Trend Watch: Colonial Re-Revival

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As a historic and stylistic term, Colonial Revival can be a bit enigmatic. Architecturally, one might associate the term with broken pediments, shuttered windows, and symmetrical construction. In terms of objects, it might bring to mind quaint relics like spinning wheels, pewter tankards, and butter churns. At its core, though, what the term Colonial Revival refers to is largely fiction: its stylistic hallmarks, chosen seemingly arbitrarily and meant to connote “oldness,” point to a mythic American past, a time when life was slower, simpler, and more honest. Throughout the history of America, especially during times of technological and political uncertainty, people have been drawn to the symbolic meaning of the “Colonial,” its objects and forms running counter to the sometimes jarring, fast-paced world of Modernity. In the nineteenth century, a time notable for its massive industrial growth, Washington Irving used the romance and mystery of Colonial America’s uncharted land to craft stories like Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. In the rapidly expanding world of Post World War II America, new suburban homes were modeled after quaint Pre-Revolutionary War cottages, likely as an attempt to impart the familiar into a new concept.

Throughout the nation’s history, the Colonial has been rediscovered and reinvented generation after generation. Today, a new sort of Colonial Revival (or Re-revival) seems to be upon us, one that is more of a Colonial “Remix” than a strict return to the styles typically associated with the term. This newfound love for the myth of Old America, one that is fitting in its contrast to the sleek flat-screened technology of today, is more untamed—its pages are yellowed, its textiles are frayed, and its objects bear the distinct and imperfect signs of handicraft. This is Colonial for the twenty-first century, Colonial that both celebrates the forward-thinking and hopeful world of today and mourns the loss of simpler, less overwhelming times. Here, materials and forms one might commonly associate with the oftentimes stuffy Colonial style are reshaped and modernized. It is a mixture of old and new, one that, in its self-aware nostalgia, seems to be more honest and more authentic than the Colonial Revival’s previous iterations.

We’ve gone through the Design*Sponge archives and pulled together some of our favorite spaces that, American or not, apply this beautiful aesthetic. Check out all of the photos after the jump! —Max

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1. Hastoe Windsor Chair | 2. CB2 Jack Black Candleholder | 3. Copper Watering Can | 4. Annin American Flag | 5. Vintage Gunne Sax Floral Prairie Dress | 6. Two-Tone Horn Spoon | 7. Stoneware Mixing Bowl

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  1. Love this trend. Mix in a little contemporary with this style and you have something fresh and modern.

  2. chelsea says:

    Wow, love the look. I definitely take inspiration from early american furniture and style when I style my home…I’m from new england and i try to shop locally, so I have gotten most of my pieces either from thrifting or from local woodworkers/artisans!

    some of my favorite places for early american furniture and decor….

    1) http://vermontwoodsstudios.com/categories/reproduction-furniture
    2) http://americanheritageshop.com/
    3) http://wisteria.com

  3. Kate says:

    I could do small bits for this trend in my living space, but I find this style clutters up too easily and I like more minimal expanses.

  4. There are a few items that I like, as Fripperyvintage said, mixed in with some more moderna and boho items, but it’s mostly too conservative and unregined for my taste. It’s an interesting trend, though.

  5. Pestle says:

    Great piece, Max. This is one of the aesthetics I’m considering once we purchase a house and bring the family heirloom furniture out of storage. My husband likes historic pieces and rich, masculine materials and colors, while I’m more of a minimalist. It’s a good place to meet at.

  6. Amanda says:

    Shhh. Everyone just Keep Calm and go back to your MCM habitats. Nothing to see here …

    (Thanks for the round up of these gorgeous homes. :)

  7. Kali says:

    Very vintage Americana. Totally adds lots of character, especially in the home. Really inspiring to make a house feel like a home.

  8. Shoshana says:

    Max, Catherine would be proud. Now go visit the American wing at the Met and write 250 words stat!

  9. Carina says:

    To get the LOOK: GARTH AUCTIONS, IN DELAWARE, OHIO:
    https://www.facebook.com/GarthsAuctions

  10. Miss Heliotrope says:

    Um, many countries have their own colonial history & aesthetic. Without necessarily referencing America’s, some of these may be acknowledging their own national past.

  11. Ingrid Weir says:

    Hi Max, I must confess I was a little surprised to see my home here- given that it is located in a small town in the Australian countryside! But actually I agree with you & link the trend to the recent Design*Sponge piece on Rustic Utilitarianism. My house is located in an old Gold Rush town and is heritage listed so looks pretty similar to the late 19th century (though much more run down). When I started working on it a couple of years ago I was referencing The World of Interiors and the books of Marie France Boyer, now I am inspired by kinfolk and various Pinterest boards. I never try to exactly replicate the past, it is more about things with beautiful patinas, objects that have a story & bringing the outside in. Nature & authenticity.

  12. Amy Smith says:

    I particularly like the flag details and also the smart use of brass hardware.

  13. Sara says:

    http://people.uncw.edu/kozloffm/glubb.pdf

    We’re in a period of Decadence, looking back to the age of Pioneers.

  14. designlit says:

    Love the wall design that looked as if it split with the stairs. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Elisabetta says:

    Thanks for sharing, I love to mix old and contemporary objects and furniture in interiors!The best in my opinion is to have some original objects coming from our travels, or thing which remind us a special moment of our lives…as to have a personalize and warm interior design.

  16. Laura says:

    I am totally obsessed with Colonial Re-revival.

    That being said, the prairie dress is closer to Post-Colonial. I would instead go for something with an empire waist.

  17. Olive says:

    Love this! Where can I find that bed in the Grace Hsiu, Pasadena, CA picture. I’ve been looking for one just like it! Thanks!

  18. Emily says:

    Great essay and post.

  19. Slackerjo says:

    I think people are drawn to this type of furniture because they are tired of cheap crappy particle board furniture that seldom lasts longer than a couple of years. I know that now when I bring something into my home, that I want it to last. Long lasting furniture becomes a part of a family’s shared history.

    I look at the pictures of the furniture and my imagination thinks about the people who used them in the past and if there is a funny story why there is a gouge on the surface or why the third drawer in the china cabinet doesn’t open anymore.

  20. Chris says:

    A very succinct description of this trend. I appreciated the words more than the images. I would love to read more interior and architectural theory from D*S. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on appropriateness and authenticity (maybe some Learning from Las Vegas; Venturi, Scott Brown). Perhaps a discussion about the connection of the interior and exterior. I have been in to many homes that are disconnected once you cross the threshold. I flashback to tuscan style kitchens with faux-painted walls in “Colonial” style McMansions with vinyl siding…cringe…

    “It is a mixture of old and new, one that, in its self-aware nostalgia, seems to be more honest and more authentic than the Colonial Revival’s previous iterations.” I agree. I’m thinking it has to do with more honest materials.

    Also I hope #8 knows that most of her pewter has lead in it. The darker color usually indicates the presence of lead. I worked as a pewterer for a bit. There are a lot of good colonial fairs on the east coast that have handmade heirloom quality products. I would avoid large pewter companies like Match that try to replicate age and wear.

  21. Aslyn says:

    NO. WAY. My husbands junk is finally in style!

  22. First: “husband’s junk is finally in style”? (see above comment)
    Second: Absolutely obsessed with this post! We live in a 1920s Colonial Revival and love these design ideas. Thanks!

  23. Caroline says:

    SO excited to see this post – I’m possibly about to buy my first home and will be trying to mix my colonial antiques from my grandparents with my crappy Ikea furniture. One excellent resource for colonial revival is http://www.cohassetcolonials.com It’s all colonial reproductions but also a similar idea to Ikea – you can buy the furniture put together or do it yourself for less money.

  24. Maria G. says:

    American culture is so much mixed (but this is just my HO) that it’s quite difficult to surprise people with all those styles and trends. Modern trends seem to have lost their uniqueness, but I am still lover of modern furniture and fashion. May be it is a bit minimalistic, but definitely brighter than this one. Though, my brother is deeply in love with Colonial style and all these things from Old America. He is even collecting some. :-)

  25. Catherine Whalen says:

    Max, great article! I am teaching the Colonial Revival course (at the Bard Graduate Center) again this fall, and seminar members found your post very relevant. I also noted your piece on Sleepy Hollow last year, all the more apt given the new FOX tv show. The notion of Colonial Re-Revival is very apt, thank you for the insight.

  26. Love to see this trend!! We see quite a few 20- to 30-something folks at the Sargent House Museum in Gloucester, Massachusetts each year. The house was built in 1782 at the height of the Federal Period. Then, around 1915, the architect Joseph Everett Chandler (1864-1945) was hired to oversee restoration of the house and grounds. Clearly, American Colonial style will come back cyclically because of its restful harmony, elegant proportion and nostalgia. Hope this brings a resurgence in visits to authentic historic homes. Thanks for sharing!

  27. CindyE says:

    Good post! This look was very hip in the late 70’s – thinking Diane Keaton’s home in Woody Allen’s film – Interiors. It was spare, but had these Colonial things mixed with a modern sofa, etc… -and, it did have warmth. I am kind of bored with the Scandinavian thing, it is very cold to me and so tired. I like an antique weathervane, a huge old crock, a great big old basket of – dare I say – BOOKS and MAGAZINES! Thanks for the article!

  28. Estela says:

    That is great to hear, this has been my favorite style! Thanks for the great pictures.

  29. Winn Rosch says:

    Another place to get ideas is Early American Life magazine. They show a couple of houses decorated in colonial style in every issue. http://www.earlyamericanlife.com

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