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Back to Basics

As the saying goes, “If you wait long enough, what once was fashionable comes back into style.” For those of us who appreciate the pioneering spirit of our ancestors, we like to believe some movements endure as they await discovery by new audiences.

First, let me take a moment to reflect as we begin our 50th year of publication. I’ve been on the staff for nearly half that time, and I am constantly amazed and humbled to hear long-time subscribers tell us, “I still have the first issue and every one since.”

Through five decades of constant social and technological change, we have continued to honor America’s past with fresh looks at favorite topics—how people restore and furnish period homes, assemble collections, perpetuate traditional handcraftsmanship, and uncover new research that often changes our perceptions of that past. (See more about how the magazine has changed while remaining true to its founding spirit in the following pages.)

This issue’s houses offer two perspectives on decorating. In 2007, Judy Condon—the maven of simple, affordable country decorating—happened upon an 1825 Cape Cod in Massachusetts that “needed some work.” She set about following her own advice for meshing primitive antiques with modern amenities, disguising the latter with strategically placed faux cupboards, hanging boxes, hooked rugs, and wooden boards. Not surprisingly, she succeeded.

Then there is the Christopher Manwaring house, built in 1796 in Connecticut, its pieces strewn across three states for the better part of three decades after three previous owners tried and failed to reconstruct what had been a mansion in its time. When Don and Jill DeSapri saw the house in a real estate ad, they decided to gamble on “reassembling the puzzle.”

The Ohio couple not only hired a contractor with an appreciation for traditional building methods, they bought salvage rights to another old house so they could replace damaged or missing floorboards and foundation stones with comparable original material.

The DeSapris brought the same quest for period perfection to the interior, adorning rooms with vibrant paint colors and patterned wallpapers, bold oriental rugs and shimmering damask draperies that complement their antique Connecticut furniture.

Regardless of decorating style, every early home with a fireplace had andirons to hold logs off the floor for a better burn. Curator Tom Kelleher traces the changing materials and styles of these utilitarian yet decorative utensils through two centuries of American makers.

We also take you on a tour of Boston architecture, patriot-style, along the Freedom Trail. This brisk walk through colonial history, best understood in the company of an 18th-Century guide, takes you among the towering steeples of the city’s many meeting houses, past burying grounds with gravestones worn smooth by time, to the humble abode of Paul Revere, one of Boston’s oldest surviving homes. And that’s just a start.

As in Boston, the pages that follow hold other nuggets of America’s early domestic and political history. Turn the page and you might discover, as we often do, that what’s old is new again.

Jeanmarie Andrews

Executive Editor

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