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Patriotic decor: Red, white, blue and beyond
From Memorial Day and Independence Day on through Labor Day, Americans are staging celebrations of patriotism. At summer ballgames and community events, we catch sight of billowing flags and take in the hum of the national anthem.
At the height of summer, many of us look for ways to bring a bit of patriotic style or military flair into our homes. But how do you add a dash of Americana into your decor without giving your home the feel of a bed-and-breakfast in colonial Williamsburg?
Interior designer Mallory Mathison says ramping up your in-house display of patriotism can be done in a chic, 21st-century way.
"You can use that red, white and blue palette in ways that feel fresh and clean," she says. "And it's not the obvious, patriotic, Uncle Sam sort of thing."
But do tread carefully, says designer Lee Kleinhelter, owner of the Atlanta design store Pieces. "You can easily overdo it," she says. So as you make decorating choices, "ask yourself whether it's something you can easily live with every day."
FLYING THE FLAG
"Red, white and blue is classic," says designer Brian Patrick Flynn, creator of the design blog decordemon.com. But it's important to choose the right shades and patterns.
"To add touches of American style to my spaces, I often turn to textiles, particularly nautical prints, or even Ralph Lauren plaids reminiscent of Hamptons-style homes or the preppy Ivy League styles of the Northeast," Flynn says. "In a master bedroom for a bachelor, I used navy blue as the room's base color, then added contrast with red, white and blue nautical pillows."
Mathison loves doing rooms in blue and white, then bringing in just one dash of red through an accessory, lamp or even a vase of red flowers. Or she'll add cotton rugs in shades of red, white and blue over a hardwood floor.
"Another way I use red, white and blue is with the design of boys' rooms," Flynn says. "To put my own twist on it, I'll use a geometric wall covering featuring different shades of blue and white, then use deep reds in accents to add contrast."
This works well for kids of any age, he says: "It's something a boy can grow into, mixing it up over the years."
Kleinhelter agrees, but points out that less is often more: "Don't do the stars and the stripes," she says. "Do just the stripes."
ONE BOLD PIECE
Rather than threading patriotic style throughout a room, Kleinhelter says, "it's great to do more like a pop-art take on it by going bold with just one piece."
She suggests selecting one photograph, maybe an American flag or a military ship, for instance. Then have it "enlarged maybe to the size of a wall in the space, and have that be the backdrop for the room."
To make this one striking item stand out even more, decorate the rest of the room in neutral colors, she says, "keeping everything really simple, with no clutter."
MELTING POT CHIC
Mathison points out that American design, like American culture, is "sort of all-encompassing, because every different ethnicity is there." So sometimes it's a mixture of "really diverse styles, periods of time and ethnicities" that come together in "what we've interpreted as American style," she says.
You can mix these styles together, or zero in on one regional aspect of American style, Flynn says, such as "the classic traditional look of homes in the South, the preppy, coastal and casual feel of the Hamptons, and the super-sleek appeal of Eames-era, mid-century modernism" you might find in Palm Springs, Calif.
KITCHENS AND DINING AREAS
"A kitchen is a really great place to do red, white and blue and still have it looking chic," says Mathison. "It's a small investment to get some pretty blue and white Williams-Sonoma towels," then mix in cookware and utensils in red and white.
She also finds patriotic style perfect for outdoor entertaining. "Outdoors," she says, you can "use a red and white table cloth with blue and white transferware dishes."
Because entertaining items aren't on display year-round, you can have fun going a bit further with a particular theme.
RUSTIC AMERICANA AND VINTAGE STYLE
"Classic farmhouse style is another common way of bringing American style into a space, particularly Americana," says Flynn. "Rustic textures and reclaimed signage are a great way to warm up a space with American flair. Right now, I'm working on a space in Los Angeles that's packed with rustic American style, as well as classic preppy touches: The walls are being covered in red and white gingham, the art is made from reclaimed U.S. license plates by a famous American artist named Aaron Foster, and the furniture is all Stickley style, the look you'd find in an Arts and Crafts-style home."
Vintage folk art or pieces of military memorabilia passed down in your family can make striking design elements, says Kleinhelter. Just about any item might work.
"One client of mine collected folk art pieces that were American flags," Mathison says, "like an old wine crate painted like an American flag, and an old metal tin."
"So many cities will have art fairs or art festivals," Mathison says, "and a lot of times you can find local artists who do really neat interpretations of American flags" or other patriotic themes.
Explore Etsy.com to find crafters and artists who have created items with a nod toward American history and patriotism. You may even be able to commission a custom piece from an Etsy vendor, adding the perfect piece of Americana to your home.