As a New England design blogger, I’ve done my share of posts about my local environment and all that makes this region special. As a professional interior decorator, I’ve also certainly done my share of projects that feel very “New England-y”. The funny thing is that so many of my projects and posts have featured very different looking homes and interiors. And yet, they still maintain the language and feel of a traditional New England design style.
The region is blessed with both coastal, rural and mountain regions which heavily influence the style. Added to that is the historical significance of Colonial settlers followed by the formal elegance of Boston’s first neighborhoods in the early post Revolutionary years; all of which was heavily influenced by English architecture and the fascination in England and young America with classical Greek design.
And finally, laid out on top of this is a stubborn “Yankee” ethos of Puritan thrift. This mix of old and “new” along with rural, coastal and urban landscapes is the mash from which the New England design style has developed.
Distilling an historical style that has been brewing for nearly 400 years isn’t easy, but here are my top five elements that define New England design style:
1. Cleanliness of line: From the start, our houses, and corresponding design styles, are not fussy. Millwork is rich but not overly ornate and woodwork is often painted a traditional white or cream. Natural woods such as locally grown pine are used by Boston-area flooring contractors with wide-planks being the most historically accurate. While entrances to homes may have a more ornate portico, double hung windows themselves are often small with little millwork detail, featuring mullioned windows in the traditional 6-over-9 or 12-over-12 pattern. Glass was expensive and large pieces of glass were impossible to transport therefore small window panes became the norm.
2. Natural color palettes: The strong influence of the magnificent coastline and the natural beauty of the woods and mountains have translated to a traditionally natural color palette with blue and white being the most prevalent when going for a coastal/beachy New England design style. A strong blue, such as navy, with a crisp white offers a nautical yachtsman vibe while softer blue/greens, tans and off-whites suggest the sand dunes and ocean tides of Cape Cod.
For inspiration and a glimpse at a cool blue, white and coral color-scheme, check out Roeshel from DIY Show Off's beach cottage style tutorial.
3. Practical Puritan pride: There is an old saying that a Boston lady was asked where she bought her hat and her response was something to the effect of, “In Boston, we don’t buy our hats, we have our hats.” New Englanders may not always be up to the minute trend-wise, but what we have is quality and it will last. This is certainly true of good New England design which features high quality, well made pieces of good design that always work because of their traditional roots. This holds true whether one’s style is formal or more rustic. All furnishings should be durable and comfortable.
4. Nature’s gifts: The natural beauty that surrounds the region heavily influences our style. Regional stones such as slate and granite are natural fits for floors and countertops both indoors and out. The seashell is a common motif in wood carvings and fabric patterns while natural shells are used to adorn everything from mirror frames to small boxes. Fresh local flowers and branches are easily picked and presented in natural arrangements throughout the house. Traditional New England style does not generally feature elements that are not indigenous to the region, such as tropical prints or exotic woods. The one significant exception to this rule is the use of the pineapple motif which signifies "welcome."
5. Collections: New Englanders are collectors. We collect books, art and sea glass. We value travel and education, our own history and our place within the history of society. We collect experiences and like to be reminded of our adventures. Homes are filled with family photos, old children’s books and the miscellanea of living. We collect baskets and put up shelves to hold our bits and bobs and books in and we keep them within easy reach.