This Old House TV: Manchester house project
Designing an old house is serving two masters: the client's needs and the house itself. I generally start with the house. In the case of the Janet and David McCue home, we were dealing with a Shingle-style house, so we looked to the early 20th century for inspiration as to the look of the interiors. The Arts & Crafts movement, Colonial Revivalism, or Art Deco may have influenced the owners at the time. We took this period as a backdrop for the look of the house today, but worked with the McCues' likes and dislikes from that era.

For Janet and David, the Arts & Crafts movement was more appealing than the Colonial Revival, and some of the shapes of Art Deco furniture appealed to them. In working on the design for a family at the turn of this century, we also thought some very clean-lined contemporary pieces could be added to the mix.

Finding a Color Palette
With our general concept in place, we took the next step of talking about a color palette for the house. I am a firm believer that most people have an individual color palette, that you are drawn to the same colors again and again. Janet was wonderful to work with on color because, as an artist, she had a very strong sense of her color palette. Janet and I worked on the general color palette, then hashed out the details with her husband David, and Steve Holt, the architect.

Janet is drawn to warm colors: yellows, yellow-greens and yellow-oranges tempered by cool blue-greens and spiced by coral-reds. Into this mix of colors we added warm neutrals of camel and taupe, and also introduced a creamy linen trim with black as an accent throughout.

When deciding which colors we would use in each room, we started with the orientation of the house. We tried to adhere to the theory of keeping warmer colors on the north side, and if introducing a cooler color, it would be on the south side. We factored in the strength of the sun on the southern side, which is also the water side in the case of the McCue house. The sun can wash out colors at its peak, so we wanted colors that would stand up to bright midday sun, but not overwhelm in the evening and on gray days.

Choosing Fabrics
Once we had our color palette in place we started to look at fabrics. We worked on the whole house at once. It's very important to have a flow of colors through the house. The coral red that is painted on the back door is found on pillows in the family room, in the rug in the front hall, on the headboard in the master bedroom. We chose our fabrics based both upon this color palette and practicality. The McCues have children and a cat and a dog, and they really want to live in their rooms. We chose textured fabrics, ultrasuedes, and patterned fabrics that would be forgiving. We also decided window fabrics should be reasonably quiet so that people say "great views," not "great curtains."

Floor Coverings
Once we had general design, color and fabric in place, our next step was carpeting and rugs. We went with wool rugs for a number of reasons. The tactile factor was important. All rugs had to pass the bare foot test. Also, wool wears beautifully and is naturally stain-resistant. The only room that did not get wool was the game room. Nylon was used in that room because it is the entrance to the spa, and no one relished the idea of the smell of wet wool. Referring to our chosen fabrics we then decided in which rooms we wanted the rug to make a statement, and in which rooms we wanted the rug to be a backdrop. For example, we had chosen quiet fabrics for the music room, so we needed the drama of an Oriental. The dining room fabric was strong, so we went with a quiet rug.

Much of the process in designing the interior of a home is a process of editing. There are so many choices available, it is important to have a strong general concept of look and function. This concept limits your options and makes them more manageable. The color palette is another great editing tool enabling you to choose wall colors, fabrics, and rugs. Gradually, everything starts to fall into place and a great old house becomes a well-loved home.

Leslie Tuttle, of Tuttle-Bradley Design, was the interior decorator for the Manchester project.
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