Go back in time...
This style covers the period from the first early settlers in the sixteenth century - mostly European - to the Declaration of Independence in the eighteenth century.
It is remarkable that people of such diverse cultures and degrees of wealth were able to develop their own unique style over the years.
Being sensible folk, they learned and adopted many practices from the native people, and incorporated them into their own style of living.
As they grew wealthy and were able to trade, they learned of the latest fashions in Europe, but didn’t slavishly copy them. Rather, they adapted them into their own way of life, and in the process produced a unique and totally American colonial style.
Some early settlers would have brought their furniture with them. Those who didn't would have made furniture with the same style and quality familiar to them, making use of local materials and construction methods.
The most natural and abundant material available to them was wood, and they used it whenever possible, for interiors and exteriors.
Early buildings were simple and practical, but as communities became more secure they were able - and could afford - to give more time to the niceties of life. Later dwellings of the American Colonial Style were easily a match for their European counterparts.
The American Colonial Style
First get it built...
As with all furnishing styles this was initially influenced by practical considerations.
In the early years getting a dwelling up and functioning was the main objective. Fancy soft furnishings were not exactly at the top of the list for the original settlers. Later on, the availability of materials, imports and the wealth of the individual came into play.
Walls were usually painted, and wood finished in a darker or lighter paint color. Wallpapers were much too expensive for most people, and even in the later part of the period only the wealthy could really afford it.
The widespread use of wood resulted in floors constructed of scrubbed pine, sometimes covered with colored cloths or rag rugs.
Window treatments were simple, perhaps a curtain with tabs hung on a wooden pole, or else shutters which were more practical.
If you made it in the world and wanted to impress your neighbors, then you would have bought some imported silk or brocade, and paid someone to install full drapes with swags and cascades.
Other household items
The wealthy would have used chandeliers, but most homes made do with wood or iron candle holders, sometimes mounted on the wall, often just placed on a table or dresser.
Other household items would have been dishes, vases and so on, but all made from earthenware or wood. Silver and china were - once again - for those with a little more money to spare.
Remember the practical reasons for the style
This style is probably the easiest to imitate. It also means you can achieve a home or room which is both elegant and practical.
Also, if you want a more rustic setting you can base your decorating on the earlier part of the period, and for a more refined look use ideas from later years. You’ll most often see the style illustrated when decorating kitchens or bedrooms, but you can adapt it for any room in the house.
- In your kitchen, paint the walls in a flat color (see the paint color suggestions) and hang some basic kitchen utensils for an immediate effect.
- For a bedroom or living room, fix a chair rail (dado rail) and again paint the walls. Or fit paneling effects by using wood or polystyrene moldings. Patchwork quilts on beds would add an authentic touch.
- A typical chair for the period would be a Windsor chair, with a spindle back. Needlepoint pillows made by hand will give a homely look to any room.
- For your curtains use a simple cloth made into curtains with tabbed headings, and hung on a wood pole. You could add shutters, or use them instead of curtains.
- Pewter was in general use at the time. You can buy pewter cups, plates or candlesticks in antique stores or at auctions. These will give detail to your American colonial style room.
Not an exact science
Many of the early settlers brought their ideas from Europe.
As with all paint colors, these would have been limited by their knowledge of dyes. So don’t feel you have to match colors exactly, the examples given are for guidance only.
The most usual method was to paint walls and ceilings matt white, and use colors for woodwork. If any paneling were made of mahogany it would have been left in its natural state, but other wood was often painted.
Paint color finishes were not just plain, as they would have used grained and marble effects as well.
Another interesting page on this site is the decorating with color page. It deals with more general ideas for color in the home.
If you want to use a great resource for deciding on which paint colors to use, take a look at Paint color cheat sheets. Professional decorators have known for years about certain colors which always work.
The Shortcut to Perfect Paint Colors - Paint Color Cheat Sheets
(Only for visitors from the USA and Canada.)