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17 December 2018

Lauren’s American Folk Art Inspired Foyer

From conception to creation, a period-inspired wall stencil sets the tone for an 1804 Federal style house.

My husband and I recently bought an antique house in Southport, Connecticut. Built in 1804 for a sea-captain involved in the once booming onion trade, the house is Federal style. We fell in love with the house for many reasons, but one of the biggest draws was its proximity to the water and its location in the heart of the historic district of Southport. Since last winter, we’ve been slowly making our mark on the house. Every home we work on is influenced in some way by its architecture, some more than others. The long history of this house, however, could not be ignored. The direction for the interiors stemmed from my  desire to reference and reinterpret period design elements.  One of the most common ways people in the early to mid 1800s decorated their homes was with painted wall stencils.  At the time, the limited, mass produced wallpaper options were seen as basic and so as a result, many turned to itinerant artists to create customized wall stencils throughout their homes. With this concept in mind, I started my research, coming across the work of one particular artist, J. Gleason, whose work I was particularly drawn to. What you learn as you start looking at early American homes is that they were both very colorful and full of pattern. Many homes had stencils on the walls in every room of the house! A palette of  rusty reds, ochre, and prussian blue that we now refer to as historic colors were predominantly used.  In my own home, I wanted to design a modern rendition of one of Gleason’s stencils, but in a chalky, soft, Swedish Gustavian palette that feels fresh and modern (as modern as a stencil can be, that is). For it’s size, the house has an unusually large foyer presenting us with a wonderful opportunity to make a significant statement right when you walk in. I loved the idea that a wall stencil, which is so rooted in the period that the home was built, would set the tone for the entire house. Today I wanted to take you through the process of creating the stencil which was made a reality by the talented decorative painter and muralist Dean Barger and his amazing team.

One of Dean's artists adding one of the colors using a small sponge. Each color had to be applied separately.

The stencil we created was influenced by ones that artist J. Gleason was doing at the time our house was built. Preservationists have found the name J.Gleason (as the walls were often signed by the artist) on many  houses in Rhode Island built from 1800 to 1830 during the housing boom there.

A view of the parlor at Hopkins house in Foster, Rhode Island, possibly one of J. Gleason's first commissions.
This is a recreation of the stenciling in the front parlor of Steere house in Rhode Island. While these walls were not signed, many believe it was done by J. Gleason as the designs are identical to ones recorded in the Hopkins house.
The "small carnation spray" motif seen here was something J. Gleason repeated again and again.

Have a look at the process (which is highly labor intensive!) of how the stencil was made in the gallery below.

We started with five different color palettes, editing them down to one palette with the most pleasing combination.
Obligatory dog photo.
Creating a template for the medallion part of the stencil.
Testing the scale for each component of the design.
Burning the midnight oil!

A few short videos showing the process, click the play button!

Gently applying one of the colors. A sponge was used so that the colors appear faded to mimic what a stencil might look like had it been preserved.

Dean uses a brush to add a tea stain over the now dried stencil to make the walls look antiqued.

The finished stencil in all its glory!

Hope you enjoyed this behind the scenes look at a really incredible process. Check back soon for more house updates!

— Lauren
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