Historic Preservation

Decorating the early 1900’s home (Part One - Living Rooms & Bedrooms)

When it comes to finish materials, where do you go to find out what is truly period-appropriate for your vintage home?

While antique shopping in Oregon last summer, I found a book published in 1917 by an architect named L. Eugene Robinson, titled Domestic Architecture. The book was intended for homeowners who were remodeling or building homes at that time, and much of what was written is relevant for restoration or remodeling turn-of-the-century homes today.

Here are some highlights regarding interior finishes for living rooms and bedrooms:

Living Rooms

  • ..should be above all restful.” 
  • “colors should be dull and neutral” 
  • “Old ivory or cream white enamel of semi-dull finish on thewoodwork, oatmeal paper of light brown on the walls, light buff paper on the ceiling, and any good flooring with, perhaps, Oriental rugs...” 
  • “...it is not well to slavishly hold to the color and tones of the scheme. If this is done, the effect will be monotonous, which is not restful. There should be judicious departures in color, chiefly in the furnishings, and especially in certain architectural features such as fireplaces, floors, and ornamental glass windows.” 
  • “As a rule, the gradation of color should be such that the ceiling is light, the frieze less light, the wall and wainscoting darker, and the floor darkest.” 
  • “A floor may be of very light wood, while the gradation of color starts dark at the base of the wall.” 


  • “...should have the quality of freshness regardless of the color scheme...” 
  • “While women usually prefer white, pink, blue or yellow rooms, men generally prefer brown, grey or green.” 
  • “Any color scheme that is not disturbing and that does not take on a dingy air may be satisfactorily developed.” 
  • “Wallpaper... is used almost to the exclusion of other materials...” 
  • “On sanitary grounds the painting of bedroom walls is preferable to papering.” 
  • “Woodwork...white or cream in color, firstly because it is neat, fresh and easily washed, and secondly because any bedroom set of furniture will conform to it.” 
  • “A very handsome treatment for a bedroom is to make the woodwork exactly like the bedroom set, of maple, walnut, mahogany, or any hard wood.” 
  • “Maple flooring is very satisfactory for bedrooms.” 
  • “For inexpensive treatments, white paint may be used on the wood trim, and gray paint on the floor. Sometimes, matting over a common floor proves very satisfactory.” 

(PART TWO  will cover kitchens, bathrooms, and porches.)

The Truth About Green Design

From the food you eat to the car you drive (or bus you ride), the idea of being "green" has become a part of daily life in America, especially in forward-thinking cities such as Seattle.

When I have clients who ask about whether or not I do "green" design, the answer is, "Of course!" I have always been motivated by eco-consciousness and energy conservancy. Now we just have more and better tools available.

A "green" green sink. Salvaged, recoated, and repurposed in the laundry room.

The Truth About Green Design

But, what does it really mean for YOU and YOUR project?  First, I need to understand your motives and objectives. Clients often fall within one or more of the following categories:

Good Steward  You want to do what you can for the environment. You want to reuse what you can and donate what you can't, even if that means you have to invest more money in labor. When you cannot find suitable salvage, you want to purchase products that are "green."

Health Conscious  You have chemical sensitivities or underlying health conditions which have made you greatly concerned about the off-gassing of products, as well as dust and mold. 

Investor in Technology  You want to support alternative energy innovation by using systems such as solar heating and rainwater harvesting, even if the initial investment is significant and the payback period is long.

Conservationist  You want to consume less, and get more out of what you already have. You are not willing to be experimental and would rather "go with the known".

Cabinets like these are excellent candidates for donation to a salvage company in exchange for store credit, tax credit, or cash.

The Truth About Green Design


It is very rare for a client to say "yes" to all of the above categories and also be willing to accept the higher price tag for materials and labor that accompanies that decision. Nearly everyone has to at least prioritize their eco-goals, finding the best intersection of cost, return on investment, comfort, and impact on the environment.

One person's junk is another person's treasure. This mantel was salvaged from a home on Capitol Hill in Seattle.

The Truth About Green Design

Buyer Beware

The marketplace is flooded with "green" products (including many inferior or fake ones), and using those products doesn't necessarily make your project a "green" project. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there suitable salvage that would be an alternate? 
  • How long will this product last? 
  • How much of this product is wasted during installation? 
  • If recycled content is important, what percentage and what type of recycled material does it contain? 
  • How much energy does it take to produce and transport this product? 
  • Is the source renewable? 
  • How reliable is the information? 
  • How much more does this material cost, and how does that compare to additional labor for reused or salvaged material? 
  • How difficult will it be to maintain this material or this installation? 
  • If resale value is important, how does this choice factor in? 
  • Is this trendy? Will it go out of fashion? 

Establishing this criteria at the beginning of the design process allows us to filter each decision according to your objectives, reducing frustration and delivering the best outcome for your budget, life, and the environment.

Fiber cement rainscreen siding, aluminum windows, composite decking on cedar framing

The Truth About Green Design

Tejon: Before & After

CHALLENGE  Restore the original charm of this home, which the previous owner had remodeled into a "Swiss chalet."  Located within a historic preservation overlay district, an additional design review prior was required prior to permit approval. 

SOLUTION  The siding was completely removed and replaced with cedar shingles, and new porch was designed to carefully recollect the original "stick-style" vocabulary.

'AFTER' PHOTOGRAPHY  Reprinted with permission of Cottage Living Magazine.  Photograph by Robbie Caponetto, © 2007

Click here for more photos.