Interior Design for Living: Contemporary look is wrong
Modern conveniences are fine, but be sure that finishings — such as window coverings and lighting — have an old feel to them.


Q: I have just purchased a home that used to be a farmhouse and was built in 1840. It is structurally sound but in need of cosmetic improve­ment. Many of the original features — such as floor-to-ceiling windows, original woodwork and wide plank floors — are still intact. I want to up­date it without losing its charm. What suggestions can you give me?

A: It sounds like you have found yourself a jewel!

Often when people update a house, they remove many of the things that make it so charming. You have a good strong shell to build upon, and a lot of the things that make a home so appealing are things that cannot be readily duplicated today.

You can update your house with all the modern conveniences and still not ruin the character.

When you renovate the kitchen and install new bathrooms, you can use the most modern fixtures —

range tops, microwave ovens, dish­washers, whirlpool tubs or whatever you desire. Just be certain that the finishings — the selection of style of cabinet, flooring, wallpaper and lighting — are in keeping with the flavor of the house.

Wood cabinets would be appro­priate in the kitchen; Formica would not.

The flooring should be simple. Wood probably would be most ap­propriate because that is what inevi­tably was used when the house was built. However, ceramic tile or vinyl also can be considered if the colors, pattern and finish are in harmony with the feel of the house.

When selecting wallpaper, choose one with a texture or with relatively small-scale print. A large contemporary floral or geometric design would not be appropriate.

If you do not like Colonial prints, select a relatively neutral pattern or texture for the walls and add acces­sories such as baskets, colorful prints, pottery, copper or anything that has an older feel to it.

Be careful when selecting light­ing for the house. You want good, ef­ficient lighting, especially in the kitchen and bathrooms.

There is nothing wrong with sim­ple, innocuous surface-mounted fluo­rescent lights. Their efficiency, ap­pearance and quality of light have been improved immensely.

Undercabinet lights, which can't be readily seen, also may be used. A

chrome-finished track system or other contemporary-style lighting would not work well.

Not everything you use in the house has to be authentic 1800s. What you do use, however, should have an old feel to it.

When selecting window treat­ments for the house, choose dra­peries, curtains or shutters. Avoid vertical louvers or 1-inch miniblinds, which really would not be in keeping with the period.

Expose those gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows as much as possible to show them to their full advantage. A lace or sheer curtain would ac­complish that and let the light shine through. You may choose to put a

shade underneath for privacy and heat retention. The shade can be rolled up and out of sight when not in use.

The floors probably will be one of the main highlights of the house. When you refinish them, consider having a polyurethane finish put on them to avoid excessive upkeep. Use area rugs where desired and avoid wall-to-wall carpeting.

When repairing old walls and ceilings, try to save the lath and plas­ter. If this is not possible, they can be replaced with sheetrock. New plaster walls are very expensive. Paneling, masonite and sand paint, used to camouflage walls and ceil­ings in poor condition, should not be considered.