Colonial Style Interiors - 17th to 18th Century

Classical forms of architecture and beautiful European interior design styles are almost a glimpse of the past. The dreary and drudgery life full of persecution, toil and grind had long been left behind. When the early settlers arrived in America, their immediate concern was about food and shelter in a land of the unknown.

Early American Interior Design
Early American Interior Design | Source

They were confronted with forests thick with pine and oak trees, but they soon started to clear the forests for farming, and use the felled timber for building shelter, the beginnings of an architectural style that we know today as log cabin style homes.

Because of the over-abundance of the woods they got from the forests, it was only natural that the early American houses were constructed with timber.

Their system of construction was the braced frame system, one that is an adaptation of the English timber framed house. This style of the home structure had been with the British since the days of the Saxons and consisted of a wood skeleton of heavy posts, beams, and girders.

The house frame was assembled slowly and painstakingly by hand, using mortise and tenon, dowel and dovetail joints.

Design Styles of Early American Houses

Oak was the wood that was used generally for exterior and interior dividing walls until the 1700's when pine became popular.

The earliest exterior walls were built with oak planks, and beginning at the floor level, each wood plank was fixed horizontally across, with the next plank overlapping with the preceding wood plank. One fitted onto the other until it reached a required height which barely exceeded 7ft (210cm).

The erected wall is what we now know today as a clapboard wall.

In the early American colonial houses of around the mid-1600s, the wood planks used for the construction of homes were quite wide, sometimes as wide as 3ft (90cm), and because they came in varying widths and were used as they came, in their varying dimensions, there was an irregularity of form. Couldn't this be described as creative art?

Colonial Style Interiors

Development of the interior layout plans of the Early American homes started from the simple, basic, and humble one room home and it wasn’t until over a century later that home began to become more personalized and comfortable to live in.

  • One room homes with attic: 1650
  • Two room homes with attic: 1675
  • Saltbox homes with attic: 1700
  • Four room homes with attic: 1750

In the early American two room homes, its interior styles consisted of simply one room, which served as a living room was also used as an all-purpose room for cooking, eating, living and working at needlecraft, and a second one which served as a bedroom that was used by the whole family.

Interior Features and Forms

The Entry/Hallway

The entrance door which leads into a tiny hall was placed in the centre of the widest exterior wall of the house, and the attic was accessible from the hall through a steep crude ladder. The attic was floored with the same wood planks used to construct the walls. These floor boards formed the ceiling of the house.

Floor

The floor of the first homes inhabited by early American settlers was bare earth. Later stone was used but the most common flooring material was chestnut, pine, and oak.

Walls

To compensate for expected wood shrinkage and the effect of the cold and winds, the early American settlers reversed the wood plank position on the inside of the exterior walls. The planks were laid vertically, side by side, to form what we all know as a palisade wall.

To make the walls weather tight, the planks were joined with the tongue and groove system where each plank had a tongue cut along one edge and a groove along the other.

Starting from the end of a wall, the first vertical plank's tongue fits into an adjoining groove of the next plank, slotting each plank in all the way to the other end of the wall.

Ceiling

An important element of the early settlers "interior design"; colonial style homes had a characteristic feature noticeable in almost all of the rooms, a feature still loved today, exposed ceiling beams.

This large and heavy beam runs through the width of the ceiling with one end supported by a stone chimney, and the other end by a wall post.

Ceilings were low and barely exceeded 7ft (210cm).

Chimney and Fireplace

The central stone-built chimney was a common feature of the early homes. Hand-built and strong, the earliest two room homes had a centralized chimney with one flue serving two fireplaces, one for each room.

The two fireplaces served dual functions of cooking and heating.

Window Openings

Window openings were the casement kind with panes of oiled paper, glass or eosin-glass and were divided by lead or wood sashes, a Jacobean architectural style brought over from their past.

However, the earliest home styles had windows without glass panes but were decoratively covered with window blinds which served as the cover.

Closets/Cupboards

The space formed between the two rooms at the side of the fireplace stonework usually served as closets. They were also used as cupboards for storage of grains, or other humble household items.

Finishes

Wood was left unfinished in its natural state and as it aged, became darker in looks and warmer in colour.

It really wasn't until the early 18th century that classical architectural styles and forms of the English were reflected in America. These new styles as introduced by Inigo Jones and Sir Christopher Wren and partly through fresh immigrants and arrival from England of books on the creative and decorative arts, building, and architecture.

These new styles as introduced by Inigo Jones and Sir Christopher Wren and partly through fresh immigrants and arrival from England of books on the creative and decorative arts, building, and architecture.

And soon enough, royal governors and the rich insisted on having their homes become a show-piece to reflect the dignity of their status and position.

© 2011 artsofthetimes

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Comments 2 comments

lindsays5624 profile image

lindsays5624 4 years ago

There are some good classical ideas here


artsofthetimes profile image

artsofthetimes 4 years ago Author

Thank you Linda.

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