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What is the Colonial Style of Decorating?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated Feb 04, 2024
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The Colonial style of decorating dates back more than 300 years. The British Colonial Style is detailed and elegant. The American Colonial Style is inspired from the British look but is generally more casual in design.

Duncan Phyfe is probably the most recognized name in early colonial decorating. His designs inspired many American furniture makers. Duncan Phyfe was a Scottish cabinetmaker that created furniture in the late 1700s and 1800s in New York. His American Colonial sofas featured straight-lined, compact shapes and scrolled ends. Wood often trimmed upholstered sofas in early colonial decorating. Phyfe-inspired tables often had thick tops and bases.

Many Colonial homes had low ceilings. Early Colonial homes featured exposed beams and later, plaster covered ceilings were common. Whitewashed or plastered walls were popular and those in the wealthier classes had patterned wallpaper and/or stencils.

Colonial decorating colors include yellows, greens, blues and earth tones such as reddish brown. Motifs include fruits, flowers and other nature-inspired themes. British Colonial decorating, or more specifically, English Georgian, uses rich fabrics such as velvet and silk. Drapery is elegant and elaborate. Chippendale furniture, with its straight rather than Queen Anne style cabriole legs, became popular by 1760.

The American Colonial decorating style began with early pieces such as the grandfather clock and Pennsylvania-German glassware. Mahogany was used for much of the Colonial furniture in the eighteenth century. Birch and cherry were also favored by early American craftsmen.

The exteriors of classic Colonial homes are often unadorned except for simple trim and/or a weather vane. White is a popular exterior paint color in Colonial decorating. Blue paint was once used only on wealthier homes since blue pigment was rare and therefore expensive. Many Colonial homes feature shuttered windows on the top floors. Buyers of historic Colonial homes may be able to find the original paint colors on these houses by looking under trims and in corners.

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