Which Decorating Styles Work Best with
Few of us have homes that fit strictly within any one decorating style. More often, we adopt characteristics of a region or style that we find pleasing, blend it with our collection of beloved possessions, and arrive at a home that is uniquely our own.
Wrought iron hardware has been with us through a rich and varied parade of American home styles. From the forged iron thumb latch door handles of colonial America, to the sleek iron handles of contemporary kitchen hardware, handcrafted iron has proven to be very versatile. We think the long-standing appeal of iron comes from its natural and honest character. As you’ll see below, the importance of natural materials is a theme that is constant to many of the best loved styles of American decor.
Adirondack, Lodge, and Rustic Style Decorating
Adirondack rustic style originated in the late 1800’s in northeastern New York state. Many affluent families built large luxurious log structures in remote areas, to use as summer resorts. Often built by local craftsman using local materials, these lodge style homes reflected the character of their beautiful rustic surroundings.
Rock and native timber were freely used in their natural state in these homes. Massive unpeeled logs supported long porches lined with lodge style chairs. Inside, furnishings from European travels were mixed with handmade rustic furniture. Imported Persian carpets shared rooms with balcony railings crafted from gnarled and knotted tree limbs. Handcrafted rustic furniture was adorned with coverings of white birch bark, and decorated with intricate patterns of twig applique. Lighting and other accessories were often handmade as well, including trade blankets and oak splint baskets by local Native Americans.
After 100 years, rustic decorating still remains popular. Adirondack chairs are admired for their strong, simple lines, and are widely used in homes today. Leather, willow or twig furniture are good choices for lodge or cabin decorating, and wrought iron decorative accessories are also an important element. Accessories like hand-hammered iron pot racks can complement rustic kitchen cabinets with wrought iron cabinet pulls and knobs. Because of its natural texture and sturdy character, iron is an excellent choice for Adirondack rustic style.
Log and Timber Frame Homes
Log homes are one of the oldest building styles in America. They could be simply built with basic tools by just a few people, and they were sturdy enough to withstand severe weather. Pioneer log homes were not luxurious, but they were a practical and durable solution to the need for housing in a raw land.
Log and timber frame homes today fill a different need. Many owners of these sturdy structures are looking for a simpler lifestyle with connections to the past, and they enjoy the natural beauty of the rough-hewn beams and walls. These homeowners may choose rustic or western decor to outfit their homes, and might use lodge pole pine beds, twig furniture, and antler chandeliers. They may choose an artisan-carved cedar front door, accented with a wrought iron door handle. Or, they may take a different approach, and find pleasure in choosing simple contemporary furnishings with natural fabrics and clean lines, to contrast with the rugged textures of the building walls.
In either case, natural materials are a basic foundation for log home decor. The handcrafted wooden walls provide a ready-made backdrop for other natural materials. Polished granite, butcherblock, or ceramic tile countertops are pleasing work surfaces for the kitchen, and a handmade iron paper towel holder can add the final touch to a rustic log home kitchen. Wrought iron wall racks look right at home with the natural textures of rough-hewn walls, just as a handmade twig chair is a perfect companion for a log home porch.
Cowboy and Western Style Homes
Western style home decorating first became well known in the twenties and thirties, during the growing popularity of vacation dude ranches in the American West. Tourists wanted to experience the romantic appeal of the cowboy life, and the furnishings in these establishments became appropriately western in design. Prominent furniture craftsmen soon developed popular styles that would come to define western home décor for decades to come.
Western decor continued the use of unpretentious natural materials from the rustic decorating tradition, and was further embellished by the history of the West. Western furniture included overstuffed leather chairs with buckskin fringe and Native American beadwork, and benches covered with cowhide and rows of bold brass tacks. Horns from longhorn cattle and antlers shed by elk and deer were used in light fixtures and furnishings. Tables sported massive burl wood legs, and Navajo rugs warmed the rough plank floors. Native American pottery and baskets added regional relevance.
Symbols of the West, including tepees, arrows, wagon wheels, longhorns, and stars are often present in western furnishings. The five-point star is rooted in American folk art, and the star inside a circle is a well-loved symbol of the American West. This Texas star shape is present in the state seal of Texas, and is also embodied in the famous Texas Ranger badges.
Iron played a vital role in the development of the West, as blacksmiths produced a range of items needed by all. Forged iron horseshoes, branding irons, and spurs were all everyday items used by cowboys. These and other utilitarian iron objects have found their way into western décor accessories, and are often used today with a sense of fun.
Today, decorating with western style can be as bold as a chandelier made from a wagon wheel, or as subtle as a beautifully turned table lamp crafted from native mesquite wood. Forged iron has been part of western history from the start, and wrought iron hardware is a comfortable companion with the other honest materials used in western style homes.
Craftsman, Mission, and Arts and Crafts Style
The Craftsman style gained popularity in the early 1900's. Also referred to as the American Bungalow or California Bungalow style, this period of building and home décor also relied on natural materials and handcrafted textures. Compared to the happy exuberance of some Adirondack or Western style interiors, Craftsman or Mission style interiors can seem calm and peacefully simple. As with other American styles, much of the inspiration came from nature, but these natural materials often had refined textures and simple clean lines.
Because the Craftsman style grew from the nineteenth century Arts and Crafts movement in England, a central part of the style was a celebration of traditional handcrafts. Examples of fine woodworking, coppersmithing, blacksmithing, pottery, and weaving were all ideally present in a Craftsman style home. Light fixtures were often beautifully crafted of iron or copper, with stained glass or mica shades to cast a warm light. The bold simple lines of Mission style oak furniture were complemented by simply hammered iron or bronze hardware. Cozy built-in fireplace nooks featured hand forged iron fireplace tools and andirons.
Today, many Craftsman style homes have been lovingly restored and filled with the artist-made furnishings they enjoyed originally. While we do not seek to duplicate the hardware manufactured by famous Craftsman furniture designers of the period, many of our simple hand forged iron pulls echo the characteristics of the style. Wrought iron Mission style cabinet hardware is clean-lined and handcrafted, to enhance the simple lines of cabinets in bungalow kitchens. Mission style coat hooks with classic forms and hammered iron texture are right at home beside a classic Craftsman door. In these homes, hand forged iron hardware keeps its rightful place in the history of this lovely American style.
American Country Style Homes
Because it’s been very popular for the last twenty-five years, most of us are familiar with the comfortable character of American country decorating. Based on the simple beauty of handmade everyday items, country style furnishings often have a timeless appeal that connects us with our past. Wooden furnishings are prized for the weathered patina from years gone by. Many country room interiors have been warmed by the character of old wood salvaged from country barns, and by a hand forged iron candleholder perched on a rustic table.
Once again, country style homes favor the use of natural materials. Wooden furniture and floors are the heart of country style, sometimes bearing colorful traces of old milk-paint. Coverlets woven from hand spun wool grace rooms that are accented by simply designed iron chandeliers. Country bathroom accessories can include antique porcelain pedestal sinks and simple wrought iron bathroom fixtures. Traditional crafts like woodcarving, quilting, and basketry all blend beautifully with the warm and weathered surfaces, and hand forged iron handles are happily at home on the cabinets of any rustic country kitchen.
Contemporary Style Homes
It might surprise you to find contemporary homes in a listing of decorating styles that tend to link to the past, but we find that the simplicity of iron as a material allows it to blend nicely with modern style homes.
Contemporary homes often use simple materials that are basic and unadorned, and some even use materials that have previously only been used in industrial applications. Polished or textured concrete has found its way into homes as walls, flooring or kitchen countertops. Steel cables are left exposed as bold structural features, and walls of simple glass block flood interiors with light. Corrugated metal, once only used as a roofing material, is applied as a uniquely textured material for exterior walls.
These dramatic uses of basic materials also call for simple accessories to complete the theme. A contemporary kitchen with stainless steel surfaces is complemented by iron handles that are sleek and simple in design, just as a contemporary bathroom benefits from towel bars that are clean, simple, and honestly designed from the natural material of iron.
Your Own Unique Decorating Style
As wonderful as these classic American home styles are, we don’t know many people who live in pristine examples of any one period style. We’ve tried to demonstrate that the appeal of natural materials like hand forged iron will benefit most American homes, regardless of time or place. No matter where you live or what style you prefer, chances are quite good that your home will be enhanced by the addition of handcrafted furniture or accessories. And whether it’s an elaborately crafted iron gate in your garden, or a simple forged iron coat hook by your front door, the timeless quality of wrought iron is sure to play a pleasing role in your home.
Sheri Ross © 2008