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Layers of History
Let’s face it, no one owns a true
period home. We know that
because of the deft alterations
people make to hide water
pipes and wiring behind builtin
cabinets. Or the clapboarded ells they
build to house the kitchen and bathroom
that even self-proclaimed purists can’t
Likewise, homeowners rarely adopt
a decorating style that’s frozen in time.
If they possess a keen eye, a lifelong
interest, and the necessary means,
they might own an enviable collection
of Chinese export porcelain or
Chippendale side tables. But they’re still
likely to add something modern, like a
tall-post (but standard queen-size) bed
or an upholstered (read comfortable)
Our ancestors did the same. They
brought family heirlooms or favorite
objects with them when they settled
in America, bought other furnishings
as the need arose, and upgraded with
better cabinets or ceramics when they
could afford it. Little Sara’s needlepoint
sampler or Papa’s portrait painted by the
itinerant artist are the precursors of the
clay bowl Johnny made in kindergarten
or the graduation photo of Susie that sits
on our shelf or hangs on our wall—even
in a period house.
The Charleston home of Gene and Betsy Johnson
in this issue shows how the layering of old and new
and the juxtaposition of the sophisticated and the
unexpected bring continuity and charm to a home’s
Recognizing that their circa 1806 house contained
neoclassical ornamentation that rivaled the finest
museum houses in the city, the Johnsons invested in a
first-class restoration and filled the house with turn-ofthe-
19th-Century English antiques—wealthy planters
often had their furnishings imported from England—
that suited the date and style of the house.
But Betsy readily admitted that for some choices,
color or comfort won out over conformity to period
style, as with the wall paint or the den curtains or the
bedroom’s cushy chairs. “It’s boring if it’s all the same,”
she said. “You need something funky like a deer head
over a mantel.”
In a separate conversation, Gene echoed the same
philosophy. “We have a lot of family pieces and we’ve
collected a lot. It’s a real hodgepodge, but I think that
speaks in favor of it. You get a kind of layered effect.”
(The layers, he added ruefully, didn’t extend to the
La-Z-Boy chairs he wanted in the kitchen.)
After years of touring museum houses and shopping
for antiques and traveling abroad, the Johnsons have
absorbed a lot of decorating ideas. “All experiences
contribute to the look of a house,” Betsy said. “If you’ve
seen it in houses that have stood the test of time, you
know it works.”
The entry deadline for the 2023 Directory of
Traditional American Crafts has passed. We are now processing entries and submitting
them to our jurors. We will contract entrants after the jurors have made ther decisions.