Showing posts with label historic homes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label historic homes. Show all posts

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Finished Masterpiece - Home Decoration

Le moulinsur la Couleuvre à Pontoise(1881) by Paul Cézanne
“It’s so fine and yet so terrible to stand in front of a blank canvas.” –Paul Cézanne

Like artists, homeowners often experience the terror of the blank canvas. What furniture is appropriate? What wallpaper should we hang? What tile should we install? There are so many choices—sometimes even the best of us freeze up. Instead of moving forward, we stop, as if waiting for divine revelation.

Or inspiration.

While it may not solve every design dilemma, I’ve always believed that having the right color palette in hand is the best first step. Once you’ve chosen your primary, secondary and tertiary colors, the rest of the battle (and yes, sometimes renovation feels like winning a war) is just so much easier. Surprisingly, these colors often coexist in one item—like they were best friends all along—and this item can provide inspiration throughout the rest of the project. Whether it’s a rug, a vase or a swatch of wallpaper, this one piece acts as a trustworthy guide, a la Lewis and Clark, as you venture forward through uncharted territory.

Fortunately, I think this is where the Victorian enthusiast draws more comfort than other homeowners. We have an abundance of reference material available, from period-inspired wallpapers to historically accurate paint palettes to professional color experts. There are historical societies and other experienced homeowners. There are a plethora of books and, if you live in the right neighborhood, a bounty of local turn-of-the-century homes that have already been lovingly restored.

And, of course, there is our magazine—Victorian Homes.

For the Victorian homeowner, a blank canvas doesn’t have to be feared. It can—and should—be the onset of an exciting adventure. Brushstroke after brushstroke should exhilarate and stimulate and motivate you on to the next.

Because the bottom line is, more than any other homeowner, color, paint and wallpaper truly are our friends.

By MerrieDestefano

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Meet the Landmark Trust

The Landmark Trust was founded in 1965 to preserve historic architecture in Great Britain. The most important houses and castles tended to be privately owned or managed by the National Trust. There remained, however, much work to be done for the curious and overlooked buildings. It was these minor structures that the Trust set about rescuing. If they disappeared, argued founder Sir John Smith, the most important buildings would look out of place in a perennially modern landscape. Like “a diamond ring in the spaghetti” was his analogy.

To support the society, the buildings were made available as holiday rentals. Today the Trust has a portfolio of some 200 properties. There is something for every taste form stables to prisons to cottages to bathhouses. Advance reservations are required and many properties are booked months in advance.

For more information, contact the Trust for a handbook. The price in North America is $25, which is refundable on the first booking. Contact the American Landmark Trust USA, 707 Kipling Road, Dummerston, VT 05301; (802) 254-6868 or

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Victorian Lifestyle: The English Country House

When imagining the Victorian country house, scenes of lavishly decorated homes accompanied by sprawling, immaculately manicured grounds spring to mind. But this picture of perfection depended upon the tireless work of a vast staff consisting of indoor and outdoor servants—and the authoritative Lady and Lord of the Manor who managed them.

I recently read Oxford Brookes professor Pamela Horn’s book Life in the Victorian Country House, which describes the hierarchical relationship existed between the owners and their servants as well as between the servants themselves. Drawing on her expertise and knowledge as a British social historian, Horn describes how governing a country house was a full-time job for its owners, whose societal reputation often rested upon their estate’s levels of grandeur and general upkeep.

Horn explains that the Lady’s primary domestic duty was to govern the household servants, primarily communicating with the butler and head housekeeper. At the top of the servant pecking order, they would pass on the Lady’s instructions to the rest of the household staff. The butler and head housekeeper’s level of authority was also reflected by sitting at the head of the servants’ dinner table while the rest sat in descending order based on their rank.

While she was busy at home, the Lady’s husband would spend a great deal of time outdoors, overseeing the land and the staff that maintained it. The land came most into use during the hunting season, when they would host large parties—often the most popular social gatherings of the year. 

Another social highlight was the London “season.” This was when the family would travel to London to attend parties and high-society events, often in an attempt to marry off unwed daughters. While some servants accompanied them, for the majority these were times when they were free from the watchful eyes of their employers.

Horn describes how some employers were extremely generous to their employees while others treated them as “part of the furniture.” Some employers left hefty sums in their wills to their most beloved servants, while others instructed their staff never to look directly at them and only communicate with them via the butler.

The author’s detailed descriptions are supplemented with an ample array of quotations, photographs, advertisements and cartoons from the period. For an engaging, inside look at life in a bygone era, Life in the Victorian Country House is not to be missed.

By - Laura Hannam

Life in the Victorian Country House by Pamela Horn, © 2010 Shire Books,