Patti Lorenzi Cowger.jpg

Patti Cowger

Dear Readers, this column is just for you. Every other week I’ll answer one of your interior design questions. Just send me an email with your question and I’ll reply right here. This week’s question:

How can we update the look of our Edwardian house without removing all the paneling and molding?

Let me first set the stage. The Edwardian period followed the death of Queen Victoria and preceded World War I. It was generally a time of peace and prosperity, garden parties, and a mix of Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts. Think of the early seasons of Downton Abbey. You could consider Edwardian style modernized Victorian in that colors became lighter and rooms became bigger.

I’m happy to hear that you will be keeping the architectural integrity of your house. The easiest way to update it while maintaining its abundance of millwork is through color. I’m assuming you have hardwood floors. If they need attention, and in it’s in the budget, sand and refinish them.

If it has yellow undertones, knock them back by adding grey or white to the finishing stain. This will instantly and significantly transform and update the ambience.

If you’re replacing the floors, think about bamboo. Although not used for floors in Edwardian times, bamboo and wicker furniture was very popular at that time.

A modern color palette tends to land on the cool side of the color wheel. It also tends to be monochromatic. Grey has been a popular choice for the last decade, and although it may soon be replaced by brown, I don’t choose colors based on trends. So, in your case, I envision light and medium grey walls and ceilings. If you have wainscoting or chair rails, paint the lower areas darker than the upper areas. How dark is up to you. If you want a bit of drama, opt for charcoal grey. Paint the woodwork cool white or light grey. If you prefer warm colors, look for a range of taupes. Taupe is just grey with a few added drops of brown.

Choose solid-pattern fabrics for upholstery and window coverings. (Wood blinds, grass shades, and shutters also work on windows). Natural-colored or non-dyed linen fabrics are classic and seamlessly fit into a contemporary décor.

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Light fixtures can also express a strong, modern style. Consider them pieces of sculpture. Don’t choose basic, standard designs. Think out of the box. Be daring. They don’t have to be in keeping with an Edwardian style. These are works of art — and art does not have to match anything. It stands on its own. If using the color palette I’ve described, look for black or chrome metal or clear glass fixtures.

The nice thing about having an overall cool (or taupe), neutral color scheme is that any color you add will stand out. But because of this, be deliberate and selective. For example, if you have a red rug, add a couple of red accessories and then stop. Once you add more colors, your design will become diluted.

To recap, think of light, airy, and monochromatic with a modern or abstract surprise tossed into the mix.

Have a question? Send to with “NVR Question” in the subject line.

Patti L Cowger is a credentialed, award-winning Napa-based interior designer and owner of PLC Interiors. For more information about her design services, visit her website at call (707) 322-6522; or email