We spend a fair amount of time out on the East Coast in the summer. During that time, I love all the inspiration from the historical buildings and houses. What a treat it was to visit ‘White Columns’ in Kennebunkport, Maine, and get inspiration from the antique wallpaper there.
This 1850’s Greek Revival home, was owned by only one family, (one of the wealthiest families in Kennebunkport) from the time it was built until it was donated in the late 20th Century to the historical society, it and all the furnishings. This was the most intriguing historical house tour I’ve ever been through because of the amazing ‘original-ness’ it has kept. This stunning property has been beautifully maintained from the beginning, almost like they knew all along it’d be a historical site 150 years later!
The furnishings inside the house are the original furnishings. Each generation just continued to live in the house with the original furnishings, rugs, accessories and wallcoverings! I honestly can’t even imagine not changing anything all those years and generations. (as my husband can attest to!) Not even the wallcovering… ever… let alone every 5 years!
I mentioned something to the docent giving us the tour, about how could not one person in all those generations change anything… and he, an elderly gentleman, possibly not in favor of his wife redecorating at their own home, just looked at me, paused, and then stated “well, maybe that’s how they stayed wealthy” Ha! Yeah, maybe… (I think that’s that a bit of that ‘yankee mentality‘ I mentioned last time!) Well regardless, at this point I’m thrilled they didn’t change anything so that we can see it in such an original state.
This is ‘White Columns‘. Built in the Greek Revival style as a single family home by a father who, once it was completed in the early 1850’s, at which point he sold the house to his son for $5,000.
That family, one of the wealthiest families in the Kennebunks, (obviously because they didn’t ‘waste’ their money on re-decorating) continued to live in the house generation after generation, with only a few changes to the house, inside and out for over 150 years… until the final generation, with no heirs to follow, donated the entire property and all the furnishings to the Kennebunkport Historical Society in the 1980’s or 1990’s.
Though I saw a lot of wonderful things at ‘White Columns’ this post is mainly a focus on the inspiration from the antique wallpaper. At the end of this post I’ll share with you what to do when historical wallpaper gets destroyed, like the case in one of these rooms… can you guess which one? I’ll tell you at the end.
I find inspiration from the colors, styles and way things are styled in historical homes such as this dining room:
This wallpaper with it’s large motif was my favorite!
The bookshelves at the two ends of the room filled with the original owner’s books are pretty nice too.
The gray and 2 tone green with chartreuse highlights totally look like a contemporary colorway for today.
In the hallway, the antique wallpaper was again a very large motif, but with the arches in the pattern, it was visually pretty busy:
The docent said the intense blue and green were achieved with the use of some pretty bad chemicals… like arsenic for one… yikes! Don’t lick the wallpaper! Wasn’t there an Agatha Christie story about arsenic in the wallpaper?
The color intensity of the blue 150 years later is still amazing!
The front living room wallpaper was much tamer in pattern and color:
Maybe that is so that then things like this antique copy of a Raphael painting stand out better against a subtle backdrop.
In the ladies sitting room the wallpaper was very subtle:
A creamy white background with light grey flowers. I could totally see this antique wallpaper pattern being used in a house today too. Doesn’t it look like a print from Ikea… or an area rug? Talk about classic styling!
Then moving upstairs to the master bedroom: (master… yes, but not with a bathroom en suite… chamber pots were the ‘en-suite’ element back in the 1850’s)
The master bedroom wallcovering was very similar to the front living room striped wallcovering, just with brighter colors.
The other bedroom was again very similar to one of the papers from downstairs as well:
This one looked very much like the grey and white one from the ladies sitting room, only with blue instead.
Maybe that’s it… it’s not so much that the Yankee mentality didn’t give way to thoughts of re-decorating… maybe it’s because the people in this family just weren’t really interested in decorations. They bought good quality at the beginning and that was it… maybe they traveled and did other things, but noticing the decor wasn’t even a thought for them.
I have no idea… just conjecture… but reflections like “who were the people that lived here?” “What did they feel?” are constant thoughts I have when going through a home like this.
When I hear little snippets about them, I see how their hearts must have ached just the same as ours do when tragedy strikes, such as their young daughter dying of a childhood illness. Or when they sent their son off to war, I’m sure in all their pride for him to be a good soldier, they worried about him ever coming back home alive too. These were real people… all but forgotten now, but real people, that lived real lives, just like you and me now… but soon to be forgotten too. That’s how it is you know. Time marches on.
I wonder if they had a decorator… Were there decorators in 1850? Maybe. Maybe they had a renown decorator that selected everything, so with respect to that ‘artist’ they didn’t change anything, until time forgot who the decorator was, but we all get to continue to relish in their work.
Oh my… I digress…
Back to wallpaper. The wallpaper in ‘White Columns’ is hand made, printed or blocked all by hand! Even the blocks themselves were made by hand.
Hey! Did you figure out which wallpaper was severely damaged?! While you’re pondering that, take a look at this…
Here’s a fun video clip giving you a glimpse into making hand printed wallpaper:
Ok, so the damaged wallpaper was…
It was the dining room:
One of the gals told me that it was a sad day when they (the workers at the historical society) came into the house and found the dining room wallpaper destroyed from a severe water leak.
So the question remains… What to do when historical wallpaper is destroyed?
Well, don’t cry… there is an answer, and it is a bit expensive, so no time for crying…
When historical antique wallpaper gets destroyed, there are places, well one or two for sure, that can maybe help you out. In the case with ‘White Columns’, they were fortunate enough to find a roll of clean, unused paper in the attic. They took it to a company, and the wallpaper makers actually using the original roll for a pattern carved new blocks and made new hand blocked paper that is an exact match for the destroyed wallpaper in the dining room.
$6,000 later that is! Yowzer! But I guess if it’s super important and historical and all that good stuff, it’s worth it, right?
I’m not sure who the company was that made the wallpaper for them at ‘White Columns’, but I found this one company online and sounds like they do the same thing. This company out of NY still makes blocked printed wallpaper by hand… Adelphi Custom and Historic Wallpaper.
Hope you find some inspiration in the historic antique wallpaper from ‘White Columns’ too! I know I sure did. 🙂
I appreciate you stopping by.
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