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When the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum were excavated in the  eighteenth century, new information about the ancient world sparked a revolution in architecture and interior design.  In various forms -- Georgian architecture in Britain, the Federal and Greek Revival house styles in America, the Napoleonic Empire Style which dotted Paris with triumphal arches -- Neoclassicism dominated Western architecture for 100 years.  Emphasizing proportion and grace, embellished with Classical detail, the Neoclassical style remains influential in the design of public buildings and modern traditional homes.
 

Fireplace with Frieze, 1780
Fireplace with Frieze, 1780
Pergolesi, Michel Angelo
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Neoclassical architecture ranges from the rectilinear Georgian style to the more graceful, curvilinear mode devised by the Scottish designer Robert Adam and adopted in America in the form of Federal style.  Symmetry, arched Palladian windows, a fanlight over the centered front door, dentil molding below the cornice, and decorative columns or pilasters are the basic elements of this architectural style.  Circular windows, oval rooms, and decorative arches also characterize the Adam and Federal styles.

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Neoclassical interior design selects elements from Greek and Roman antiquity to create balance and refinement. Colors are pale and calming: cream, stone, gray, pale blue.  Floors are light pine, stone, or marble, covered with Persian or floral woven carpets.  One can also use stronger color, sparingly: black and terra cotta for a Greek feel, or deep red and gold for an imperial, Roman look.  Wallpaper in geometric, floral or Classical designs is also appropriate.

Classical detail can appear anywhere you like.  Columns or pilasters flank the fireplace.  Geometric marble or inlaid wood graces the entryway floor. Murals or wallpaper depicting mythological scenes or ancient architecture create drama in the dining room.  Crown molding is important, and can feature a dentil pattern, swags, garlands, egg and dart shapes.

 

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Fine-Art Link for Neoclassical Columns

The column is the most recognizable element of Neoclassical design.  The
Doric column, the oldest and plainest Greek style, found on the Parthenon, has fluted sides and a smooth, rounded capital.  The Ionic column has scroll-shaped ornaments at the top, and the Corinthian column's capital is decorated with olive, laurel or acanthus leaves. Early nineteenth-century American houses, whether Federal, Greek Revival, or Southern Colonial, frequently feature columned entryways or front porches.  In more modern homes, columns can transform any room into a Greek temple: the dining room, the entry hall, the master bath.

Neoclassical furniture is typically light, graceful and simple: Chippendale,
Adam, Sheraton and Hepplewhite are the traditional choices.  Sheraton's lyre back chair and Hepplewhite's shield back chair are two fine examples of Neoclassical style.  Accessories from the eighteenth or nineteenth-century --  silver tea services, Wedgwood china, candlesticks, chinoiserie, fireplace tools and screens --  should be used alongside Greek and Roman accents like urns, statuary, and designs from ancient pottery.

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