Making Do

On several levels, this issue speaks to ways in which our forebears and those who choose to emulate them today have made the best of the means and materials at hand to preserve and beautify their homes.

When Janice and John Elderkin bought their 1950s cinder-block house in New York State, they fully expected to fix it up well enough to make it comfortable until they could afford to buy a larger and more stylish home.

But as they settled into their neighborhood and began to raise their children, they started looking beyond the typical home interiors in their area to find the right look for their home. As they learned about colonial and Federal styles, they experimented with furnishings, paint colors, and architectural changes to remake their home with a cozy, well-worn atmosphere many call “primitive.”

After forty-plus years in that starter house, the Elderkins have achieved the look of period house (with an occasional refreshing of wall colors) and are content to work in their gardens, attend the occasional auction or antiques show, and share their remarkably aged home with friends and family.

In North Carolina, a single-room cabin built by Bill Barker’s ancestors in about 1764 slowly grew to a hall-and-parlor plan with small additions that housed five generations of his family. In tribute to their late mother, Bill and brothers, James and Robert, purchased what they call “the old homestead”—a rare surviving example of the small but sturdy vernacular homes built by successful farmers— and restored it.

The homestead retains its original timber frame, flooring, interior walls, two windows, and pieces of riven clapboard siding. Modernized with a kitchen and bathroom, it serves as a retreat for the actor also known as Thomas Jefferson as well as family members who look forward to gathering there again for post-pandemic reunions.

In the early 1700s, as women began attending female academies to learn decorative techniques to beautify their homes, several well-bred young women, particularly those living in and around Boston, adopted the early European decorative craft of quilling, or paper filigree work.

In much the same manner as seamstresses collecting scraps of fabric to make quilts, these women saved pieces of sturdy, expensive colored paper, particularly the gilded edges of book pages, to adorn family crests, sconces, shadow box pictures, and smaller objects like as tea caddies.

These talented women often combined quilling with painting, embroidery, and other skills to create decorative accessories that were cherished and often passed down through generations. Rare surviving examples reside mostly in museums, though they occasionally come up at auctions.

The challenge for every owner of a period home is adding “the necessary,” a bathroom, when actual homes of the time had no space for such modern luxuries. We consulted decorators and searched our archives for ideas on how to tackle the challenge—the ultimate make-do project.

We hope you find inspiration in these pages to give your home a fresh look and channel your creativity using the materials at hand.

Jeanmarie Andrews

Executive Editor

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