Design Hints

Painted to Perfection

Perfect an Early American look in your home with these smart hints for working painted pieces into your decor.

Including a variety of painted elements is one of the keys to pulling off the Early American primitive look. Read on for some of the clever ways Groveland, Massachusetts, homeowner Suzanne Charland has utilized paint to set a Colonial tone in her home.

Seek out authentic finishes:
Whether your budget allows for a small antique shelf or a large timeworn cupboard, primitive pieces sporting their original painted finishes and the wear that comes from years of use make a room feel authentic. Suzanne even installed painted boards from the walls of an 18th-century house to create wainscoting on her dining room walls.

Add style with stencils:
Stenciling was a common way of adding decoration to walls and floors during the Colonial era, so Suzanne stenciled borders on her living room and parlor walls. Many companies offer reproductions of common patterns and motifs, including the graceful swags and festoons of the classical style as well as nature-inspired folk-art motifs. Try visiting, or to look for designs to use in your own home.

Create the illusion of age:
Many paint treatments and techniques can instantly age modern furnishings and walls. Suzanne gave her dining room walls a timeworn appearance by painting them a creamy hue and then using a rag to apply three coats of a tea-stain glaze.

Accessorize smartly: Whether it's an antique portrait or a reproduction sign, smaller pieces add personality and depth to your decor. Also, painted furnishings can provide a dynamic backdrop for other primitive collections; the Charlands' home gets additional Colonial panache from pewter plates displayed simply on the red living room mantel and a monochromatic collective of white dishware on a green shelving unit in the parlor.

Written by Lisa Sloan
Photographed and Styled by Franklin & Esther Schmidt