Double Parlors

We’re repainting our double parlor, finally.  For years friends have been telling me to go darker, to highlight the serious moldings in these rooms. It’s painted a very subtle blush pink now, but it just looks like a rather shabby off-white in the pictures below. And it looks cold. Clearly it’s time to paint: I’ve taken down all the pictures and removed all the moveable stuff, now out with the rugs, the couches and the mirrors–Moneypenny will stay on the radiator for as long as she possibly can. We haven’t quite decided on the exact color yet:  I really like Rundlett Peach from California Paints Historic Colors of America, while my husband is leaning toward something a bit more something with a bit more orange, or perhaps a warm grey (is there such a thing?) or something “buffy”. We tried a rather vibrant persimmon last year and realized we could not live with quite that much color in these rooms. Any suggestions would be welcome; there’s a lot of prep work to do so we have a few days to decide. The double parlor is really one large room separated by pocket doors which we rarely close; while it is a large area it is always rather dark, as our house is north-facing.  The matching grey marble mantles are the other consideration; obviously we want a color that complements them. Here’s a few pictures of the space now.

There are “fake doors” in both the front and rear parlors for symmetry, which is very Greek Revival.

After painting, lighting.  I’ve never really liked the fixture in the rear parlor, and what you are seeing above is a cap where a gas fixture once was so we need some wiring in the front parlor.

It’s fun to turn your house (and your cat) into a pencil sketch!

While looking around for some inspiration and colors for my double parlor, I kept coming across images of the Greek Revival house in Brooklyn Heights where Truman Capote lived when he wrote In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. No doubt Google was directing me there because I was searching for “Greek Revival Double Parlors” and this house is a Greek Revival with several parlors (I don’t think they are contiguous) but also because this house has recently been in the news for setting the sales record for a single-family home in Brooklyn: $12 million (though the asking price was $18 million–sign of the times). The house looks stunning even though it has a bit of an ’80s ambiance (1980s not 1880s, though neither is good); it has a lovely enclosed garden in back and the colors of its parlors are close to what I want for mine, although I think I need a warmer, slightly rosier color than that pictured below. I must admit that I like my softer grey mantles better.

I think both Federal and Greek Revival houses are quite adaptable to a range of furnishings. You can go very period if you like, or in a more contemporary direction, or mix it up (my preference), and it all seems to work in these spare, classical spaces. I love looking in my Richard Jenrette books, but that kind of grandeur is unattainable. House museums like the Merchants House in New York City are fun to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. On the other hand, the parlor in cosmetics scion Aerin Lauder’s Greek Revival country house in the Hamptons is a bit too modern for me (although that orange might be just what my husband wants).

Richard Jenrette’s great book, followed up by More Adventures with Old Houses, which focuses on Edgewater, his amazing Greek Revival estate on the Hudson River, the front parlor of the Merchant’s House Museum in NYC, and Aerin Lauder’s Hamptons living room photographed for Elle Decor.

I think the warmer, traditional yet updated look that appeals to me the most is well represented by the double parlor of an 1838 Nantucket house designed by Thomas Jayne Design Studio for clients “who were committed to adapting to the historic architecture of their home rather than altering it to fit contemporary tastes”.  A lovely attitude and a lovely room.

10 responses to “Double Parlors

  • ns

    Grey or light chocolate–neutral and not tiring. The photos of houses similar to yours all had painted the walls vibrant colors with the molding left white/pearl/shell.
    We have double wide doors too and have gone the colored wall route.

  • Helen

    I have many books on color, want to borrow?

  • The Dusty Victorian

    Hello Donna,
    First, the work boxes and hares were absolutely charming posts and the Bulfinch buildings are stunning.
    As for your parlours; before reaching the end, I was thinking, “she should go yellow” and there there it was, the last shot of a beautiful double parlour in yellow. Of course, you would have to decide on the right yellow for your northern light exposure, but I totally agree with your last paragraph and your last phrase sums it up perfectly.

  • daseger

    I thought yellow when I saw that photo too, Anyes. It would certainly brighten up the space. But we have yellow in our master suite right above the parlors (parlours to you!) which mirror those first floor rooms –so that’s a lot of yellow..

  • Eagle-Eyed Editor

    What wonderful images! I had the good fortune of visiting Salem once and loved the buildings there. How lucky you are. I like the idea of adding a pale yellow or tan to warm up the space.

  • Steve

    This is why asking for help from commenters is always fruitless. I was going to say “anything but yellow.” Since it appears you have two sofas in the green spectrum–I recall the distant sofa has strong stripe–I would go with something complementary in the rosey, maybe taupey, like the photo right after the Capote exterior.

    • daseger

      I’m with you, Steve. Yellow would look good in there, but not with my upholstery–which is all green and red. I think we’re almost there–I’ll show the after next week.

  • downeastdilettante

    …“who were committed to adapting to the historic architecture of their home rather than altering it to fit contemporary tastes”. Now there’s a phrase we see far too rarely nowadays. The house across the street from me just left the original family after 218 years of continuous occupancy. The fine original woodwork left about 218 hours after the ink was dry on the deed. Very awful. Change for change’s sake. But don’t get me started, and I digress.

    So, lets see. Color. Yes, there are warm grays—the wonderful French grays or greiges to be exact—all those sandy putty tones are good. Peanut colors are good too—deep warm and neutral. Pictures and gilt mirrors look incredibly good against them. Then there’s that elusive salmon/brick pink that almost has to be a wash, more than a paint. Don’t be safe—rule out creams. If the rooms are mostly North facing, you’d be surprised how well a dark tone will work—enveloping, and bringing its own deep light.

    And though I’m sure you already know this but: Buy a quart. Paint it on in two separate corners. Live with it a couple of days. If you don’t like it, buy another quart. Repeat until you get it right. Sounds compulsive, and if your husband is like most, he’ll be crazed when its over, but it is the soundest advice I can give you .

    As you see, your commenters take your plea for opinions seriously 🙂

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