Interior Design for Living: Combine traditional with contemporary decor


Q. Our family is moving to an old Colonial home that is listed with the Historical Foundation. It is charm-tag and elegant, but our taste in fur­nishings is very modern.

A: How can we satisfy our own tastes without destroying the ambi­ence of the house?  It can be done and very effec­tively, but there are a few precautions

and it is important not to de­stroy the integrity of the house. Walls do not have to be covered with Colonial-style prints, but don't install foil geometric wallpaper, ei­ther.

If you don't want to use tradi­tional prints, keep the walls simple. Paint them, use a plain wallpaper, or perhaps even wood — painted or stained, if it's appropriate. Wood ap­plied in diagonal strips would be much too contemporary.

The floors are most likely beauti­ful wood. Generally it's best to ex­pose them and utilize area rugs. Wall-to-wall carpeting was probably not manufactured when your home was built, and consequently, would not be suitable.

You could consider ceramic tile for the bathrooms and kitchen, but keep it simple and add interest with color and texture. Avoid any use of contemporary designs.

Color throughout the house does not necessarily have to be historically correct. All walls do not have to be manor white, but neither should they be painted bright red or radiant yellow.

Lighting should be kept very sim­ple and unobtrusive. In the kitchen

and bathrooms, more effective and functional lighting is often appropri­ate. Avoid using any modern polished chrome fixtures that are, attached to the ceiling or walls. A contemporary lamp that is free-standing will work well.

Also, kitchen cabinets or any built-in furniture should be wood. Laminates would be inappropriate. This is not to say you must have dark mahogany. You could paint them or use a lighter stain, but an integral part of the house should not read contemporary.

If you keep the background of the house — walls, floors and ceil­ings — relatively simple, you have­n't destroyed the integrity of the structure. Neither will you find it of­fensive.

Where you can satisfy your con­temporary tastes and best express yourself is in the selection of furni­ture, fabrics, rugs and art.

Perhaps the most appropriate decorating scheme would be eclec­tic, or the mixing of various styles. For instance, an Oriental rug, con­temporary upholstered pieces, an antique chest, modern art and a brass and glass coffee would be very exciting and interesting.

You probably would not want to use vertical louvers in your living, room, but neither do you have to in­stall draperies in a traditional print. They could be fabricated in a solid color texture or sheer.

Depending upon the house, you may be able to use softly pleated fabric shades, shutters or nothing for your window treatments. If you're not concerned about privacy, you may just want to hang plants.

Older homes frequently have lovely, large windows and the rooms are bright and airy. You wouldn't want to lose that effect.

One more suggestion concerns the exterior. More than likely the house is wood frame, so vinyl or aluminum siding would destroy its character.

There is no reason why your con­temporary tastes and retaining the ambience of the house cannot coex­ist. Actually, one plays off the other and the effect is often spectacular.