Like this glorious country, American decorating style offers something unique and wonderful in each region.
Just as the terrain unfolds from one region to the next, home decorating styles do, too. They're parceled out as distinct regional looks. From East to West, South to Midwest, American homes are as varied as the land that inspires them.
With a few definitive design traits to map the way, each look can be re-created. No matter where you live under the spacious skies, let the following rooms be your guide.
Steeped in tradition, the Eastern Seaboard style includes furnishings with a proper British attitude and accessories that bring home the briny flavor of the sea. And, though grounded in history, the nautical New England look isn't purist-fussy. It's easy to achieve and invites taking liberties. A little Yankee know-how substitutes for precious antiques or a museum curator.
Tie flat upper walls to their character-laden, paneled counterparts by stenciling a border, right, around each major segment of the room. Squaring off each section highlights the architecture and even adds a second frame to the artwork.
Print out this page, then enlarge the pattern so that one square equals approximately 1 inch. Trace the design onto stencil material such as vellum or Mylar (available at art and crafts stores) with a thin-lined permanent marker. Tape the stencil to glass and cut out the design using a sharp crafts knife.
Position the stencil on the wall, making sure it is level. The triangular center piece should fall at the center of your stenciled line and the loops should be at the corners. Hold the stencil to the wall with painters' tape or spray stencil adhesive (available at crafts stores). Do not use masking tape or spray glue; they may leave a gummy residue on the wall.
To get uneven ropelike texture, use a natural sea sponge, right, a lint-free cloth (such as an old T-shirt), or cheesecloth instead of a brush. Dampen the sponge or cloth, then wring it dry. Lightly dip it into acrylic paint. Blot onto a paper plate to remove most of the paint. Lightly tamp the sponge or cloth over the stencil, above, reloading with paint as needed. When one section is done, lift the stencil from the wall and position it over the next area. At the corners, work in from both sides until you are close to but not into the corner. Stencil the corner motif. Fill in the remaining area, making slight adjustments in spacing if needed.
It wasn't all glitz in the Old South. The style that sticks has plantation prettiness, but less opulence. Refined furnishings and fabrics are mellowed by the rustic woods of smaller, more humble quarters -- homes found in the Appalachian foothills rather than mansions among the cotton fields.
Our Southern Belle parlor wears its horizontal stripes well. Run pine planking around a room horizontally to add rough-around-the-edges personality to your plain spaces. Nail 1x8 tongue-and-groove planks to the wall, then cap them with a wide baseboard at the bottom and a 1x2 at the top. For the color wash, dilute one part latex paint with two parts water (use a couple shades darker paint than the wall color) and brush it onto the wood, letting the grain show through. Seal the paneling with matte polyurethane.
Grant Wood's American Gothic painting serves as a caricature of the Midwest's no-nonsense work ethic. Yet the stereotype points to an essential truth that still can be detected in the region's decorating style: fresh-faced Victorian, in which even the Sunday parlor puts its best foot forward -- but always with a firm hold on practicality.
Pipe a room with gingerbread trim for farmhouse charm in even the most city-bound spaces. Let the trim top beadboard paneling (now available in easy-to-use kits at lumber stores) for an extra dose of sweetness. Use a paint can or plate to draw the scalloped edge on a piece of 1x3 pine, leaving an inch that's solid at the top. Drill a 3/4-inch hole through each scallop. Set the trim from the wall with a 3/4-inch block, then top it with a 4-inch shelf.
Pine forests and the brilliant hues of the earth itself strike a distinctive note in Western home styles. Native American and Spanish Colonial design influences chime in, too. The result is a style that's textural, rich, and rhythmic -- and ever aware of the outdoors. In its most lasting interpretation, the look is achieved without a single boot or bandanna-clad coyote.
Extra texture and a wash of color add Western spirit to any room, anywhere. Dab on the texture with joint compound and a trowel. For the color wash, dilute latex paint with an equal amount of water. Dip a lint-free rag in the paint, wring it almost dry, then scrub the wall with the rag, letting some base coat show. Add depth by repeating the process with related colors.