Ode to Old Brown Furniture



Should Old Acquaintance be forgot……..

Happy New Year!

On New Year’s Day thousands of kind hearted and adventurous people gather at Easton’s Beach in Newport, RI to take the Polar Bear Plunge and help raise money for A Wish Come True.

polar bear plunge

Another popular New Year’s Day tradition is Lighthouse Promotions’ annual antiques show held at the Venus de Milo in nearby Swansea, Mass. Rather than brave the frigid Atlantic and those treacherous mimosas, we marked 2016 by fighting the crowds at the cozy, warm indoor antiques show.

antique show

Booth after booth was brimming with this year’s must-have treasures including blue and white pottery, Asian antiques, vintage jewelry…….and believe it or not……old brown furniture.




For those of you who still love antiques, you may share my concern that brown furniture has been deemed an endangered species.

The Economist recently published an article entitled “Out With the Old” proclaiming that the bottom has fallen out of the antiques market. Experts blame the downfall on millennials who advocate a less is more lifestyle, celebrate the tiny house movement and cherish mid-century modern furniture. As the mother of two twenty-somethings, I’ve seen them wrinkle their noses and roll their eyes when I bring another piece of brown furniture into our home.


Truth be told, I do go a little weak in the knees when I see a Danish teak credenza that was crafted during the Kennedy Administration.

But I have not completely given up on antique brown furniture. Neither should you.

These mahogany, rosewood, walnut and maple relics embody Old World craftsmanship that cannot be duplicated. Their inlaid and hand-carved designs serve as vestiges of our past. And at this very moment in time, brown antiques are shockingly affordable.

Many dismiss antique brown furniture because they prefer light, bright and airy decors; the kind you find in hotel lobbies. Flip through the pages of decorating magazines or browse Pinterest and you’ll have no trouble finding exquisite details camouflaged by gallons of white latex paint.

Why not give brown furniture a second chance? Attend an auction.  Visit an antiques mall.  Explore a flea market. Experience a nostalgia tug. Be Detective Brown.

Your family’s health is another good reason to buy brown. Highly toxic lead paint plagues antique and vintage furniture. Chipped, peeling or cracked lead paint will release poisonous lead dust into your home and put your loved ones at serious risk.  Before you consider buying a shabby antique, conduct an instant lead test.  You can purchase lead test kits at your local hardware store.

lead check

lead paint

The chipped lead paint on this cupboard is highly toxic.

Go Brown!

Here are some brown antiques that look on the bright side…….so to speak.

empire mirror

Antique Ogee mirror with mahogany frame. The glass reflects light and brightens the room.


mirror detail 2

Antique Federal mirror. The pediment, urn, flowers, carvings, and inlaid detail are lovely.

marble table

Antique marble top table.

sail chair

Antique mahogany chair. The seat is upholstered with a vintage cotton sail.


Antique Stickley Rocking Chair…..an icon of the Arts and Crafts Movement.


chest detail

Vintage chinoiserie chest of drawers. The decoration is so romantic.

cropped inlaidAntique inlaid table.  Each piece of wood painstakingly set in place.


Let’s make 2016 the year that beautiful brown furniture becomes fashionable once again.  Cheers!

Before & After

Rejuvenating a home takes time.  During the journey, we always hope that projects could be completed as quickly as they seem to happen on home improvement shows … in one hour’s time with three commercial breaks.

Since July 2014, we have been working very hard to bring an 1811 Federal home back from the edge of ruin. The major structural improvements include new windows, roof, siding, insulation, plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling systems.  Now as the crew paints the exterior we are nearing the homestretch. Perhaps the best compliment we received was from a contractor who said, “You just gave this home another 200 years.”

Our hearts are glad.

I hope you will enjoy this series of dramatic before and after images.

Some of the exterior improvements include the roof, chimneys, downspouts, siding, windows, porch, entry door, lighting, fence and formal garden.

before sherman

sherman exterior

sherman garden 1

sherman garden 2

sherman garden

Awkward 19th Century Addition That was Replaced with a Kitchen and Dining Area

New kitchen features island designed around original summer board, antique chandeliers, antique corner cabinet, and antique transom window and sidelights.


addition 2


antique windows and ceiling clerestory windows kithcen

dining and windows

Family Room

New chimney was built, original hand hewn beams were exposed, original floor was restored, and antique glass-fronted cabinets were added.

den before

Den 2

den vertical

Front Parlor

Original molding, wainscoting, mantel and flooring were restored.  Antique sconces were installed.  And a new bookcase was built.

front parlor b4

front parlor

Entry Hall

Original stairs were reinforced. Original balustrades, newel post and railings were painted.  Flooring was refinished.  New grass cloth and stair runners were installed.

1st stair b4

1st stairs

1st stair before

2nd stair

Master Bedroom

A gas fireplace was added to new chimney.  Original mantel and flooring were restored. Antique windows serve as the new headboard. We also added a dressing room and master bathroom.  We rescued a claw foot tub from the addition.

mb b4 mb before

antique glass

mb 1

master bedroom

bedroom and dressing room

dressing room


Sitting Room

Gas fireplace was installed in new chimney.  Original moldings, mantel and flooring were restored.  A new closet was added.

sitting room beforesitting room


Flooring, moldings and mantel were restored. Wallpaper was removed.  Original chimney brinks were painted black.

guest room be4 guest room before

guest room


Original unfinished attic was transformed into a home office.  New railings, skylights, bookcases and window seat were added.

stair from attic

attic stair


Why History Matters



The interiors of the 1811 Federal are complete. The new porches have been constructed. The landscapers are now working feverishly building hardscapes, laying sod and planting gardens. The house painters are on standby, ready to redefine the exterior. Each day the house looks and feels more and more like a home.


Throughout our rejuvenation project, so many people have wondered why we would invest so much energy in rejuvenating a 200 year-old home that we found precariously close to ruin. Couldn’t we build a new house instead?  Wouldn’t we prefer a modern open floor plan? Why connect with the past?  Why does history matter so much?


Many of the answers can be found in this wonderful documentary from the Newport Historical Society.  I hope you’ll take a few minutes to understand why rejuvenating homes of the brave is rewarding on so many levels:

I look forward to posting images of the finished project in the coming weeks!

Saving Steps

The first time we visited the 1811 Federal with our real estate agent, we entered through the front door and found ourselves standing in a foreboding foyer. Over the course of 200+ years, a succession of occupants defined and redefined the narrow passage with layer upon layer of wallpaper. The most recent residents attempted to brighten the space by painting the multi-layered walls with a distinct shade of avocado. Unfortunately, the time worn pine green hall runners and stair runners worked in tandem to darken the space’s horizontal and vertical aspects.

stair before 2

stair before

To create welcoming hallways on the first and second floors, we removed the carpeting, reinforced the original staircases with under-mounted supports, painted the treads and bannisters black, painted the risers, balusters and stair brackets white, installed blue board and plaster veneer over the wallpapered sections above the chair rails, added grass cloth wall covering, painted the chair rail and wainscoting white, refinished the hardwood flooring in the halls, installed recessed lighting and an antique pendant light. We also replaced a metal entry door that was painted red.  Our new wooden entry door will be painted black to match the bannisters and risers.




For the finishing touch, we turned our attention to hall runners and stair runners. In keeping with the Federal period, we originally planned on installing blue runners with yellow stars. We determined a budget and headed to a local carpet store known for their reasonable prices. We were excited to find a star patterned carpet; however the $12 per square foot cost of the stair runners and installation exceeded our budget. When we factored in the cost of adding matching hall runners we were crestfallen. How could carpet be so expensive?


Then I remembered that stair runners and hall runners could easily be cut and bound from discounted carpet remnants. So next we visited a nearby high-end carpet retailer. When we entered the store we immediately headed to the rear section where the remnants are displayed. As luck would have it, a large blue remnant distinguished by a golden oriental star pattern stood out among the stacked rolls of carpet. The salesperson explained that the remnant was left over from another client’s expensive custom carpet order. We mentioned that we needed stair runners and hall runners for a Federal home and the salesperson offered to follow us home to measure the spaces and provide an estimate. He spent about one hour in our home measuring and punching numbers on his calculator. When the moment of truth arrived, the cost of creating our carpeting from the remnant and installation was $6 per square foot.


stair 3

stair 2

stair 1

stair 4

By working with the remnant and carpet professionals, we now have superior quality runners that were expertly installed for a fraction of the cost of standard carpet. If you are considering new carpet for your home, please explore the affordable solutions waiting for you in the remnant section.

To read more about trends in stair runners, read my column for The Daily Basics:  http://thedailybasics.com/2015/08/02/step-by-step-the-latest-trends-in-stair-runners/

Interior Sliding Barn Doors

When you were a child, did you ever dash into the house and forget to close the door behind you? If so, were you greeted by a parent or sibling who inquired with a smirk, “Do you think we live in a barn?  Close the door.”


It’s so funny how things change. Today the notion of rooms distinguished by barn doors is all the rage. Barn doors are making bold statements in kitchens, dining rooms, living rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms and closets.

barn doors 4

If you are considering replacing a traditional swinging door with a sliding barn door, the design possibilities are endless.  You can install antique salvaged doors, wooden paneled doors, or glass French doors. The hardware can be hidden in the ceiling or you can select exposed hardware fashioned from rustic black iron or sleek stainless steel. From traditional to contemporary to cottage-style homes, barn doors imbue style.




When we were designing the addition to the 1811 Federal that would house the kitchen and dining room, we envisioned using a pair of antique doors we discovered in the attic for sliding pantry doors.

Perpective 2  crop

Additio interiors

To make the doors stand out from the white cabinetry, we planned to paint the doors the same shade as the kitchen island…..Benjamin Moore’s Black Pepper….which is really a lovely shade of blue.

black pepper

Even though the concept looked great in a sketch, our contractor reminded us that the pantries did not have enough space on either side of the openings to slide the doors to the right or left and the doors would block the sink  We had no choice but to install traditional doors that swing open into the room.


However, we did not abandon the idea of installing sliding doors somewhere else in the home.  A small hallway that leads to a first floor bathroom, laundry room, and utility closet proved to be our next best option.

barn door 1

The sliding doors are great space savers and improve circulation.  You can be pulling clothes from the dryer, while at the same time, someone could access the bathroom or pull the vacuum cleaner from the closet.

barn door 2

The search for barn door hardware was a bit exhaustive.  We recently attended the American Institute of Architects National Convention in Atlanta and met many high end hardware manufacturers.  Not surprisingly, barn door hardware was showcased in every booth.  When the sales representatives demonstrated how the hardware functions, you could not help but imagine that NASA may have been involved with the engineering.  Each time I inquired about the price point, the response was, “In the $2,000 range.”  Unfortunately, that number was a budget buster. An internet search revealed other price-friendly options at national home improvement stores but every item was sold out!

Barn door 3

Fortunately I found what we were looking for on Walmart’s website for around $200: http://www.walmart.com/ip/Erias-Home-Designs-Bent-Strap-Sliding-Barn-Door-Hardware/43128768  Our contractor did not know where we bought the hardware, but while he was installing the hinges he kept commenting that the hardware’s look and function were very impressive.

Next, we painted the doors Black Pepper so they brighten the hallway and function as visual stepping stones to the island in the adjoining kitchen.

If you want to add sliding barn doors to your home enlist the help of a contractor or carpenter. Make sure the space has enough room for the doors to slide, select a door that enhances the décor and provides suitable privacy, and choose appropriate hardware to suspend and slide the door.

To read more about interior barn doors visit http://thedailybasics.com/2015/07/06/decorating-with-barn-doors/

The Trades are Working Their Magic

This week, exactly one year has passed since we first saw the Sherman House and decided to rejuvenate the 204-year old home.  The journey has been remarkable and the house is taking shape.  In the next few weeks, electricians, painters, tile installers, wallpaper installers, floor re-finishers and carpenters will work their magic to ready the home for occupancy.

I look forward to posting images of the completed project soon.

In the meantime, please enjoy some progress images:


This in an existing wall covered with multiple layers of paint and wallpaper.  Below is the grasscloth wallcovering from Brewster Home Fashions that will add natural color and texture to the foyer and stair hall.


Here is an antique panel we discovered in the attic.  We don’t think the panel is original to the home.  A previous homeowner may have discovered the relic in Newport and stored the woodwork to use in another project. The panel will serve as the focal point of the new kitchen island.

panel 2


kitchen 2

The kitchen cabinets installed around the perimeter of the kitchen are white.  The island will be painted a subtle hue from Benjamin Moore……..Black Pepper.

black pepper

Here is the vintage chandelier that was installed in the dining room.  This fixture will cast favorable light on the antique transom and sidelights that distinguish the wall of the two story space.


Here is another vintage fixture for the kitchen.  The fixture was created in the 1920s and originally hung in a townhouse in Boston’s Back Bay.  The first tier of candles came in handy when the power went out.  The second tier features bulbs encased in hand-cut glass beads.

kitchen island fixture

I bought these cabinets at an estates sale in Newport over ten years ago.  They were rescued from a butler’s pantry in Newport.  Now they will add storage space to the family room.  I love the antique glass fronts.



Stay tuned for more progress shots.

To read more about grasscloth wallcoverings visit:  http://thedailybasics.com/2015/05/31/selecting-the-best-grasscloth-wallcovering-for-your-decor/

Antiques Heaven in Brimfield, Massachusetts

For more than 50 years, the Brimfield Antiques show has been celebrated as America’s oldest outdoor antique market.  During a six-day period every May, July and September 150,000 antiques dealers and collectors from around the world flock to the central Massachusetts community to browse 6,000 showcases spread across 20 fields.  From Colonial to Mid-Century Modern, every design period is represented through furniture, collectibles, architectural salvage, jewelry, linens, lighting, found objects and more.


We began our adventure with Kate and Aimee from Yankee Magazine and Cindy from The Daily Basics on opening day at 7:30 a.m. The first dealer we met exclaimed, “You will do so much walking today that you will have to throw your shoes away.”  Many miles and several purchases later, I knew he was not exaggerating!!

For the 1811 Federal, we were searching for antique tiles to surround one of the six fireplaces.  As luck would have it, we found two antique tiles with a rose motif that will pair beautifully with our vintage tiles featuring Newport’s Trinity Church.

tile 2 tile

We also could not resist adding two more Van Briggle vases to our collection.


Brimfield belongs on everyone’s bucket list. The sights are awe inspiring.  The nostalgia tug is heartwarming. The food court is delicious.  The treasures are endless.  You have to experience this phenomena firsthand.  I hope to see you there when we return in September.

Enjoy some snapshots from the day:

2015-05-12 10.33.00 2015-05-12 11.19.10 2015-05-12 11.25.36 2015-05-12 11.31.06 2015-05-12 11.31.58 chandelier detail glass pottery pressed tin stained glass

Follow me at Brimfield on Tuesday, May 12.