A historic space with richly detailed mantel and substantial moldings and trim, mixed with modern, contemporary furnishings. The best of both worlds.

By Patricia Cove

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was writing an article titled “Designing for the New Millennium,” and all of a sudden it is 20 years later, and the design world seems to be headed in a different direction. I came to this realization last week, when I was visiting two of my clients who have one of those magnificent eighteenth-century townhouses on Delancey Street in Center City.  

   They are staunch traditionalists. Each room is done in a strict federal style. The antique furniture is delicately inlaid, the fabrics have soft patterns of laurel wreaths and acanthus leaves and the walls are covered in urns and scrolls. The architecture is, of course, pristine. After our meeting, we were musing about the many and various design styles that are available today, when they said I simply had to see how one of their neighbors had decorated his townhouse. As luck would have it, the gentleman was home, and he agreed to have us come over.

Of course, I was expecting a design in keeping with the style of his home, similar to the style and feel of my client’s. And it was, and yet, it wasn’t. What I saw seemed to epitomize      exactly what is happening to traditionalism today. The layout of the house was very much like my client’s: a small entrance hall vestibule, followed by a looming stair hall, with the formal living and dining rooms to one side.

Upon entering, the “feel” of the house was immediately different. While still traditional in nature, it was cool, not in temperature, but in appearance. The owner had recently purchased some beautiful Regency tables, with their flowing lines and swag ornamentation. Along with the tables, two Adam style sofas with flared arms and carule legs completed the living room’s furnishings. But instead of covering the pieces in fabrics adorned with wreaths and rosettes or arrows and lances, they were covered in a solid cornflower blue velvet.

The room seemed sparsely furnished — quite obviously by design, not lack of resources, with the remaining seating covered in a solid nubby taupe and brown linen!     The effect of the blue sofas and the understated chairs took on a contemporary air, even though I knew I was looking at antique furnishings within an equally historic building.

It was, to say the least, stunning. The windows were also treated with simple blue velvet panels, hung against a meticulously matched textured taupe wall covering. Was it a silk fabric, or an expertly applied textured paint? It was the perfect backdrop to the room’s style: refined, but certainly not sleek; cool, but certainly not cold; exceedingly elegant, but in a most understated fashion!            The simplicity of the fabrics allowed the magnificent lines of the furnishings and the architecture of the space to take center stage.

And it was the fabrics themselves that provided the light for the furniture and architecture to shine.

This person, the owner, had done it. He had captured what every traditionalist is trying to do today in the world of design. He created a modern look within an eighteenth-century townhouse with original architecture, antique furnishings and luxurious fabrics. He had succeeded in being “cool,” yet was the pinnacle of warmth!

I was still standing there, taking it all in, when my client nudged me.

“What do you think?” she asked.

“I think it is fabulous,” I said.

“Should we re-do ours?” she asked.

“No,” I replied thoughtfully. “This is traditionalism in 2020 and your home is Traditionalism.”

Patricia cove is Principal of Patricia Marian cove, Interior Design in Chestnut Hill