The Elle Decor A-List design duo Bill Brockschmidt and Courtney Coleman are known for bringing a modern sensibility to historic references. With historical homes as their ultimate muse, the two designers behind the firm Brockschmidt & Coleman have a gift for translating beautiful gestures from the past, such as classic paint palettes, geometric patterns, and antique furniture silhouettes—and making them feel totally au courant. Discover all the steal-worthy ideas these designers have uncovered over the years from their favorite historic homes and their picks for the ones that deserve a spot on every design lover’s bucket list. And don’t miss their thoughtful curation of Chairish finds, which looks to the past while leaning into the future.
Favorite historical paint palette?
“Recently we’ve been fixated on a palette of white, green, and yellow – mostly thanks to spending time in New Orleans over the past few months. We’ve been particularly inspired by the way soft white plaster walls contrast with ochre and leaf green trim, as at the 1790s Creole Pitot House, or with the swampy green woodwork of Madame John’s Legacy, a slightly earlier French colonial house. The combination looks so fresh and timeless, we’re currently using variations of it for houses in New Orleans, Mississippi, and Florida.”
“For chalky white walls we recommend plasters from Domingue Architectural Finishes, along with their lime wash paint in bright white “Domingue” color. This looks great with trim in colors like Benjamin Moore’s Bunker Hill Green and Emery et Cie’s Ocre.”
Favorite under-the-radar idea from historic homes?
“Historic paint techniques can be just as interesting as colors. For a Delaware library we used a tinted varnish faux lacquer technique that caught our eye at Colonial Williamsburg’s Everard Brush House to give extra dimension to the walls and trim. Also, after visiting a newly restored bedroom at Charleston’s Nathaniel Russell House, we can’t wait to try a distemper paint finish, which has a similar brush stroke-y quality and would work as well in a 19th century room as a contemporary one.”
Favorite classic patterns and how you love to use them?
“Large, strong awning and tent stripes are a striking pattern that give walls and upholstery a jaunty look, while more delicate stripes such as ticking stripes, candy stripes, and pinstripes provide a softer look and are perfect for slipcovers and bed skirts. We also use smaller stripes such as seersucker for decorative curtain lining. Multi-color striped stair runners inspired by early 19th century “Venetian” stripe flatweave carpets are a favorite.
Versatile floral pattern fabrics can be soft, sweet, and familiar or bold and almost shocking depending on the palate and fabric weave and material – think of the difference between a subdued bouquet printed on linen versus a vibrant, colorful bouquet on polished chintz. Damask patterns that rely on the play of light on the contrasting sheen of the fabric’s weave are subtle in contrast, but can be grand in scale for wall upholstery, curtains, or sofas, or can be effectively placed on smaller furniture like a chair’s slip seat. Indian block-printed patterns based on paisleys and stylized floral motifs can be exotic or casual and beachy.”
Favorite way to channel history on the walls?
“Wallpaper provides one of the most significant means for highlighting pattern. Sometimes the pattern relates to or enhances the architecture with classical motifs such as urns and swags, medallions, arches and pillars, and ashlar masonry. Using a floral or damask pattern gives the effect of fabric and contrasts with the architecture, while stripes and small repeat patterns provide a modulated texture. Wallpaper borders are also an opportunity to use pattern to create architecture when it is lacking either in a trompe l’oeil or graphic motif such as a Greek key, bead and reel, guilloche, palmette, or foliate pattern.”
Favorite way to channel history on floors?
“We often use graphic geometric patterns on floor cloths – durable painted canvas floor coverings that were the 18th and early 19th century precursor to linoleum. The organic patterns of Persian and Oushak carpets provide a myriad of colors that can be incorporated into the fabric schemes. Twentieth century Scandinavian flatweave rugs and American hooked rugs can provide a striking geometric foundation for a room. Bessarabian flatweave carpets can provide voluptuous and charming floral patterns, while more refined Axminster and Aubusson carpets use floral and architectural motifs with more grandeur. Carpet patterns can be the main source of decoration in a neutral palate or can be the foundation for a multi-layered room rich in overlapping patterns.”
Favorite ways to use timeless furniture styles? Any go-to pieces?
“When selecting antique or vintage furniture for a traditional room, we typically search for furniture styles that harmonize with the architectural setting. We normally include a variety of comfortable modern upholstery and eclectic decorative accents, but we do pay attention to the style, period, and location of manufacture of furniture and objects. Sometimes, however, we intentionally contrast periods and styles, and a knowledge of historic styles is helpful either way. When antiques and vintage furniture are incorporated into contemporary spaces, it is not only the historic style, but also the patina that can be so effective when it contrasts with a sleek modern interior or contributes to a hand-crafted and textured contemporary aesthetic. Favorite examples are:
- Bold, architectural Regency stools with original crusty leather upholstery.
- A seductive 18th century Queen Anne mirror with crystalized old glass and burnished gilding.
- Wildly-shaped papier mache chairs embellished with gleaming mother-of-pearl inlays.
- Brightly colored “fancy painted” furniture that has been tempered over time.
- Well-worn early 20th century oushak carpets with a lustrous faded patina.
- 1970s rattan furniture that has oxidized with use and handling.”
Favorite historical accents to add to a room?
“We often use smoke-bell lanterns of a variety of scales and styles ranging from beautiful 19th century antiques to striking mid-century and contemporary versions. Also, table lamps designed as such or created from antique porcelain or metal or wood decorative elements add light and character, especially when the lampshade is designed to complement the lamp. Mirrors were important to reflect light when lighting was scarce, and beautiful mirrors continue to function the same way, brightening a dark area. Antique floor coverings provide a large decorative gesture independent of the actual size of the carpet.”
Favorite (and easiest) way to add an instant touch of history to a space?
“Starting a collection is a good way to add history to an interior and to learn more about decorative arts. The items could relate to the period of the house or simply be of interest from a specific period or over time: 18th century English brass candlesticks, 19th century American embroidered samplers, Grand Tour paintings of volcanos, Chinese export porcelain for the French market. Consider how the collection is displayed. Today collections can be a focal point or a contributing part of the overall texture.”
Bill & Courtney’s Fave Historic Homes
“In addition to the houses referenced previously, these are some of our favorite house museums in the USA that are a little off the beaten track.”
The Williams House of the Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans, LA
“When Kemper and Leila Williams renovated their house tucked into a French Quarter courtyard, they were wealthy pioneers moving into an atmospheric but low-rent Bohemian neighborhood. We love the house for its glamorous 1940s to 60s interpretations of Creole architecture and intact interiors based on their collecting, stylish entertaining, and 20th century comfort.”
Casa Amesti, Monterey, CA
“While not a museum open to the public, the private mens’ Old Capitol Club has preserved rooms in the home of decorator Frances Elkins, which can be visited by appointment. Elkins and her brother David Adler created a fantasy interior within a Monterey colonial adobe. It is chic, charming and delightful for its eclectic furniture plan, antiques, upholstery, and architectural details.”
Hyde Hall, Cooperstown, NY
“One of the most stately and pure regency-style mansions in the country, Hyde Hall is undergoing continuous research and restoration, so as a work in progress it evokes a World of Interiors photoshoot with its vast elegant rooms semi-furnished and decorated with stunning period antiques.”
Winterthur Museum, Close to Wilmington, DE
“The home of Henry Francis Dupont, this museum houses a vast collection of primarily 18th and 19th century English and American furniture and decorative arts, arranged in period room settings that reflect both original styles and 20th century Colonial Revival interpretations. Private tours can be arranged with expert curators to study anything from Philadelphia rococo furniture to 18th century upholstery details.”
Jeramiah Lee Mansion, Marblehead, MA
“This three-story Georgian merchant’s mansion has exceptional mahogany paneling and carved rococo ornament but its treasure is the 1760s hand-painted London grisaille wallpaper specifically designed for the house. The paper depicts grand Roman and informal French rococo scenes.”
Boscobel, Garisson, NY
“When we started our firm and were working on a 1906 Federal-style house, we visited Boscobel, the early 19th century Federal-style house restored and furnished in the 1950s and then occasionally redecorated since the 1970s with more scholarship. The Regency character of the rooms was particularly beautiful and livable, and we took inspiration from curtains, slipcovers, carpets, lighting, and wallpaper.”
Gaineswood, Demopolis, AL
“We had long wanted to visit the Grecian Gaineswood Plantation for its picturesque classicism. When we finally visited, we were awed by the robust and opulent classical interiors complete with shallow domes with skylights, classical plaster ornament, Ionic and Corinthian column-screens, decorative painting and French wallpaper.”
And of course there are the endlessly educational Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Montpelier….
Lead Photo by George Ross, All Images Courtesy of Brockschmidt & Coleman