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American Colonial Home Interiors (17th - 18th Century)
The first Colonial settlers were mostly concerned with meeting the everyday basic needs that were necessary for their survival. They did not have the time or luxury to consider anything else except building functional dwellings in a fairly short period of time using materials available in their immediate environs, majorly oak.
Exterior walls were built with wide oak planks, 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. These external walls also served as the interior walls.
Development of the interior layout 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 homes became 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
The one-room structures was a multi-purpose room that served for cooking, eating, sleeping, and living while the two-room homes had a second room which served as a bedroom that was used by the whole family.
Interior Style of a 17th Century Colonial Home
The early 17th century homes were basically primitive dwellings, a single storey structure with one lone room. Their frugal interiors had the following features:
- Single batten door
- Low ceilings
- Rough wood beams
- Fireplaces made of brick or stone and mortar
- Small windows with wood panes or shutters
- Whitewashed walls
- Wood plank floors
Furniture, left bare or painted with whitewash, was simple and handmade and were basically designed with only functionalism in mind. Furniture typical of Early Colonial interiors include:
- Wood benches
- Spartan tables
- Rag rugs
- Wooden blanket chests
- Baby’s crib
By the late 17th century, additional rooms were added and the two storey home style evolved but their interiors remained simple, functional, and multipurpose. They still featured a single batten door and a few shuttered windows.
Furniture and interior furnishings typical of the period include:
- Ladder back chairs
- Trestle tables
- Iron lamps and candle holders
- Pine panelled walls
- Stencilling on wall panelling
- Simple fabrics used are linen, wool, cotton, and polished chintz
Soon, the availability of imported materials from Europe, and the rise of wealthy individuals led to some form of sophistication in interior design.
18th Century American Colonial Home Interiors
It wasn't until the early 18th century that classical architectural styles and forms of the English were reflected in America. These new styles were introduced by Inigo Jones and Sir Christopher Wren and partly through fresh immigrants arriving from England who came laden with books on the creative and decorative arts, building, and architecture.
Soon enough, royal governors and the elite insisted on having their homes made a show-piece to reflect the dignity of their status and position.
Home interior styles, furniture, and furnishings of 18th century Early Colonial homes include the following:
- Large diamond-paned windows
- Prominent entrance door
- Wood wainscoatingand panelling
- Draperies made of imported silk fabrics
- Upholstered chairs
- Chairs with cane seats and backs
- Ladder back chairs with rush seats
- Upholstered wing chair
- Gateleg table
- William and Mary style chairs with ornate carvings and turned legs, stretchers, and ball feet
- Mahogany wall panelling
- Japanese styled lacquered chests
- William and Mary tallboy chest (supported by six turned legs which soon evolved into the classic American highboy)
- Needlepoint pillows and seat cushions
Interior Features and Forms of Colonial Homes
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 floorboards formed the ceiling of the house.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Wood was left unfinished in its natural state and as it aged, became darker in looks and warmer in colour.
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