How Did the New England Colonists Decorate Their Homes

The decorative aesthetics of New England colonial homes offer a glimpse into the rich history and unique style of early American settlers. From furniture and woodworking to colors and textiles, each element played a significant role in creating the warm and inviting atmosphere that defined these homes. In this article, we will delve into the various aspects of New England colonial home decor, uncovering the influences, craftsmanship, and artistic choices that shaped this distinctive style.

As we explore the world of New England colonial home decor, it is essential to understand the traditions that influenced it. By unveiling the cultural and architectural influences on these homes, we can gain a deeper understanding of why certain design choices were made. Additionally, we will examine the craftsmanship showcased in furniture and woodworking, which became one of the hallmarks of New England colonial homes.

Colors and textiles also played a vital role in adorning these homes. The color palette chosen by colonists reflected their preferences as well as available resources at the time. Textiles such as curtains, bed hangings, and upholstery added pattern and texture to interior spaces, displaying not only taste but also wealth and status.

By exploring these various aspects of New England colonial home decor, we can gain insights into how early American settlers transformed their dwellings into cozy havens filled with artistic expression. Join us on this fascinating journey as we uncover the hidden stories behind each piece of furniture, every textile choice, and all other elements that contributed to the aesthetic beauty of New England colonial homes.

Colonial Traditions

The decorative aesthetics of New England colonial homes were deeply rooted in a variety of influences, reflecting the traditions and values of its inhabitants. In this section, we will explore the colonial traditions that shaped the home decor of New England colonists.

One key influence on New England home decor was the English heritage brought by the colonists. They sought to recreate the comforts and style of their homelands in their new surroundings. English design elements such as carved woodwork, intricate textiles, and symmetrical layouts were prominent in colonial homes. These traditional English styles played a significant role in shaping the overall aesthetic of New England colonial homes.

Another influence on New England home decor was the practicality and functionality demanded by the harsh climate and rugged terrain of the region. The need for sturdy furniture and durable materials led to a focus on craftsmanship and quality construction. New England colonists valued furniture that could withstand the test of time while still providing comfort and functionality. This emphasis on practicality can be seen in the simple, yet elegant designs of their furniture pieces.

Additionally, religion played a fundamental role in influencing the decorative choices of New England colonists. Puritan beliefs emphasized simplicity, modesty, and a rejection of ostentation. This translated into their home decor, which often featured clean lines, plain surfaces, and minimal ornamentation. The interiors of New England colonial homes were designed to create an atmosphere conducive to reflection, piety, and devotion.

In summary, Colonial Traditions had a profound impact on shaping the decorative aesthetic of New England colonial homes. The English heritage brought by colonists set the foundation for many design elements found in these homes. Practicality and functionality also played a crucial role due to the demands of the region’s climate and terrain.

Lastly, religious beliefs influenced their choices by prioritizing simplicity over ornate decoration. By understanding these influences, we gain insight into why New England colonial homes have left such an enduring legacy in American home decor.

Furniture and Woodworking

Furniture and woodworking played a significant role in the decorative aesthetics of New England Colonial homes. The skilled craftsmanship and attention to detail showcased in the furniture of this era are what make it so highly revered today.

Colonial Furniture Styles

New England Colonial furniture was heavily influenced by English and European styles of the time. Early colonists brought with them their knowledge and techniques, as well as design elements that reflected their cultural heritage. One notable style during this period was the Jacobean style, characterized by its heavy, ornate designs inspired by the reign of James I of England. Other popular styles included William and Mary, Queen Anne, and Chippendale.

Handcrafted Excellence

The furniture found in New England Colonial homes was meticulously handcrafted by skilled artisans who took great pride in their work. These craftsmen utilized traditional tools such as hand saws, chisels, planes, and carving knives to shape wood into intricate designs. The most commonly used materials were oak, maple, walnut, pine, and cherry wood.

Functional Yet Stylish

New England Colonial furniture not only served a practical purpose but also demonstrated the aesthetic tastes of the time. Pieces were designed to be functional while incorporating beautiful detailing such as turned legs, carved embellishments, inlay work, and brass hardware. Chests were commonly used for storage purposes and often featured intricately carved panels or painted designs on their fronts.

Colors and Textiles

In colonial New England, the colors and textiles used to decorate homes played a significant role in creating a warm and inviting atmosphere. The palette of colonial homes was typically characterized by earthy tones and muted colors, reflecting the simplicity and practicality of the time. Shades of brown, beige, gray, and green were commonly used on walls, while blues and reds were reserved for accents and furnishings.

One popular textile in colonial homes was calico fabric, known for its distinctive floral patterns. Calico was often used to make curtains, bed hangings, and upholstery covers. Other popular patterns included stripes, checks, and small-scale geometrics. Textiles were also a key element in New England Colonial homes in terms of functionality. Thick woolen blankets and rugs provided warmth during the cold winter months.

Linen was another widely used textile in New England colonial homes. It was highly valued for its durability and versatility. Linen fabrics with delicate prints or embroidered details were utilized as tablecloths, napkins, or decorative drapery. For added visual interest, homeowners would sometimes mix different textures such as linen with silk or velvet.

The use of textiles extended beyond just aesthetic appeal; it also served a practical purpose in colonial homes. Curtains made from heavy materials helped insulate windows during colder seasons and provide privacy at night. Carpets made from wool or cotton provided not only comfort underfoot but also acted as an additional layer of insulation against the cold floors.

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Fireplaces and Hearth

The hearth and fireplace played a central role in New England colonial homes, both literally and symbolically. They were not only a source of warmth and cooking but also a focal point for social gatherings and daily life. The hearth and fireplace served as the heart of the home, providing comfort, sustenance, and a sense of community.

The Functionality of the Hearth

In colonial times, fireplaces were indispensable for cooking meals. The hearth served as a multi-purpose area where food was prepared using various tools such as pot hooks, roasting spits, and kettles. Dutch ovens were commonly used to bake bread or simmer stews over the open flame. Colonists relied on ceramic or cast iron cookware that could withstand high temperatures.

Beyond cooking, the hearth provided essential heat during colder months. The large size of colonial fireplaces allowed for logs to be burned continuously throughout the day and night, keeping the home warm even during harsh winters. This made the fireplace not only a practical necessity but also a gathering place for family members to stay warm and cozy together.

Decorative Elements

Despite its utilitarian purposes, New England colonists recognized the importance of making their hearths visually appealing. Over time, they adorned their fireplaces with decorative elements that reflected their taste and status. For example, brass or iron firebacks were often placed behind the fire to protect the masonry while showcasing intricate designs.

Furthermore, wood paneling or tiles featuring intricate patterns adorned the walls around the fireplace. These decorative features added color and texture to an otherwise plain surface. Additionally, some wealthier households displayed Delft tiles from Holland or imported English tiles around their hearths in elaborate designs.

Fireside Activities

The fireplace served not only as a source of warmth but also as a hub for recreational activities within colonial households. Families would gather around the hearth to engage in various pastimes, such as reading, sewing, or storytelling. It was a place for social interaction, with family members and guests coming together to share stories, laughter, and companionship.

In addition to these everyday activities, special events were also celebrated by the hearth. Colonial Christmas traditions included hanging stockings by the fireplace and roasting chestnuts over an open flame. Hearthside celebrations marked major milestones such as weddings or birthdays. The fireplace brought people together and created a sense of unity and community within New England colonial homes.

Wall Hangings

In colonial New England homes, wall hangings played a significant role in adding beauty and character to the interior spaces. Tapestry, portraits, and decorative displays were commonly used to showcase the wealth, tastes, and cultural influences of the New England colonists.

Tapestry was a popular choice for wall hangings in colonial homes. These intricate woven fabrics were often imported from Europe and featured elaborate designs depicting scenes from mythology, history, or nature. Tapestry was not only valued for its artistic beauty but also served practical purposes such as insulation and sound absorption. It added an air of sophistication to the interiors and demonstrated the wealth and status of the homeowners.

Portraits were another prominent feature of wall decorations in colonial homes. Wealthy families commissioned portraits of themselves or their ancestors to be prominently displayed in their houses. These portraits served as a way to document family history and display social status. Portraits were typically executed by professional artists who captured the likeness of individuals through oil paintings or pastel drawings.

Decorative displays such as plates, mirrors, or collections of objects were also common in colonial homes. Plates made from ceramics or pewter were often hung on walls as decorative items, showcasing craftsmanship and aesthetic taste. Mirrors were considered luxury items that reflected light into rooms while also adding a touch of elegance.

Types of Wall HangingsDescription
TapestryIntricate woven fabric depicting scenes from mythology, history, or nature.
PortraitsOil paintings or pastel drawings capturing the likeness of individuals, often depicting wealthy families or their ancestors.
Decorative DisplaysPlates, mirrors, or collections of objects used to showcase craftsmanship and aesthetic taste.

Lighting and Candles

One of the key elements in the interior design of New England colonial homes was the lighting and the use of candles. In a time without electricity, colonists relied on candles and other forms of lighting to illuminate their homes after dark. This section will delve into how the colonists illuminated their interior spaces and explore the significance of candles in New England colonial home decor.

In New England colonial homes, candles were indispensable sources of light. They were often made from tallow or beeswax and came in various shapes and sizes. Tall candlesticks made from brass or pewter were commonly used to hold the candles and were placed strategically throughout the home to provide illumination. Candelabras, wall sconces, and portable candle holders called “candle lanterns” were also used to enhance the lighting arrangement in different rooms.

Candles served both functional and decorative purposes in New England colonial homes. As a practical source of light, they illuminated rooms for everyday activities such as reading, cooking, or socializing. However, candles also played a significant role in enhancing the aesthetic appeal of these homes. Colonial homeowners would often display beautiful candelabras on mantelpieces or dining tables as decorative focal points.

To complement their use of candles, New England colonists also utilized additional lighting methods when needed. Rushlights, which consisted of a dried rush dipped in fat or oil, provided an economical alternative to candles. Candle lanterns with glass panels helped protect flames from drafts while allowing light to shine through effectively.

Gardens and Landscaping

One of the key aspects of New England colonial home decor was the incorporation of nature’s beauty through gardens and landscaping. The colonists understood the importance of surrounding themselves with the natural world, both for practical purposes and for aesthetic appeal. Gardens were not only a source of sustenance but also played a crucial role in enhancing the overall charm and character of colonial homes.

In New England, gardens served as an extension of the home, creating a harmonious transition between the interior and exterior spaces. The colonists carefully selected plants that would thrive in their specific climates and created beautiful landscapes that complemented the architecture of their homes.

Common features included rose bushes, hollyhocks, boxwoods, and herbs such as lavender and rosemary. These plants not only added color and fragrance to the surroundings but also had practical uses in cooking, medicine, and even pest control.

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Landscaping was an important element in colonial garden design, with paths, fences, arbors, and trellises strategically placed to create a sense of orderliness and structure. Formal geometric patterns were popular choices for layout designs, reflecting the influence of European garden styles. Additionally, focal points such as fountains or statues were often incorporated to add visual interest to the gardens.

The gardens also provided a space for leisure activities and social gatherings. Many colonial homes had outdoor seating areas where family members could relax or entertain guests amidst the enchanting beauty of nature. As such, gardens became an integral part of daily life for New England colonists by providing them with a peaceful sanctuary away from the demands of work and chores.

Overall, gardens and landscaping played a significant role in incorporating nature’s beauty into New England colonial home decor. They not only enhanced the visual appeal but also provided practical benefits by providing food sources and medicinal plants to sustain the colonists’ way of life. Today, the enduring legacy of these gardens can still be seen in historic homes and landscapes throughout New England, showcasing the timeless charm and connection to nature that defined colonial home decor.

Seasonal Decorations

One of the most fascinating aspects of New England colonial home decor were the elaborate seasonal decorations that adorned their homes during holidays and different times of the year. The colonists celebrated a variety of holidays and seasons, each with its own unique traditions and decorations. These seasonal decorations served as a way for the colonists to express their creativity and add a touch of festivity to their homes.

During Christmas, which was one of the most important holidays for the New England colonists, homes were adorned with evergreen wreaths, garlands, and holly berries. Poinsettias were also a popular choice for decorating during this time. In addition to these botanical elements, candles played a significant role in Christmas decorations. Colonial homes would be beautifully lit with candles placed in every room, creating a warm and cozy ambiance.

Another holiday that was widely celebrated by the New England colonists was Thanksgiving. For this occasion, homes were decorated with an abundance of autumn foliage such as colorful leaves, corn stalks, pumpkins, and gourds. These natural decorations symbolized the harvest season and added a rustic charm to colonial homes. Thanksgiving tables were adorned with beautiful tablecloths made from rich textiles and set with silverware and fine dishes.

Throughout the year, New England colonists also celebrated other occasions such as Easter, May Day, and Independence Day. During Easter, homes were decorated with fresh flowers in pastel colors such as tulips, daffodils, and lilies. May Day festivities included decorating maypoles with ribbons and flowers to celebrate the arrival of springtime. Independence Day celebrations often included patriotic decorations like red, white, and blue bunting draped over doorways or patriotic flags displayed inside colonial homes.


In conclusion, the decorative aesthetics of New England colonial homes have left an enduring legacy that continues to influence interior design today. The influences on New England home decor were vast and varied, with colonial traditions playing a significant role in shaping the style. The craftsmanship showcased in the furniture and woodworking of these homes exemplified the skill and artistry of the colonists.

The colors and textiles used in colonial homes reflected the preferences of the time and added warmth and texture to the interiors. Additionally, the fireplace and hearth served as the heart of these homes, providing both warmth and a gathering place for family and friends. Wall hangings, such as tapestries, portraits, and other decorative displays adorned colonial homes, adding personality and charm.

Lighting and candles played a crucial role in illuminating the interior spaces of New England colonial homes. By incorporating nature’s beauty through gardens and landscaping, colonists created a connection between their indoor living spaces and the outdoor environment.

Furthermore, seasonal decorations were an important aspect of home decor for New England colonists. Whether celebrating holidays or embracing different seasons, these decorations brought joy and festivity to their lives.

In summary, New England colonial home decor continues to captivate us with its timeless elegance and inherent charm. From furniture craftsmanship to color palettes, from wall hangings to seasonal decorations, each aspect reveals a glimpse into a bygone era that still resonates with modern sensibilities. As we explore these decorative aesthetics today, we pay homage to those early settlers who crafted such enduring beauty within their homes.

Frequently Asked Questions

How were colonial houses decorated?

Colonial houses were typically decorated in a style that reflected the tastes and trends of the time period. The interiors often featured a combination of both functional and ornamental elements. Common decorations included handcrafted furniture, such as wooden chairs and tables adorned with intricate carvings.

Textiles like quilts and curtains were used to add color and warmth to the space, while tapestries and paintings adorned the walls. Mirrors with decorative frames served both functional purposes and as decorative elements. Additionally, pewter, brass, and silverware were displayed throughout the house, showcasing the family’s wealth and status.

What did the New England colonies houses look like?

In New England colonies, houses often had distinct architectural features that set them apart from other regions. The common New England colonial house was typically small in size but efficiently designed to maximize space utilization. These houses commonly had steeply pitched roofs with dormer windows allowing for additional headroom on upper floors.

The exteriors featured simple lines with minimal embellishments, reflecting the region’s emphasis on practicality over ornate decoration. Inside, rooms were typically compact yet functional, focusing on essentials rather than grandeur.

What is a New Englander house style?

The New Englander house style refers to a particular architectural design prevalent in New England during the colonial era and beyond. These houses are characterized by their symmetrical facades and central chimneys running through the center of the roofline. The layout often consisted of two or three stories with multiple rooms on each floor.

While early versions might have featured simpler designs made from local materials like wood or stone, later variations may have incorporated more intricate details influenced by different architectural styles such as Georgian or Federalist. Overall, New Englander houses embody a blend of practicality, simplicity, and functionality that suits the needs of its inhabitants while maintaining stylistic charm unique to this region’s architectural heritage.

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