9 Ways for Brits to Style Their Homes Like Americans

Warm earth tones and pottery: characteristics of a Southwestern style. (Photo: Fotolia)

Warm earth tones and pottery: characteristics of a Southwestern style. (Photo: Fotolia)

To a British eye, U.S. homes and interiors often have a foreign feel: big, bold and unabashed. Here are some of the key looks and styles for creating an abode that screams U.S.A.

Go large
Because Americans in every financial bracket tend to inhabit bigger spaces than their British and European counterparts, their furniture is fittingly gigantic. Everything from the couches and beds to the fridges and ovens are the size of an average British council flat. A king-size bed in the U.S., for instance, measures a full 16 inches wider than a U.K. king.

Shaker style
You’ve probably skimmed an American kitchen catalog and seen the obligatory Shaker style option. But what is “Shaker” exactly, and where does it come from? The Shakers were an English religious sect that settled in America in the 18th century, and whose guiding principles—simplicity, honesty and utility—informed a minimalist country style furniture movement. It’s the closest equivalent America has to an English farmhouse look, though less flouncy and more utilitarian. To emulate, keep it simple. Invest in sturdy, simple but beautifully crafted pieces.

New England
Rustic painted wood, dreamy pastels and seaside accents (think anchors on the wall and decorative lobster pots), this look is as quintessentially American as they come. To get simulate this style on a budget, white wash your floorboards, buy striped cushions and slap some beach-themed prints on the wall.

Ranch style
Want to fool visitors into thinking you’ve got a couple of thousand cattle out back? Dress your home thusly: dark wood everywhere, preferably up to and including the beams (ranch style house usually have one story and a pitched roof) and floor. For accents, think mounted deer heads and other critters, log fires and plenty of rugs. Furniture should ooze comfort but also elegance. Neutrals and dark earthy tones should dominate.

Brooklyn hipster
Think ironic ornaments, reclaimed wooden objects decorated with stencilled birds and bad junk shop taxidermy—all purchased on Etsy, at Urban Outfitters or a flea market. Add strings of fairy lights, mismatched furniture and that well used Billy bookcase you found on the street. You’ll want to up-cycle that, naturally, so check out this clever Ikea hacks website, which tells you how to turn the most bog standard hunks of MDF into quirky pieces fit for a hipster home.

Los Angeles architectural
Think geometric concrete structures painted white and jutting from a Hollywood hill. Inside, it’s polished minimalism and mid-century modern. Accent—but never cram—the space with sleek hunks of statement furniture and abstract art.

Think 19th century British/French/Spanish elegance with added tropical houseplants. Americans are wont to romanticize and recreate this era—design-wise, at least. (If you’ve ever toured a plantation house in the Deep South, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.) It was, after all, an aesthetically impressive time—from the neutral paint shades to the lush dark wood floors and furniture.

Take the rich, earthy tones of Arizona and New Mexico and accent with turquoise and bright red. Homes done in this style will also be heavily influenced by the Native Americans who’ve long inhabited the region. For furniture, look to nature: lots of wood, leather and woven fabrics. Accessorize with pottery and anything rustic.

To pay homage to your new homeland with your home, You’ll want to incorporate a lot of red, white and blue, but don’t over do it or your house might start to resemble a 4th of July theme park. Sprinkle a few kitsch patriotic throw cushions on your sofa and blend some subtle stars and strips into the décor rather than, say, painting a giant American flag on a wall.

For tips on how to decorate your home, join @MindtheGap_BBCA and British interior designer Liza Evans (@lizaevansnash) on Twitter for #MindTheChat Wednesday (May 21) at 2 pm ET. Participate using hashtag #MindTheChat for a chance to win a prize from BBC AMERICA.

See more:
Brits in America: How to Set Up Home From Scratch
A Glossary and Guide: Home-Buying in the U.S.
A British Houseguest’s Guide to the American Home

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.
View all posts by Ruth Margolis.
  • Buh-bye

    Sorry, but this is deeply silly.

    • Jordan

      And surprisingly insulting – just a lot of cheap shots about red, white and blue and so forth.

      • monday morn QB

        That seems to be her specialty.

  • Marsha Smith

    The article has to just give a general idea. And as the reader of plenty of decorating magazines, I think it is pretty accurate. Except right now, everything, the walls, the floors, the furniture, everything, has to be painted white. Never mind the decorating genre.

  • welcometo1984

    Colonial? In Britain that connotes Raj style. British would call the US Colonial look ‘Georgian’ style or provencal for that French look.
    Brooklyn Hipster? in Britain it’s kitsch or Shabby Chic…some decades old.
    The LA architectural? Bauhaus
    Go large? Nordic style.
    New England? Clue’s in the name, dear.
    Shaker? Casein paint, tongue and groove, puritanically ‘useful’ furniture etc is central European. V. popular about twenty years back.
    Southwestern? British would call Spanish hacienda style.

    We’ll give you “ranch style”. Nowhere else in the world has dreamed up that phantasmagoria of interior decor faux pas.

    • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

      This is a Brit’s guide to the USA, therefore using British terms would be redundant. Brits new to the USA are going to hear “Shaker” and “Southwestern” therefore need to know the American meanings. “Colonial” may very well connote Raj style in the UK, but the whole Raj thing isn’t that well known in the US anyway. At most, we’ll hear “British Colonial” to describe the heavier wooden furniture that was supposed to be typical in the West Indies.

    • Gwynneth

      For LA’s style, I’d also include the ubiquitous Bungalow style (more affordable than a Bauhaus mansion perched in the Hollywood Hills!), or the imitation Colonial style seen in Pasadena. And let’s not forget the charming Art Deco houses or those “Mid-Century modern” places so popular with the Mad Men when they made it out to La-la Land!

  • Ronnie Simmons

    I was 42, but am not sure I know the meaning of life. Are you sure it isn’t 43? This would explain a lot. Must check with Stephen Hawkin…..or Sadie Hawkins….or Mandy Rice-Davies….

  • teamhortense

    Not insulting in the least. As an American who was 5 during the Bicentennial they pretty much nailed everything. They left out the “dream-catchers” in SouthWestern but valiant effort aside from that.

  • Cypressclimber

    I live in Ohio; none of this sounds like the homes I or anyone I know live in. Most people I know aren’t in a position to engage in large-scale “decorating”; we have all sorts of furniture we acquire over the years, some when we were cash poor (Ikea, garage-sales), and then, as things got better, a few nicer pieces we bought; plus the really nice stuff we got from older relatives. All pretty eclectic.

    Is this really that unusual? I am doubtful.

  • Irene

    Authentic New England residential architecture, as currently exists, would be a clapboard two story with a dormer window, porch, and flight of stairs to the sidewalk. Many houses in the Midwest are also clapboard.

    And no mention of the Spanish Revival style of southern California?

  • Yulia Ma

    Shocking things about British homes (to a Russian): people quite often wear street shoes inside their house, really unspeakable, calling something a room which is barely a cupboard, freezing cold, separate taps for hot and cold water!

  • Gwynneth

    Some of these styles are accurate but there is nowhere NEAR the amount of variety in American architecture and style as you’d think from reading this. In fact, the decorating shows and mags have sadly popularized a uniformly bland style (neutral walls, white trim, wood or tile floors coating the ubiquitous “Open style” McMansion or Cape-style or Bungalow) across the country.

    Most of the comments were correct, especially about “Colonial” in America meaning Georgian or what we also call “Federal”. As for “New England style”: there isn’t one, especially the garish seaside shack look, usually reserved for vacation rentals or the homes of pensioners.

    New Englanders are particularly prone to loving Victorian style, especially since the 1980’s. Italianate and Queen Anne are the most popular, usually with authentic exteriors (sometimes controlled by town historical preservation laws!) and interiors. Antiques from the 1900’s are incredibly expensive and auctions closely resemble Thunderdome!

    One big difference that Brits should note if they want their house to look American, in any style is: NO GARISH, FLOCKED WALLPAPER on only one wall! Americans don’t mix and match very often. If there IS an “accent” wall, it will generally be a solid color in paint.

    For a general “Northeastern” look, watch films such as Nancy Meyers’ “As Good as It Gets” – granted, Diane Keaton’s home in the Hamptons has a lot of white and black, but it’s more tasteful than blue walls and lobster pots. Check out some of the houses on “This Old House” (PBS) or for Southwestern, just watch “Breaking Bad” (Hank’s house, not Walter White’s!).