am feeling too. Ross, it must have bothered you on some level too, or you would not have tried the teal border strip. Have you thought about using the color used in the stencils to define the border? In the meantime, I am back on the ride, closing my eyes while we whip thru this loop, and trusting, once again, that your vision will lead us to an even more fabulous destination

  6. Can you pretty pretty please with a cherry on top show us a picture that shows those bad boys off? I’ve been DYING of excitement, man! DYING.

    I’m going to throw my two cents in too. I’m definitely in the party that thinks you need a frame around your stencil blocks. Nothing as fancy as your picture rail, good lord, dude, no, but SOMETHING. The competing patterns seem to just run together. I like the look you’re going for..but it’s not quite right, not yet. You’re getting there! 🙂

  7. I love paint. I love the fact that you can add all sorts of effects and colours and you’re not damaging anything.

    I think I like this better but the borders don’t quite work. Not sure if it’s the photos or the effect itself. But because it’s paint you can play around with it till you get the effect you love. And whilst it is a historic house it is also your house and you’re doing an incredible job of protecting and restoring the fragile original pieces of the house but adding Ross into the restoration. It’s a house, but it will also be your home.

  8. Something has dramatically changed: your picture rail, though always fabulous, was a little washed out in the mix. It’s now emerged as a crown jewel, which I liken to a brilliant diamond bracelet. And I liken this after two drinks, so it did really stand out.

    P.S. Most of my picture rail went missing in late 1960s in sad panelling decisions. Where might I procure such awesome picture rail for my 1904 Queen Anne?

  9. I’ll admit Ross, I’ve never liked your approach to your interior decor. I’m still team period correct, and will likely always be. I HATED the parlor, but I have to say, your recent change looks a LOT better. While I would still prefer a period correct style, or perhaps plain solid walls with an intricate period wallpaper frieze, your recent addition looks a lot less loud. And while I still don’t love it, I do like it much better. Maybe it will grow on me…

  10. I love the new stencils. They look more like wallpaper (honoring the past) and they give the walls equal heft with the furniture, rather than the furniture dominating. I’m with you Ross but I will trust that if you make more changes it is because you are there in person and are led to the changes. Even the best picture is not going to give someone who is not there the sight of what it looks like at noon or in the evening or on a cloudy day.

  11. Above all Ross, I am amazed how you put yourself out there-It’s one thing to make changes (we all do that on occasion) but this was a drastic change and real risky make-over. You are incredibly brave to bare your soul with us. I totally applaud you for that.

  12. Picture #4: Wow. Just wow. The thing that immediately stood out to me is that the recently added transparent ring around the oculus, has the same transparency as the newly added stencil on the will. It bounces light around the room, much like the Pinball Wizard.

    In it’s 2017 state, the room was an adolescent. In 2018, it has morphed into a well-rounded adult. Well done.

  13. Way too much thought and contemplation. Wallpaper and be done.

    By the time you get to the pantry in the kitchen, you will be stark raving mad— dragging us along with you.

  14. Hey, it’s your house. Do what you want, and tell anybody who doesn’t like it to go pound sand.
    Unless, of course, you decide to butcher the beautiful trim. Then you’re just a charlatan.

  15. The thing about taste is that it is individual. You have a very well trained eye and a nonstop creative mind. I don’t think that you and I would ever choose the same colors textures and effects when doing a room, however that is what makes it great. So few people have even lived with multiple elements in the paint scheme on walls in the same room, that they don’t know what to think. Throwing the “safe” thing, solid color walls, out of the window, so to speak leaves one a bit unsteady on ones feet. Although the expression, familiarity breeds contempt, is often used. In reality, I believe that familiarity makes us comfortable. Like the spouse who constantly rails about the other’s snoring, yet can’t sleep without it when the other passes.

    There was a comment from Elin Noller saying that the curtains block one’s view of the woodwork, but my problem is not the same as Elin’s. My concern would be that the caliber of the fabric in the curtains may not be living up to the richness in the rest of the design. [Ross: the drape fabric is 100% silk.]

    My personal take is that the new borders might work better if they went down the walls at the corners creating separate panels for separate walls. I believe that adding them would contribute more to the feeling of an homage to the period rooms in the past decor of the White House and that of so many other period houses.

    I am so stimulated creatively by your various design experiments. I love what you have done. The stenciling in the new borders is so subtle, but essential. Hillary appears happier, and the rainbow White House piece no longer looks stark on the wall. It feels more like it belongs there. I had previously assumed that the stark quality was one of your goals with that piece.

    I must conclude that I think that your design sense is impeccable. Where so many houses with “accurate” period correct decors give me a feeling of being closed in and a sense of darkness, yours gives a sense of light and highlights the beauty of the room. I find the darkness unpleasant. It is my opinion that a design should have many elements that stimulate the senses AND work well with each other. The “period correct” decors, to my eye, have too many elements that seem to be there simply because they are one of those things that are belived to be de rigueur.

    I believe that I have posted in the past that you will always be making changes to the design, no matter how much you love what you have done. I believe that this will naturally occur as you see and acquire things that you haven’t seen before, which you want to incorporate into the room and thus your design. I have a sense that many of the elements that you have incorporated, had they existed in the 1890’s, would have been in the original design.

    As usual, I will look forward to seeing the expression of each of your inspirations as they occur.

  16. I definitely think the new version looks more like wallpaper and therefore more Victorian. I also think that the room looks warmer because there is not such a stark contrast between the colors of the frieze and the walls. I was one of those who came around to liking the first version, but I like this version too!

  17. I can’t decide yet whether I prefer Parlor 1.0 or Parlor 2.0, so I’ll focus instead on the 1890s b/w inspiration photo of the White House: Is anyone else bothered by the fact that apparently the circular banquette sofa in the center of the room is not centered beneath the huge round chandelier?

  18. Did the seasonal change in the sun angle influence this realization and decision? It seems like the winter sun would have made the chartreuse seem more “cartoonish” because more light would get into the room earlier in the day.

    Perhaps you could test wall colors by painting 4′ x 8′ boards with your selections and leaning them against interior walls for six or eight months. This would give you a more comprehensive idea of the way your colors behave in daylight. (Leaning them against the exterior walls would probably be less informative, as the contrast from the windows would tend to downplay the change in effect.)

  19. I liked the parlor before, but I like it even more now. I would never have picked chartreuse, but that is why my home is boring builder’s beige, and your house is awesome! It seems like decorating the parlor will be like the rest of the house: constant tinkering until it is just right. You will get there, I’m sure. According to several of the renovation blogs I read, the last 10% is the hardest part. I think you are on the last 2% with the parlor.

  20. Good God! I’ve never seen so many opinions about a paint job! Your comments: the house has a personality, you have found that in the exterior, I trust you to find it on the interior. Your black window sashes, the coral ceilings on the porches, it will percolate to the surface…. give it time. Your definitely on the right track.

  21. here in maine, we had a storyteller named Marshall Dodge and with Bob Bryan they created the characters of Bert and I and told stories in Maine accent. they had one story about a carpenter building an outhouse for a Mr. Perkins. the builder will get going good and Mr Perkins will change his mind about location and construction. over and over and each time the carpenter will patiently say “Well, Mr Perkins – it’s your privy” so I say “Well, Mr Ross – it’s your parlor”
    the punch line comes when Mr Perkins wants the carpenter to make it a 2 holer. the carpenter protests and tells Mr Perkins that by the time he makes up his mind which hole to use, it’ll be too late.

    • That story made me laugh, MC. Since you like Maine lore and lingo, you may have heard of my late cousin, John Gould. If you aren’t familiar with his work, you should check your local library. He was a hoot!

  22. OK, I think I have some good thoughts here….forgive me….I have a lot of thoughts.

    What you just did IS much better. It really brings out the stained glass! I also love that you come up with such artistic ideas and are not afraid to try it, change it and change again!

    I think what you are not seeing is that the burgundy couch and that neon turquoise color really are not meshing together and never really will. I think the chartreuse was not the problem, (you mentioned it was way too harsh, I believe)…the turquoise as a stripe is the issue. If you continued the chartreuse above the picture rail too it would be much better. The chartreuse is reading as gold. Gold and burgundy together – beautiful AND would give some period correctness! So have your funky furniture from the wrong time period (lol) but use a pleasing color palette.

    Also you are trying to use turquoise and chartreuse together with no PATTERN in the furnishings to tie them together. Don’t you need some items in the room with a pattern? All the upholstery is solid. [Ross: the tall chairs have a stripe pattern.)

    Put your thumb over the turquoise stripe above picture rail and see the difference. You can use the turquoise curtains in another room I am sure😀.

    What do you think??

    • OR use the burgundy couch in another room? You have repeated your turquoise and chartreuse around the room, but the burgundy couch is the only burgundy in there. Is that intentional?

      • Actually, the sofa color picks up some of the colors in the stained-glass.

        I have also previously written about the value of the discordant element.

        What I dread above all is…matchy-matchy. Oh! The horror!

  23. I have to admit that the first paint job with the random pattern bothered me – blame it on the OCD probably, but there wasn’t eye flow around the room. The new design pulls the room together much better!

  24. I think the room looks great and the colors, including the couch, are perfect. That said, if that room were mine, I would replace the white table with an interesting wood coffee table. Your beautiful trim seems lonely. And perhaps bring the white back into the sitting area by using white/mostly white chairs instead of the beige/brown? Ooh, maybe something faux furry on the white chairs!

  25. I love it! Maybe it’s because I have used the same color palette in my house including the burgundy and that was before you shared your vision with us. It looks Victorian and at the same time soft and contemporary. I like the way it blends now without the border, it’s more free, more modern, yet not.

  26. I don’t claim to be a decorator, I’m just a fat old fart from small town USA, but I think you are definitely on the right track! It looks more…finished now. But is it? Who knows…I’ve always been pretty old-fashioned, and I like the way that you pay homage to the house’s period, but with your own colors and designs. Before, the stencils were sort of floating around the room; now, they seem more organized. I’m just glad you didn’t install 4X8 sheets of genuine antique ivory…

  27. Brilliant! Now the walls don’t fight with the beautiful Victorian elements of the room for attention. They enhance them while at the same time retaining their own beauty of character and originality. Well done!

  28. I am one who never came around HOWEVER! I like this exponentially more. It still looks ‘youthful’ but not as ‘immature.’

  29. I was not one of the ones who said I hated it, but I kinda did. Absolutely love the new walls. It really, really makes a difference. Also, I would really love to have a copy of Hillary’s picture. Do you remember where you got it? Maybe I can order, get one. Thanks!

  30. Oh I like the changes you made, the room has a softer look, the walls don’t seem to be glaring out at you, much more style. I also think the couch and curtains tie in with the stained glass windows and walls with just enough contrast but what do I know. Nice you kind of surprised me. People come on the porch and stare in the windows! Ugh!

  31. I’ve been reading this blog from the beginning, in order. That being said, I don’t yet know if there’s been a Parlor 3.0, or not. I’ve been reluctant to post comments because there have been so many dramatic changes happening to areas, multiple times. And, in the past, even changes I were going to suggest appeared in later incarnations (for instance, adding the second color to the capitals and bases of the columns out front – you ended up doing exactly what I was going to suggest).

    I prefer the new walls with one exception. I just think the striping is too much. I’ve tried and I’ve stared, and I’ve stared and I’ve tried, but I just can’t bring myself to accept the stripes. However, it’s not *my* parlor. It’s 100% yours. But, I felt compelled to add my $.02

    As someone that has been eyeing a historic home to purchase (that is quite a bit older than the Cross House), I’ve eagerly soaked in things you’ve brought to light. There are things I hadn’t previously thought to look for, and your restoration has pointed them out via this blog. Thanks for that!

    I look forward to clicking “NEXT POST” on each page. I wonder what I’ll do when I’m all caught up, and have to wait for the next post. In some ways, I dread that day!

  32. I think this is just what the room needed. I agree that the frieze and ceiling were great but the walls needed…..something. This was an interesting solution, and its somehow being more busy yet more muted at the same time makes it feel just like old-time wallpaper while being nothing of the sort. And your picture rail is totes awesomesauce. Looking forward to seeing 3.0! And I can see how it would be a lot more complicated decorating a place like the Cross House given its insistent personality and given your goals of incorporating the spirit of the house’s design without just doing All Old Stuff (which would have been less of a creative challenge). Thanks for sharing your thought processes with your readers. To me, part of the fun of any sort of art or design is imagining the creative process the artist went through, including all the agony and the epiphanies. And like what Squires was thinking when he made certain decisions while designing the house such as those amazing brackets outside the dining room, and the shell in the phone closet, and etc…..

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