If you’re a nostalgia buff and love everything about the way a formal parlor looks, recreating a modern-day room based on vintage ideas and sensibilities is easier than you think. And while parlors may at times appear to have gone the way of the Dodo bird since they were in vogue centuries ago, this distinctly-designed, formal enclave is experiencing something of a renaissance.
What were parlors used for back in the day? Quiet conversation. Sipping tea. Intimate chats between homeowners and their guests. But since this is going to be your parlor, you’re invited to turn it into the sort of environment that’s anything but quiet and sedate—and it’s perfectly acceptable to serve coffee there, too.
Tip #1: Start at the top
According to the “Detroit Weekly,” creating the perfect parlor can be dramatically enhanced if the lighting is right. Forget modern chandeliers, industrial fixtures and bars of spotlights: your goal is to create a state of ambience that’s mellow, soft and relaxing. To achieve that environment, start with a vintage chandelier that harkens back to the days of gentility when ladies never removed fancy bonnets when they came to visit.
As you tackle what the Weekly calls “mood setting,” install a wall switch dimmer so your parlor is always subtly lit and if there’s a fireplace (wood-burning, of course!), your room is going to assume a cozy look even when it’s not lit. Candles are made for parlors because they are irreplaceable in terms of ambient light. Don’t be surprised if guests find themselves speaking in whispered tones. It happens in this hospitable environment.
Tip#2: Color you mellow
Yes, the word mellow comes up most often when architects, decorators and historians address the topic of parlors, so choosing a paint for your walls that carries your theme to fruition is a relatively inexpensive way to establish your decorating foundation. When OldHouseOnline.com experts researched parlor colors that define the 18th and 19th Centuries, they came up with hues that could surprise you.
If you thought parlor wall color preferences were limited to “white, bisque and grey,” just the opposite was true. Popular parlor wall colors include Wedgewood blue, bold yellow, “brilliant salmon (a particular favorite of parlor painters),” orange, violet and brown. Think you can’t pull this off? Chances are, you’ll be delighted with your choice the moment you see it on one or more parlor walls.
Tip #3: Go for the gold!
Having selected a bold paint to showcase your walls, you may think that your color selection job is done, but you’re only beginning. Your parlor will begin to establish a unique personality with the addition of thick, gold curtains with or without fringe tie-backs, and if you add gilt furnishings—-tables, picture frames, richly upholstered chairs and couches plus bric-a-brac–those golds will flood the room with elegance.
How much gold is too much gold? That’s not a question folks asked back in the day parlors were considered a representation of a family’s lifestyle and represented its’ wealth, so don’t hold back. In fact, if you’re eager to make a dramatic statement, choose a gold-patterned wallpaper for one wall to create a focal point even royalty would admire were they to visit your parlor.
Tip #4: Art from the heart
Selecting art is relatively easy to do with so much variety on the market. Must you liquidate your stock portfolio to afford original Corot, Constable or Turner landscapes? Of course not. Finding oil paintings that are a benchmark of parlors is relatively easy, given today’s burgeoning art reproduction industry.
Visit online resources to commission your favorite landscape, printed on canvas for realism. Choose from a range of sizes so vast, you could order a wall mural of the pastoral setting that perfectly matches your parlor’s decorating scheme. If you intend to frequent antique shops to find gilt frames for these treasures, request unframed canvases and use the money you save to frame each painting yourself.
Tip #5: Don’t forget floor coverings
Take a deep breath before you visit Pinterest to see the breathtaking ideas people just like you employed to create their unique parlors. Pay particular attention to the floor coverings as you scan each photograph to identify rugs that make ideal parlor finishing touches. What will you choose? Wall-to-wall carpet? Area rugs? Perhaps a coordinating runner.
From luxurious Orientals to thick wools, check out floral patterns, bordered styles and fringe trim on floor coverings that add notes of authenticity to a room that stands the test of time, no matter how you configure your parlor. What’s left to do? A few plants. A grandfather clock. Old photos of relatives who would be tickled pink to witness your respect for a decorating scheme that simply never goes away, despite the passage of time.
Abby Drexler is a contributing writer and media specialist for My Parlor Room. She regularly produces content for a variety of home décor blogs.