This house was built in 1767 by British citizens (probably poor farmers) and this parlor must have been “the best room” in the little house. To me, it’s authenticity has always made it so. Tradition has it that every winter, my husband Rick and our dear friend Mike claim a wing chair by the fire, and can talk for hours. Keeping the functionality and humble architecture of the little room as our guide, we cleaned up the color palette of the walls to match the trim – Benjamin Moore’s Lancaster Whitewash, and stripped most of the paint off the fireplace mantel. Now this simple mantel, wonderfully distressed, is truly the focal point and commands your attention when you walk into the room. The room always had a bit more formality to its furnishings, but now the mantel is dictating a more rustic approach – I like to call it a “rustic elegance”.
The very first thing I did when the room was cleaned-up was to haul in a big basket of old seashells and coral that I had collected. Most of the bigger old shells I had bought last summer at an antique shop on Cape Cod for the whopping price of $5.00 a piece. At that price I bought them all! These creamy white shells, mixed with other curiosities from the sea, were the perfect natural subjects, sculptural forms, and color palette for the new vibe of this room.
This makeover meant finding homes in the house for the furnishings that were there before, and swapping them out for pieces that have a more of a primitive appearance. The fireplace has always been flanked by a pair of chairs and a tea table. I swapped the chairs – a pair of cream crewel covered Chippendale-inspired wing chairs that had a more formal English feel for a pair of rush seated, antique French grain burlap sack and checked upholstered country Chippendale-inspired wing chairs. The highly polished scalloped walnut tea table was too much of “a shiny penny” now in the middle of the room, so we moved it to the side as a support piece, and placed an early 18th century painted country Chippendale table from Maine in its place. To balance the space, and add a little more seating, we pulled a hoop-back Windsor armchair into the mix. A formal 18th century secretary was replaced by a wood grain painted early chest of drawers.
The room needed very little as far as furnishings and finishing touches go. The sea life styled mantel truly set the tone for a nature inspired room, so I placed our antique bee skep (that I had found in North Carolina) on the “shiny penny” table with an antique Hungarian pair of antlers on the wall behind. A 19th century compass housed in a painted black box was a find in Nantucket, and is the simple nautical touch needed for the early Maine table. A stack of antique wicker hampers also brings in an outdoor feel and serves a more practical purpose – extra storage.
This parlor truly was a mental and physical game of thinking outside of the box – robbing Peter to pay Paul that created a little bit of a domino effect throughout the house. But that’s not a bad thing. It’s good to shake things up now and again, and freshen areas that are the same day in, day out.
Now this parlor has a whole new vibe. When we sit in the chairs, we feel like we are no longer in Connecticut, but we’ve been transported to Cape Cod or Nantucket. And it just so happens that both places are our favorite getaways!