Creating an Eclectic yet Recognized/Established Style

Antique and second-hand stores are very eclectic. One of our favorites: RowHouse Vintage in Manayunk, Philadelphia.

I’ll admit it. I can spend hours looking at Apartment Therapy (A.T.), although I don’t live in an apartment. To be fair, they feature quite a few row houses among the apartments; which is as it should be because row houses are awesome. The majority of the time, I really like how people decorate their spaces and A.T. does a great job curating a wide variety of styles. Notwithstanding, occasionally I find myself somewhat puzzled about the names either they, or the homeowners give, their decor.

At first, the recent article, “Before & After: Eugenia’s Eclectic Colonial Makeover,” got a raised eyebrow from me because I wouldn’t exactly call adding a four-poster bed enough to give a dwelling the Eclectic Colonial label. Then, because I like all things Colonial, more of less, I started to think about the label a little more. Then, ah-ha! The light bulb came on; ding! I know exactly what eclectic Colonial should be.

I love the label eclectic. In terms of domestic decorative arts, it means you don’t have to abide by one style. It gives permission to break the rules, which comes in handy if you have a very small budget. It means your nest can’t be completely classified; it is unpredictable – has that “pop” that designers are always going on about. But, when you add a definitive term, such as Colonial, then you lend yourself to some rules, or structure.

So, exactly how does one go about applying an eclectic style to one’s row house? For starters, unless you’ve hired a professional decorator, you probably already have an eclectic look to your decor. Everyone does. But perhaps you are ready to move on from complete chaos to something a little more cohesive.

First, conduct research to find out what 100% of the desired style looks like and determine if you really like that style. It’s best if the style you anticipate embracing has been something you’ve gravitated toward for a while. For me, the 18th Century crept in slowly, indirectly, and from a young age. By the time I reached adulthood, it was solidly cemented into my psyche. Before we bought our row house, I had been to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia once, several period homes in New York numerous times, and logged many hours in the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Not every style has such readily available, fully-furnished dwellings to interact with, but cinema and television can also be very helpful and cover just about every style out there.

Next, create at least three mood boards. Pinterest is perfect for this considering, if you have a smart phone, you can carry your mood boards around with you. On one mood board, collect images that depict the style following 100% of the rules. On another, collect those images that you feel represent the style once you know what 100% should be. On the last, collect images of things you just love regardless of the style. Don’t forget to collect images of color palettes and fabrics as well as furniture and complete rooms. Once you have your boards created and populated a bit, you can apply a ratio (40% following the rules, 50% representing the rules, 10% random) to get enough of the true style along with enough of your own style to merit the label Eclectic What-Have-You.

If this seems a little restrictive, remember, this is about adhering to an eclectic version of an established style so there are guidelines. If this seems a little overwhelming, remember, the decor of one’s house is an ongoing journey that no one ever really finishes. Evolve your style slowly and deliberately.

To learn how we’re applied the 40/50/10 ratio, read There’s a Name for Everything: Our Eclectic Colonial Row House.

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