Candace Wheeler.

Principles of home decoration, with practical examples online

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restore proportion. We can even, by
judicious distribution of planes of
colour, apparently lower or raise a
ceiling, and widen or lengthen a room,
and these expedients, which belong
partly to the experience of the deco-
rator, are based upon laws which can
easily be formulated. Every one can
learn something of them by the study
of faulty rooms and the enjoyment of
satisfactory ones. Indeed, I know no
surer or more agreeable way of getting
wisdom in the art of decoration than
by tracing back sensation to its source,
and finding out why certain things
are utterly satisfactory, and certain
others a positive source of discomfort.

In what are called the " best


houses '^ we can make our deductions
quite as well as in the most faulty,
and sometimes get a lesson of avoid-
ance and a warning against law-
breaking which will be quite as
useful as if it were learned in less
than the best.

There is one fault very common
in houses which date from a period
of some forty or fifty years back, a
fault of disproportionate height of
ceilings. In a modern house, if one
room is large enough to require a
lofty ceiling, the architect will manage
to make his second floor upon differ-
ent levels, so as not to inflict the
necessary height of large rooms upon
narrow halls and small rooms, which
should have only a height propor-
tioned to their size. A ten-foot room
with a thirteen - foot ceihng makes
the narrowness of the room doubly
apparent; one feels shut up between
two walls which threaten to come
together and squeeze one between


them, while, on the other hand, a
ten-foot room with a nine-foot ceiHng
may have a really comfortable and
cozy effect.

In this case, what is needed is to
get rid of the superfluous four feet,
and this can be done by cheating the
eye into an utter forgetfulness of them.
There must be horizontal divisions of
colour which attract the attention and
make one oblivious of what is above

Every one knows the effect of a
paper with perpendicular stripes in
apparently heightening a ceiling which
is too low, but not every one is
equally aware of the contrary effect
of horizontal lines of varied surface.
But in the use of perpendicular lines
it is well to remember that, if the
room is small, it will appear still
smaller if the wall is divided into
narrow spaces by vertical lines. If it
is large and the ceiling simply low
for the size of the room, a good


deal can be done by long, simple lines
of drapery in curtains and portieres,
or in choosing a paper where the
composition of design is perpendicular
rather than diagonal.

To apparently lower a high ceiling
in a small room, the wall should
be treated horizontally in different
materials. Three feet of the base can
be covered with coarse canvas or
buckram and finished with a small
wood moulding. Six feet of plain wall
above this, painted the same shade as
the canvas, makes the space of which
the eye is most aware. This space
should be finished with a picture
moulding, and the four superfluous feet
of wall above it must be treated as
a part of the ceiling. The cream-
white of the actual ceiling should be
brought down on the side walls for
a space of two feet, and this has the
effect of apparently enlarging the room,
since the added mass of light tint
seems to broaden it. There still re-


main two feet of space between the
picture moulding and ceiling-line which
may be treated as a ceiling-border in
inconspicuous design upon the same
cream ground, the design to be in
darker, but of the same tint as the

The floor in such a room as this
should either be entirely covered with
plain carpeting, or, if it has rugs at
all, there should be several, as one
single rug, not entirely covering the
floor, would have the effect of con-
fining the apparent size of the room
to the actual size of the rug.

If the doors and windows in such
a room are high and narrow, they
can be made to come into the scheme
by placing the curtain and portiere
rods below the actual height and
covering the upper space with thin
material, either full or plain, of the
same colour as the upper wall. A
-brocaded muslin, stained or dyed to
match the wall, answers this purpose


admirably, and is really better in its
place than the usual expedient of
stained glass or open-work wood tran-
som. A good expedient is to have the
design already carried around the wall
painted in the same colour upon a
piece of stretched muslin. This is
simple but effective treatment, and is
an instance of the kind of thought
or knowledge that must be used in
remedying faults of construction.

Colour has much to do with the
apparent size of rooms, a room in
light tints always appearing to be
larger than a deeply coloured one.

Perhaps the most difficult problem
in adaptation is the high, narrow city
house, built and decorated by the
block by the builder, who is also a
speculator in real estate, and whose
activity was chiefly exercised before
the ingenious devices of the modern
architect were known. These houses
exist in quantities in our larger and
older cities, and mere slices of space


as they are, are the theatres where the
home-life of many refined and beauty-
loving intelligences must be played.

In such houses as these, the task
of fitting them to the cultivated eyes
and somewhat critical tests of modern
society generally falls to the women
who represent the family, and calls
for an amount of ability which would
serve to build any number of credita-
ble houses ; yet this is constantly be-
ing done and well done for not one,
but many families. I know one such,
which is quite a model of a charming
city home and yet was evolved from
one of the worst of its kind and period.
In this case the family had fallen heir
to the house and were therefore jus-
tified in the one radical change which
metamorphosed the entrance - hall,
from a long, narrow passage, with an
apparently interminable stairway oc-
cupying half its width, to a small re-
ception-hall seemingly enlarged by a



judicious placing of the mirrors which
had formerly been a part of the " fixt-
ures " of the parlour and dining-room.

The reception-room was accom-
plished by cutting off the lower half
of the staircase, which had extended
itself to within three feet of the front
door, and turning it directly around,
so that it ends at the back instead
of the front of the hall. The two
cut ends are connected by a platform,
thrown across from wall to wall, and
furnished with a low railing of carved
panels, and turned spindles, which
gives a charming balcony effect. The
passage to the back hall and stairs
passes under the balcony and upper
end of the staircase, while the space
under the lower stair-end, screened by
a portiere, adds a coat-closet to the
conveniences of the reception-hall.

This change was not a difficult
thing to accomplish, it was simply an
expedient J but it has the value of care-


fully planned construction, and re-
minds one of the clever utterance of
the immortal painter who said, " I
never lose an accident."

Indeed the ingenious home-maker
often finds that the worse a thing is,
the better it can be made by com-
petent and careful study. To com-
plete and adapt incompetent things
to orderliness and beauty, to har-
monise incongruous things into a
perfect whole requires and exercises
ability of a high order, and the con-
sciousness of its possession is no small
satisfaction. That it is constantly
being done shows how much real
cleverness is necessary to ordinary
life — and reminds one of the patri-
otic New York state senator who de-
clared that it required more ability
to cross Broadway safely at high tide,
than to be a great statesman. And
truly, to make a good house out of
a poor one, or a beautiful interior


from an ugly one, requires far more
thought, and far more original talent,
than to decorate an important new
one. The one follows a travelled
path — the other makes it.

Of course competent knowledge
saves one from many difficulties ; and
faults of construction must be met by
knowledge, yet this is often greatly
aided by natural cleverness, and in the
course of long practice in the deco-
rative arts, I have seen such refreshing
and charming results from thoughtful
untrained intelligence, — I might al-
most say inspiration, — that I have
great respect for its manifestations ;
especially when exercised in un-au-
thoritative fashion.



' ' Heaven gives tis of its colour, for our Joy,
Hues which have words and speak to ye of heaven."

\ LTHOUGH the very existence of
a house is a matter of construc-
tion, its general interior effect is al-
most entirely the result of colour
treatment and careful and cultivated
selection of accessories.

Colour in the house includes much
that means furniture, in the way of
carpets, draperies, and all the modern
conveniences of civilization, but as it
precedes and dictates the variety of
all these things from the authoritative
standpoint of wall treatment, it is
well to study its laws and try to reap
the full benefit of its influence.

As far as effect is concerned, the
colour of a room creates its atmos-
phere. It may be cheerful or sad,



cosy or repellent according to its
quality or force. Without colour it
is only a bare canvas, which might,
but does not picture our lives.

We understand many of the prop-
erties of colour, and have unconscious-
ly learned some of its laws ; — but
what may be called the science of col-
our has never been formulated. So
far as we understand it, its principles
correspond curiously to those of mel-
odious sound. It is as impossible
to produce the best effect from one
tone or colour, as to make a melody
upon one note of the harmonic scale;
it is skilful variation of tone, the gra-
dation or even judicious opposition
of tint which gives exquisite satisfac-
tion to the eye. In music, sequence
produces this effect upon the ear, and
in colour, juxtaposition and gradation
upon the eye. Notes follow notes
in melody as shade follows shade in
colour. We find no need of even dif-


ferent names for the qualities peculiar
to the two ; scale — notes — tones —
harmonies — the words express effects
common to colour as well as to music,
but colour has this advantage, that its
harmonies can be Jixed^ they do not
die with the passing moment ; once
expressed they remain as a constant
and ever-present delight.

Notes of the sound-octave have
been gathered by the musicians from
widely different substances, and care-
fully linked in order and sequence to
make a harmonious scale which may
be learned ; but the painter, con-
scious of colour-harmonies, has as yet
no written law by which he can pro-
duce them.

The " born colourist " is one who
without special training, or perhaps in
spite of it, can unerringly combine or
oppose tints into compositions which
charm the eye and satisfy the sense.
Even among painters it is by no means


a common gift. It is almost more
rare to find a picture distinguished for
its harmony and beauty of colour, than
to see a room in which nothing jars
and everything works together for
beauty. It seems strange that this
should be a rarer personal gift than the
musical sense, since nature apparently
is far more lavish of her lessons for
the eye than for the ear; and it is
curious that colour, which at first sight
seems a more apparent and simple
fact than music, has not yet been
written. Undoubtedly there is a col-
our scale, which has its sharps and
fiats, its high notes and low notes, its
chords and discords, and it is not im-
possible that in the future science may
make it a means of regulated and
written harmonies : — that some mas-
ter colourist who has mechanical and
inventive genius as well, may so ar-
range them that they can be played
by rule ; that colour may have its


Mozart or Beethoven — its classic mel-
odies, its familiar tunes. The mu-
sician, as I have said — has gathered
his tones from every audible thing in
nature — and fitted and assorted and
built them into a science ; and why
should not some painter who is also a
scientist take the many variations of
colour which lie open to his sight,
and range and fit and combine, and
write the formula, so that a child may
read it ?

We already know enough to be
very sure that the art is founded upon
laws, although they are not thorough-
ly understood. Principles of masses,
spaces, and gradations underlie all ac-
cidental harmonies of colour; — -just as
in music, the simple, strong, under-
chords of the bass must be the ground
for all the changes and trippings of
the upper melodies.

It is easy, if one studies the subject,
to see how the very likeness of these


two esthetic forces illustrate the laws
of each, — in the principles of relation,
gradation, and scale.

Until very recently the relation of
colour to the beauty of a house in-
terior was quite unrecognised. If it
existed in any degree of perfection
it was an accident, a result of the
softening and beautifying effect of
time, or of harmonious human living.
Where it existed, it was felt as a mys-
terious charm belonging to the home ;
something which pervaded it, but had
no separate being ; an attractive ghost
which attached itself to certain houses,
followed certain people, came by
chance, and was a mystery which no
one understood, but every one ac-
knowledged. Now we know that
this something which distinguished
particular rooms, and made beautiful
particular houses, was a definite result
of laws of colour accidentally ap-


To avail ourselves of this influence
upon the moods and experiences of
life is to use a power positive in its
efi'ects as any spiritual or intellectual
influence. It gives the kind of joy
we find in nature, in the golden-green
of light under tree-branches, or the
mingled green and gray of tree and
rock shadows, or the pearl and rose
of sunrise and sunset. We call the
deep content which results from such
surroundings the influence of nature,
and forget to name the less spiritual,
the more human condition of well-
being which comes to us in our homes
from being surrounded with some-
thing which in a degree atones for
lack of nature's beauty.

It is a different well-being, and
lacks the full tide of electric enjoy-
ment which comes from living for
the hour under the sky and in the
breadths of space, but it atones by
substituting something of our own


invention, which surprises us by its
compensations, and confounds us by
its power.


T HAVE laid much stress upon the
value of colour in interior deco-
ration, but to complete the beauty of
the home something more than happy
choice of tints is required. It needs
careful and educated selection of fur-
niture and fittings, and money enough
to indulge in the purchase of an
intrinsically good thing instead of a
medium one. It means even some-
thing more than the love of beauty
and cultivation of it, and that is a per-
fect adherence to the law of appro-

This is, after all, the most important
quality of every kind of decoration,
the one binding and general condition
of its accomplishment. It requires

such a careful fitting together of all



the means of beauty as to leave no
part of the house, whatever may be
its use, w^ithout the same care for
appropriate completeness v^hich goes
to the more apparent features. The
cellar, the kitchen, the closets, the
servants' bedrooms must all share in
the thought which makes the gen-
uinely beautiful home and the gen-
uinely perfect life. It must be pos-
sible to go from the top to the bottom
of the house, finding everywhere
agreeable, suitable, and thoughtful
furnishings. The beautiful house
must consider the family as a whole,
and not make a museum of rare and
costly things in the drawing-room, the
library, the dining-room and family
bedrooms, leaving that important part
of the whole machinery, the service,
untouched by the spirit of beauty.
The same care in choice of colour
will be as well bestowed on the ser-
vants' floor as on those devoted to the


family, and curtains, carpets and fur-
niture may possess as much beauty and
yet be perfectly appropriate to ser-
vants' use.

On this upper floor, it goes almost
without saying, that the walls must be
painted in oil-colour instead of cov-
ered with paper. That the floors
should be uncarpeted except for bed-
side rugs which are easily removable.
That bedsteads should be of iron, the
mattress with changeable covers, the
furniture of painted and enameled in-
stead of oolished wood, and in short
the conditions of healthful cleanliness
as carefully provided as if the rooms
were in a hospital instead of a pri-
vate house — but the added comfort
of carefully chosen wall colour, and
bright, harmonizing, washable chintz
in curtains and bed-covers.

These things have an influence up-
on the spirit of the home ; they are
a part of its spiritual beauty, giving a


satisfied and approving consciousness
to the home-makers, and a sense of
happiness in the service of the family.

In the average, or small house,
there is room for much improvement
in the treatment and furnishing of
servants' bedrooms ; and this is not
always from indifference, but because
they are out of daily sight, and also
from a belief that it would add seri-
ously to the burden of housekeeping
to see that they are kept up to the
standard of family sleeping-rooms.

In point of fact, however, good
surroundings are potent civilizers, and
a house-servant whose room is well
and carefully furnished feels an added
value in herself, which makes her treat
herself respectfully in the care of her

If it pleases her, the training she
receives in the care of family rooms
will be reflected in her own, and
painstaking arrangements made for


her pleasure will perhaps be recog-
nised as an obligation.

Of course the fact must be recog-
nised, that the occupant is not always
a permanent one ; that it may at
times be a fresh importation directly
from a city tenement ; therefore,
everything in the room should be
able to sustain very radical treatment
in the way of scrubbing and cleaning.
Wall papers, unwashable rugs and cur-
tains are out of the question ; yet
even with these limitations it is possi-
ble to make a charming and reason-
ably inexpensive room, which would
be attractive to cultivated as well as
uncultivated taste. It is in truth
mostly a matter of colour ; of col-
oured walls, and harmonising furni-
ture and draperies, which are in them-
selves well adapted to their place.

As I have said elsewhere, the walls
in a servant's bedroom — and prefer-
ably in any sleeping-room — should


for sanitary reasons be painted in oil
colours, but the possibilities of deco-
rative treatment in this medium are
by no means limited. All of the
lighter shades of green, blue, yellow,
and rose are as permanent, and as
easily cleaned, as the dull grays and
drabs and mud-colours which are of-
ten used upon bedroom walls — es-
pecially those upper ones which are
above the zone of ornament, appar-
ently under the impression that there
is virtue in their very ugliness.

" A good clean gray " some worthy
housewife will instruct the painter to
use, and the result will be a dead
mixture of various lively and pleas-
ant tints, any one of which might be
charming if used separately, or mod-
ified with white. A small room with
walls of a very light spring green, or
a pale turquoise blue, or white with
the dash of vermilion and touch of
yellow ochre which produces salmon-


pink, is quite as durably and service-
ably coloured as if it were chocolate-
brown, or heavy lead-colour ; indeed
its effect upon the mind is like a spring
day full of sunshine instead of one
dark with clouds or lowering storms.
The rule given elsewhere for colour
in light or dark exposure will hold
good for service bedrooms as well as
for the important rooms of the house.
That is; if a bedroom for servants' use
is on the north or shadowed side of
the house, let the colour be salmon
or rose pink, cream white, or spring
green ; but if it is on the sunny side,
the tint should be turquoise, or pale
blue, or a grayish-green, like the green
of a field of rye. With such walls, a
white iron bedstead, enameled furni-
ture, curtains of white, or a flowered
chintz which repeats or contrasts with
the colour of the walls, bedside and
bureau rugs of the tufted cotton which
is washable, or of the new rag-rugs of


which the colours are " water fast,"
the room is absolutely good, and can
be used as an influence upon a lower
or higher intelligence.

As a matter of utility the toilet
service should be always of white ; so
that there will be no chance for the
slovenly mismatching which results
from breakage of any one of the dif-
ferent pieces, when of different col-
ours. A handleless or mis-matched
pitcher will change the entire charac-
ter of a room and should never be

If the size of the room will war-
rant it, a rocking-chair or easy-chair
should always be part of its equip-
ment, and the mattress and bed-springs
should be of a quality to give ease to
tired bones, for these things have to
do with the spirit of the house.

It may be said that the colour-
ing and furnishing of the servants'
bedroom is hardly a part of house


decoration, but in truth house deco-
ration at its best is a means of happi-
ness, and no householder can achieve
permanent happiness without making
the service of the family sharers in it.

What I have said with regard to
painted walls in plain tints applies to
bedrooms of every grade, but where
something more than merely agree-
able colour effect is desired a sten-
cilled decdration from the simplest
to the most elaborate can be added.
There are many ways of using this
method, some of which partake very
largely of artistic effect ; indeed a
thoroughly good stencil pattern may
reproduce the best instances of design,
and in the hands of a skilful work-
man who knows how to graduate and
vary contrasting or harmonising tints
it becomes a very artistic method and
deserves a place of high honour in the
art of decoration.

Its simplest form is that of a sten-



A ; "'.

•■ /#w//i»»' *


,. -"term



cilled border in flat tints used either
in place of a cornice or as the bor-
der of a wall-paper is used. This, of
course, is a purely mechanical per-
formance, and one with which every
house-painter is familiar. After this
we come to borders of repeating de-
sign used as friezes. This can be done
with the most delicate and delightful
effect, although the finished wall will
still be capable of withstanding
the most energetic annual scrubbing.
Frieze borders of this kind starting
with strongly contrasting colour at
the top and carried downward through
gradually fading tints until they are
lost in the general colour of the wall
have an openwork grille effect which
is very light and graceful. There are
infinite possibilities in the use of sten-
cil design without counting the intro-
duction of gold and silver, and bronzes
of various iridescent hues which are
more suitable for rooms of general


use than for bedrooms. Indeed in
sleeping-rooms the use ot metallic
colour is objectionable because it will
not stand washing and cleaning with-
out defacement. The ideal bedroom
is one that it the furniture were re-
moved a stream of water from a hose

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Online LibraryCandace WheelerPrinciples of home decoration, with practical examples → online text (page 2 of 9)