Nora Murphy’s 18th-Century Country Home

This designer's Connecticut home is a neutral canvas that adapts easily for each season.

Nora Murphy's country home is decorated for fall
Nora enjoys entertaining in the autumn ambiance. “Don’t blow out the leaves,” she says. The sights and sounds of nature add to the earthy and enchanting feel.

If you find an 18th century gem, it can be a challenge to update and make it your own without taking away its aged appeal. When Nora Murphy, designer and owner of Nora Murphy Country House, and her husband Rick moved into this 1767 home in Newtown, Connecticut 15 years ago, they fell in love with its location and structure and settled in with some initial improvements.

“Any house we live in, I let the house tell me what to do,” says Nora. “When we moved here, our previous stuff didn’t work with the feel, so I introduced an earthy palette.” Years later, when her son Conor moved out, Nora needed a change. “I call it Project Refresh,” she says.

The Summer Room has a Cape Cod theme in honor of the family's favorite vacation spot
The summer room is themed for the family’s favorite vacation spot: Cape Cod. “This is our most authentic original room,” says Nora. The original 18th century fireplace and cubby doors were stripped of their white paint to bring them back to their original state as much as possible.

Light and Bright      

Nora draped the home in a white color palette, painting the walls different shades of white and covering all her furniture with creamy white cotton denim fabric slip covers and tying them with white twill tape bows. “[The slipcovers] are washable and easy to take care of,” says Nora. “I can now drag chairs to different parts of the house, and they’ll still work.”

Along with the easy care comes a casual elegance from the draped furniture that adds a romantic look to the outdoor accents. “The architectural simplicity of the home gave direction to what the inside of the home should look like,” says Nora. “I wanted it light, bright and nature inspired.”

The hanging basket is kept full of fresh flowers to brighten this sunny spot in the hall.

Home in the Garden

Among the neutral color palette that Nora carried throughout the house is her outdoor garden theme. Wooden tables, outdoor lanterns and large-scale plants and florals grace every room of the home to add a touch of the great outdoors to her interior. Nora also collects vintage copper watering cans and antique gardening tools that reside in the hallway gallery. “Everyone is always asking me about my antique French harvest basket,” says Nora. “It’s perfect for holding seasonal flowers.” The gallery connects the 18th century parts of the house to the newer parts, creating a seamless transition with its checkered flooring, made to appear old.


The chicken coop had an extra wall so they decided to install a library there.

Old Additions

 They made additions to the home, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at it. “The house was in good shape when we moved in,” says Nora, “but the bedrooms were really tiny and had low ceilings.” To compensate, they raised the ceilings and added large windows and doors to bring in natural light and showcase the surrounding nature.

Perhaps the biggest addition was their master bedroom suite that used to be a chicken coop. “We wanted an old structure for the add-on, so I looked up dismantled antique buildings and found a company that will take apart antique barns and build them back up at your location,” says Nora. The coop was built in 1857 and closely resembled the exterior of their home, blending the new structure with the old.

The kitchen’s aged look comes from its oak floors and wood accents. The island was made from the barn floorboards by the previous owner.

Curated Collection

This look could not be pulled off without Nora’s sense of simplicity. “It’s a good thing to part with things,” says Nora. “The things that don’t fit anymore, I sell or give away. That prevents things from accumulating, as my tastes and style evolve.”

Creating a neutral canvas with her white slip covers allows her to easily decorate throughout the seasons with a few minor changes. “During winter, I bring in tartan wool pillows and change my artwork,” she says. “It changes the entire room.” This look ensures that your aesthetic won’t be static, but will instead change like the color of falling leaves in autumn.

Like Nora’s house? See the spotlight shine on her fall dining room!


The Ultimate French Country Kitchen

Provincial inspiration all the way from the south of France.

Several windows placed high in the walls allow sunlight to fill the space. A Dutch door and ceiling beams contribute to the centuries-old ambiance.
Several windows placed high in the walls allow sunlight to fill the space. A Dutch door and ceiling beams contribute to the centuries-old ambiance.

If you assumed this kitchen belonged in an 18th-century chateau in the south of France you’d be mistaken but understandably so. You might be surprised to learn that the kitchen is attached to an estate built in the 21st century that is perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The room’s remarkable resemblance to an authentic Provencal kitchen from another era was achieved through close collaboration between the designer and homeowners. Kitchen designer Bruce Colucci of Le Gourmet Kitchen, Orange, California, was hired by the homeowner not only for his design experience, but also his passion for cooking—a passion the homeowner shares as well. “Cooking is a form of meditation for me, especially if it’s in a beautiful, well-designed, well-equipped kitchen,” the homeowner says.

Red and white linen towels are reminiscent of old-fashioned grain sacks, a common staple in the country kitchens of long ago.
Red and white linen towels are reminiscent of old-fashioned grain sacks, a common staple in the country kitchens of long ago.

Bruce developed a close relationship with the clients during the project and considers it among his favorites of his 35-year career. Many times a casual conversation would lead to a collaborative effort on a design element. “Understanding how a client cooks and lives in their space determines the direction of the design. The kitchen has to reflect the lifestyle of the client,” he says. “My vision was to make it functional regardless of whether the homeowner was cooking for the family or a large gathering. It is designed to accommodate both. It can expand or contract based on the need,” he says. “A residential kitchen is very much like a restaurant and has to function in the same way.”

The homeowners spend much of their time in the south of France, so they wanted their California kitchen to be an accurate reflection of French Provencal design. “The goal of the project was to recreate the authenticity of the kitchen design found in the south of France through the architecture and furnishings,” Bruce says. “There’s an art to creating a design that looks authentic rather than contrived.”


Bruce conducted extensive research on homes in the south of France to determine the essential design elements. “The woodwork needs to be distressed using a slightly chipped paint finish to look like it’s been around for a long time,” he says. “Blending vibrant and subtle hues is important. Mixing patterns is important as well for a casual, effortless look. The use of pleated fabrics to hide storage and keep dust off the dishes is a classic element of French country style.”

 Timelessly elegant, glass cabinet doors are the perfect compromise between open-shelving that shows off your beautiful collection of kitchenware and dust-free dishes.
Timelessly elegant, glass cabinet doors are the perfect compromise between open-shelving that shows off your beautiful collection of kitchenware and dust-free dishes.

The ceiling heights and architectural design of the 400-square-foot kitchen lent themselves to open shelves rather than high cabinets for a casual, comfortable ambience. The homeowner displays his culinary accessories, clay pots and canisters on the shelves. Among the homeowners’ favorite aspects of the kitchen are the upper windows for natural light, marble backsplash design, glass cabinets, open shelving and the range hood Bruce designed. “The hood looks like a fireplace hearth,” the homeowner says. Bruce’s favorite kitchen elements include the cooking ensemble, the range hood and the open shelves above the cooktop. “Although this kitchen is 16 years old, it still looks beautiful and new,” he says. “Good design is timeless. It’s comfortable, and you can look around and reminisce about travels. It’s so much more than a kitchen.”

Low-sheen finishes enhance the rustic look.

Best Budget Ideas for a French Country Transformation

If your wallet won’t allow a complete French country kitchen makeover, here are a few ways you can add French flair to your kitchen without spending a fortune:

1. Swap glossy, contemporary faucets and hardware for options in an iron finish or those with an antique patina.

2. Open upper shelving to reveal your kitchen collectibles and use counter skirts or aprons down below to hide storage.

3. Display linen towels and tea cloths for a look that is rustic, luxe and practical.



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How to Arrange a Farmhouse Bouquet

This bouquet gets a touch of farmhouse character, courtesy of a pretty enamel pitcher.

How to Arrange a Spring Farmhouse Bouquet

“Flowers make a room come alive and are small in size yet big in beauty,” says Janet Coon of Shabbyfufu. “There is nothing as elegant as a bare table with a large bouquet of flowers simply placed randomly to please the eye in a vessel.”

This simple aesthetic is unfussy and allows natural elements to speak for themselves, as demonstrated so eloquently in this bouquet arranged by Janet, and featured in the February 2017 issue of Romantic Homes.

Elements of a romantic bouquetThe floral elements in this bouquet of the month include:

  • Seeded eucalyptus
  • Baby blue eucalyptus
  • Pink peonies
  • White ranunculus
  • Sword fern
  • Agonis
  • Queen Anne’s lace
  • Kale variety

To make the bouquet of the month, fill a pitcher or other tall vase 2/3rds full of fresh water and add plant food. Trim the ends of the floral stems at an angle, but don’t cut them short.

No floral foam is necessary for this arrangement. Start by adding bunches of eucalyptus and argonis, allowing them to drape over the side of the container. Then fill in with additional flowers as desired.

Forcing Peonies to Open:

If you buy your peonies from a flower market or grocery store, they will probably arrive with the buds in tight balls. If you’d like to enjoy the lush, full blooms now instead of waiting, follow these steps to force them to open up:

Romantic bouquet elements including peonies, eucalyptus and Queen Anne's Lace

  1. Cut off all the excess leaves from the stem.
  2. Hold the stem under warm water and make a 45-degree cut.
  3. Keep the flowers in a warm room and replace the water with warm water at least 3 times a day.
  4. (Optional) Put the flowers in your car for a few hours – it will function as a hothouse.
  5. (Optional) Put a plastic bag over the heads of the flowers and seal it, trapping in ethylene gas and encouraging them to open faster.
  6. (Optional) Submerge the flowers face down in warm water for about five minutes.


Flowers provided by Miami Flower Market





Delft Pottery: The Dutch Version of Chinese Porcelain

Delft blue and white pottery is a beautiful and collectible addition to your home decor.

Do you admire Chinese porcelain, but scared it will clash with your country cottage? The Asian pottery’s European cousin might be the answer to that empty fireplace mantel begging to be decorated. Delft pottery, also known as Delfts Blauw, is the Dutch successor of China’s iconic blue and white porcelain.

Blue and White Dutch Pottery
Instead of porcelain, Dutch Pottery was manufactured from earthenware clay.

A Treasure Brought from Overseas

Europe fell in love with the porcelain coming in from China when the Dutch East India Company began to import it. Dutch potters decided to mimic the pottery beginning in the 16th century, but swapped the porcelain material for a less expensive clay called earthenware.

A colorful version of Delftware was also produced that featured muffled reds, greens and yellows; the enamels were labeled polychrome Delft. The Delft Blue and Makkum earthenware were shaped into urns, decorative plates and vases that featured hand painted art. Instead of dragons, cranes and Chinese architecture, the Dutch painted florals, birds and Dutch scenery for a more European touch.

Colorful Dutch Pottery
The counterpart to the famous blue and white pottery is Delfware that is made out of toned-down enamels known as polychrome Delft.

This new art form was not just limited to the classic plate. Tiles were particularly popular amid the spectrum of Delftware, and 400 factories in Holland produced Delftware tiles during the “golden age.” Now, only three factories—the Royal Delft, De Delftse Pauw and Royal Tichelaar Makkum—manufacture the pottery.

Finding Your Own Dutch Pottery

Beware of souvenir stores that sell pretty knockoffs of true antique Delftware. Check out the following  pointers to ensure you are buying an authentic piece of Dutch history:

Look for the underglaze marks. Factories hand painted these marks.

Don’t shy away from a few chips. A chip in a Delftware piece shows it is genuine.

Examine the design. An intricate and precise painting means that a real Dutch hand from long ago handled the pottery.

The stranger, the better. Hold on to it if you find a more peculiar piece like a tea canister, cow figure or cruet set. Unlike tiles, these pottery antiques are harder to find and therefore have a higher value.

Delftware Cow
Quirky pieces like this cow figurine are rare and valuable.




Create Rustic Scandinavian Style

4 tips to bring a fresh Scandinavian look into your home, no matter the actual age of the house.

The northern location of Sweden results in summers that are drenched in sunlight during the long days. Natural light is an integral part of the culture and homes throughout the region work this into their design using colors and textures that reflect it well. Sara Normann teaches us how to achieve the airy, yet traditional feel of a Swedish home in her the new edition of her book Simply Scandinavian. Even if your house is newer construction, you can still get that time-touched look we all love here at Romantic Homes.


Let The Light In. Get rid of curtains all together if possible. “Not having curtains is important in a culture that adores light. Houses in Sweden tend to be well set apart, which means privacy is maintained.” Natural light instantly adds a sense of openness and vitality to any space. If you need some coverage, choose white curtains in a sheer fabric. This will still allow light to pour in but shield the interior from outside.


Distress Tables. Making a kitchen or coffee table look worn is easier than it seems. Simply paint any wood piece with your favorite shade of white, allow to dry and rub sandpaper on areas that would experience wear naturally. The wood underneath will show through and give the furniture a charming rustic look.


Contrasting Metallics. “Materials like the rough, powder-coated steel of the classic Tolix chairs and stools break up the whiteness of the room and give it depth.” Find Tolix chairs at affordable prices online, where many vendors offer them.

Wide Floorboards. Emulate the locally sourced wood flooring of older Scandinavin homes using wide, pale floorboards. Normann notes that doing this adds a rural feel to the room and makes your home appear much older than it may actually be, giving it a sense of history.

9781849757294 copy

Simply Scandinavian by Sara Normann
Ryland Peters & Small, $29.95;

Collecting Staffordshire Figurines 101

Learn how to collect these charming figures with these 5 expert tips.

Dogs are the most readily available of the Staffordshire animal figurines collected. Regional breeds like greyhounds and pugs are often depicted; however, the King Charles Spaniels became most popular, because of Queen Victoria’s famous pet spaniel, Dash.

Even though the age of these tiny treasures make them precious collectibles (as far as pre-Victorian through Victorian collectibles go) Staffordshire figurines are readily available and often times very affordable.

These delightful figurines were made inexpensively and sold at reasonable prices. They were present in many homes across England and eventually collected in America through the 20th century.

The subject matter was quite varied from domestic animals to exotic animals, hunters to royalty to politicians as well as structures and buildings.
This accessibility and wide-spread availability makes collecting Staffordshire a very appealing pastime.

The range of subject matter and colors also allows for effortless integration into many of today’s homes. Decorating with Staffordshire figures is a wonderful way to connect the past with the present by paying homage to a simple art form and appreciating a beautiful and elegant period in history.

1. Of the figurines, famous people and exotic animals tend to be the most valuable.
Hunting figures and dogs were the most commonly produced so their value tends to be a bit lower. As for famous figures and politicians, the exception to the value rules of thumb are the famous figures that were produced in large volumes such as Queen Victoria. The value is not as great, merely because of the quantity produced.

3. Unlike many antiques, the condition of Staffordshire figures is not as important.
Due to manufacturing flaws and paint imperfections from unskilled artisans, conditions can vary greatly from piece to piece. It adds to the character and the folk art appeal. Even minor cracks and chips due to age tend to affect the value very little, if at all.

4. Beware of reproductions.
Reproductions of Staffordshire have been produced through the 20th century and some are still being created today. Look to items made prior to World War 11 for the greatest value and quality.

One way to check the age is to look for worn gilding. Newer pieces have bright brassy or yellow gilded details while the antique counterparts tend to have a dull, worn look to the trim. Be sure to check the bottom as well. Most old Staffordshire lacks backstamps or manufacturing marks. Newer reproductions are usually marked. Check that marks have not been scraped or sanded off.

5. Avoid forgeries. Detecting fakes can pose a challenge. 

Some manufactures go so far as to rub dirt into the finish or glaze. They are trying to create the illusion of age. Check the colors and details, as they were originally painted by unskilled laborers. If a figurine looks too perfect or the details appear to be transferred on instead of hand painted, it’s probably a fake. Another way to check is the weight. The older figures are typically heavier than the newer ones.

For more on Melinda Graham, visit 


Porch Decorating: Make an Impression

The front porch has endless decorating potential for creating a great first impression. Learn how to welcome your guests in style.

melinda graham painted shutters

Since the porch is the gateway to your home, why not set the stage for the beauty that is to unfold when crossing the threshold of your front door? Create a great first impression when welcoming guests to your home by decking out your space with your own signature style and following these five porch decorating ideas.

Remember that even small changes can make a big impact. If an entire overhaul of the front porch is out of reach, consider a spring cleaning and just one or two of the following…

1. Paint the front door or shutters a new color

The porch is the transitional space between outdoors and indoors, so mix the colors of your garden and outdoor paint colors with the style and colors of the entry. Using this approach the lines between outdoor and indoor will blend seamlessly

melinda graham flower cushions

2. Make it pop

From spring flowers to fall harvest pumpkins, adding color can be an ever changing event. Then punch up the volume with outdoor fabrics on pillows and cushions.

melinda graham wreath

3. Hang a pretty wreath

The design of this home is farmhouse inspired. The porch décor echoes this theme with a soft romantic tone and hints of cottage garden style. Although this is a new home, it was clear that great thought was given to even the smallest details to add tremendous character to the entry. For example, this wreath effortlessly adds beautiful organic undertones to the front door.

melinda graham wooden stool

4. Refresh and refurbish

Peeling paint, sun-faded finishes and rusty railings will take away from any updates you wish to make. Buy or paint furnishings in neutral colors that complement the exterior of your home in finishes that will withstand the elements. Repurpose simple furniture items, such as this wooden stool, to display novelty garden items.

melinda graham area rug

5. Place a new rug at the front door

Adding an area rug can define seating areas, eating areas and entry areas. They can also introduce color and pattern while helping to remove foot traffic and debris at the door.

For more on Melinda Graham, visit

French Country Bathroom Ideas

Here's what you need to create the perfect bathroom of your french country dreams.

French Country Bathroom Ideas

Find inspiration for your own French country bathroom where classy, romantic and rustic are one and the same. Relax in a dreamy pedestal tub in an elegant room with storybook charm. Here are some elements to get you started:

Central Pieces

A freestanding clawfoot tub is both shapely and spacious for instant Old World appeal. Browse vintage clawfoot tubs here.

Find French provincial bathroom vanities here, or discover a DIY version here.

Textural Appeal

Store towels or toiletries in an Ottoman such as this one that can also serve as a place to drape your towel and as an opportunity to add texture and color.

Add richly textured ruffles to your window with this valance.

Old World & Rustic Touches

Botanical prints are an easy way to add a vintage and rustic component to your walls. This grouping of red rhododendron prints will make a colorful and lovely vignette.

Easily add to the storybook charm of your bathroom with a bronze birdcage. It can double as a jewelry tree or a place to store washcloths.

A wrought iron soap dish adds a charming and classic accent.

Further Inspiration

Find more inspiration for the look here for a more rustic take, and here for a more shabby take.

A Vintage Country Kitchen Transformation

Vintage Country Kitchen
A combination of well-curated collectibles and basic furniture pieces balances this texture-packed dining area.

There’s something about a rustic country kitchen that lends a homey touch to one of the most-used rooms in your home. From colorful floral touches to simple and clean furniture pieces for balance, getting everyone together for breakfast and supper will be a delight.

5 Ways to Get the Look:

  • Cottage Dining Set. Start off with the perfect dining table and chairs. Simple farmhouse styles add the right amount of rustic flair while an all-white finish keeps its simple enough to set the stage for all colors, patterns and textures. We love this Cottage Road Dining Table ($179.99) and these Empire Side Chairs ($153.99) from Wayfair.
  • Floral Tablecloth. Beautiful linens do more than just keep your tabletop clean. With a variety of floral patterns, you can tie together your collectibles and your color scheme with the perfect tablecloth. For the best balance, go for a pattern with a lot of white space, like this Pink Morning Glory on Aqua Trellis Vintage Printed Tablecloth ($40) from The Vintage Table.
  • Red Transferware. Whether it’s a collection of dishes, creamers or tureens, this red-patterned china is distinctively country. Try your luck at the fleas or browse the large selection of patterns and pieces at (prices vary).
  • Vintage Signage. Capture that country-store look by incorporating a weathered shop sign into your dining area. Stay on topic with Pepsicola or Coca Cola signs or general food-related pieces, like window ads or menus. If you’re not lucky enough to have a real vintage sign, you can find some great reproductions around, like this school lunch menu ($15.99), fresh and local seafood sign ($14.99) or this Pepsi dinner menu board ($64.99) from Retro Planet.
  • Painted Toleware Tray. Beautiful, hand-painted vintage trays are oftentimes a work of art in and of themselves, so display your favorites on the wall just like a painting! Pieces like this Vintage Painted Toleware Tray ($65) or this Painted Lattice Work Tray ($18) from Etsy tie together the floral patterns, color palette and dining theme.