Sympathetic decoration

Sympathetic decoration

This turn-of-the-century house on the Hudson river has been simply painted in warm colours to complement its clean proportions and to contrast with the cool expanse of water outside.

Rejuvenating an old farm

Old materials work hard in this farmhouse: tiles for the floor were collected locally, the kitchen units were put together from old wood, and a marble-topped washstand serves as a pastry slab.

Character-forming Whatever the period of your home, find and exploit its essential character. This late eighteenth-century Martello Tower, one of many built around the coast of Britain to repel Napoleon, has thick fortress walls and a solid masculinity. Painting the giant brick arches plain white is all that is required to emphasize the strength of the place.

Traditional walls (left inset) A tweedy combination of English brick and flints is typical of old Norfolk houses. The door – which is not used – came from a local architectural salvage yard.

Faking age The couple who built this house a year before this picture was taken wanted something akin to an old French farmhouse, so they used original materials wherever possible. Old bricks were used for the hearth and old beams were rescued from a derelict building they are built with simplicity and a sense of tradition, can embody the look just as well as little thatched masterpieces from the sixteenth century. The key to countrification is a choice of sympathetic materials – rough plaster, old beams, woodframed windows, and slate floors. The vernacular country (even peasant) architecture of Italy, France and Greece could not be more simply constructed, but frequently it achieves perfect grace, proportion and livability with nothing more than a humble pile of breeze blocks.

Similarly, clapboard houses often embody natural elegance that spans the centuries. Even contemporary versions look good – there is a repertoire of traditional features in America that gives a modern version a convincing quality of years of history.

Of course, it is possible to fake a particular period, but successful faking needs to be approached with the seriousness that any other kind of forgery requires – a lot of homework in archives and libraries. Additions to old buildings must be carefully considered and carried out with respect. The general proportions of floor to window to ceiling should be echoed; it is all too easy to become obsessed with the prospect of extra space and cling to the idea you first thought of, without exploring other – less disruptive – possibilities.

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