Decorate your colonial living room around a focal point.

How to Furnish a Colonial Living Room

by Linda Erlam

The American colonial period of interior design developed from the early 1600s and lasted to the mid-1700s. This utilitarian decor style -- typically referred to as American Style by professional designers and decorators -- came from the raw materials readily available during the period. This helped to produce comfortable and livable furnishings that were also easy to maintain. You do not have to worry about keeping the kids off the furniture or pets out of the room when you add colonial furnishings to your living room. You can easily replicate the look today because of the continued availability of furniture and decor accents that exhibit colonial elements.

Colonial Design Elements

When you want to stay true to the colonial style, carefully select wood-framed furniture with lathe-turned legs and arms and thin seat and back cushions for comfort. To update the look, pick a neutral-colored upholstered sofa with classic, low-profile rolled arms, a curved back and pleated skirt. Add a coffee table to bring to the room an all-wood furniture esthetic. A rectangular or square coffee table with turned legs, a small ledge bordering the table surface and a natural-colored or hand-painted surface makes an impressive accent. But make certain the coffee table and end tables do not match. Because each piece of original colonial furniture was one-of-a-kind, replicate the look with mismatched pieces. Bring an older piece to the room for added authenticity.

Dim the Lights

Decorate with lighting fixtures that replicate the style of the period. Leaded-glass shades on wood bases imitate the soft and limited lighting found in a colonial living room. Curvaceous hanging fixtures or chandeliers that include the wood and leaded glass composition reproduce the style of the day -- avoid linear or geometric shapes in lighting fixtures. When possible, pick fixtures that contain lathe-turned wood elements to repeat the design accents found in original colonial furnishings.

Braided Oval Rug

If you buy one thing to make the transformation to colonial style complete, make it a large oval braided rug in subdued tones. Originally made of old clothing or sheets ripped into strips, the muted colors in these rugs came from natural dyes, not overly bright when originally extracted. With age and repeated washing, the clothing and sheet strips faded to soft versions of themselves before the fabrics found their way into braided rugs. Complement your colonial-furnished living room with a soft-hued large braided rug.

Accessories and Surprises

Accent the room with wool or fabric throws in natural colors, cushions resplendent with needlepoint or crewel embroidery and hand-painted wood-framed wall art. Most original colonial homes typically displayed one-of-a-kind handmade items. You would not find mass-produced art in the home, magazines or even glass-framed photographs because glass was expensive and used sparingly. The few treasured books were carefully displayed in handcrafted wood bookcases. Small antique elements add to the authenticity of the style as colonists often brought pieces from Europe and passed them down through the generations. An Elizabethan footstool recovered in handmade needlepoint represents an example of what you might find in a colonial living room.

Treat the Windows

Simple lace or light cotton curtains on the inside of the window coupled with inside or outside functioning shutters -- or both -- epitomize colonial window coverings. Because fabric came at a premium, the esthetic of the style did not lend itself to voluminous drapes, swags or balloon-type window treatments.

Flooring and Walls

An abundance of wood was found in colonial homes on the floor and walls. As a substantial part of the home, duplicating the style calls for wood floors made from wide planks of birch, ash, pine, maple or oak in natural colors along with wainscoting on the walls. Wide-plank laminate flooring gives today’s colonial home the wood-inspired old-world feel without the high maintenance of real wood. Wood planks positioned vertically became the wall material of choice. Vertical wall planks were left natural in rural homes and painted in urban homes. You can easily reproduce this style with tongue-and-groove wainscoting topped by a chair rail.

About the Author

Linda Erlam started writing educational manuals in 1979. She also writes a biweekly newspaper column, "Design Dilemmas," in the "Lakeshore News" and has been published in "Design and Drapery Pro" magazine. Erlam is a graduate of the Sheffield School of Interior Design and is a practicing interior decorator and drapery workroom operator.

Photo Credits

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