Getting The Details Right: Our Secret Weapon for Designing Historic Homes for Today’s Clients

Getting The Details Right: Our Secret Weapon for Designing Historic Homes for Today’s Clients


Part of what we bring to the table for our clients is our deep knowledge of architectural design for historic homes.

Some people don’t realize that interior designers like Laura and I—as well as our two lead designers—have actual real, live master’s degrees in both interior design and interior architecture, as well as our cultivation of a long Rolodex (do people even know what that is anymore?) of specialized craftspeople who are experts at doing the kind of work that will elevate their homes’ designs. 

Our true magic is that we know just how to bring these special period details into our clients’ homes, while still making the overall design feel fresh and timeless–not stuck in the past, dated, and old-fashioned. 

Because the homes in our area are so special and even when our clients are building from scratch, they want to honor the rich history of the Main Line and Chester County, and we’re big on getting the historical details right. That’s where the Winterthur Museum comes in.

Winterthur for the Win!

Meadowbank Port Royal Hall
Photo Credit: Winterthur Museum

If you’re not familiar with Winterthur, it was originally the home of Henry Francis du Pont (yes, of THE du Ponts), who was an avid antique collector, as well as a horticulturist (the grounds of his estate where the museum is located includes his fabulous gardens, as well). 

Today, the Winterthur Museum is considered the world’s premier museum of American furniture and decorative arts, which is why we turn to it whenever we’re looking to replicate techniques and finishes or if we want to be very academic about the historic architecture or other details involved in a home we’re working on. It’s also just a wonderful source of inspiration for us when we’re looking to spark an idea. 

To date, the museum has helped us with items like lighting, custom murals, hand-carved millwork, and more.

A Special Detail for a Special House

Meadowbank Designs Old Furniture 1
Proposed Paint Treatment for new project. Right photo shows wear marks from use in turning the knob over time. This will also be incorporated into the “new old” home we are helping to design. | Photo: Kirsten McCoy, Meadowbank Designs

For our most recent visit, we were looking into a specialized paint treatment for woodwork in a client’s home we’re helping to design. In many ways, this home is antithetical to what people are doing today. Though it’s on a large fox hunt property, the house is going to be relatively small but full of inviting, cozy little spaces.

Every inch is being thoughtfully configured to suit our client’s practical nature; but she is also devoted to honoring the spirit of the original home, which was simple and practical, almost Amish in its simplicity, but also stunning in craftsmanship and period details. 

Adding custom details like the special finish we have in mind for some of the home’s woodwork is one way we’re able to make the design truly unique and impactful for her.

To get the period and the technique correct, we took our specialty painter with us to Winterthur. With his skilled eye and vast experience, he knew right away what he needs to do to achieve the effect we’re going for. 

New Old Farmhouse

Pennsylvania farmhouse dining room in a period home designed by Meadowbank Designs
Interior Design: Meadowbank Designs | Architecture: Archer and Buchanan | Photography: Tom Crane

Our Starry Night Farm project is another project for which we turned to Winterthur. Though it was a new construction home, the goal was to design it to look like an 1800s farmhouse. 

Along with the phenomenal Richard Buchanan of Archer and Buchanan, we took a very academic approach to the historic architecture, looking at old Pennsylvania farmhouses to get the scale and details correct. 

With that research, these clients realized that in order to be more authentic to the time period, the original design needed to be scaled down. With the architects fully on board with this change, we then worked hard to ensure every room would be entirely comfortable and liveable for the clients despite the home’s smaller size.

Pennsylvania farmhouse kitchen in a period home designed by Meadowbank Designs
Design: Meadowbank Designs | Architecture: Archer and Buchanan | Photography: Huge Window

We also did a lot of research with the architect to select historic colors and finishes for the home. To complement these finishes with woodwork, flooring, light fixtures, hardware, and window treatments that felt true to the period (but function for today), we went back for more visits to Winterthur–not that we’re complaining! 

As you can see, the results are fantastic! The home looks like a beautifully preserved original period home with well-appointed modern elements added for today’s homeowners.  

Expert Craftsmanship Yields Elevated Results

In another project, we did a litany of cool things from floor to ceiling with help from Winterthur. 

In this case, the original house was added onto, which meant we needed to replicate 100-year-old elements to create cohesion throughout the old and newer spaces. 

For the woodwork (which was created by the extraordinarily talented team at Peter Zimmerman Architects) a team of exceptionally skilled woodcarvers was brought in–so skilled, in fact, they had worked in the White House to replicate the Lincoln desk! 

They’re truly special people and the level of craftsmanship they brought to this project made a huge difference in the results. 

Powder Room Mural Meadowbank Designs
Photography: Tom Crane

We sought Winterthur’s help with a custom mural we added to the powder room based on an antique Chinese paper, as well as a custom vanity we crafted specifically for the space that replicates an antique. 

We also worked closely with Heritage Metal Works on this project to replicate several antique light fixtures throughout the home. This, too, involved several trips to Winterthur as we worked together to accurately design the replicas and scale them to fit the spaces. 

These kinds of efforts really do require a ‘dream team’ and we love being a part of that!

Being able to bring these kinds of special details to our clients’ designs brings our entire team so much joy.

Having Winterthur as a resource right in our backyard helps make it happen (as does knowing where to find all the right expert craftspeople to bring those details to life). We consider ourselves so lucky to be able to serve our clients in this way as we give them homes that honor history while still fitting their modern lives to a ‘t.’

Do you have a home in the Main Line in need of some special attention and period details? Let’s talk about your project!

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