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Everything old is new again. That saying holds true when it comes to interior design and construction. The 1700s have been hugely influential on modern design, and homeowners today often opt to restore and preserve 18th-century houses. In 2019, many homes have a mix of classic 18th-century styles and more modern aesthetics.

Understanding how and why homes were created in the 18th century makes it easy to compare those styles and techniques to the homes of today. Though it’s centuries later, it’s surprising to find out just how much still carries over from the 18th century.

Paint Colors

During the 1700s, those who had the money to spend on home decor opted for bright paints, like Prussian blue (which was George Washington’s choice). Otherwise, earthy tones were the norm. Pigments from the ground were combined with minerals and binders to create paint. Because of this, the paint was similar to the materials used in construction, like brick and stone.

 

For most people in the 1700s, paint colors were not flashy; instead, they were harmonious with nature and the rest of the structure. Luckily, since there are so many earth pigments to choose from, there was still a somewhat wide selection of paint colors, including yellow, pink, and burnt orange.

 

Today, earth tones and neutrals are still dominant for interior paint. Beyond that, other, non-neutral popular colors still share similarities with what was common during the 1700s: subdued blues and yellows, deep reds and navy blue, for example. The main difference is that those colors are made by choice, not a necessity. In the 18th century, premixed paint wasn’t invented yet (that came about during the 19th century), so everything had to be created by hand, limiting many homeowners to what they could source nearby.

Architectural Materials

During the 18th century, especially closer to the middle and end of the century, heavy and complex architectural details were found inside the home, not just on the home’s exterior. Many of these details were crafted from pine or walnut. Fireplaces had small columns and ornate mantlepieces; doorways were grand and ceilings were high, and many homes had sculptures as decor. During the mid-18th century, Gothic style became popular, seen in rib vaulting and ornate stonework. The more wealthy a family, the more elaborately designed their home could be.

 

Today, unless a homeowner has an entirely preserved 18th century home, decor often combines some 18th-century style with modern decor. A small sculpture may be placed atop a chest or in a bookcase. An ornate piece of furniture with intricate carving will be placed in an otherwise minimalist room to serve as a focus. A combination of dark and light furniture, decor items, flooring, and walls are mixed within one room to create a layered, dramatic feel. By using complementary colors, you can highlight certain parts of the room.

Decorative Items and Practical Design

Perhaps one of the biggest differences between decor in the 18th century versus today is that many decorative items had a purpose beyond aesthetics. For example, decorative iron tools were common, like horseshoes and candleholders. Wood buckets, barrels, and baskets were also popular decor items. Furniture tended to be utilitarian instead of for show — it was heavy and solid, with straight lines and not much ornamentation, if any.

 

As the style developed through the 18th century, though, interior design did start to incorporate more detailed features, though still not as ornate as the styles found in England (which influenced American style in the 1700s).

 

Today, decorative items and even furniture are often for visual appeal, nothing more. However, the way a home is set up is often purposeful, especially if the homeowner follows the guidelines of feng shui. For example, furniture should be kept off the walls. When furniture is gathered closer to the center of the room, it encourages closeness and conversation. Similar to the 1700s, feng shui also suggests that clutter and unnecessary items be kept to a minimum. Keeping your home more sparse than cluttered can relieve anxiety.

Final Thoughts

Today’s homeowners have more options than the homeowners of the 1700s because materials and decorative items are so much more accessible. When you’re ready to do a renovation, you can have professionals haul away all of the scraps you no longer need. During the 18th century, those scraps were probably reused as much as possible, unless you were lucky enough to be part of a wealthy family.

 

There’s a lot of flexibility today when it comes to the materials you can keep and what you can get rid of. The attention to detail and the rich taste of the 1700s are still highly influential today, though, and Colonial-style homes continue to be bought, preserved, and cared for.

About the Author:
Frankie Wallace contributes to a wide variety of blogs and writes about many different topics, including politics and the environment. Wallace currently resides in Boise, Idaho and is a recent graduate of the University of Montana.