Wednesday, December 10, 2014

American Federal Period Interior Design and Home Decor ~ Part I

Traditional Neoclassical Federal Design & Home Decor in the United States

Image © 2012-15 Restoration Fabrics & Trims

American Federal Style
is a distinct type of Neo-classical Design. American Federal architecture and interior decorating were encouraged as a political statement as well as an aesthetic.

This article explains the historical importance of Traditional Neoclassical Federal style and how you can create this much loved type of interior decor in your own home.

From period appropriate colors and wallpapers to historic fabrics, furniture, and accessories, you will find plenty of information, pictures, and resources about Traditional Neoclassical Federal Design and Home Decor in the United States.

The Neoclassical American Federal style was an intentional adaptation of the Neoclassical genre by America's Founding Fathers. Harkening back to the democracy of Ancient Greece and the Roman Republic, Neoclassicism was embraced as a representation of and inspiration for the new nation's ideals by those who supported a Federalist style of government after the Revolutionary War. Federal design peaked in popularity between 1785 and the 1820s, but because it has a timeless and classic quality, its influence lives on.

Federal style integrates English and European influences and was concurrent with the Georgian period in England. Federal neoclassic architecture, furniture, interior design, and home decor is plainer than the Georgian colonial style, with simpler decorative motifs often framed as panels and friezes. It is luxurious yet understated, with graceful lines and a simple elegance that appealed to the tastes and philosophy of the founders of the new United States of America.

The Federal style is often confused with the American Colonial style (which pre-dated the Revolutionary war and the Federal period) and the Early American style which coincided with the Federal period but refers to the more rustic, casual style that characterized most homes. Federal refers to the formal neoclassical style adapted by the affluent.

This parlor is part of the Metropolitan Museum's Decorative Arts collection. It was built c. 1810 by William C. Williams in Richmond, Virginia Source: Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Note the careful spacious furniture arrangement and placement of select accessories which is a hallmark of Federal home decor.


Popular Motifs in Federal Style Decor

& Characteristics of Federal Furniture and Accessories

The quintessential symbol of the Federal period is the American Bald Eagle. Other popular motifs included Greek and Roman style portraits and busts of patriotic leaders like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, urns and urn-shaped designs, stars and stripes. Themes drawn from nature included acanthus, tobacco leaves, shells, coral and birds.

There was an emphasis on oval shapes for windows, hardware, decorative embellishments and even architecture (like the White House’s Oval Office). Oval sunburst designs and reeded columns were important elements in just about anything from exterior decoration to fireplace mantels and furniture inlays.

Prior to the Federal era, the homes of the Colonial period featured a central hall opening onto four square rooms. Federal design, however, favored curves above rectangles and rooms often had simple curved plaster walls and rounded Palladian style arched doorways and windows. Ceilings, doorways, and mantels were often adorned with simple plaster garlands and swags draped in curvilinear arcs.

Federal Style furniture, like all Neoclassical design, is typically light, graceful and simple, with clean edges and straight lines. Regional styles ranged from hand-painted details (Boston) to elaborately carved chair backs (Charleston). Decorative features included tapered legs and the use of contrasting veneers and inlays of geometric designs. Brass feet and drawer pulls with round brass rings were popular on earlier and larger pieces of furniture.

Historic Patriotic Accessories for Federal Period Home or Interior Decor

13 Star US Flags
13 Star US Flags
Available in 3 sizes
These historic flags are high-quality with Premium stars and stripes. Each features brass grommets and is suitable for indoor or outdoor display. States included on this flags star field include: CT, DE, GA, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, NC, PA, RI, SC, VA.

Thomas Jefferson Bust (White Patina)United States Great Seal Rug 'Betsy Ross' American FlagHoudon's Bust of George Washington

From Left to Right: Parian Style Thomas Jefferson Bust, Great Seal of the U.S. Area Rug, "Betsy Ross" flag, and Houdon's Bust of George Washington. Click on above photos to see item page.


The Federal Color Palette

For Period Decorating

The Federal Period in America uses a range of white, buff, and gray neutrals in homage to the Greek and Roman statuary it draws inspiration from. It also tends to feature slightly more saturated colors than the light and delicate palette of the concurrent Georgian period in England.

Federal Blue and creamy off-white is perhaps the color scheme one thinks of first, but yellow, rose, lilac, cinnamon browns and shades of green from pale to bold were popular, along with the patriotic palette of red, white and blue. Brass hardware and Pewter and Silver accessories provided an additional touch of elegance and formality. Floors were polished wood or covered with machine woven carpeting was imported from Europe.

Remember, computer monitors do not accurately and consistently depict colors, so the photo should be considered an approximation.


Classic America The Federal Style & Beyond

More than just wonderful photos, this book is a good read that links interior design to the socio-politics, history and architecture of the period.

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Coming next time in Part II
Federal Period Interiors: Names to Know

and in Part III
Federal Period Fabrics, Wallpapers, Rugs, and Accessories

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Looking for Federal Style Fabrics and Reproduction

Wallpaper to Inspire Your Color Palette?


Choose from a wide variety of period reproduction and vintage fabrics and trims from printed floral chintzes and toiles to silk damasks and velvets. Plus a collection of the most beautiful historic reproduction wallpapers.

For Historically sensitive home decorating at budget sensitive below-wholesale prices, visit Restoration Fabrics and Trims for Selection, Savings and Service.

Copyright Notice:  All Text and photos not otherwise credited are © 2013-15 Restoration Fabrics & Trims LLC. All rights reserved.  DO NOT COPY. This page is protected by Copyright Law. We will prosecute plagiarists.


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Saturday, October 4, 2014

The American Colonial Period Decorating Style: Practical, Eco-Friendly Home Decor Part 2

How to Accessorize Early American Colonial Period Decor

There are three basic principles to keep in mind
The spinning wheel above
is Available through
when decorating in historic Early American Colonial style:

1. Keep it simple: Hang a candle box on the wall. Find a super antique spinning wheel. Hang bundles of dried herbs.

2. Keep it natural: Twigs twined into wreaths, pinecones or apples piled in a wooden bowl, hand-made tapered candles.

3. Think hand-made and unique: The last thing you want is for your home decor items to look mass-produced, new (as in contemporary) and matched (as in furniture suites). One option is to make some simple items yourself. After all, “hand-crafted” by you is appropriate to both the independent spirit and the necessary thrift of American Colonial life.

Artist's Conception of an Interior of a New England settler's home in the 17th century, after an illustration by George H. Boughton (litho), American School / Private Collection / Peter Newark Pictures / The Bridgeman Art Library Available at in a variety of sizes and formats.

Stencils and Samplers

The Sampler shown above was made by Mary Emmes
and is dated 1764. A reproduction of it is available in a
variety of formats and sizes at
 As you can see clearly in the illustration of motifs in Part 1, samplers and embroidered designs were the source of many of the most popular motifs of Colonial America, as were the decorative stenciled designs used on earthenware and weaving and quilting patterns.

Bear in mind, however, that only those colonists who had the wherewithal to have the leisure to spend time on needlework or quilting or to have someone else do such handiwork would have had fancy woven coverlets, quilts, cross stitch, crewel or tapestries.

The early settlers and common folk would have had more simply and sometimes crudely made “bed rugs” or coarse blankets for warmth.


If you Don't have a Family Heirloom Sampler, Why not Create One? 

A Restored pre-Revolutionary War Rhode Island Interior

American Colonial Style Lighting

For Period Home Decorating 

Most colonists used simple wood or iron candle holders, usually placed on a table but sometimes mounted on the wall. The more prosperous would have used chandeliers (with candles) hand crafted from brass, pewter, or iron. Candles were made of tallow (rendered animal fat) and, later, bayberry and beeswax. 

Biedermann & Sons Traditional Hand-Dipped 10-Inch Long Tapered Candles 6 Pairs, Bayberry Green

In the 1600s, pilgrim and puritan housewives hand-dipped candles using the natural material found in all the colonies, the wax-like berries of the bayberry bush which came to be known as the Candle-Berry Tree. Biedermann and Sons recreates these candles with traditional techniques that make the 6 pairs of candles included in this set. Biedermann and Sons has specialized in unique candles and decorative accessories since 1956.

Root Unscented 12-Inch Hand Dipped Taper Candles, Raw Beeswax Color, 12-Count Box

For centuries, tapered candles have been formed by meticulously hand-dipping. Root takes this traditional process to another level by continuously dipping our tapers to create up to 35 individual layers of wax. The result is a satin-like finish with solid, consistently colored, unscented wax throughout. Our timeless observation: You can't rush perfection. Box of 12 candles, each 12-inches tall with a burn time of 12 hours each.

Courting Candle Holder with Red Dish ~ Free Bees Wax Candle Included

From the 1600's to the 1800's... If a young gentleman looked OK with the colonial father, the candle was placed high up when lit so that the daughter and young man had a lot of courting time... If Dad had any doubts...the candle would be placed lower in the spiral and be extinguished sooner. When the candle burned out, the "date" was over. 6" wide and 6¾" high. Fits a standard taper candle. Includes rustic pan, spiral courting candle holder, wooden hammer gauge and a free pure bees wax candle.

Piedmont Room, Guildford County North Carolina, circa 1766
Courtesy of


American Colonial Kitchen Accessories

Useful by Necessity; Charming by Design 


J.K. Adams* Hickory Wood Heritage Colonial Cutting Board

  ~ 21-1/4-Inch-by-6-1/4-Inch-by-1-Inch cutting board
Hickory wood; hand-sanded smooth edges; hand-stained
Handcrafted and finished in Vermont, U.S.A.
Hand wash with warm soapy water and dry promptly

*A 2nd-Generation, Family-Owned Company: Kitchen storage solutions by J.K. Adams make it easy to save on valuable kitchen space while enjoying the best of USA-made craftsmanship. The family-owned company provides everything from pot hooks and spice bottles to wooden spice carousels, kitchen-knife blocks, bread boxes, wine racks, pot racks, and more. J.K. Adams' wooden kitchen items feature renewable and sustainable wood in Maple, Cherry, Walnut, Alder, Ash, or Hickory varieties. A thoughtful choice for gift giving, the high-quality kitchen items provide sleek designs and convenient functionality for year after year of everyday convenience

Bayou Classic 6 Quart Cast Iron Soup Pot and Lid
with Loop Handle. Also Available in Other Sizes.  

Legendary American Cookware

Still Made the Original Handcrafted Way

The oldest cookware in America made with traditional methods for over 200 years. Left to right: Pioneer tea kettle, chestnut roaster, Ben Franklin stein, healthy popcorn popper, frontier frying pans, Homestead rolling pin, and Old West shot glasses. All from Jacob Bromwell.

To see a collection of historically appropriate fabrics that will help you recreate an Early American Colonial period interior decor in your home. Please visit Restoration Fabrics & Trims. (Page will open in a new browser window.)

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If you missed Part 1 of American Colonial Period Decorating Style
Please click here to read it 

 * * * * * * * * * * * 

Coming next time:

American Federal Period Interior Design
and Home Decor

 * * * * * * * * * * *

Follow Us & Keep in Touch

For the latest updates, news and special offers

  Join us on Twitter      Follow Me on Pinterest

You can also find us on Facebook.

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We've Come a Long Way from Quill Pens and Parchment...

But We'd Still Love to Hear From You Personally... 

Post your message below or contact us 
via any of the above links. 

Thank you!

Copyright Notice:  All Text and photos not otherwise credited are © 2009-15 Restoration Fabrics & Trims LLC. All rights reserved.  DO NOT COPY. This page is protected by Copyright Law. We will prosecute plagiarists. We previously published parts of this post on Squid

Monday, September 15, 2014

The American Colonial Period Decorating Style: Practical, Eco-Friendly Home Decor Part I

American Colonial Period Interior Decorating 

The picture above shows an interior from
the Jamestown settlement. It is available at
in a variety of formats and sizes.

American Colonial is a popular home decor style and one of the main inspirations of today's "Country" and "Shabby Chic" styles of decor. This page will help you understand the variations in American Colonial interior decorating, so you can find the one that best suits the style of your home and your needs.

You'll also find DIY tips, photos, resources, and advice on how to achieve this warm, welcoming decorating style.

The American Colonial Style covers the period from the arrival of the first early settlers in the sixteenth century to the Declaration of Independence in the eighteenth century.

American Colonial interiors include not only the early primitive styles that inspired today's popular "country," "primitive" or "shabby chic" looks in home decor, but also variations according to the region the settlers had come from.

American Colonial architecture and home decor styles range from rustic to sophisticated and are largely dependent on location, population, and the availability of natural, economic, and individual resources. The Colonial period encompasses about 200 years, so it is not surprising that it includes a progression of styles from the simple basic and rough-hewn to the classic lines and finesse of Queen Anne style.

An Overview of the American Colonial Period

Functionality, Frivolity and Fashion 


Photo above, New Amsterdam Settlement on Manhattan Island
in the Mid-1600s
, is Available at
In the earliest American Colonial homes, Interior Functionality understandably took precedence over Interior Decorating. The emphasis on simplicity and utility also suited the Puritan ethic of the Plymouth colony, who disdained pleasure and embraced austerity.

The first colonists at Jamestown, Virginia (established in 1607) and Plymouth, Massachusetts (established in 1620) were most concerned with meeting the basic needs necessary for survival and did not have the time or luxury to consider anything else. Constructing a functional dwelling in relatively short time from whatever materials were available was their main objective. This was a time of living in one-room houses with the few items the settlers managed to take with them on their voyage to the “New World”. These early homes were more primitive dwellings built by the settlers themselves from local natural resources using whatever skills they had.

The Early Years: Life in the 16th and 17th Century American Colonies 
Photo in Public Domain

In the early settlements, American Colonial houses and their interiors were necessarily bare-bones and spartan, with low ceilings, rough wood beams, plain whitewashed walls and wide plank floors. Tools were limited and skilled craftsmen were rare so quality varied greatly. Furniture and accessories not brought from Europe were handmade, idiosyncratic, and simple in design with an emphasis on function.

Nevertheless, the basic plank construction of simple benches, tables,stools, and chests suited the no-frills frugal Puritan morality of the New England colonists. Furniture was sometimes painted with white wash or naturally pigmented milk paint to disguise the fact that it was usually made of leftover wood from a variety of trees.
Windows were small and panes, if there were any, were likely to be made of oiled paper. Windows were generally left as-is or covered with plain wood shutters or a simple piece of cotton or linen fabric that was most likely homespun and woven by the housewife. (Continued below.)

Photo above shows a colonial fireplace in Salem, Massachusetts as it was in 1750.
It is Available at in a variety of formats and sizes.
(Contintued from above.) Fireplaces were essential for cooking and heating, as well as light. They were made of brick or stone and mortar and very large. Home-made candles provided the only other source of light as the small windows provided little natural light. Dishes for the majority of families were made from earthenware or wood, but those who could afford it would have brought china and silver with them or, once tradesmen had establlished shops, purchased finer wares. Cast iron and pewter were also used for cookware, utensils and tableware.

The Later American Colonial Years

Late 17th through Pre-Revolution 18th centuries 
A Small Brick House in Williamsburg.
Photo is Available at
in a variety of sizes and formats

As time went by, a second story or additional rooms may have been added on, but interiors remained simple, multipurpose and functional — more an assembled mix of hand-made items and whatever was carried across the sea.

The early primitive structures evolved into brick or stone houses or wood-framed structures with clapboard siding and brick chimneys. Almost all of these homes, whether wood or masonry, featured a single batten door and shuttered windows.

More prosperous cities often afforded (pun not intended) access to more craftsmen, imports, and communication while homes in smaller towns and country farms remained pretty much unchanged. Other variations arose from qualities inherent in the different woods available regionally as well as the tastes and backgrounds of the inhabitants. Different types of construction, finishing, and style identified the city or area furniture originated from.

Painting of Colonial Silversmith Paul Revere
by John Singleton Copley from
American Artisans: Crafting Society Identity, 1750-1850
As the colonies prospered and trade expanded, craftsmen established businesses to serve and prosper from the growing market for their goods. The settlers learned of the latest fashions in Europe, but didn't slavishly copy them. Rather, they adapted them into their own way of life, and in the process produced a unique and totally American colonial style.

British colonies along the mid-Atlantic coast turned to Tudor, Jacobean and Elizabethan styles as the inspiration for what became known as the William and Mary style of the early 1700s. French colonies to the north and Spanish colonies to the south adapted the styles they were accustomed to.

With the increasing financial wealth of the colonists, design -- including architecture, furniture, and decor -- began to catch up to European standards and styles.

Homespun fabrics were supplemented with imported calicoes and prints from India and, for the very prosperous, English damasks, brocades, and needlepoint. Floor coverings were no longer limited to braided, handwoven or hooked rugs. The wealthy could import fine Oriental rugs as well.

American Colonial Colors 

The picture above shows a basic American Colonial color palette.
However, since computer monitors do not accurately and consistently
depict color, the photo should be considered an approximation.

Paint colors in the American Colonial period would have been limited by the settlers’ knowledge of pigments and available natural resources. Whitewash, a solution of lime and water, was the most readily available and frequently used.

Basic primary colors including barn red, indigo blue, and yellow ochre were predominant after the very earliest strictly “survival mode” years. Optical green was made by mixing yellow ocher and charcoal black with calcite and animal glue as a binder. Sometimes, instead of paint, a tinted layer of thin plaster was applied to walls.

Circa 1680-1730, it was not unusual to paint a lamp black “baseboard” directly on the plaster wall instead of using wood. A similar black outline technique was also used to outline features such as door frames and steps.

In the early 1700′s, sponge painting and “spotting” appeared. “Spotting” dates to around 1730 and refers to the decorative application of dots on walls and sometimes ceilings. This was usually done in black dots on whitewash, but occasionally colored water-based distemper paints were used, such as dark gray dots (about 2 to 3 inches in diameter) on a red ceiling.

Over time, as the colonies began to thrive and expand, colors became a bit more varied, but the palette was still quite limited when compared to later styles. The most usual method was to whitewash walls and ceilings and use colors for woodwork.

By the 18th century, wealthier homes would have added wood wainscoting and possibly paneling. Woodwork that was made of mahogany would have been left in its natural state, but other woods were often painted in either a solid color or with grained and marbled effects. The later colonial period palette included earthtones of yellow, almond, red and browns with some blues and greens.

American Colonial Interiors

The Eighteenth Century 


As with all furnishing styles the American Colonial Style was initially influenced by practical considerations. Fancy soft furnishings were not exactly at the top of the list for the original settlers. As we saw, floors were planked wood, usually scrubbed pine, sometimes covered with rag rugs.

Wallpapers were much too expensive for most people, and even in the later part of the period only the wealthy could really afford it. Later on, the availability of materials, imports and the wealth of more individuals led to more sophistication and luxury in interior design.

By the early 18th century, those who were prospering would have had walls decorated with Mahogany paneling and imported wallpapers from France and China.

They would also be able to afford larger windows with glass windows (in a diamond or rectangular pattern of smaller panes) hung with draperies made of imported silk fabrics — usually panels and/or swags and cascades. ( See picture below for typical diamond paned window.)

Those without the financial resources would have used a simple panel of cloth for curtains. It might have tabbed headings and be hung on a wood or simple iron pole or attached to a strip of wood lath that would be nailed onto the window frame. Shutters were also used, either by themselves or in addition to the fabric panel.
As homes grew larger and more detailed, increased attention was paid to their interior decor as well. Chairs were upholstered or had cane seats and backs. Ladderback chairs typically had rush seats. Chairs in the William and Mary style featured decorative ornate carvings and turned legs with stretchers and ball feet. The upholstered wing chair dates to this period (c 1710-1720) as well as a daybeds topped with a loose upholstered cushion.

The gateleg table (see photo on right), which originated in England, became ubiquitous in the colonies as it was an ideal space-saver in rooms that, although larger than they had been in the previous century, were still smaller than their European counterparts. Chests were also decorated and imitations of Japanese lacquerware designs were popular motifs. The popular William and Mary tallboy chest, which was supported by six turned legs soon evolved into the classic American highboy. Needlepoint pillows and seat cushions would have been used in homes that afforded the leisure or skilled help to make them.

Shown above: a carved frame and panel Jacobean chest made in Connecticut around 1660, c.1670
Massachusetts plank table with drawer, early 1700s Boston couch or daybed, a damask upholstered
Queen Anne sofa from Philadelphia (1740-1750), a side table and chair c. 1740 Philadelphia,
and a Massachusetts Queen Anne highboy, c. 1720-40). For additional information,
see American Furniture of the 18th Century: History, Technique, and Structure

American Colonial Motifs & Materials

What to look for 

It is important to remember that the American Colonial period preceded the American Revolution. Although American Colonial is frequently confused with Early American, which followed the Revolution, patriotic American motifs like the 13 Star Flag, Bald Eagle, and so on, do not belong in authentically period American Colonial decor.

Instead, look for motifs from nature including birds, flora and fauna. Simple stencil patterns are also appropriate. 

Common themes included the pineapple (symbol for hospitality), weeping willow (symbolizing longevity), heart (love), and anchor (hope). Geometric designs and patterns that could be incorporated in weaving (stripes, plaids, checks, flame-stitch style) were also used.

After 1750, the more affluent colonists would have been able to add chinoiseries and, at towards the end of the colonial period (c. 1770), large scale French toiles to their decorating options. Larger towns and cities were thriving and merchants offered imported fabrics and other household necessities and niceties. Skilled craftsmen set up shops, making other items, like pewter and silver, available for those who could afford it.

In the 17th and early 18th centuries, however, materials were more limited and included locally available regional woods and natural dyes and pigments (see Early American colors). Blacksmiths provided iron tools, implements and decorative practical pieces such as candle holders in addition to horseshoes, nails, and similar items. Coopers provided wooden buckets and barrels. Clay was the basis for earthenware and bricks. Basketry and other items might have been woven by the colonists or obtained as gifts or from trade with Native Americans.

Early American colonial furniture was utilitarian and generally heavy and solid, with straight lines and little ornamentation. Chairs were either fiddle-back, ladderback, solid or spindle. Rustic plank top tables and benches and blanket chests were common. The later Colonial period saw a distinctly “American” style develop that was a typically less ornate combination of the features found in William and Mary, Queen Anne and Chippendale-style furniture.

American Colonial is an eclectic style and interior decorating in that style needs to be handled with care so it does not become a mishmash. Although many may think of sites like Williamsburg, Sturbridge, and similar restorations as the epitome of American Colonial style, remember that they represent the later more prosperous period and not the earliest settlements. Although similar elements can be found in both, you should decide which type of “American Colonial” decor you wish to use as your choices will be somewhat different.

An array of fabrics and wallpaper suitable for American Colonial period interiors.
You can find more of these at Restoration Fabrics & Trims and Old House Interiors.


Early American Colonial Period-Appropriate Home Decorating Fabrics 

Prior to the American Revolution, the most frequently used fabrics were American homespun, worsteds (cheney, harateen, moreen, and camlet), and striped Hollands of linen and cotton. After the mid-1700s, block printed and resist printed cottons and linens were imported. The wealthy would have used damasks woven from silk or silk and wool, silk and linen striped satin, wool velvets and brocades, and toiles imported from France.

Bed rugs woven from home spun and dyed wools, "Rag" type floor rugs, woven or braided, and sometimes hooked rugs were used for warmth and comfort. Wealthier colonists might have imported Persian area rugs on their wood floors.

To see a collection of historically appropriate fabrics that will help you recreate an Early American Colonial period interior decor in your home. Please visit Restoration Fabrics & Trims. (Page will open in a new browser window.)

 * * * * * * * * * * * 

Coming next time in Part II

How to Accessorize Early American Colonial Period Decor 

Throughout Your Home

 * * * * * * * * * * *

Follow Us & Keep in Touch

For the latest updates, news and special offers

  Join us on Twitter      Follow Me on Pinterest

You can also find us on Facebook.

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We've Come a Long Way from Quill Pens and Parchment...

But We'd Still Love to Hear From You Personally... 

Post your message below or contact us 
via any of the above links. 

Thank you!

Copyright Notice:  All Text and photos not otherwise credited are © 2009-15 Restoration Fabrics & Trims LLC. All rights reserved.  DO NOT COPY. This page is protected by Copyright Law. We will prosecute plagiarists. We previously published parts of this post on