"Lightening up" our traditional home: Part 1

12 May 2016

{Our hearth room}

 

As you might know, this past fall we moved from a contemporary home with a bit of a European/70s MidCentury/rustic vibe...

      


 

...into a very "normal" sort of suburban traditional cape cod revival:

 

And the change was hard for me. I left a smaller home (2 tiny bedrooms for 4 kids) that felt so totally "me" for a house that would better fit our family & kids' school paths.


 

I had gotten our house to a point where I just loved life in it so much and wanted to make sure I could do the same in our next place.

When my husband first came across our current home's listing online I gave him an immediate "no way" because of how traditional and ordinary it felt. I'm not knocking anyone who loves "traditional" or "ordinary," it just simply wasn't what I wanted. I was really looking for something quirky with soul and maybe even a bit of weirdness. 70s fixer-uppers have always been my favorite and I was hoping to find another one.


But the location, size and price caused me to give it a second look. (And, it was built in the 70s, so hey my streak remains unbroken.) It was an amazing deal and as I looked at it more closely, I started thinking about how I could make "Colonial" feel more laid-back and cool, and I began to get a little excited about the challenge. We also thought about how our family's lake house only a few hours away would give us time in a more modern & open place with lots of land and how we'd be spending a lot of time there and could get away with a smaller lot at home because our kids would have lots of opportunity to explore at the lake & on the land there.

To get a bit more excited about the possibility of a cape cod (which I've always loved & found super-charming by the way, just never thought I'd be in one) I started by gathering images of modern-feeling colonial homes I remembered from years gone by.  I thought about my style and how I wanted the house to feel: natural, light, airy, open, laid-back, a little primitive, relaxed and interesting. I've done lots of colonials before but my clients have typically been after a sort of "fresh traditional" look very different from my personal style, which is a bit more masculine, rustic and modern. Generally when I think of "Colonial", "relaxed" doesn't come to mind, but I knew for me to find love, it had to be. I knew I had to "lighten up" the place, not just in color, but in mood as well. Since I've been going about it for the past six months or so, I thought I'd share tips and the principals I've stuck to while tackling certain elements of this house and SLOWLY growing to love it.  I thought I'd give each element its own post & share them each with you over time:

1. Basic Woodwork & Walls

 

2. Flooring

3. Palette

4. Other Architectural Details

6. Exterior & Gardens

7. Decorating 


So, today, I'm talking woodwork & walls.  When I first begin on a new house, I like to start with the woodwork and the wall materials. My goal with this house was to get it feeling less 70s suburban and more like a historic Cape Cod that had been redone. To get the house feeling more authentic and a bit more humble, I knew I needed to go with simpler woodwork throughout the house. I looked at what was in a lot of the historic Colonial homes and saw that many had a flat baseboard with a small bead on it like this one:


{A project of Steven Gambrel's in Sag Harbor}

I thought I'd do the same thing throughout our place to try to bring the house back to its Colonial roots, but it wasn't sitting quite right with me and I decided that I wanted it to be a bit more pared down (& more modern) even than that, so I left off the bead and simply had the bit of cove molding removed from the top of our flat baseboards and replacing the existing window and door casings with flat ones.

I cannot express to you enough how much of a difference changing our woodwork made even though it was such a subtle detail. It felt like a new (old) house to me!

{The new window casing... We still need to get those mullions in the windows!!}

 

We visited Mount Vernon for my birthday the other week and I loved seeing the flat boards with beads in some of the more primitive outbuildings:

 

In our house, I've also been after a more pared-down look, taking inspiration from simpler Colonial homes in which plaster is a major design element.  Nowadays (mainstream and in many of the houses seen on the market near us) it seems, excessive woodwork seems to be associated with quality and good design, but it's really not the case and it's not always appropriate. Often less is more and beautiful shapes and functions can be achieved with plaster and/or drywall.  The kitchen at Mount Vernon is a prime example.  Check out how the edges of the fireplace, the brick oven and the tops of the walls are unadorned by wood and how beautiful it is:


 

The walls themselves become this amazing architectural element. 

I had the back wall in our living room furred out and had rustic wood shelves set into plain drywall niches so I could have a place to display some of our favorite things and to create a bit of architectural interest...

{Our living room when we close on the house/ "before"}

 

{Our living room a few minutes ago...  totally unstyled and unfinished- I haven't yet arranged anything on the shelves or opened up all of our boxes of things but it's on my "to do" list!!- but you get the idea of how the new woodwork & niches are looking.  We've really been enjoying this room and it gets the prettiest light during the day.  We don't use our living room every day, so when we do get the chance to hang there, I feel like my life is together.  It's been great for entertaining and naps, and the kids use it way more than we do.  Random aside- We haven't purchased much new furniture, art or accessories for our house (the empty hearth room, two photos down below,  has been the exception- Our rugs and chairs recently arrived)  and we plan on doing it slowly over time, keeping most of our old things and adding in new things here and there where things just don't fit properly. } 

In our kitchen & hearth room, we added additional beams (the original two felt a little random all alone) throughout the entire space and painted them white which lightened it up:

{before}

 

{now...   in process ;)  mullions needed on the window, doors to be waxed, and eventually a coffee table when the baby's a bit older and we're not on the floor so much.}

I'm so glad we made all of these changes when we first moved in.  Going back to our home's architectural roots and looking at what kind of trim and walls Colonial homes once had and then slightly modifying it for our place made it feel so much more like "us" and I feel so much better being here. The house is more casual now now and has a bit of that casual breeziness that I crave.  I'd recommend that anyone looking to "lighten" up a traditional home, start by assessing the woodwork and the walls, thinking about how changes can make the house feel both more pure and simple and relaxed at the same time.  

Anyway, I'm off for the day, but I'll be back soon with Part II- "Lightening up" a Traditional Home With Flooring.  Enjoy your day!!

 

-