Candace Wheeler.

Principles of home decoration, with practical examples online

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One of the lessons gained by ex-
perience in treatment of house in-
teriors, is that plain, flat tints give
apparent size to small rooms, and
that a satisfying effect in large ones
can be gained by variation of tint or
surface ; also, that in a bedroom or
other small room apparent size will
be gained by using a wall covering
which is light rather than dark. Some


difference of tone there must be in
large plain surfaces which lie within
the level of the eye ; or the monot-
ony of a room becomes fatiguing.
A plain, painted wall may, it is true,
be broken by pictures, or cabinets, or
bits of china ; anything in short
which will throw parts of it into
shadow, and illumine other parts
with gilded reflections ; but even
then there will be long, plain spaces
above the picture or cabinet line,
where blank monotony of tone will
be fatal to the general effect of the

It is in this upper space, upon a
plain painted wall, that a broad line
of flat decoration should occur, but
on a wall hung with paper or cloth,
it is by no means necessary.

Damasked cloths, where the design
is shown by the direction of woven
threads, are particularly effective and
satisfactory as wall-coverings. The



soft surface is luxurious to the im-
agination, and the play of light and
shadow upon the warp and woof in-
terests the eye, although there is no
actual change of colour.

Too much stress can hardly be laid
upon the variation of tone in wall-
surfaces, since the four walls stand for
the atmosphere of a room. Tone
means quality of colour. It may be
light or dark, or of any tint, or varia-
tions of tint, but the quality of it
must be soft and charitable, instead
of harsh and uncompromising.

Almost the best of modern inven-
tions for inexpensive wall-coverings
are found in what are called the in-
grain papers. These have a variable
surface, without reflections, and make
not only a soft and impalpable colour
effect, but, on account of their want
of reflection, are good backgrounds
for pictures.

In these papers the colour is pro-


duced by a mixture in the mass of
paper pulp of atoms of varying tint,
which are combined in the substance
and make one general tint resulting
from the mixture of several. In can-
vases and textiles, which are a more
expensive method of producing al-
most the same mixed effect, the mi-
nute points of brilliance of threads
in light and darkness of threads in
shadow, combine to produce softness
of tone, impossible to pigment be-
cause it has but one plain surface,
unrelieved by breaking up into light
and shadow.

Variation, produced by minute
differences, which affect each other
and which the eye blends into a
general tone, produce quality. It is
at the same time soft and brilliant,
and is really a popular adaptation of
the philosophy of impressionist paint-
ers, whose small dabs of pure colour
placed in close juxtaposition and


fused into one tone by the eye, give
the purity and vibration of colour
which distinguishes work of that

Some skilful painters can stipple
one tone upon another so as to pro-
duce the same brilliant softness of
effect, and when this can be done,
oil-colour upon plaster is the best of
all treatment for bedrooms since it
fulfils all the sanitary and other con-
ditions so necessary in sleeping-rooms.
The same effect may be produced if
the walls are of rough instead of
smooth plaster, so that the small in-
equalities of surface give light and
shadow as in textiles ; upon such sur-
faces a pleasant tint in flat colour is
always good. Painted burlaps and
certain Japanese papers prepared with
what may be called a textile or can-
vas surface give the same effect, and
indeed quaHty of tint and tone is far
more easily obtained in wall-cover-


ings or applied materials than in paint,
because in most wall-coverings there
are variations of tint produced in the
very substance of the material.

This matter of variation without
contrast in wall-surface, is one of the
most important in house decoration,
and has led to the increased use of
textiles in houses where artistic effects
have been carefully studied and are
considered of importance.

Of course wall-paper must continue
to be the chief means of wall-cover-
ing, on account of its cheapness, and
because it is the readiest means of
sheathing a plaster surface ; and a
continuous demand for papers of
good and nearly uniform colour, and
the sort of inconspicuous design
which fits them for modest interiors
will have the effect of increasing
the manufacture of desirable and ar-
tistic things.

In the meantime one should care-


fully avoid the violently coloured
papers which are made only to sell ;
materials which catch the eye of the
inexperienced and tempt them into
the buying of things which are pro-
ductive of lasting unrest. It is in the
nature of positive masses and strongly
contrasting colours to produce this

If one is unfortunate enough to
occupy a room of which the walls are
covered with one of these glaring de-
signs, and circumstances prevent a
radical change, the simplest expedient
is to cover the whole surface with a
kalsomine or chalk-wash, of some
agreeable tint. This will dry in an
hour or two and present a nearly
uniform surface, in which the printed
design of the paper, if it appears at
all, will be a mere suggestion. Papers
where the design is carried in colour
only a few shades darker than the
background, are also safe, and — if


the design is a good one — often very
desirable for halls and dining-rooms.
In skilfully printed papers of the sort
the design often has the effect of a
mere shadow-play of form.

Of course in the infinite varieties
of use and the numberless variations
of personal taste, there are, and should
be, innumerable differences in appli-
cation of both colour and materials
to interiors. There are difTerences in
the use of rooms which may make a
sense of perfect seclusion desirable, as,
for instance, in libraries, or rooms
used exclusively for evening gather-
ings of the family. In such semi-
private rooms the treatment should
give a sense of close family life rather
than space, while in drawing-rooms
it should be exactly the reverse, and
this effect is easily secured by com-
petent use of colour.



r>ESIDES the difFerence in treat-
ment demanded by different use
of rooms — the character of the deco-
ration of the whole house will be in-
fluenced by its situation. A house
in the country or a house in town ;
a house by the sea-shore or a house
situated in woods and fields require
stronger or less strong colour, and
even different tints, according to situ-
ation. The decoration itself may be
much less conventional in one place
than in another, and in country
houses much and lasting charm is
derived from design and colour in
perfect harmony with nature's sur-
roundings. Whatever decorative de-
sign is used in wall-coverings or in
curtains or hangings will be far more



effective if it bears some relation to
the surroundings and position of the

If the nouse is by the sea the walls
should repeat with many variations
the tones of sea and sand and sky;
the gray-greens of sand-grasses ; the
blues which change from blue to green
with every cloud-shadow ; the pearl
tints which become rose in the morn-
ing or evening light, and the browns
and olives of sea mosses and lichens.
This treatment of colour will make
the interior of the house a part of
the great out-of-doors and create a
harmony between the artificial shel-
ter and nature.

There is philosophy in following,
as far as the limitations of simple
colour will allow, the changeableness
and fluidity of natural effects along
the shore, and allowing the mood of
the brief summer life to fall into
entire harmony with the dominant


expression of the sea. Blues and
greens and pinks and browns should
all be kept on a level with out-of-
door colour, that is, they should not
be too deep and strong for harmony
with the sea and sky, and if, when
harmonious colour is once secured,
most of the materials used in the
furnishing of the house are chosen
because their design is based upon, or
suggested by, sea-forms, an impression
is produced of having entered into
complete and perfect harmony with
the elements and aspects of nature.
The artificialities of life fall more and
more into the background, and one
is refreshed with a sense of having
established entirely harmonious and
satisfactory relations with the sur-
roundings of nature. I remember a
doorway of a cottage by the sea,
where the moulding which made a
part of the frame was an orderly line
of carved cockle-shells, used as a bor-


der, and this little touch of recog-
nition of its sea-neighbours was not
only decorative in itself, but gave
even the chance visitor a sort of in-
terpretation of the spirit of the in-
terior life.

Suppose, on the other hand, that
the summer house is placed in the
neighbourhood of fields and trees and
mountains ; it will be found that
strong and positive treatment of the
interior is more in harmony with the
outside landscape. Even heavier fur-
niture looks fitting where the house is
surrounded with massive tree-growths;
and deeper and purer colours can be
used in hangings and draperies. This
is due to the more positive colouring
of a landscape than of a sea-view.
The masses of strong and slightly
varying green in foliage, the red,
brown, or vivid greens of fields and
crops, the dark lines of tree-trunks
and branches, as well as the unchang-


ing forms of rock and hillside, call
for a corresponding strength of in-
terior effect.

It is a curious fact, also, that where
a house is surrounded by myriads of
small natural forms of leaves and
flowers and grasses, plain spaces of
colour in interiors, or spaces where
form is greatly subordinated to col-
our, are more grateful to the eye
than prominently decorated surface.
A repetition of small natural forms
like the shells and sea-mosses, which
are for the most part hidden under
lengths of liquid blue, is pleasing and
suggestive by the sea ; but in the
country, where form is prominent
and positive and prints itself con-
stantly upon both mental and bodily
vision, unbroken colour surfaces are
found to be far more agreeable.

It will be seen that the principles
of appropriate furnishing and adorn-
ment in house interiors depend upon


circumstances and natural surround-
ings as well as upon the character
and pursuits of the family who are to
be lodged, and that the final charm
of the home is attained by a perfect
adaptation of principles to existing
conditions both of nature and hu-

In cottages of the character we are
considering, furniture should be sim-
pler and lighter than in houses in-
tended for constant family living.
Chairs and sofas should be without
elaborate upholstery and hangings, and
cushions can be appropriately made of
some well-coloured cotton or linen
material which wind, and sun, and
dampness cannot spoil, and of which
the freshness can always be restored by
laundering. These are general rules,
appropriate to all summer cottages,
and to these it may be added, that a
house which is to be closed for six or
eight months in the year should really.


to be consistent, be inexpensively fur-
nished. These general rules are in-
tended only to emphasise the fact
that in houses which are to become
in the truest sense homes — that is,
places of habitation which represent
the inhabitants, directions or rules for
beautiful colour and arrangement of
interiors, must always follow the guid-
ing incidents of class and locality.


A S ceilings are in reality a part of
the wall, they must always be
considered in connection with room
interiors, but their influence upon the
beauty of the average house is so
small, that their treatment is a com-
paratively easy problem.

In simple houses with plaster ceil-
ings the tints to be used are easily
decided. The rule of gradation of
colour from floor to ceiling prescribes
for the latter the lightest tone of the
gradation, and as the ceiling stands
for light, and should actually reflect
light into the room, the philosophy
of this arrangement of colours is ob-
vious. It is not, however, an invari-
able rule that the ceiling should carry
the same tint as the wall, even in a



much lighter tone, although greater
harmony and restfulness of effect is
produced in this way. A ceiling ot
cream white will harmonise well with
almost any tint upon the walls, and
at the same time give an effect of air
and light in the room. It is also a
good ground for ornament in elabo-
rately decorated ones.

If the walls are covered with a
light wall-paper which carries a floral
design, it is a safe rule to make the
ceiling of the same colour but a
lighter shade of the background of
the paper, but it is not by any
means good art to carry a flower de-
sign over the ceiling. One sometimes
sees instances of this in the bedrooms
of fairly good houses, and the effect
is naturally that of bringing the ceil-
ing apparently almost to one's head,
or at all events, of producing a very
unrestful effect.

A wood ceiling in natural colour


is always a good feature in a room of
defined or serious purpose, like a hall,
dining-room, or library, because in
such rooms the colour of the side
walls is apt to be strong enough to
balance it. Indeed a wooden ceiling
has always the merit of being secure
in its place, and even where the walls
are light can be painted so as to be
in harmony with them. Plaster as a
ceiling for bedrooms is open to the
objection of a possibility of its de-
taching itself from the lath, especially
in old houses, and in these it is well
to have them strengthened with flat
mouldings of wood put on in regular
squares, or even in some geometrical
design, and painted with the ceiling.
This gives security as well as a cer-
tain elaborateness of ejffect not with-
out its value.

For the ordinary, or comparatively
inexpensive home, we need not con-
sider the ceiling an object for serious


Study, because it is so constantly out
of the line of sight, and because its
natural colourless condition is no bar
to the general colour-effect.

In large rooms this condition is
changed, for in a long perspective
the ceiling comes into sight and con-
sciousness. There would be a sense
of barrenness and poverty in a long
stretch of plain surface or unbroken
colour over a vista of decorated wall,
and accordingly the ceilings of large
and important rooms are generally
broken by plaster mouldings or archi-
tectural ornament.

In rooms of this kind, whether. in
public or private buildings, decorative
painting has its proper and appro-
priate place. A painted ceiling, no
matter how beautiful, is quite super-
fluous and indeed absolutely lost in a
room where size prevents its being
brought into the field of the eye by
the lowering of long perspective lines,


but when the size of the room gives
unusual length of ceiling, no effect of
decoration is so valuable and pre-
cious. Colour and gilding upon a
ceiling, when well sustained by fine
composition or treatment, is undoubt-
edly the highest and best achievement
of the decorative painter's art.

Such a ceiling in a large and stately
drawing-room, where the walls are
hung with silk which gives broken
indications of graceful design in play
of light upon the texture, is one of
the most successful of both modern
as well as antique methods of deco-
ration. It has come down in direct
succession of practice to the school of
French decoration of to-day, and has
been adopted into American fashion
in its full and complete practice with-
out sufficient adaptation to American
circumstances. If it were modified
by these, it is capable of absorbing
other and better qualities than those


of mere fashion and brilliance, as we
see in occasional instances in some
beautiful American houses, where the
ceilings have been painted, and the
textiles woven with an almost im-
aginative appropriateness of subject.
Such ceilings as this belong, of course,
to the efforts of the mural or decora-
tive painter, who, in conjunction with
the decorator, or architect, has studied
the subject as connected with its sur-



A LTHOUGH in ordinary sequence
the colouring of floors comes
after that of walls, the fact that — in
important houses — costly and elabo-
rate floors of mosaic or of inlaid
wood form part of the architect's plan,
makes it necessary to consider the
effect of inherent or natural colours
of such floors, in connection with
applied colour-schemes in rooms.

Mosaic floors, being as a rule con-
fined to halls in private houses, need
hardly be considered in this relation,
and costly wood floors are almost
necessarily confined to the yellows
of the natural woods. These yellows
range from pale buff to olive, and are
not as a rule inharmonious with any
other tint, although they often lack



sufficient strength or intensity to hold
their own with stronger tints of walls
and furniture.

As it is one of the principles of
colour in a house that the floor is the
foundation of the room, this weak-
ness of colour in hard-wood floors
must be acknowledged as a disadvan-
tage. The floors should certainly be
able to support the room in colour
as well as in construction. It must
b^ the strongest tint in the room, and
yet it must have the unobtrusiveness
of strength. This makes floor treat-
ment a more difficult problem, or
one requiring more thought than, is
generally supposed, and explains why
light rooms are more successful with
hard-wood floors than medium or
very dark ones.

There are many reasons, sanitary
as well as economic, why hard-wood
floors should not be covered in or-
dinary dwelling-houses ; and when


the pores of the wood are properly-
filled, and the surface kept well pol-
ished, it is not only good as a fact,
but as an effect, as it reflects sur-
rounding tints, and does much to
make up for lack of sympathetic or
related colour. Yet it will be found
that in almost every case of success-
ful colour-treatment in a room, some-
thing must be added in the way of
floor-covering to give it the sense of
completeness and satisfaction which
is the result of a successful scheme
of decoration.

The simplest way of doing this is
to cover enough of the space with
rugs to attract the eye, and restore
the balance lost by want of strength
of colour in the wood. Sometimes
one or two small rugs will do this,
and these may be of almost any tint
which includes the general one of the
room, even if the general tint is not
prominent in the rug. If the use or






luxury of the room requires more
covered space, it is better to use one
rug of a larger size than several small
and perhaps conflicting ones. Of
course in this the general tone of the
rug must be chosen for its affinity
to the tone of the room, but that
affinity secured, any variations of
colour occurring in the design are
apt to add to the general effect.

A certain amount of contrast to
prevailing colour is an advantage, and
the general value of rugs in a scheme
of decoration is that they furnish this
contrast in small masses or divisions,
so well worked in with other tints
and tones that it makes its eff'ect
without opposition to the general

Thus, in a room where the walls
are of a pale shade of copper, the
rugs should bring in a variety of reds
which would be natural parts of the
same scale, like lower notes in the


octave ; and yet should add patches
of relative blues and harmonising
greens ; possibly also, deep gold, and
black and white ; — the latter in mi-
nute forms and lines which only ac-
cent or enrich the general effect.

It is really an interesting problem,
why the strong colours generally used
in Oriental rugs should harmonise so
much better with weaker tints in
walls and furniture than even the
most judiciously selected carpets can
possibly do. It is true there are bad
Oriental rugs, very bad ones, just as
there may be a villain in any con-
gregation of the righteous, but cer-
tainly the long centuries of Eastern
manufacture, reaching back to the
infancy of the world, have given
Eastern nations secrets not to be
easily mastered by the people of later

But if we cannot tell with cer-
tainty why good rugs fit all places


and circumstances, while any other
thing of mortal manufacture must
have its place carefully prepared for
it, we may perhaps assume to know
why the most beautiful of modern
carpets are not as easily managed and
as successful.

In the first place having explained
that some contrast, some fillip of
opposing colour, something which
the artist calls snap^ is absolutely re-
quired in every successful colour
scheme, we shall see that if we are
to get this by simple means of a car-
pet, we must choose one which
carries more than one colour in its
composition, and colour introduced
as design must come under the laws
of mechanical manufacture ; that is,
it must come in as repeati?tg design,
and here comes in the real difficulty.
The same forms and the same col-
ours must come in in the same way
in every yard, or every half or three-


quarter yard of the carpet. It fol-
lows, then, that it must be evenly
sprinkled or it must regularly mean-
der over every yard or half yard of
the surface ; and this regularity re-
solves itself into spots, and spots are
unendurable in a scheme of colour.
So broad a space as the floor of a
room cannot be covered by sections
of constantly repeated design without
producing a spotty effect, although it
can be somewhat modified by the
efforts of the good designer. Never-
theless, in spite of his best knowledge
and intention, the difficulty remains.
There is no one patch of colour
larger than another, or more irregu-
lar in form. There is nothing which
has not its exact counterpart at an
exact distance — north, south, east
and west, or northeast, southeast,
northwest and southwest — and this
is why a carpet with good design and
excellent colour becomes unbearable


in a room of large size. In a small
room where there are not so many
repeats, the effect is not as bad, but
in a large room the monotonous
repetition is almost without remedy.

Of course there are certain laws of
optics and ingenuities of composition
which may palliate this effect, but
the fact remains that the floor should
be covered in a way which will leave
the mind tranquil and the eye satis-
fied, and this is hard to accomplish
with what is commonly known as a
figured carpet.

If carpet is to be used, it seems,
then, that the simplest way is to
select a good monochrome in the
prevailing tint of the room, but sev-
eral shades darker. Not an abso-
lutely plain surface, but one broken
with some unobtrusive design or pat-
tern in still darker darks and lighter
lights than the general tone. In this
case we shall have the room har-


monious, it is true, but lacking the
element which provokes admiration
— the enlivening efFect of contrast.
This may be secured by making the
centre or main part of the carpet
comparatively small, and using a very
wide and important border of con-
trasting colour — a border so wide as
to make itself an important part of
the carpet. In large rooms this plan
does not entirely obviate the diffi-
culty, as it leaves the central space
still too large and impressive to re-
main unbroken ; but the remedy
may be found in the use of hearth-

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Online LibraryCandace WheelerPrinciples of home decoration, with practical examples → online text (page 5 of 9)