Ideas To Steal From Amazing Historic Homes

The Elle Decor A-List design duo Bill Brockschmidt and Courtney Coleman have gained recognition for their ability to infuse modern sensibilities into historic references. These talented designers from Brockschmidt & Coleman have a knack for...

The Elle Decor A-List design duo Bill Brockschmidt and Courtney Coleman have gained recognition for their ability to infuse modern sensibilities into historic references. These talented designers from Brockschmidt & Coleman have a knack for translating timeless elements from the past and making them feel fresh and relevant. In this article, we will explore some steal-worthy ideas that these designers have discovered from their favorite historic homes. Get ready to be inspired and add a touch of history to your own living space.

Blue accent chair with carved wood side table and dining chairs in seating room with light sage painted accents. Photo by Tria Giovan

Favorite historical paint palette?

Bill and Courtney have recently been captivated by a palette of white, green, and yellow, which they discovered during their time in New Orleans. They draw inspiration from the delicate contrast of soft white plaster walls with ochre and leaf green trim, as seen in historic homes like the 1790s Creole Pitot House and Madame John's Legacy. This combination exudes a fresh and timeless look that the designers are currently incorporating in projects across New Orleans, Mississippi, and Florida.

PRO TIP: For achieving chalky white walls, they recommend plasters from Domingue Architectural Finishes and lime wash paint in bright white "Domingue" color. This pairs beautifully with trim in colors like Benjamin Moore's Bunker Hill Green and Emery et Cie’s Ocre.

Traditional yellow dining room with traditional wood and upholstered dining chairs and crystal candelabra Photo by William Waldron

Favorite under-the-radar idea from historic homes?

According to Bill and Courtney, historic paint techniques are just as fascinating as colors. They have experimented with a tinted varnish faux lacquer technique that they discovered at Colonial Williamsburg's Everard Brush House, which adds depth and dimension to walls and trim. They are also eager to try a distemper paint finish, inspired by a newly restored bedroom at Charleston's Nathaniel Russell House. This finish provides a brush stroke-y quality that works seamlessly in both contemporary and 19th-century rooms.

PRO TIP: They mention that Nathaniel Russell distemper paint is similar to Farrow & Ball's India Yellow and pairs beautifully with crisp white trim in a color like Wimborne White.

Eclectic living room with striped couch and armchair with graphic wallpaper and layered rugs Photo by Paul Costello

Favorite classic patterns and how to use them?

Bill and Courtney have a penchant for incorporating classic patterns into their designs. They adore large, strong awning and tent stripes for creating a jaunty look on walls and upholstery. Delicate stripes like ticking stripes, candy stripes, and pinstripes provide a softer aesthetic and are perfect for slipcovers and bed skirts. They also enjoy using smaller stripes, such as seersucker, for decorative curtain linings. Another favorite pattern category is versatile floral fabrics, which can range from soft and sweet to bold and vibrant, depending on the palette, fabric weave, and material. Damask patterns, with their play of light on contrasting sheen, add subtlety and grandeur to wall upholstery, curtains, and sofas. Indian block-printed patterns featuring paisleys and stylized floral motifs bring an exotic or casual beachy vibe to any space.

Bedroom with floral wallpaper, striped bed frame, and carved wood bench. Photo by Paul Costello

Dining area with white wood dining rooms, yellow wallpaper, and framed paintings Photo by Richard Leo Johnson

Favorite way to channel history on the walls?

When it comes to highlighting patterns on walls, Bill and Courtney believe that wallpaper is one of the most significant tools. They suggest using classical motifs such as urns and swags, medallions, arches and pillars, and ashlar masonry to enhance the architecture. Floral or damask patterns create a fabric-like effect that contrasts beautifully with the surrounding architecture. Stripes and small repeat patterns add texture and depth. Wallpaper borders also present an opportunity to incorporate pattern into a space, whether through trompe l'oeil or graphic motifs like Greek key, bead and reel, guilloche, palmette, or foliate patterns.

Bedroom with ornate gold head frame, framed paintings of birds, and pale green walls. Photo by Roger Davies

Favorite way to channel history on floors?

When it comes to floors, Bill and Courtney love to incorporate graphic geometric patterns using durable painted canvas floor coverings known as floor cloths. They also find inspiration in the organic patterns of Persian and Oushak carpets, which provide a myriad of colors for fabric schemes. Twentieth-century Scandinavian flatweave rugs and American hooked rugs offer striking geometric foundations for a room. Bessarabian flatweave carpets provide charming floral patterns, while more refined Axminster and Aubusson carpets showcase floral and architectural motifs with grandeur. These carpet patterns can serve as the main decorative element in a neutral palette or as a foundation for a multi-layered room filled with overlapping patterns.

Dining room with pink swan wallpaper, crystal chandelier, and round dining table. Photo by George Ross

Favorite ways to use timeless furniture styles? Any go-to pieces?

In their quest to incorporate antique and vintage furniture into traditional spaces, Bill and Courtney seek furniture styles that harmonize with the architectural setting. While they also incorporate comfortable modern upholstery and eclectic decorative accents, they pay close attention to the style, period, and origin of the furniture and objects. They sometimes intentionally contrast periods and styles, as they believe that the historic style and patina of a piece can be incredibly effective when juxtaposed against a sleek modern interior or when contributing to a hand-crafted and textured contemporary aesthetic. Some of their favorite examples include bold, architectural Regency stools with original crusty leather upholstery, seductive 18th-century Queen Anne mirrors with crystalized old glass and burnished gilding, wildly-shaped papier-mache chairs adorned with gleaming mother-of-pearl inlays, brightly colored "fancy painted" furniture that has acquired the perfect amount of wear and patina over time, well-worn early 20th-century Oushak carpets with a lustrous faded patina, and 1970s rattan furniture that has developed an oxidized charm through use and handling.

Orange sitting room with brown leather armchairs, round gold-framed mirror, and fireplace Photo by Brian Shumway

Favorite historical accents to add to a room?

When it comes to decorative accents, Bill and Courtney often incorporate smoke-bell lanterns of various scales and styles. These lanterns, ranging from beautiful 19th-century antiques to striking mid-century and contemporary versions, add character and light to a space. They also love utilizing table lamps made from antique porcelain, metal, or wood decorative elements, as these lamps not only illuminate but also enhance the character of a room when paired with complementary lampshades. Mirrors have always played a significant role in reflecting light and brightening dark areas. Antique floor coverings, regardless of their actual size, make a bold decorative statement in any room.

Eclectic living room with yellow couch, hanging silver trays, backgammon board table, and corgi. Photo by Tria Giovan

Favorite (and easiest) way to add an instant touch of history to a space?

According to Bill and Courtney, starting a collection is an excellent way to infuse history into an interior and explore the world of decorative arts. Collections can be tailored to the period of the house or simply reflect your personal interests over time. Consider items like 18th-century English brass candlesticks, 19th-century American embroidered samplers, Grand Tour paintings depicting volcanos, or Chinese export porcelain intended for the French market. How you display your collection is also crucial. Collections can take center stage or function as part of the overall textured ambiance of a room.

Bill & Courtney's Favorite Historic Homes

In addition to the previously mentioned houses, Bill and Courtney recommend visiting these off-the-beaten-track house museums in the USA:

  • The Williams House of the Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans, LA: This house showcases glamorous interpretations of Creole architecture from the 1940s to the 1960s. The interiors reflect the collecting, stylish entertaining, and 20th-century comfort of Kemper and Leila Williams, who were pioneers moving into the atmospheric French Quarter neighborhood.

  • Casa Amesti, Monterey, CA: Although privately owned by the men's Old Capitol Club, this home features preserved rooms designed by decorator Frances Elkins. The eclectic interior within a Monterey colonial adobe is chic, charming, and delightful, showcasing a mix of furniture, antiques, upholstery, and architectural details.

  • Hyde Hall, Cooperstown, NY: Regarded as one of the most stately and pure regency-style mansions in the country, Hyde Hall is undergoing continuous research and restoration. As a work in progress, it offers vast elegant rooms semi-furnished and decorated with stunning period antiques, akin to a World of Interiors photoshoot.

  • Winterthur Museum, Close to Wilmington, DE: The home of Henry Francis DuPont, this museum houses an extensive collection primarily focused on 18th and 19th-century English and American furniture and decorative arts. The period room settings showcase both original styles and 20th-century Colonial Revival interpretations. Private tours can be arranged with expert curators, allowing for a deep dive into various aspects, from Philadelphia rococo furniture to 18th-century upholstery details.

  • Jeramiah Lee Mansion, Marblehead, MA: This Georgian merchant's mansion boasts exceptional mahogany paneling and carved rococo ornament. However, its treasure lies in the 1760s hand-painted London grisaille wallpaper specifically designed for the house, depicting grand Roman and informal French rococo scenes.

  • Boscobel, Garisson, NY: Boscobel, a Federal-style house restored and furnished in the 1950s, serves as a great source of inspiration. The Regency character of the rooms is particularly beautiful and livable, offering inspiration for curtains, slipcovers, carpets, lighting, and wallpaper.

  • Gaineswood, Demopolis, AL: Gaineswood Plantation, with its picturesque classicism, showcases robust and opulent classical interiors. Ornamental features include shallow domes with skylights, classical plaster ornamentation, Ionic and Corinthian column-screens, decorative painting, and French wallpaper.

Not to forget the endlessly educational Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Montpelier

Shop Brockschmidt & Coleman’s Curation >>

Lead Photo by George Ross, All Images Courtesy of Brockschmidt & Coleman