26 November 2018

American Painted Floors

Tucked Under
A peek at what's inspiring our latest floor design for a house in Connecticut.

We’re always looking for clues to inform our designs. The client’s taste and interests are tantamount to the project, but the biggest driver is always the architecture and the location. Our goal being creating interiors that feel like they belong, especially when we’re working on a historic home. In an 1804 Federal home in Connecticut, we’ve pushed ourselves to add elements that reference the past but look towards the future. In the foyer, we modernized an American Folk Art stencil from the period by altering the scale and coloration. In place of the traditional red and green, we utilized a soft, Gustavian-inspired palette of pale greys, blues and a touch of rose. In this same foyer, we’re in the process of designing a painted floor. We love to employ painted floors whenever they suit the project; they’re a wonderful way to add color and pattern to rooms, and with their inherent durability, they’re a win win. To complement the stenciled walls, we’ve decided to use a classic diamond pattern on the floors. The diamond pattern was one of the often used painted floor designs in houses built in the early to mid 1800’s in New England and it’s one that continues to get reinterpreted in homes today.

A project by Jeffrey Bilhuber.
A project by Rita Konig.
A dining room on Nantucket by Markham Roberts.

It’s hard to talk about painted floors without mentioning Bunny Mellon. Her decorative painter, Paul Leonard, was her consummate collaborator, creating many of the painted floors that graced her homes. Bunny was consistent in what she loved, and she loved painted floors — the more distressed, the better! She used them everywhere from her beach house in Antigua to her townhouse on the Upper East Side. While a distressed painted floor in an important Manhattan townhouse might not seem like the most appropriate choice for a house of this grandeur, Bunny made it work.

The oft copied floors in Bunny Mellon's home in Antigua.
An enfilade of painted floors in her Manhattan townhouse.

Understanding where this design came from makes us appreciate it even more. In the early 1700s, painted floors began to make their way into New England homes. Historians have speculated that it was in part because the houses had such wide expanses of wood floors. People were looking for ways to decorate them! The designs on the floors were heavily influenced by ornamental elements adapted from Europe, particularly France and England, the centers of design and fashion at the time. You’ll notice the patterns used most often were the Greek key, wave crest, chain plait, and plant and floral motifs.

A Rufus Porter inspired mural and diamond pattern painted floor takes its inspiration directly from the artists working in the late 18th and early 19th Century in New England.

“Folk Art is wonderfully uncensored — you can appreciate the aesthetics, but if you look behind it, you can also find a way of catching American history.” – Nancy Druckman

All images from Ann Eckert Brown's book "American Painted Floors before 1840". A grisaille palette of gradations of gray and black on the floors of a 1790 house in Nantucket, Massachusetts.
Stenciled floor using two intricate round foliated motifs at the Amos Parker house, 1792 in Reading, Massachusetts.
A detail of the center motif of the Samuel Smith house in Smithville, Nova Scotia.
A recreation of a painted floor in the American wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A painted border in the front hall of the Robert Hooper house, 1754.
A facsimile of a floor stencil in Howes Tavern (1707) in Sudbury, Massachusetts.
Stenciled floor from the bed chamber of the Allen house in New Hampshire.
Anthony White house, circa 1740. New Brunswich, New Jersey.

Check back soon for updates on our painted floor!

— Lauren & Suzanne
Return to All Articles
Share this article on
More to Explore
Leave a Reply
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Design Notes for Occasional Updates
Popular Topics