Winterthur gives object lesson in opulence, American-style


Q: I recently moved into a new house with a spacious living room. I'm hoping to purchase some authentic American antiques to accompany my furniture, which consists mainly of good-quality reproductions of period pieces. Can you suggest a wall treatment and carpeting for the living room as well as a stylistic direction for accessories?

A: Forgive me for illustrating my answer with a photograph of one of my favorite rooms -- the Chinese Parlor from the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. I realize that this setting is probably much more opulent in styling and scale -- and certainly in budget -- than what you're contemplating.

I firmly believe, however, that it's by seeing such wonderful models that we learn about design techniques and help our taste to develop. The understanding acquired in this way can make a big difference in the design of even the most modest interior.

In general, American-style settings can accommodate a wide variety of wall treatments. The possibilities range from plain painted surfaces to textured effects, to wallpapers in standard documentary patterns. An American-type interior could even include something like the late 18th-century wallpaper mural shown in the photo. It was imported from China and installed in Winterthur in 1929.

Historically, painted walls were seldom muted in their colors. Research has revealed that in most times and places, interiors were originally painted in rich reds, sunny yellows, verdant greens and other vivid colors. The paler combinations we often see today in historic homes are usually the result of fading. Sometimes, too, later generations of residents may have painted over the original colors, which have not yet been restored or re-created.

As for floor coverings, my own preference would be for bare wood, either darkly stained or perhaps painted in a color that complements your furniture. I would also insist, in a situation like yours, that wall-to-wall carpeting be avoided. Area rugs, even fairly large ones, could be quite appropriate, especially if used to delineate furniture groupings. The possibilities here include Chinese, Turkish and Persian designs -- either new or antique -- as well as needlepoint rugs in floral or geometric patterns.

You're wise to give some thought to the room's accessories. These decorative additions can be very important in emphasizing a certain style or in finishing the look of a room. In your case, I'd look for objects made of brass, pewter or silver. They'll make almost any setting sparkle.

Your recent move to a new home could provide the opportunity to begin assembling a decorative collection, if you don't already have one. Chinese or Japanese porcelains would make a lovely display in your living room. In fact, many kinds of Far Eastern artifacts, including screens and scrolls and embroideries, would be most effective in softening the austere lines of an 18th-century American design.

This is the sort of lesson that can be drawn from studying museum models. Besides being enjoyable in its own right, a visit to an institution such as the Winterthur can generate plenty of ideas for specific projects in one's own home.

Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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