Candace Wheeler.

Principles of home decoration, with practical examples online

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of black and white would be a wet
blanket to all bubble of wit or spring
of fancy, but the shadows of rose
colour are gray, pink-tinted it is
true ; indeed the shadow of pink
used to be known by the name of
ashes of roses, I remember seeing once
in Paris — that home of bad general
decoration — a room in royal purples;
purple velvet on walls, furniture, and
hangings. One golden Rembrandt
in the middle of a long wall, and a
great expanse of ochre-coloured par-
quetted floor were all that saved it
from the suggestion of a royal tomb.
As it was, I left the apartment with a
feeling of treading softly as when we
pass through a door hung with crape.
Vagaries of this kind are remediable
when they occur in cravats, or bon-
nets, or gloves — but a room in the
wrong colour! Saints and the angels
preserve us!




















i ASTOR, _



The number, size, and placing of
the windows will greatly afFect the
intensity of colour to be used. It
must always be remembered that any
interior is dark as compared with out-
of-doors, and that in the lightest
room there will be dark corners or
spaces where the colour chosen as
chief tint will seem much darker than
it really is. A paper or textile chos-
en in a good light will look several
shades darker when placed in large
unbroken masses or spaces upon the
wall, and a fully furnished room will
generally be much darker when com-
pleted than might be expected in
planning it. For this reason, in
choosing a favourite tint, it is better
on many accounts to choose it in as
light a shade as one finds agreeable.
It can be repeated in stronger tones
in furniture or in small and unim-
portant furnishings of the room, but
the wall tone should never be deeper


than medium in strength, at the risk
of having all the light absorbed by
the colour, and of losing a sense of
atmosphere in the room. There is
another reason for this, which is that
many colours are agreeable, even to
their lovers, only in light tones. The
moment they get below medium they
become insistent, and make them-
selves of too much importance. In
truth colour has qualities which are
almost personal, and is well worth
studying in all its peculiarities, be-
cause of its power to affect our hap-

The principles of proper use of
colour in house interiors are not diffi-
cult to master. It is unthinking, un-
reflective action which makes so many
unrestful interiors of homes. The
creator of a home should consider, in
the first place, that it is a matter as
important as climate, and as difficult
to get away from, and that the first


shades of colour used in a room upon
walls or ceiling, must govern every-
thing else that enters in the way of
furnishing; that the colour of walls
prescribes that which must be used in
floors, curtains, and furniture. Not
that these must necessarily be of the
same tint as walls, but that wall-tints
must govern the choice.

All this makes it necessary to take
first steps carefully, to select for each
room the colour which will best suit
the taste, feeling, or bias of the occu-
pant, always considering the exposure
of the room and the use of it.

After the relation of colour to
light is established — with personal
preferences duly taken into account
— the next law is that of gradation.
The strongest, and generally the pur-
est, tones of colour belong naturally
at the base, and the floor of a room
means the base upon which the
scheme of decoration is to be built.


The carpet, or floor covering, should
carry the strongest tones. If a single
tint is to be used, the walls must take
the next gradation, and the ceiling
the last. These gradations must be
far enough removed from each other
in depth of tone to be quite apparent,
but not to lose their relation. The
connecting grades may appear in fur-
niture covering and draperies, thus giv-
ing difi'erent values in the same tone,
the relation between them being per-
fectly apparent. These three masses
of related colour are the groundwork
upon which one can play infinite va-
riations, and is really the same law
upon which a picture is composed.
There are foreground, middle-dis-
tance, and sky — and in a properly
coloured room, the floors, walls, and
ceiling bear the same relation to each
other as the grades of colour in a
picture, or in a landscape.

Fortunately we keep to this law


almost by instinct, and yet I have
seen a white-carpeted floor in a room
with a painted ceiling of considerable
depth of colour. Imagine the effect
where this rule of gradation or as-
cending scale is reversed. A tinted
floor of cream colour, or even white,
and a ceiling as deep in colour as a
landscape. One feels as if they them-
selves were reversed, and standing
upon their heads. Certainly if we
ignore this law we lose our sense of
base or foundation, and although
we may not know exactly why, we
shall miss the restfulness of a prop-
erly constructed scheme of decora-

The rule of gradation includes
also that of massing of colour. In all
simple treatment of interiors, what-
ever colour is chosen should be al-
lowed space enough to establish its
influence, broadly and freely, and
here again we get a lesson from nat-


ure in the massing of colour. It
should not be broken into patches
and neutralised by divisions, but used
in large enough spaces to dominate,
or bring into itself or its own influ-
ence all that is placed in the room.
If this ruJe is disregarded every piece
of furniture unrelated to the whole
becomes a spot, it has no real con-
nection with the room, and the room
itself, instead of a harmonious and
delightful influence, akin to that of
a sun-flushed dawn or a sunset sky,
is like a picture where there is no
composition, or a book where inci-
dent is jumbled together without re-
lation to the story. In short, plac-
ing of colour in large uniform masses
used in gradation is the groundwork
of all artistic effect in interiors. As I
have said, it is the same rule that gov-
erns pictures, the general tone may be
green or blue, or a division of each,
but to be a perfect and harmonious


view, every detail must relate to one
or both of these tints.

In formulating thus far the rules
for use of colour in rooms, we have
touched upon three principles which
are. equally binding in interiors,
whether of a cottage or a palace ; the
first is that of colour in relation to
light, the second of colour in gra-
dation, and the third of colour in

A house in which walls and ceil-
ings are simply well coloured or cov-
ered, has advanced very far toward
the home which is the rightful en-
dowment of every human being.
The variations of treatment, which
pertain to more costly houses, the
application of design in borders and
frieze spaces, walls, wainscots, and
ceilings, are details which will proba-
bly call for artistic advice and pro-
fessional knowledge, since in these
things it is easy to err in misapplied


decoration. The advance from per-
fect simplicity to selected and beauti-
ful ornament marks not only the de-
gree of cost but of knowledge which
it is in the power of the house-owner
to command. The elaboration which
is the privilege of more liberal means
and the use of artistic experience in
decoration on a larger scale.

The smaller house shares in the
advantage of beautiful colour, correct
principles, and appropriate treatment
equally with the more costly. The
variations do not falsify principles.


nPHE true principle of wall treat-
ment is to make the boundary
stand for colour and beauty, and not
alone for division of space.

As a rule, the colour treatment of
a house interior must begin with the
walls, and it is fortunate if these are
blank and plain as in most new houses
with uncoloured ceilings, flat or brok-
en with mouldings to suit the style
of the house.

The range of possible treatment' is
very wide, from simple tones of wall
colour against which quiet cottage
or domestic city life goes on, to the
elaboration of walls of houses of a
different grade, where stately pag-
eants are a part of the drama of daily

life. But having shown that certain



rules are applicable to both, and in-
deed necessary to success in both, we
may choose within these rules any
tint or colour which is personally

Rooms with an east or west light
may carry successfully tones of any
shade, without violating fundamental

The first impression of a room
depends upon the walls. In fact,
rooms are good or bad, agreeable or
ugly in exact accordance with the
wall-quality and treatment. No rich-
ness of floor-covering, draperies, or
furniture can minimise their influence.

Perhaps it is for this reason that
the world is full of papers and other
devices for making walls agreeable ;
and we cannot wonder at this, when
we reflect that something of the kind
is necessary to the aspect of the room,
and that each room effects for the
individual exactly what the outer


walls of the house effect for the fam-
ily, they give space for personal pri-
vacy and for that reserve of the indi-
vidual v^hich is the earliest effect of
luxury and comfort.

It is certain that if walls are not
made agreeable there is in them
something of restraint to the eye and
the sense which is altogether disagree-
able. Apparent confinement within
given limits, is, on the whole, repug-
nant to either the natural or civilised
man, and for this reason we are con-
stantly tempted to disguise the limit
and to cover the wall in such a way
as shall interest and make us forget
our bounds. In this case, the idea of
decoration is, to make the walls a
barrier of colour only, instead of hard,
unyielding masonry; to take away
the sense of being shut in a box, and
give instead freedom to thought and
pleasure to the sense.

It is the effect of shut-in-ness which


the square and rigid walls of a room
give that makes drapery so effective
and welcome, and which also gives
value to the practice of covering walls
with silks or other textiles. The
softened surface takes away the sense
of restraint. We hang our walls with
pictures, or cover them with textiles,
or with paper which carries design, or
even colour them with pigments —
something — anything, which will dis-
guise a restraining bound, or make it
masquerade as a luxury.

This effort or instinct has set in
motion the machinery of the world.
It has created tapestries and brocades
for castle and palace, and invented
cheap substitutes for these costly prod-
ucts, so that the smallest and poor-
est house as well as the richest can
cover its walls with something pleas-
ant to the eye and suggestive to the

It is one of the privileges and
















Opportunities of art to invent these
disguises ; and to do it so thoroughly
and successfully as to content us with
facts which would otherwise be disa-
greeable. And we do, by these vari-
ous devices, make our walls so hospi-
table to our thoughts that we take
positive and continual pleasure in

We do this chiefly, perhaps, by
ministering to our instinctive love of
colour; which to many temperaments
is like food to the hungry, and satis-
fies as insistent a demand of the mind
as food to the body.

At this late period of the world
we are the inheritors of many meth-
ods of wall disguise, from the primi-
tive weavings or blanket coverings
with which nomadic peoples lined the
walls of their tents, or the arras which
in later days covered the roughness
and rudeness of the stone walls of
kings and barons, to the pictured


tapestries of later centuries. This lat-
ter achievement of art manufacture
has outlived and far. outweighed the
others in value, because it more per-
fectly performs the object of its crea-

Tapestries, for the most part, offer
us a semblance of nature, and cheat
us with a sense of unlimited horizon.
The older tapestries give us, with
this, suggestions of human life and
action in out-of-door scenes suffi-
ciently unrealistic to offer a vague
dream of existence in fields and for-
ests. This effectually diverts our
minds from the confinements of space,
and allows us the freedom of nature.

Probably the true secret of the
never-failing appreciation of tapestries
— from the very beginning of their
history until this day — is this fact of
their suggestiveness; since we find
that damasks of silk or velvet or other
costly weavings, although far surpass-


ing tapestries in texture and concen-
tration of colour, yet lacking their
suggestiveness to the mind, can never
rival them in the estimation of the
world. Unhappily, we cannot count
veritable tapestries as a modern re-
course in wall-treatment, since we are
precluded from the use of genuine
ones by their scarcity and cost.

There is undoubtedly a peculiar
richness and charm in a tapestry-hung
wall which no other wall covering
can give; yet they are not entirely
appropriate to our time. They be-
long to the period of windy palaces
and enormous enclosures, and are
fitted for pageants and ceremonies,
and not to our carefully plastered,
wind-tight and narrow rooms. Their
mission to-day is to reproduce for us
in museums and collections the life
of yesterday, so full of pomp and al-
most barbaric lack of domestic com-
fort. In studios they are certainly


appropriate and suggestive, but in pri-
vate houses except of the princely
sort, it is far better to make har-
monies with the things of to-day.

Nevertheless if the soul craves tap-
estries let them be chosen for in-
trinsic beauty and perfect preservation,
instead of accepting the rags of the
past and trying to create w^ith them a
magnificence which must be incom-
plete and shabby. Considering, as I
do, that tapestries belong to the life
and conditions of the past, where the
homeless many toiled for the pam-
pered few, and not to the homes of
to-day where the man of moderate
means expects beauty in his home as
confidently as if he were a world
ruler, I find it hardly necessary to in-
clude them in the list of means of
modern decoration, and indeed it is
not necessary, since a well-preserved
tapestry of a good period, and of a
famous manufacturer or origin, is so


costly a purchase that only our boun-
teous and self-indulgent millionaires
would venture to acquire one solely
for purposes of wall decoration. It
would be purchased as a specimen of
art and not as furnishing.

Yet I know one instance of a library
where a genuine old foliage tapestry
has been cut and fitted to the walls
and between bookcases and doors,
where the wood of the room is in
mahogany, and a great chimney-piece
of Caen stone of Richardson's design-
ing fills nearly one side of the room.
Of course the tapestry is unapproach-
able in effect in this particular place
and with its surroundings. It has the
richness and softness of velvet, and
the red of the mahogany doors and
furniture finds exactly its foil in the
blue greens and soft browns of the
web, while the polished floor and
velvety antique rugs bring all the
richness of the walls down to one's


feet and to the hearth with its glow of
fire. But this particular room hardly
makes an example for general follow-
ing. It is really a house of state, a
house without children, one in which
public life predominates.

There is a very flagrant far-away
imitation of tapestry which is so far
from being good that it is a wonder
it has had even a moderate success,
imitation which does not even at-
tempt the decorative effect of the
genuine, but substitutes upon an ad-
mirably woven cotton or woollen can-
vas, figure panels, copied from mod-
ern French masters, and suggestive of
nothing but bad art. Yet these panels
are sometimes used (and in fact are
produced for the purpose of being
used) precisely as a genuine tapestry
would be, although the very fact of
pretence in them, brings a feeling
of untruth, quite at variance with the
principles of all good art. The ob-


jection to pictures transferred to tap-
estries holds good, even when the
tapestries are genuine.

The great cartoons of Raphael,
still to be seen in the Kensington
Museum, which were drawn and col-
oured for Flemish weavers to copy,
show a perfect adaptation to the me-
dium of weaving, while the paintings
in the Vatican by the same great
master are entirely inappropriate to
textile reproduction.

A picture cannot be transposed to
different substance and purpose with-
out losing the qualities which make
it valuable. The double effort to be
both a tapestry and a picture is futile,
and brings into disrepute a simple art
of imitation which might become re-
spectable if its capabilities were right-
ly used.

No one familiar with collections of
tapestries can fail to recognise the
largeness and simplicity of treatment



peculiar to tapestry subjects as con-
trasted with the elaboration of pict-

If we grant that in this modern
world of hurry, imitation of tapestries
is legitimate, the important question
is, what are the best subjects, and
what is the best use for such imita-

The best use is undoubtedly that
of wall-covering; and that was, in-
deed, the earliest object for which
they were created. They were woven
to cover great empty spaces of un-
sightly masonry; and they are still in-
finitely useful and beautiful in grand
apartments whose barren spaces are
too large for modern pictures, and
which need the disguise of a sugges-
tion of scenery or pictorial subject.

If tapestries must be painted, let
them by all means follow the style of
the ancient verdure or foliage tapes-
tries, and be used for the same pur-


pose — to cover an otherwise blank
wall. This is legitimate, and even
beautiful, but it is painting, and should
be frankly acknowledged to be such,
and no attempt made to have them
masquerade as genuine and costly
weavings. It is simply and always
painting, although in the style and
Spirit of early tapestries^ Productions
of this sort, where real skill in textile
painting is used, are quite worthy of
admiration and respect.

I remember seeing, in the Swedish
exhibit of women's work in the
Woman's Building at the Columbian
Exposition, a screen which had evi-
dently been copied from an old bit
of verdure tapestry. At the base
were broad-leaved water-plants, each
leaf carefully copied in blocks and
patches of colour, with even the ef-
fect of the little empty space — where
one thread passes to the back in
weaving, to make room for one of


another colour brought forward —
imitated by a dot of black to simu-
late the tiny shadow-filled pen-point
of a hole.

Now whether this was art or not I
leave to French critics to decide, but
it was at least admirable imitation ;
and any one able to cover the wall
spaces between bookcases in a library
with such imitation would find them
as richly set as if it were veritable

This is a very difi'erent thing from
a painted tapestry, perhaps enlarged
from a photograph or engraving of
a painting the original of which the
tapestry-painter had never even seen
— the destiny of which unfortunate
copy, changed in size, colour, and all
the qualities which gave value to the
original, is probably to be hung as a
picture in the centre of a space of
wall-paper totally antagonistic in


When I see these things I long to
curb the ambition of the unfortunate
tapestry-painter until a course of
study has taught him or her the proper
use of a really useful process ; for
whether the object is to produce a
decoration or a simulated tapestry, it
is not attained by these methods.

The ordinary process of painting
in dyes upon a wool or linen fabric
woven in tapestry method, and fix-
ing the colour with heat, enables the
painter — if a true tapestry subject is
chosen and tapestry effects carefully
studied — to produce really effective
and good things, and this opens a
much larger field to the woman dec-
orator than the ordinary unstudied
shams which have thrown what might
become in time a large and useful art-
industry into neglect and disrepute,

I have seen the walls of a library
hung with Siberian linen, stained in
landscape design in the old blues and


greens which give tapestry its decora-
tive value, and found it a delightful
wall-covering. Indeed we may lay
it down as a principle in decoration
that while we may use and adapt any
decorative effect we must not attempt
to make it pass for the thing which
suggested the effect.

Coarse and carefully woven linens,
used as I have indicated, are really far
better than old tapestries for mod-
ern houses, because the design can be
adapted to the specific purpose and
the texture itself can be easily cleaned
and is more appropriate to the close
walls and less airy rooms of this cen-

For costly wall-decoration, leather
is another of the substances which
have had a past of pomp and mag-
nificence, and carries with it, in addi-
tion to beauty, a suggestion of the art
of a race. Spanish leather, with its
stamping and gilding, is quite as costly


a wall covering as antique or modern
tapestry, and far more indestructible.
Perhaps it is needlessly durable as a
mere vehicle for decoration. At all
events Japanese artists and artisans
seem to be of this opinion, and have
transferred the same kind of decora-
tion to heavy paper, where for some
occult reason — although strongly sim-
ulating leather — it seems not only not
objectionable, but even meritorious.
This is because it simply transfers an
artistic method from a costly sub-
stance, to another which is less so,
and the fact may even have some
weight that paper is a product of
human manufacture, instead of hu-
man appropriation of animal life, for
surely sentiment has its influence in
decoration as in other arts.

Wood panelling is also a form of
interior treatment which has come to
us by inheritance from the past as
well as by right of natural possession.


It has a richness and sober dignity of
effect which commends it in large or
small interiors, in halls, libraries, and
dining-rooms, whether they are pub-
lic or private ; devoted to grand
functions, or to the constantly re-
curring uses of domesticity. Wood
is so beautiful a substance in itself,
and lends itself to so many processes
of ornamentation, that hardly too
much can be said of its appropriate-
ness for interior decoration. From
the two extremes of plain pine panel-
lings cut into squares or parallelo-
grams by machinery, and covered
with paint in tints to match door
and window casings, to the most
elaborate carvings which back the
Cathedral stalls or seats of ecclesi-
astical dignity, it is always beautiful
and generally appropriate in use and
effect, and that can hardly be said
of any other substance. There are
wainscotted rooms in old houses in




Newport, where, under the accumu-
lated paint of one or two centuries,
great panels of old Spanish mahogany
can still be found, not much the
worse for their long eclipse. Such
rooms, in the original brilliancy of
colour and polish, with their parallel
shadings of mahogany-red reflecting
back the firelight from tiled chimney-
places and scattering the play of
dancing flame, must have had a
beauty of colour hard to match in
this day of sober oak and painted

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Online LibraryCandace WheelerPrinciples of home decoration, with practical examples → online text (page 4 of 9)