How to Design a Colonial Room

Published by the San Francisco Chronicle, February 6, 2013.

By Alisa Bowen


Early American colonists settled along the Eastern seaboard with only the basic provisions for establishing a new life. From the 1600s through the Revolutionary Era, they built simple, comfortable homes utilizing the natural resources from the abundant landscape: wood and stone. Designing a Colonial-style room can provide warmth to a home; whether you decide to source antiques or reproductions, you can easily design a room in the Colonial style with simple, rustic selections.


Lay down the foundation for a Colonial room design with wooden flooring. Selecting wide-plank flooring with a rustic or weathered look is ideal. Consider salvaged wood selections for antique charm and an environmentally conscious consumer choice. Warm the flooring area with multicolored braided rugs. Since homes of this time period were square and symmetrical, plan each space accordingly. Installing a brick or wooden hearth in front of a fireplace in a living room, family room or kitchen will also create Colonial ambiance.

Walls & Windows

Colonial walls were painted, as wallpaper was too expensive for early settlers. Simple milk paint and earthy pigments in muted tones covered walls, accented with hand-painted stencil designs in cranberry reds, steel blues and forest greens. In order to protect the painted walls from the backs of furniture, the chair rail was implemented and widely used during the Colonial period. Chair rail molding and wood paneling on the walls will contrast nicely with muted stenciled walls. Accent windows with wooden shutters and simple window-length panel curtains in gingham fabric.

windsor chairFurniture

Colonial rooms were clean and comfortable, outfitted with simple furniture influenced by the British and handcrafted by the early settlers. Select antique Colonial or reproduction pieces of Sheraton wooden tables or four-poster canopy beds. Anchor a room with a pair of Windsor armchairs or place them around a rustic dining table. Choose wooden furniture that is stained, not painted, although you can disguise a newer reproduction piece by distressing it with a little black paint. Place an old trunk at the bottom of a bed or between a set of chairs as a table doubling as hidden storage. Place an old school bench for additional seating under a window with crewelwork pillows.



Visit antique stores or shop reproductions to complete your Colonial-designed room. Hang an Early-American quilt on the wall or behind a bed as art. Stage bookshelves or fireplace mantels with a short stack of antique books, an old model ship, pewter or pottery jugs, tin boxes and antique family photos. Fill a wooden bowl on a table with crisp apples. Hang dried herbs or flowers with a ribbon from the tops of a window casing. Decorate a wall with a vignette of framed portraits or other antique items. Display a silver platter on a shelf or table.



Re-create Colonial ambiance with warm, natural candlelight. Install iron sconces on walls flanking doorways, windows and fireplace mantels. Hang wrought-iron Williamsburg chandeliers over the center of a room, table or sitting space. Light tables, hearths, writing desks, bedside tables and mantels with candle-burning tin lanterns. Iron or wooden candleholders filled with rolled beeswax candles provide a warm glow in the Colonial style.



About the Author

Based in Naples, Fla., Alisa Bowen has been writing about travel, culinary arts and design since 2010. Her articles have been published in magazines such as “The Resident,” “Good Taste Magazine,” “Explore” and “REAL Life Magazine,” throughout the Caribbean. Additionally, Bowen was the editor-in-chief of “Home & Design Magazine” and a contributing writer for “Your Home Magazine” in Southwest Florida.

Photo Credits

View the entire article in the San Francisco Chronicle:

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  • © 2012-2020 Alisa Marie Coccari All Rights Reserved

    All writing is copyright of Permission to use any such content will be both requested/granted in writing. Photography will only be used with written permission from the photographer and/or source. Alisa Marie Coccari has also been published under the nom de plume, Alisa Bowen.
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