Candace Wheeler.

Principles of home decoration, with practical examples online

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rugs or skin-rugs, so placed as to
seem necessities of use.

As I have said before, contrast on
a broad scale can be secured by
choosing carpets of an entirely differ-
ent tone from the w^all, and this is
sometimes expedient. For instance,
as contrast to a copper-coloured wall,
a softly toned green carpet is nearly


always successful. This one colour,
green, is always safe and satisfactory
in a floor-covering, provided the
walls are not too strong in tone, and
provided that the green in the carpet
is not too green. Certain brownish
greens possess the quality of being in
harmony with every other colour.
They are the most peaceable shades
in the colour-world — the only ones
without positive antipathies. Green
in all the paler tones can claim the
title of peace-maker among colours,
since all the other tints will fight
with something else, but never with
green of a corresponding or even of
a much greater strength. Of course
this valuable quality, combined with
a natural restfulness of effect, makes
it the safest of ordinary floor-cover-

In bedrooms with polished floors
and light walls good colour-effects
can be secured without carpets, but


if the floors are of pine and need
covering, no better general effect can
be secured than that of plain or
mixed ingrain filling, using with it
Oriental hearth and bedside rugs.

The entire second floor of a house
can in that case be covered with
carpet in the accommodating tint of
green mentioned, leaving the various
colour-connections to be made with
differently tinted rugs. Good pine
floors well fitted and finished can
be stained to harmonise with almost
any tint used in furniture or upon
the wall.

I remember a sea-side chamber in
a house where the mistress had great
natural decorative ability, and so much
cultivation as to prevent its running
away with her, where the floor was
stained a transparent olive, like depths
of sea-water, and here and there a
floating sea-weed, or a form of sea-
lite faintly outlined within the col-


our. In this room, which seemed
wide open to the sea and air, even
when the windows were closed, the
walls were of a faint greenish blue,
like what is called dead turquoise,
and the relation between floor and
walls was so perfect that it remained
with me to this day as a crowning in-
stance of satisfaction in colour.

It is perhaps more difficult to con-
vey an idea of happy choice or selec-
tion of floor-colour than of walls,
because it is relative to walls. It
must relate to what has already been
done. But in recapitulation it is
safe to say, first, that in choosing
colour for a room, soft and medium
tints are better than positively dark
or bright ones, and that walls should
be unobtrusive in design as well as
colour ; secondly, that floors, if of the
same tint as walls, should be much
darker ; and that they should be made
apparent by means of this strength of


colour, or by the addition of rugs or
borders, although the relation be-
tween walls and floor must be care-
fully preserved and perfectly unmis-
takable, for it is the perfection of this
relation of one colour to another
which makes home decoration an art.
There is still a word to be said as
to floor-coverings, which relates to
healthful housekeeping instead of
art, and that is, that in all cases
where carpets or mattings are used,
they should be in rug form, not fitted
in to irregular floor-spaces ; so as to
be frequently and easily lifted and
cleaned. The great, and indeed the
only, objection to the use of mattings
in country or summer houses, is the
difficulty of frequent lifting, and re-
moval of accumulated dust, which
has sifted through to the floor — but
if fine hemp-warp mattings are used,
and sewn into squares which cover
the floor sufficiently, it is an ideal


summer floor-covering, as it can be
rolled and removed even more easily
than a carpet, and there is a dust-
shedding quality in it which com-
mends itself to the housekeeper.


T^RAPERIES are not always con-
sidered as a part of furnishings,
yet in truth — as far as decorative ne-
cessities are concerned — they should
come immediately after wall and floor
coverings. The householder who is
in haste to complete the arrange-
ment of the home naturally thinks first
of chairs, sofas, and tables, because
they come into immediate personal
use, but if draperies are recognised
as a necessary part of the beauty of
the house it is worth while to study
their appropriate character from the
first. They have in truth much more
to do with the effect of the room
than chairs or sofas, since these are
speedily sat upon and pass out of



notice, while draperies or portieres
are in the nature of pictures — hang-
ing in everybody's sight. As far as
the element of beauty is concerned, a
room having good colour, attractive
and interesting pictures, and beautiful
draperies, is already furnished. What-
ever else goes to the making of it
may be also beautiful, but it must be
convenient and useful, while in the
selection of draperies, beauty, both
relative and positive, is quite untram-

As in all other furnishings, from
the aesthetic point of view colour is
the first thing to be considered. As
a rule it should follow that of the
walls, a continuous effect of colour
with variation of form and surface be-
ing a valuable and beautiful thing to
secure. To give the full value of
variation — where the walls are plain
one should choose a figured stuff for
curtains ; where the wall is papered.


or covered with figures, a plain ma-
terial should be used.

There is one exception to this
rule and this is in the case of walls
hung with damask. Here it is best
to use the same material for curtains,
as the effect is obtained by the differ-
ence between the damask hung in
folds, with the design indistinguish-
able, or stretched flat upon a wall-
surface, where it is plainly to be seen
and felt. Even where damask is used
upon the walls, if exactly the same
shade of colour can be found in satin
or velvet, the plain material in drap-
ery will enhance the value of design
on the walls.

This choice or selection of colour
applies to curtains and portieres as
simple adjuncts of furnishing, and not
to such pieces of drapery as are in
themselves works of art. When a
textile becomes a work of art it is in
a measure a law unto itself, and has


as much right to select its own col-
our as if it were a picture instead of
a portiere, in fact if it is sufficiently-
important, the room must follow in-
stead of leading. This may happen
in the case of some priceless old
embroidery, some relic of that peace-
ful past, when hours and days flowed
contentedly into a scheme of art and
beauty, without a thought of com-
petitive manufacture. It might be
difficult to subdue the spirit of a
modern drawing-room into harmony
with such a work of art, but if it
were done, it would be a very shrine
of restfulness to the spirit.

Fortunately many ancient marvels
of needlework were done upon white
satin, and this makes them easily
adaptable to any light scheme of col-
our, where they may appear indeed
as guests of honour — invited from
the past to be courted by the pres-
ent. It is not often that such pieces


are offered as parts of a scheme of
modern decoration, and the fingers
of to-day are too busy or too idle for
their creation, yet it sometimes hap-
pens that a valuable piece of drapery
of exceptional colour belongs by in-
heritance or purchase to the fortunate
householder, and in this case it should
be used as a picture would be, for an
independent bit of decoration.

To return to simple things, the rule
of contrast as applied to papered walls,
covered with design, ordains that the
curtains should undoubtedly be plain
and of the most pronounced tint
used in the paper. If the walls of a
room are simply tinted or painted,
figured stuffs of the same general
tone, or printed silks, velvets, or cot-
tons in which the predominant tint
corresponds with that of the wall
should be used. These relieve the
simplicity of the walls, and give the
desirable variation.


Transparent silk curtains are of
great value in colouring the light
which enters the room, and these
should be used in direct reference to
the light. If the room is dark or
cold in its exposure, to hang the
windows with sun-coloured silk or
muslin will cheat the eye and im-
agination into the idea that it is a
sunny room. If, on the contrary,
there is actual sunshine in the room,
a pervading tint of rose-colour or
delicate green may be given by inner
curtains of either of those colours.
These are effects, however, for which
rules can hardly be given, since the
possible variations must be carefully
studied, unless, indeed, they are the
colour-strokes of some one who has
that genius for combination or con-
trast of tints which we call '' colour


After colour in draperies come
texture and quality, and these need


hardly be discussed in the case of
silken fabrics, because silk fibre has
inherent qualities of tenacity of tint
and flexibility of substance. Pure
silk, that is silk unstifFened with
gums, no matter how thickly and
heavily it is woven, is soft and yield-
ing and will fall into folds without
sharp angles. This quality of soft-
ness is in its very substance. Even
a single unwoven thread of silk will
drop gracefully into loops, where a
cotton or linen or even a woollen
thread will show stiffness.

Woollen fibre seems to acquire
softness as it is gathered into yarns
and woven, and will hang in folds
with almost the same grace as silk; but
unfortunately they are favourite past-
ure grounds as well as burying-places
for moths, and although these co-
inhabitants of our houses come to a
speedy resurrection, they devour their
very graves, and leave our woollen


draperies irremediably damaged. It
is a pity that woollen fabrics should
in this way be made undesirable for
household use, for they possess in a
great degree the two most valuable
qualities of silk : colour-tenacity and
flexibility. If one adopts woollen cur-
tains and portieres, constant <' vigil-
ance is the price of safety," and con-
sidering that vigilance is required
everywhere and at all times in the
household, it is best to reduce the
quantity whenever it is possible.

This throws us back upon cottons
and linens for inexpensive hangings,
and in all the thousand forms in
which these two fibres are manufact-
ured it would seem easy to choose
those which are beautiful, durable,
and appropriate. But here we are
met at the very threshold of choice
with the two undesirable qualities of
fugitive colour, and stiffness of text-
ure. Something in the nature of


cotton makes it inhospitable to dyes.
If it receives them it is with a pro-
test, and an evident intention of
casting them out at the earliest op-
portunity — it makes, it is true, one
or two exceptions. It welcomes in-
digo dye and will never quite relin-
quish its companionship ; once re-
ceived, it will carry its colours
through all its serviceable life, and
when it is finally ready to fall into
dust, it is still loyally coloured by its
influence. If it is cheated, as we
ourselves are apt to be, into accept-
ing spurious indigo, made up of
chemical preparations, it speedily dis-
covers the cheat and refuses its col-
ouring. Perhaps this sympathy is
due to a vegetable kinship and like-
ness of experience, for where cotton
will grow, indigo will also flourish.

In printed cottons or chintzes,
there is a reasonable amount of
fidelity to colour, and if chintz cur-


tains are well chosen, and lined to
protect them from the sun, their
attractiveness bears a fair proportion
to their durability.

An interlining of some strong and
tried colour will give a very soft and
subtle daylight effect in a room, but
this is, of course, lost in the evening.
The expedient of an under colour in
curtain linings will sometimes give
delightful results in plain or un-
printed goods, and sometimes a lining
with a strong and bold design will
produce a charming shadow effect
upon a tinted surface — of course
each new experiment must be tried
before one can be certain of its effect,
and, in fact, there is rather an ex-
citing uncertainty as to results. Yet
there are infinite possibilities to the
householder who has what is called
the artistic instinct and the leisure
and willingness to experiment, and
experiments need not be limited to


prints or to cottons, for wonderful
combinations of colour are possible
in silks where light is called in as an
influence in the composition. One
must, however, expect to forego these
effects except in daylight, but as arti-
ficial light has its own subtleties of
effect, the one can be balanced
against the other. In my own
country-house I have used the two
strongest colours — red and blue — in
this doubled way, with delightful
effect. The blue, which is the face
colour, presenting long, pure folds of
blue, with warmed reddish shadows
between, while at sunset, when the
rays of light are level, the variations
are like a sunset sky.

It will be seen by these sugges-
tions that careful selection, and some
knowledge of the qualities of different
dyes, will go far toward modifying
the want of permanence of colour
and lack of reflection in cottons ; the


Other quality of stiffness, or want of
flexibility, is occasionally overcome
by methods of weaving. Indeed, if
the manufacturer or weaver had a
clear idea of excellence in this re-
spect, undoubtedly the natural in-
flexibility of fibre could be greatly

There is a place waiting in the
world of art and decoration for what
in my own mind I call " the missing
textile." This is by no means a fabric
of cost, for among its other virtues it
must possess that of cheapness. To
meet an almost universal want it
should combine inexpensiveness, dura-
bility, softness, and absolute fidelity
of colour, and these four qualities are
not to be found in any existing tex-
tile. Three of them — cheapness,
strength, and colour — were possessed
by the old-fashioned true indigo-blue
denim — the delightful blue which
faded into something as near the col-


our of the flower of grass, as dead
vegetable material can approach that
which is full of living juices — the
possession of these three qualities
doubled and trebled the amount of its
manufacture until it lost one of them
by masquerading in aniline indigo.

Many of our ordinary cotton
manufactures are strong and inex-
pensive, and a few of them have the
flexibility which denim lacks. It was
possessed in an almost perfect degree
by the Canton, or fleeced, flannels,
manufactured so largely a few years
ago, and called art-drapery. It
lacked colour, however, for the va-
rious dyes given to it during its brief
period of favouritism were not col-
our ; they were merely tint. That
strong, good word, colour, could not
be applied to the mixed and eva-
nescent dyes with which this soft
and estimable material clothed itself
withal. It was, so to speak, inverte-


brate — it had no backbone. Besides
this lack of colour stanchness, it
had another fault which helped to
overbalance its many virtues. It was
fatally attractive to fire. Its soft,
fluffy surface seemed to reach out
toward flame, and the contact once
made, there ensued one flash of in-
stantaneous blaze, and the whole
surface, no matter if it were a table-
cover, a hanging, or the wall covering
a room, was totally destroyed. Yet
as one must have had or heard of
such a disastrous experience to fear
and avoid it, this proclivity alone
would not have ended its popularity.
It was probably the evanescent char-
acter of what was called its <^ art-
colour " which ended the career of
an estimable material, and if the
manufacturers had known how to
eliminate its faults and adapt its vir-
tues, it might still have been a flour-
ishing textile.


In truth, we do not often stop to
analyse the reasons of prolonged
popular favour ; yet nothing is more
certain than that there is reason, and
good reason, for fidelity in public
taste. Popular liking, if continued,
is always founded upon certain in-
controvertible virtues. If a manu-
facture cannot hold its ow^n for ever
in public favour, it is because it fails
in some important particular to be
what it should be. Products of the
loom must have lasting virtues if they
would secure lasting esteem. Blue
denim had its hold upon public use
principally for the reason that it pos-
sessed a colour superior to all the
chances and accidents of its varied
life. It is true it was a colour which
commended itself to general liking,
yet if as stanch and steadfast a green
or red could be imparted to an equally
cheap and durable fabric, it would
find as lasting a place in public favour.


It is quite possible that in the near
future domestic weavings may come
to the aid of the critical house-fur-
nisher, so that the qualities of strength
and pliability may be united with
colour which is both water-fast and
sun-fast, and that we shall be able to
order not only the kind of material,
but the exact shade of colour necessary
to the perfection of our houses.

To be washable as well as durable
is also a great point in favour of cot-
ton textiles. The English chintzes
with which the high post bedsteads
of our foremothers were hung had a
yearly baptism of family soap-siids,
and came from it with their designs
of gaily-crested, almost life-size pheas-
ants, sitting upon inadequate branches,
very little subdued by the process.
Those were not days of colour-study;
and harmony, applied to things of
sight instead of conduct, was not
looked for ; but when we copy the


beautiful old furniture of that day,
we may as well demand with it the
quality of washableness and clean-
ableness which went with all its be-

It is always a wonder to the mascu-
line, that the feminine mind has such
an ineradicable love of draperies.
The man despises them, but to the
woman they are the perfecting touch
of the home, hiding or disguising all
the sharp angles of windows and
doors, and making of them oppor-
tunities of beauty. It is the same
instinct with which she tries to cover
the hard angles and facts of daily life
and make of them virtuous incite-
ments. As long as the woman rules,
house-curtains will be a joy and de-
light to her. Something in their soft
protection, grace of line, and possible
beauty of colour appeals to her as no
other household belonging has the
power to do.


The long folds of the straight
hanging curtain are far more beautiful
than the looped and festooned crea-
tions which were held in vogue by
some previous generations, and indeed
are still dear to the hearts of profes-
sional upholsterers. The simpler the
treatment, the better the efFect, since
natural rather than distorted line is
more restful and enjoyable. Qual-
ity, colour, and simple graceful lines
are quite sufficient elements of value
in these important adjuncts of house
furnishing and decoration.




A LTHOUGH the forms and vari-
eties of furniture are infinite,
they can easily be classified first into
the two great divisions of good and
bad, and after that into kinds and
styles ; but no matter how good the
different specimens may be, or to
what style they may belong, each one
is subject again to the ruling of fit-
ness. Detached things may be both
thoroughly pleasing and thoroughly
good in themselves, but unless they
are appropriate to the place where,
and purpose for which they are used,
they will not be beautiful.

It is well to reiterate that the use
to which a room is put must always
govern its furnishing and in a meas-
ure its colour, and that whatever we

1 60




























'riL^' F'>


put in it must be placed there be-
cause it is appropriate to that use,
and because it is needed for com-
pleteness. It is misapplication which
makes much of what is called <' artis-
tic furnishing" ridiculous. An old-
fashioned brass preserving-kettle and
a linen or wool spinning-wheel are
in place and appropriate pieces of
furnishing for a studio ; the one for
colour, and the other for form, and
because also they may serve as models;
but they are sadly out of place in a
modern city house, or even in the
parlour of a country cottage.

We all recognise the fact that
a room carefully furnished in one
style makes a oneness of impression ;
whereas if things are brought to-
gether heterogeneously, even if each
separate thing is selected for its own
special virtue and beauty, the feeling
of enjoyment will be far less com-


There is a certain kinship in pieces
of furniture made or originated at
the same period and fashioned by a
prevailing sentiment of beauty, which
makes them harmonious when brought
together ; and if our minds are in
sympathy with that period and style
of expression, it becomes a great pleas-
ure to use it as a means of expression
for ourselves. Whatever appeals to
us as the best or most beautiful
thought in manufacture we have a
right to adopt, but we should study
to understand the circumstances of
its production, in order to do justice
to it and ourselves, since style is
evolved from surrounding influences.
It would seem also that its periods
and origin should not be too far re-
moved from the interests and ways
of our own time, and incongruous
with it, because it would be impossi-
ble to carry an utterly foreign period
or method of thought into all the


intimacies of domestic life. The fad
of furnishing different rooms in differ-
ent periods of art, and in the fashion
of nations and peoples whose lives
are totally dissimilar, may easily be
carried too far, and the spirit of
home, and even of beauty, be losto
Of course this applies to small, and
not to grand houses, which are al-
ways exceptions to the purely domes-
tic idea.

There are many reasons why one
should be in sympathy with what is
called the "colonial craze"; not
only because colonial days are a part
of our history, but because colonial
furniture and decorations were de-
rived directly from the best period of
English art. Its original designers
were masters who made standards in
architectural and pictorial as well
as household art. The Adams broth-
ers, to whom many of the best
forms of the period are referable,


were great architects as well as great
designers. Even so distinguished a
painter as Hogarth delighted in com-
posing symmetrical forms for furniture,
and preached persistently the beauty
of curved instead of rectangular lines.
It was, in fact, a period in which
superior minds expressed themselves
in material forms, when Flaxman,
Wedgwood, Chippendale and many
others of their day, true artists in
form, wrote their thoughts in wood,
stone, and pottery, and bequeathed
them to future ages. Certainly the
work of such minds in such company
must outlast mere mechanical efforts.
It is interesting to note, that many of
the Chippendale chairs keep in their
under construction the square and
simple forms of a much earlier period,
while the upper part, the back, and
seats are carved into curves and flori-
ated designs. One cannot help won-
dering whether this square solidity


was simply a reminiscence or persist-
ence of earlier forms, or a conscious
return to the most direct principles
of weight-bearing constructions.

All furniture made under primitive
conditions naturally depends upon
perpendicular and horizontal forms,
because uninfluenced construction

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Online LibraryCandace WheelerPrinciples of home decoration, with practical examples → online text (page 6 of 9)