Neo-Gothic Nesting

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Conjuring a haute haunt.

by Theresa Rolen Long   

Do you believe in ghosts? Forty-two percent of Americans do, according to a recent Harris poll. And more than 20 percent say they’ve seen one.

Realms of the living and dead comingle in October, upping chances for hair-raising run-ins. Many of us even believe we’ve seen or experienced something paranormal in our own homes. Leading one to wonder, “Is my house haunted? Was a spirit passing through? Or do I just need to lay off the Syfy channel?”

If your end game is to cohabitate with a benevolent ghoul (because why not), you’d be wise to take up residence in an Addams Family-style manor, as spirits have a natural predilection toward neo-gothic abodes. Gothic design has its origin in medieval times, but was revived as an architectural style around the time of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century. The revival was viewed as a backlash to the progression of the times and the mechanization of industry, which some thought was rooted in evil. It focused on the return of Christian values to design—the human, spiritual, and scientific aspects of architecture—by reviving stylization seen in gothic cathedrals.

This is why classic haunted houses are neo-gothic, carpenter gothic, or Victorian in nature. There is something supernatural, mysterious, and church-like in the elaborate scale of ceilings and stairwells, and in the attention to detail seen in stained glass windows, ornate carvings, buttresses, and turrets. Neo-gothic design has enjoyed a rise in popularity, with elements in many new residential projects around town.

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Gothic revival decor isn’t always spooky. It is elegant, grand, and interesting. It can be an intricate, often pricey schematic that takes layering over time to achieve its proper opulence. Whatever your tastes, from Alamo Square to Strawberry Hill House, know that elements of this style can be incorporated into any home. The main thing to remember is it’s a dramatic statement not for the faint of heart.

A plethora of details are built into a neo-gothic house, such as highly arched gables, lancet windows, heavy mouldings, and Boss architecture. Stairwells, doors, and ceilings are decorated with carvings of nature, such as birds, vines, animals, and cherubs (like the creepy little ones that come to life in that ridiculous bedroom scene in The Haunting). If your home doesn’t have these architectural details, consider adding elements to mimic them, such as architraves, chair rails and wainscoting, plinth blocks, lancet-style mirrors, and statuary.

The color scheme is usually dark and moody. Black is utilized judiciously on walls, floors, millwork, and even ceilings. Yes, black can be daunting. But consider how Armani and Tom Ford utilize it in their interiors—modern and sophisticated. Rich jewel tones like emerald green, ruby red, and sapphire blue are applied in bold ways throughout the home. Earth tones like sand, pumpkin, and chocolate also complement dark-stained wood trim, brick, and stone. Wallpaper is also a hallmark of Victorian gothic style. Traditional damask and brocade patterns add a layer of texture, while fresh, fun patterns in flocked velvet provide an elegant yet modern twist to a room or hall.

Heavy, dark walls coordinate with decadent textiles. Silk, satin, velvet, and wool cashmere cover windows, furnishings, and beds. Double-lined, trimmed, and tasseled draperies puddle on the floor, harkening back to the 18th century when soldered windows needed their drafts to be halted. Draperies are also used as dramatic room dividers, tied back for effect when not in use. Bedding is glamorous and detailed, with silk coverlets contrasting heavily carved, wooden bedposts. Pointy, wooden antique chairs are upholstered in needlepoint, and bouillon fringe trims out down-stuffed sofas perching on thick wool Persian rugs. Tapestries add insulating warmth to stone walls, but mainly add romantic drama to a room. Intricate rugs can be found on floors, walls, and draping over tables.

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Ambient lighting is key to this style. Candles should be everywhere. Sconces and chandeliers are made from crystal, rustic wood, and wrought iron, and lamps are topped with tinted silk shades. Accessories are alchemic and dark—metal pieces, antique books, pottery, candelabras, gilt boxes, glass orbs and skulls. Optional accessories might include an esoteric bouquet of purple mini callas, black eyeliner, and Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, or The Cure, depending on the mood.

And no gothic revival moment is complete without a gargoyle. Originally designed as elaborate but functional downspouts, most are now deemed ornamental, or chimeras, and serve to protect you and yours from evil spirits that will soon come knocking on your front door. Only let the good ghosts in, if you’re so inclined…Trick or treat!

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