Colonial Style Defined
Get inspired by Colonial-era design and decor.
Colonial style harks back to America's infancy, mixing European traditions with the practical considerations of settlers starting afresh on unfamiliar shores. The term covers a broad array of architectural, design, and decorating approaches that mirror the evolution of life in the New World, but the look that most of us picture when we think of a colonial home—spare furnishings, primitive accents, dignified colors—is best categorized as early American.
Colonial life left little room for frippery. Every piece mattered; furnishings and accessories were as functional as they were decorative. Because the industrial age had not yet taken hold, most of a home's trappings were handcrafted, lending an honest, straightforward aesthetic.
These designer rooms also display colonial style:
- Open Kitchen by Amy-Conner Murphy
- Relaxing Dining Nook by Phil Norman
- Elegant Sunroom by Glenn Gissler
Get the Look
• Natural colors. The classic colonial palette—mustard and golden yellows, deep wine reds, grayish blues, linen whites—has an air of gravitas that falls just short of somber. Colors tend to be warm and slightly dirty, with undertones of brown or black. Avoid brights, pastels, and stark neutrals, which don't work with this style.
• Handmade textiles. Hooked rugs over bare floors, hand-knitted blankets, and a needlepoint pillow or two underscore the colonial sense of craftsmanship. Cover beds with quilts and dress the windows with simple curtains in natural fabrics.
• Pewter accessories. If there's one material that says colonial, it's pewter. Mass pewter chargers and serving pieces on an open hutch or store pewter utensils in simple crocks. Break up the look with touches of other traditional metals such as tin and brass.
• Plain, classic furniture. No heavy ornamentation or elaborate detailing in this style—furnishings are functional and versatile. Simple case goods, rustic tables, trunks, and Windsor or ladderback chairs all suit the look. If you can't find true colonial antiques, go for well-made reproductions.
• A clean aesthetic. Colonial interiors tended to be free of clutter, so don't go overboard with accessories. Less is more: a handful of wildflowers in a crockery pitcher, a pierced-tin lantern or two, a linen runner, a basket filled with balls of yarn. Just be sure not to make the space so spare that it feels devoid of warmth.