This post was originally part of “The Modern, Baroque Row House,” but then it got really lengthy, so now it has a home of its own. The inspiration for this was an article in the October 2013 issue of House Beautiful.
Lately, or more than just lately, I’ve really been into the 17th Century. Prompted by turning myself into a Vermeer painting, I’ve also been thinking about how to turn our little row house into a Vermeer painting as well. There are a few issues like:
- Budget (we have none)
- Antiques (we have none of those either)
- 17th Century House (we’re off by a few decades there and likely in the wrong country)
But, I am just certain there is a way. And in any case, projects like these keep me out of trouble. So, should I ever get to the point where I can attain 17th Century domestic bliss, I’ve collected some pointers based on period work, including Vermeer, and this article.
Concept One: Things you sit on should have legs you can see.
In the home, a lovely 16th Century house, and in paintings from the period, chairs have nice legs that are usually carved decoratively. Legs do not hide under little skirts.
When we bought our sofa years ago, we thought we absolutely had to have a sofabed. Now, I’m not so sure considering Aerobeds accommodate nicely. We typically give guests our room anyway for the few times we host overnighters since it’s almost the most private room we’ve got. We’ll need a new sofa soon (thank you Loki) and since it takes up the most real estate in the living room, I am seriously contemplating a more appropriate sofa with legs.
Concept Two: Use fabric to add dimension and interest.
I know this from Vermeer, who appears to always have a rug draped over the tables in his works or something hanging about. The easiest and cheapest way to get the essence of 17th Century is to obtain and display reproduction fabric. It’s easy enough to Google what typical textiles from the period looked like, or to see actual samples. Thanks to Photoshop, you can take a painting and actually isolate a color scheme and look for similar colors in fabrics.
I don’t even have to go through that much trouble because, thanks to the endless Vermeer cross-stitch project, I have an entire palette already worked out.
Concept Three: Have wood and tiled floors, covered with rugs.
I hate carpet. All I can think about are thousands of nasty little critters embedded within. When we bought our house, we looked for wood and tile floors so thankfully we don’t have to change that. And, our wood is wide and distressed so it looks totally appropriate. I would love to take this a step further and actually have interesting patterns or parquet, but alas, ours is a basic house and anything too fancy would be silly.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that if you have more than one rug in a room, they don’t have to match. And the rugs don’t have to remotely match the other fabrics in the room, as long as everything is baroque-ish. Of course, none of our rooms are big enough for two rugs but being able to mix up textiles is important in a small space.
Concept Four: Casement windows always set the right mood.
I am convinced that Vermeer’s paintings would have been completely different if modeled in a house with windows with larger windowpanes. I feel like the restrained sunlight is a major influence on how the models in the paintings look. Our next home, if we’re brave enough to ever move again, will be a Tudor-revival and it will have leaded casement windows. Meanwhile, casement windows would look ridiculous in our Federal row house so there will be none of that.
I do think, that there is a very comparable balance of light and shadow in our home because we’ve only got light coming in from two sides instead of four. Our light never quite makes it all the way in. In a few photos in the article, this ever-present, creeping shadow makes a cameo. From the outside, you can see that the ratio of wall to window is appropriately small, and although this home is not attached, you get the same enclosed feeling.
Concept Five: Exposed surfaces add texture and personality.
The French home has been covered in trompe l’oeil, which I like in other homes but not my own. What I do like about this house are the rare surfaces that have escaped this treatment: the brick fireplace, what appears to be the entire kitchen, and a very small bit of wall near a staircase. Actually, I could replicate this kitchen, down to the exposed beams with very little work. Although, in our kitchen, if we hang pots from our beams, people will hit their heads on them.
Baroque kitchens are happy, homey places with well-worked surfaces. It’s rare to see an actual kitchen from the time but I think the rustic example in the magazine is not too far off. Chairs don’t have to match either, which is nice when you buy second hand. Historic kitchens are often cobbled together case furniture with utilitarian things like a sink and fireplace and not overly coordinated. This is very helpful when you may have to buy one thing at a time and your restoration occurs over months, or even years, instead of days.
Concept Six: White walls, slightly worn and dirty, but not.
When we bought our house, it had a rather odd color scheme going on, which we promptly corrected by finding out what the appropriate colonial colors were and repainting post-haste. However, in my haste, I failed to realize that white walls are maybe not the end of the world.
Our little color experiment has been interesting but I feel that the next time around, we’re going white. All the fabrics and stone and wood just pop against the white, which offers a buffer zone. But it needs to be a white with depth and some distress to it. I don’t want to say dirty but yeah, the look is somewhat dirty (See painting above; does that look clean to you?). Definitely not sterile white but rather sheer white-washed.
Concept Seven: The woods are solid and sturdy.
And finally, the furniture needs to look like it’s fairly substantial. I have no idea how to accomplish this with IKEA, or how to get said solid pieces of furniture up our stairs. I like to think it would be the sort of things that would survive a trip across the ocean on the Mayflower. Of course, in the French house, he has plenty of room, 15 rooms of room to be exact. But for us? I’ll have to get creative.
So, that’s what I’ve learned. I imagine, such dissection will work for any style, really. It’s easier to absorb small things as you can, instead of trying to replicate the entire enchilada. I mean, I would love to hire the set designer from Girl with a Pearl Earring and say, just do the same thing for my house that you did for the movie. In fact, just bring over all the crap and I’ll take it from there. But, I imagine there is someone somewhere who might be angry if I absconded with the props.