Old quilts and tasseled trim linen velvet and toile-we brought everything with the colors of our vintage print to Hyde Hall, a historic house in Cooperstown, New York. Rather than photograph in a completed chamber, we set up an old bed in a room yet to be restored. We were interested in possibility, not the finished details.
Our decision for the bed: a mix of muted prints– gently worn gently worn glazed chintz for the quilt, new toile on the pillows–brightened by a matelasse coverlet. One touch of white was enough, however, to create the perfect shade of cream for the pillowcase, we simply dipped a white one in coffee.
Were we to accessorize the room, there would be lots of ironstone and touches of nature like the oversize acorn, left. And for fabrics–delicious-to-touch linen velvet and a textured stripe (folded on platter, opposite inset, with flowered vintage print), both Lee Jofa. Bed linens and crewel sham, Traditions by Pamela Kline.
From a Fabric Swatch to a Finished Room
Here we offer advice from a color expert on building a room scheme around a favorite fabric, as we as a reminder to spend quiet time tuning in to the emotions behind decorating decisions.
Step One: Falling in Love
There simply is no accounting for love. If we’d thought about it, we wouldn’t have attempted to plan a decorating scheme with only enough fabric in hand to cover a pillow. But decorating has to begin with passion, and once we saw “our” print, piled beneath odd swatches at a flea market, there was no going back. The pattern had quiet roses and paisley swirls with lacy white filigree, two great Victoria loves. But what set the fabric apart was its palette: Its reds were faded, its greens the color of long-pressed flowers, and its whites had mellowed into creams and ecrus. These are the colors that glow when the sun sinks low in the winter sky or firelight fills a darkened room.
Committed, we forged ahead, which doesn’t mean we went and ordered sofas. Between the first blush of inspiration and the nitty-gritty of purchasing, there’s a step we feel many people neglect. It takes time to really know a palette. Color is emotion made tangible, and understanding why certain hues resonate requires homework. So we set aside a few quiet hours and compiled a decorating scrapbook.
This exercise is pure indulgence. It involves gathering everything that pertains to a chosen palette, from old ribbons to snippets of lace, from brushstrokes of paint to a sprig of dried grass, and putting them in a journal or an old ledger. The assembled treasures are not intended to be part of the finished scheme; they are talismans that cue us into myriad sources of color and texture.
As the snipping and gluing progresses, it’s important to tuck in something just for love. It might be an old letter or a picture of a house where happiness dwelled. The idea is to provide a reminder that even though decorating involves decisions about carpets and paint, the goal of the process is creating a home filled with love and fond memories.
If this seems like a lot of work, there is a sweet reward. The finished scrapbook can go right on the coffee table, and when guests ask about your inspirations, you can just flip the pages.
Step Two: Rules of Thumb
If you have a fabric in mind, it makes the whole decorating process easier–it’s filled with clues,” says Linda Trent, director of Color Marketing and Design at Sherwin Williams. Though we weren’t going so far as to finish a room, we did want to know how to proceed, so we sent Linda a snippet of our precious vintage fabric. She came up with five paints (shown in the tray, opposite) that would work as wall colors. They’re all dusty shades of ecru, tan, terra-cotta, and sage from the company’s Preservation Palette collection.
“After you’ve gathered your color chips, you have to decide on mood,” says Linda. Do you want a subtle or a dramatic effect? Should the walls dominate or should they be a quiet extension of the fabric’s tea-stained background? “This is where personal preference comes in,” says Linda. “Ultimately decorating isn’t science.”
But it is art, and art has rules. Linda points out that when using faded hues for your walls, trim should be finished with cream, not white. “White is too stark. Your eye shifts constantly, so you want everything–walls, fabric, trim–to be a harmonious whole.” Keep in mind, too, the flow of spaces. Your wall color need not be the same in each room, but a consistent trim shade will tie everything together.
Since we didn’t want to restrict wall coverings to paint, we also asked Linda to provide wallpaper ideas. Her advice: “You don’t want more than one big print in a room because your eye won’t know where to focus. So if you’re using a special pattern for the window treatments, keep the wall coverings subtle.” And what about mixing patterns on pillows and upholstery? Similar prints can be scattered about a room, says Linda. “You just have to pay attention to scale.”
WINTER’S GREEN–THE COLOR OF PRESSED FERNS
Hyde Hall’s library inspired us to whisper, Instead of worrying about “decorating” the room. We decided to the furniture be a quiet counter point to old books and polished mahogany. We brought in Lillian August club-chain-style sofa and covered it in an aged-green velvet. And rather than adding the expected abundance of floral pillows, we settled on two demure ones, stitched out of creamy wool felt and trimmed with a bit of floral braid. What happened to the rusts and tans of our much-routed vintage print? Not every room has to incorporate every hue of a chosen palette. Sometimes it’s enough to enjoy the peace of solids, with a little sprig of waxed millinery flowers serving as a reminder of all the other things that are loved.