Napa is blessed with many historic homes, large and small with a multitude of periods and styles represented.
In some cases, the mixture of styles in a given neighborhood means the homes were built during different periods. However, it could also be a result of a builder or architect working on the cusp of two periods in history, or one that has a particular interest in certain design features, or of later additions after the original construction took place.
Most of us are familiar with the beautiful Victorians (1855-1885) in town, characterized by mansard roofs with dormer windows, molded cornices and decorative brackets beneath eaves. Victorians tended to decorate their interior with a lot of ornamentation and detail. Hanging many family photos, mirrors and nick knack shelves is in keeping with the period.
We also have Tudor revivals (1890-1940), characterized by sloped tile roofs. We have Italianate mansions (1870-1895) with ornate eaves, bay windows, low-pitched roofs and clapboard siding. There are Queen Anne (1885-1905) styles with varying wall textures, ornamentation, porches and gables. And the Craftsman (1905-1930) style with square posts, decorative beams or braces under cables, and low pitched roofs.
Bringing those unique exterior elements into the interior is one way to approach decorating your historic home. Choose those details you feel are most distinctive, such as decorative beams, and find interior furnishings that mirror those features.
Many people decorate the inside of their homes in a style they feel is appropriate for the period of the home. However, care needs to be taken that it doesn’t end up looking like a museum, which is not really desirable.
In addition, the need for functionality, comfort and safety is underscored if there are children in the house. You should be aiming for a more modern version of historic decorating. It is perfectly fine to decorate with an eclectic mix of styles if they work harmoniously together.
One way to tackle the quandary of how to decorate a historic home is to slowly collect antique pieces. The quality of the wood used, for example, may be superior to inferior modern particleboard units. You might need to spruce up the older piece with a little refinishing/restaining, ending up with a longer lasting piece of furniture.
Budgetary considerations can limit our ability to collect the finer pieces. We also want to make our home as comfortable as possible with some modern elements. For example, if you have an old fireplace, regardless of whether it is operable, you can build a new surround that will add warmth to this traditional aspect of a historic home.
Base the design on that which is appropriate for the period of the house. Instead of a traditional mirror above the fireplace, there is no reason you cannot place a new flat screen TV over the fireplace.
Wallpaper can reflect a certain time period. As it happens, wallpaper is very much in vogue at the moment, so you can update and give a nod to history at the same time. Light fixtures are another element that can be both new and in a style of the period you want to reflect.
An interior designer can help with suggestions on how to make the space as comfortable by blending newer items and period pieces appropriately together.
One thing to remember is that the original owners of old houses probably did not have new furnishings throughout the house when they lived there. They probably brought family pieces that were passed down and acquired new pieces as the years went on.
There is no one stock answer for everyone. Each situation is a little different, and many things need to be taken into account. Think about what you want to accomplish. Would you like to bring in a really strong feeling for the time period of your house? Search flea markets, garage sales, craigslist, estate auctions, antique and second hand stores, and salvage shops for items appropriate to the period. Do some research on the Internet and see how they decorated back in that time period.
The main thing to keep in mind is to make your decorating comfortable and functional.