Design Style 101: New England

Interiors with elements inspired by New England Styleabove: VT Wonen Magazine

Last time we took a look at the earthy style of the Southwest, but this time I’d like to venture into the opposite corner of the U.S. and talk about interiors with New England style. Fresh coastal-inspired colors and nautical influences are the hallmark of New England style, but I wanted to show some interiors that borrow from the traditional flavors of the Northeast and add a quirky, contemporary touch—like something you’d see in a Montauk beach house.

Interiors with elements inspired by New England Styleabove: Apartment Therapy

The houses you find in new New England exhibit lots of different styles, of course, but as an outsider and student of interior design, I always tend to think of the charming and quainter version you’d typically see in rustic cottages, coastal cabins and rural farmhouses. Each part of the Northeast has its own vernacular take on New England style, but most homes in the region share similar influences.

Shaker Influence

‘Tis the gift to be simple, according to the pious lifestyle of the Shakers who settled a large part of New England in the earliest days of American colonization. Ornamentation and decadence were considered to be distractions from the Shakers’ religious and spiritual journeys, so their homes were sparsely decorated with useful and minimalist furnishings. Think: peg rails, handmade baskets, ladder-back chairs, simple wooden cabinetry and neutral colors. Rooms were often white washed, floors made of simple planked wood, and fabrics were woven from undyed, handspun fibers. This look has timeless appeal and fits right in with the Kinfolk aesthetic that has become popular in the past few years.

Interiors with elements inspired by New England Style
above: Nadia Dole home photographed by Tess Fine via Home Adore

This puritanical style of homemaking also crossed over into rural farmsteads in the area, simply because of its usefulness and ease of maintenance for working families who didn’t have time or space for excess decoration. These were people who used their bare hands (or maybe gloved hands!) to chop down the trees and plane the timber for their homes, assembling the simple structures with the help of their neighbors. Fancy decor certainly wasn’t the norm for the hard working settlers of New England, though you could often find a few elegant family heirlooms that were brought with the settlers from their Dutch or English homes.

Interiors with elements inspired by New England Styleabove left: Vintage House /above right: Holly Jolliffe below left: New England Home / below right: Brian Paquette via West Elm blog

Interiors with elements inspired by New England StyleColonial Influence

As decades went by, settlers became colonists and bustling cities began to form, mostly around major seaports like New York, Boston and Baltimore. Whereas rural homes were influenced by farmers’ needs, homes in colonial cities were highly influenced by what was fashionable at the time in England and France—mostly Georgian and Neoclassical styles marked by simpler versions of Baroque and Rococo styles alongside elegant Greco Roman influences. So, instead of heavily carved and gilded decorations on every surface, rooms were more simply designed but still with classical decorative silhouettes, like broken pediments over doorways and on cabinets, windsor chairs, ornamental columns and nature-inspired murals.

This colonial style is what Americans now think of as traditional design, a fairly popular design style for New England homes. Tailored sofas, wingback and spindle back chairs and Chippendale style furniture are common examples that we see in contemporary settings.

Interiors with elements inspired by New England Styleabove: Coastal Living Magazine

Interiors with elements inspired by New England Styleabove: New England Home Magazine

Homelife-au cabove: Jane Frosh home photographed by Sharyn Cairns via Home Life

Interiors with elements inspired by New England Style above left: New England Home / above right: House Beautiful 

Nautical Influences 

Much of traditional New England style is very heavily influenced by its coastline. Industry like international trading, fishing, and even the U.S. navy lend nautical touches to the region’s design sense, just as the terrain inspires the color palette. Colors like seafoam greens, sandy beiges, sunny yellows and sky blues are common, as are patriotic color schemes in red, white and blue. Materials like jute, driftwood and shiplap (wall paneling) reflect the materials seen on beaches, lighthouses, ships and fishing wharfs. Even fixtures commonly found in more modern naval ships, like cargo lighting (as seen below) and industrial metal dining chairs, are great examples of nautical influences in modern New England design.

Interiors with elements inspired by New England Styleabove: Jane Frosh home photographed by Sharyn Cairns via Home Life 

You can get the nautical look without your home looking like a Florida condo by using more polished, traditional elements like the ones I share below. Don’t be afraid to add pops of fun and modern accessories (like that seagull print), but if you want the traditional New England look, try to go a little fancier with a bit of Georgian flair. Incorporate a few accessories made from elegant materials like bronze, gold or marble that boast tried and true neoclassical style. Or keep things simpler with sleek but rustic Shaker elements, like handmade baskets, flax material and rugged wooden elements. Why not throw in a vintage portrait (of a sea captain perhaps?) and your space will ooze the classiness associated with New England style.

Interiors with elements inspired by New England StyleGet the Look
1. Spindle back bench
2. Industrial pendant light
3. Pocket watch wall clock
4. Peg rail
5. Seagull print
6. Marble striped bookend
7. Wall anchor
8. Gray and white striped pillow
9. Metal dining chair (pair)
10. Jute rug

Interiors with elements inspired by New England Styleabove: photo: Nuevo Estilo, designed by Luzio Barcelona via My Domaine

My favorite New England inspired elements are shiplap paneling (which I have in my kitchen), the pocket watch wall clock and those metal dining chairs. What about you? –Mandi

Credits // Author: Mandi Johnson. Images: Noted individually.

  • The late 1940s into the 1950s were years where vivid colors and lively patterns were the standards for kitchen tablecloths. Later these colorful” old-fashioned” linens were stored away, tossed out or given away because of the more modern earth tones in linens and also because of the ironing they required. This old-fashioned character is what collectors are looking for today. Antique stores and collectible shows are the places to shop for these tablecloths that will add just the right touch to your country home décor.

  • Imagine walking straight inside the era of Kings and Queens. A time when there were grand palaces and everything around was simply grandiose. The feeling of ridding on an elephant and moving around in a horse drawn chariot is beyond words. It is this era that wedding decorators can create effortlessly.

  • Spring, summers, & fall best of all in Maine is GREAT. Winters and the cold are a bit much sometimes! Love your decorating!

  • I am from Maine and you did a great job on this! Nailed it! Like reading your site very much 🙂

  • Really loved all the pictures of the interior style of New England Homes.I specially love the pictures of the Coastal Living Magazine and New England Home Magazine.Also thank you for giving the history of interior style of New England homes in the colonial time.

  • I’ve been totally in love with your Design Style 101 articles — your explanations are great, the images are beautiful, and it’s been so helpful as I try to define my personal design style! I’ve just moved into my first apartment without roommates, so I have a tight budget but big dreams 😉

  • I lived in Portland for years! I’m back in my home state of New Hampshire now. Enjoy Maine, ladies! ❤️

  • I love the wood furnishings, the nautical fixtures, and the striped walls. It’s like taking a trip to Maine without leaving your home.

    Happy Holidays 🙂

  • As a southwestern New Englander (CT) – the photos make me feel like I’m walking into a friend’s home nearby!

  • These interiors are simply awesome. We have an exclusive collection of designer wallpapers on eco-friendly green wallpaper. Black wallpaper for walls or Black and White Wallpaper are our hot selling products. Have a look at our custom wallpaper for home and custom wall murals at –

  • I love this style and this was an enjoyable read! We were Texas transplants to NJ/NYC for 6years and spent time in Boston, Maine and lots of time on the Jersey shore. Driftwood and sun-bleached shells have a special place in my heart 😉

  • As a Massachusetts native: you nailed it! These interiors are really classy. I think people think “coastal” and “nautical” and just slap a lighthouse on the wall and dig through a bin at Christmas Tree Shop for some sand dollars to put in the bathroom.

  • I moved from California to Maine and I love the New England style. Our own home decor has taken on a lot of its influences.

  • Having just recently moved to Maine from the midwest – this is so true! Think adorable cottages, and lots of colonial style. Nautical themes and history everywhere!

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