How to Decorate & Paint a Character Home


Character homes are historic or period-style homes that have defined architectural and decorating styles, such as cottage or bungalow, or can be further categorized into styles such as Cape Cod, Craftsman or Victorian. The craftsmanship and attention to detail of historic homes gives them character and charm that many homeowners want to preserve or restore if the home has fallen into disrepair or has been too modernized. To preserve or restore the character, you will need a basic understanding of your home’s architectural style and how to decorate in that style.

Victorian-Style Characteristics

  • Victorian homes often display ornate furnishings, trim and décor, both inside and out. Elaborate trim embellishing the exterior, known as gingerbread trim, can include intricately carved spindles or pierced balusters on wraparound porch railings, lace-like loops and swags on running trim and elegant gable ornaments, giving the home a fairytale-like appearance. You can paint this trim a crisp white or something colorful that stands out against the exterior hue. Although many Victorian homes today are in vibrant shades of pink, purple, mauve, yellow and orange, the natural world inspired authentic Victorian colors, typically in tones of green, brown, tan, rust, red, ochre and mustard. Interiors often featured lush fabrics, such as velvet and lace, and an eclectic mix of ornately carved wood furniture and trim, Oriental area rugs, exotic foliage such as palms and ferns, and artifacts, books and collectibles from around the globe.

Craftsman Style Characteristics

  • The Arts and Crafts movement inspired the simplistic style of Craftsman homes with a philosophy that directly contradicted the eclectic, elaborate, over-the-top styles of the Victorian era. Craftsmen style focused on original, handmade furnishings with minimal ornamentation and simple forms. Builders used materials from the surrounding area. Custom cabinetry, bookcases and seating benches, known as “built-ins,” showcased the handicraft of skilled artisans. To maintain the character of such a home, keep the furnishings and trim in natural finishes that show off the wood grain. Paint in natural, muted tones of brown, blue, olive, sage, ochre, burnt orange and crimson. Use natural stone sourced locally for flooring, walls and fireplaces. Decorate with plain textured or natural fabrics such as cotton, linen, leather and twill. Add color with stained glass lamp and fixture shades or the warm, amber glow of mica shades.

Cottage Style Characteristics

  • Quaint, medieval English country cottages inspired cottage-style homes. These are typically cozy one-, one-and-a-half or two-story homes that feature dormer windows, wood shutters, window planters and white picket fences. Wood furniture and interior trim is usually painted white or a light pastel. Beadboard paneling gives the botanically inspired color palette on walls a warm, slightly rustic feel. To restore this style, paint walls in hues of apricot, rose, pale yellow, light blue or pale green. Use light-colored cotton fabrics with delicate floral prints, stripes, checks or plaids. Wrought iron and wood furnishings with distressed finishes add character and time-worn charm. Patchwork quilts can embellish a bed, sofa or chair, or frame and mount them as wall art. Handmade accents such as pillows, throws, baskets, pottery and curtains fit perfectly in a cottage-style home.

Exterior Accents

  • Whatever type of character home you have, its curb appeal is important. A well-manicured yard is essential to the home’s aesthetics. Fill window planters, flower beds and other decorative outdoor planters with an assortment of brightly colored flowers. Hanging baskets of flowering plants add just the right touch to covered porches. Dress up yards with blooming garden trellises, arbors, gazebos and painted wood fences. Attract birds to your yard with decorative feeders, birdbaths and birdhouses. Plant ivy next to walls, fences, arbors, trellises and trees for lush greenery.

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