Colonial Style

I periodically post design sketches of the projects we’re working on on our WKD Facebook page. I thought I’d consolidate a series of sketches and mockups we have done on the interior renovation of the living room in an Antique Colonial/Federal Period Reproduction home to show the progression we go thru with a client when we’re working thru the design of the interior architecture of a room with them.

First it’s the ideas and inspiration.

Sometimes it comes from our own work, as in the paneling and mantel surround we designed for a home in Lincoln, MA several years ago.

Colonial paneling and mantel surround designed by Wilson Kelsey Design

Or it can come from from the traveling Sally and I do, as we continue to educate ourselves, learning about our profession and architectural heritage. These are pictures I took in the basement of the Swan House in Atlanta, Georgia last spring. They are of the paneling that was in Philip Trammel Schutze’s apartment, the architect of the Swan House.

Philip Trammel Schutze apartment, Swan House; Wilson Kelsey Design

Philip Trammel Schutze apartment, Swan House; Wilson Kelsey Design

We often turn to our library as a resource. For this project, I pulled Brent Hull’s, Traditional American Rooms off the shelf. It is a fabulous documentary of many of the Federal Period Rooms at Winterthur. I referred to this book recently as I worked on the mantel and cabinetry design for a project we are doing in Wellesley and Charlestown.

The Marlboro Room

Marlboro Room Winterthur

The Hampton Room

Winterthur, The Hampton Room

I reviewed these and other images with our client, went thru their own extensive library with them and began sketching, quickly coming up with 4 ideas.

I call these little sketches/doodles “cartoons”. They don’t communicate much detail, rather they express Gestalt – feel, emotion, a sense of place.

first Federal Period paneling/mantel sketches; Wilson Kelsey Design

Our client pounced on the bottom left because of the mantel. They asked that we keep the door frame assembly simple, as shown on the right of the sketch.

We then moved into more detail and larger scale, reconfirming the selected mantel design in the process.

Yes, the walls will be green – not this intense…

living room mantel elevation, WIlson Kelsey Design

Too leggy…

Federal style paneling and mantel; Wilson Kelsey Design

Next we drilled down to the panel trim.

This shows the panel trim within the confines of the stiles and rails of the paneling. Note how the door trim/assembly has been pulled forward, proud of the paneling, emphasizing it’s verticality, giving the room “lift”. (Lesson learned when visiting Paris last January.)

Federal Period Style Panel; Wilson Kelsey Design

Here the trim sits proud of the stile/rail assembly by about 1/8″. We liked the shadow line created by the difference in height.

Federal Style Paneling Study; Wilson Kelsey Design

We moved on to mock ups and what I call the “eyeball design” phase, confident of the outcome…

Six different mockups were done. I”ll keep it simple.

Here are the two finalists.

Trim proud of stile/rail; Wilson  Kelsey Design

Trim within the stile/rail; Wilson Kelsey Design

We got fooled. What we thought would be best was not. The trim that sat proud of the stile rail called too much attention to itself. You saw a series of picture frames as opposed to an integrated whole, which is what we saw with the trim that sat fully within the stile/rail assembly. it was softer, more delicate – in balance with the room.

Repeat after me.

Pencils are cheap. 2×4’s are expensive.

Mock ups, mock ups, mock ups!!!

Fractions of an inch actually matter – tremendously!!!

And so, the unfinished room awaits it’s final assembly.

federal style paneling and mantel in construction; Wilson Kelsey Design

Take a close look at the flu assembly – how it corbels to the right to pass steel beam supporting the second floor.

I wonder what happens on the second floor…



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I’m just beginning work with Sally on a project in Wellesley – a beautiful four square home whose interior trim and millwork are in need  of a serious update. Late this afternoon, using Winterthur’s Marlboro Room as inspiration, I quickly sketched a “cartoon” of the mantel and built-in cabinetry in the den.

Marlboro Room Winterthur

Simple profiles and rearranged proportions to fit the room to create two possibilities. On the left, the upper cabinet could be done with either solid raised door panels or with glass and mullions.

Federal Period mantel and built bookcase idea cartoon sketch, Wilson Kelsey Design

And as I am writing this, I see a second mantel idea. Pushes it toward a more Continental look. Hmmmm….

Have great week!


John Kelsey, Wilson Kelsey Design

To visit our website, click here.

To follow us on Facebook, click here.

To follow us on Pinterest, click here.

If you would like our assistance on your design project, contact us here.

Over the weekend, Sally and I learned that Trends magazine included the kitchen we designed as part of a larger renovation of a classical 1804 Federal Period home in their Top 50 American Kitchens 2013/2014.

The renovated home.

The Trends article can be read here

A blog post I wrote in June on the home can be found here.

For contrast, the kitchen space the day our client took possession of the house.


A few other before/after images.

All the mantels were buried in the garage. We had to figure out which went where.

The front parlor.

The dining room, before/after.

I did not realize that it had been three months since I posted. Guess that’s what flat out 7 days a week will do to your blogging routine some times.