Candace Wheeler.

Principles of home decoration, with practical examples online

. (page 8 of 9)
Online LibraryCandace WheelerPrinciples of home decoration, with practical examples → online text (page 8 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

yellows of oiled wood, and give the
charm of a variant but related colour.
In its stronger and deeper tones it is
in direct contrast to the green of
abundant foliage, and therefore a
good colour for the entrance-hall or
vestibule of a country-house; while
the paler tones, which run into pinks,
hold the same opposing relation to
the gray and blue of the sea-shore.


If walls and ceiling are of wood, a
rug of which the prevailing colour is
red will often give the exact note
which is needed to preserve the room
from monotony and insipidity. A
stair-carpet is a valuable point to
make in a hall, and it is well to re-
serve all opposing colour for this one
place, which, as it rises, meets all
sight on a level, and makes its con-
trast directly and unmistakably. A
stair-carpet has other reasons for use
in a country-house than aesthetic
ones, as the stairs are conductors of
sound to all parts of the house, and
should therefore be muffled, and be-
cause a carpeted stair furnishes much
safer footing for the two family ex-
tremes of childhood and age.

The furniture of the hall should
not be fantastic, as some cabinet-
makers seem to imagine. Impossible
twists in the supports of tables and
chairs are perhaps more objectionable


in this first vestibule or entrance to
the house than elsewhere, because
the mind is not quite free from out-
of-door influences, or ready to take
pleasure in the vagaries of the human
fancy. Simple chairs, settles, and
tables, more solid perhaps than is
desirable in other parts of the house,
are what the best natural, as well as
the best cultivated, taste demands.
If there is one place more than an-
other where a picture performs its
full work of suggestion and decora-
tion, it is in a hall which is otherwise
bare of ornament. Pictures in din-
ing-rooms make very little impression
as pictures, because the mind is en-
grossed with the first and natural
purpose of the room, and conse-
quently not in a waiting and easily
impressible mood ; but in a hall, if
one stops for even a moment, the
thoughts are at leisure, and waiting
to be interested. Aside from the


colour effect, which may be so man-
aged as to be very valuable, pictures
hung in a hall are full of suggestion
of wider mental and physical life, and,
like books, are indications of the
tastes and experiences of the family.
Of course there are country-houses
where the halls are built with fire-
places, and windows commanding
favourite views, and are really in-
tended for family sitting-rooms and
gathering-places ; in this case it is
generally preceded by a vestibule
which carries the character of an en-
trance-hall, leaving the large room
to be furnished more luxuriously, as
is proper to a sitting-room.

The dining-room shares with the
hall a purpose common to the life of
the family, and, while it admits of
much more variety and elaboration,
that which is true of the hall is
equally true of the dining-room, that
it should be treated with materials


which are durable and have surface
quality, although its decoration should
be preferably with china rather than
with pictures. It is important that
the colour of a dining-room should
be pervading colour — that is, that
walls and ceiling should be kept to-
gether by the use of one colour only,
in different degrees of strength.

For many reasons, but principally
because it is the best material to use
in a dining-room, the rich yellows of
oiled wood make the most desirable
colour and surface. The rug, the
curtains, the portieres and screen, can
then be of any good tint which the
exposure of the room and the decora-
tion of the china seem to indicate.
If it has a cold, northern exposure,
reds or gold browns are indicated ;
but if it is a sunny and warm-looking
room, green or strong India blue will
be found more satisfactory in simple
houses. The materials used in cur-


tains, portieres, and screens should be
of cotton or linen, or some plain
woollen goods which are as easily
washable. A one-coloured, heavy-
threaded cotton canvas, a linen in
solid colour, or even indigo-blue do-
mestic, all make extremely effective
and appropriate furnishings. The
variety of blue domestic which is
called denim is the best of all fabrics
for this kind of furnishing, if the col-
our is not too dark.

The prettiest country house din-
ing-room I know is ceiled and wain-
scoted with wood, the walls above
the wainscoting carrying an ingrain
paper of the same tone ; the line of
division between the wainscot and
wall being broken by a row of old
blue India china plates, arranged in
groups of different sizes and running
entirely around the room. There is
one small mirror set in a broad
carved frame of yellow wood hung


in the centre of a rather large wall-
space, its angles marked by small
Dutch plaques ; but the whole deco-
ration of the room outside of these
pieces consists of draperies of blue
denim in which there is a design, in
narrow white outline, of leaping fish,
and the widening water-circles and
showery drops made by their play.
The white lines in the design answer
to the white spaces in the decorated
china, and the two used together in
profusion have an unexpectedly deco-
rative effect. The table and chairs
are, of course, of the same coloured
wood used in the ceiling and wain-
scot, and the rug is an India cotton
of dark and light blues and white.
The sideboard is an arrangement of
fixed shelves, but covered with a
beautiful collection of blue china,
which serves to furnish the table as
well. If the dining-room had a
northern exposure, and it was desira-




















ble to use red instead of blue for
colouring, as good an effect could be
secured by depending for ornament
upon the red Kaga porcelain so com-
mon at present in Japanese and Chi-
nese shops, and using with it the
Eastern cotton known as bez. This
is dyed with madder, and exactly
repeats the red of the porcelain, while
it is extremely durable both in col-
our and texture. Borders of yellow
stitchery, or straggling fringes of silk
and beads, add very much to the
effect of the drapery and to the char-
acter of the room.

A library in ordinary family' life
has two parts to play. It is not
only to hold books, but to make the
family at home in a literary atmos-
phere. Such a room is apt to be a
fascinating one by reason of this
very variety of use and purpose,
and because it is a centre for all
the family treasures. Books, pictures,


papers, photographs, bits of decora-
tive needlework, all centre here, and
all are on most orderly behaviour,
like children at a company dinner.
The colour of such a room may, and
should, be much warmer and stronger
than that of a parlour pure and sim-
ple, the very constancy and hardness
of its use indicating tints of strength
and resistance ; but, keeping that in
mind, the rules for general use of
colour and harmony of tints will
apply as well to a room used for a
double purpose as for a single. Of
course the furniture should be more
solid and darker, as would be neces-
sary for constant use, but the deep-
ening of tones in general colour pro-
vides for that, and for the use of rugs
of a different character. In a room
of this kind perhaps the best possible
effect is produced by the use of some
textile as a wall-covering, as in that
case the same material with a con-


trasted colour in the lining can be
used for curtains, and to some extent
in the furniture. This use of one
material has not only an effect of
richness which is due to the library
of the house, but it softens and brings
together all the heterogeneous things
which different members of a large
family are apt to require in a sitting-

To those who prefer to work out
and adapt their own surroundings, it
is well to illustrate the advice given
for colour in different exposures by
selecting particular rooms, with their
various relations to light, use, and
circumstances, and seeing how col-
our-principles can be applied to them.

We may choose a reception-hall,
in either a city or country house,
since the treatment would in both
cases be guided by the same rules.
If in a city house, it may be on the
shady or the sunny side of the street,


and this at once would diiFerentiate,
perhaps the colour, and certainly the
depth of colour to be used. If it
is the hall of a country house the
difference between north or south
light will not be as great, since a
room opening on the north in a
house standing alone, in unobstructed
space, would have an effect of cold-
ness, but not necessarily of shadow or
darkness. The first condition, then,
of coldness of light would have to be
considered in both cases, but less
positively in the country, than in the
city house. If the room is actually
dark, a warm or orange tone of yel-
low will both modify and lighten it.

Gold-coloured or yellow canvas
with oak mouldings lighten and warm
the walls ; and rugs with a prepon-
derance of white and yellow trans-
form a dark hall into a light and
cheerful one. It must be remem-
bered that few dark colours can


assert themselves in the absolute
shadow of a north light. Green and
blue become black. Gold, orange,
and red alone have sufficient power
to hold their own, and make us con-
scious of them in darkness.

In a hall which has plenty of
light, but no sun, red is an effisctive
and natural colour, copper-coloured
leather paper, cushions and rugs or
carpets of varying shades of red,
and transparent curtains of the same
tint give an effisct of warmth and
vitality. Red is truly a delightful
colour to deal with in shadowed
interiors, its sensitiveness to light,
changing from colour-tinted dark-
ness to palpitating ruby, and even to
flame colour, on the slightest invita-
tion of day- or lamp-light, makes it
like a living presence. It is especi-
ally valuable at the entrance of the
home, where it seems to meet one
with almost a human welcome.


If we can succeed in making what
would be a cold and unattractive en-
trance hospitable and cordial by lib-
eral use of warm and strong colour,
by reversing the effort we can just
as easily modify the effect of glaring,
or overpowering, sunlight.

Suppose the entrance-hall of the
house to be upon the sunny side of
the street, where in addition to the
natural effect of full rays of the sun
there are also the reflections from
innumerable other house-fronts and

In this case we must simulate
shadow and mystery, and this can be
done by the colour-tones of blues
and greens. I use these in the
plural because the shadows of both
are innumerable, and because all,
except perhaps turquoise and apple-
green, are natural shadow-tints. Green
and blue can be used together or
separately, according to the skill and


what is called the << colour-sense "
with which they are applied.

To use them together requires not
only observation of colour-occurrences
in nature but sensitiveness to the more
subtle out-of-door effects, resulting
from intermingling of shadows and
reflection of lights. Well done, it is
one of the most beautiful and satisfac-
tory of achievements, but it may easily
be bad by reason of sharp contrasts, or
unmodified juxtaposition.

But a room where blue in all its
shades from dark to light alone pre-
dominates, or a room where only
green is used, bright and gray tones
in contrast and variation is within
the reach of most colour-loving mor-
tals, and as both of these tints are
companionable with oak and gold,
and to be found in nearly all deco-
ration materials, it is easy to arrange
a refined and beautiful effect in either


It will require little reflection to
show that a hall skilfully treated with
green or blue tints would modify the
colour of sunlight, without giving a
sense of discord. It would be like
passing only from sunlight to grate-
ful shadow, and this because in all
art the actual representation shadow-
colour would be blue or green. The
shadow of a tree falling upon snow
on a sunny winter day is blue. The
shadow of a sunheated rock in sum-
mer is green, and the success of either
of these schemes of decoration would
be because of adherence to an actual
principle of colour, or a knowledge
of the peculiar qualities of certain
colours and their proper use. It
would be an intelligent application
of the medicinal or healing qualities
of colour to the constitution of the
house, as skilful physicians use medi-
cines to overcome constitutional de-
fects or difficulties in man.


This may be called corrective treat-
ment of a room, and may, of course,
include all the decorative devices of
ornament, design and furniture, and
although it is not, strictly speaking,
decoration, it should certainly and
always precede decoration.

It is sad to see an elaborate scheme
of ornament based upon bad colour-
treatment, and unfortunately this not
infrequently happens.

It is difficult to give a formula for
the decoration of any room in rela-
tion to its colour-treatment, except
by a careful description of certain
successful examples, each one of which
illustrates principles that may be of
use to the amateur or student of the

One which occurs to me in this
immediate connection is a dining-
room in an apartment house, where
this room alone is absolutely without
what may be called exterior light.


Its two windows open upon a well,
the brick wall of which is scarcely
ten feet away. Fortunately, it makes
a part of the home of a much trav-
elled and exceedingly cultivated pair
of beings, the business of one being
to create beauty in the way of pict-
ures and the other of statues, so per-
haps it is less than a wonder that this
square, unattractive well-room should
have blossomed under their hands
into a dining-room perfect in colour,
style, and fittings. I shall give only
the result, the process being capable
of infinite small variations.

At present it is a room sixteen feet
square, one side of which is occupied
by two nearly square windows. The
wood-work, including a five-foot
wainscot of small square panels, is
painted a glittering varnished white
which is warm in tone, but not
creamy. The upper halves of the
square windows are of semi-opaque


yellow glass, veined and variable, but
clear enough everywhere to admit a
stained yellow light. Below these,
thin yellow silk curtains cross each
other, so that the whole window-space
radiates yellow light. If we reflect
that the colour of sunlight is yellow,
we shall be able to see both the
philosophy and the result of this

The wall above the wainscot is
covered with a plain unbleached
muslin, stencilled at the top in a re-
peating design of faint yellow tile-
like squares which fade gradually into
white at a foot below the ceiling.
At intervals along the wall are water-
colours of flat Holland meadows, or
blue canals, balanced on either side
by a blue delft plate, and in a corner
near the window is a veritable blue
porcelain stove, which once faintly
warmed some far-off* German in-
terior. The floor is polished oak, as


are the table and chairs. I pur-
posely leave out all the accessories
and devices of brass and silver, the
quaint brass-framed mirrors, the ivy-
encircled windows, the one or two
great ferns, the choice blue table-
furniture : — because these are per-
sonal and should neither be imitated
or reduced to rules.

The lesson is in the use of yellow
and white, accented with touches of
blue, which converts a dark and per-
fectly cheerless room into a glitter of
light and warmth.

The third example I shall give is
of a dining-room which may be called
palatial in size and effect, occupying
the whole square wing of a well-
known New York house. There are
many things in this house in the way
of furniture, pictures, historic bits of
art in different lines, which would
distinguish it among fine houses, but
one particular room is, perhaps, as


perfectly successful in richness of de-
tail, picturesqueness of effect, and at
the same time perfect appropriateness
to time, place, and circumstances as
is possible for any achievement of its
kind. The dining-room, and its art,
taken in detail, belongs to the Vene-
tian school, but if its colour-effect
were concentrated upon canvas, it
would be known as a Rembrandt.
There is the same rich shadow, cover-
ing a thousand gradations, — the same
concentration of light, and the same
liberal diffusion of warm and rich
tones of colour. It is a grand room
in space, as New York interiors go,
being perhaps forty to fifty feet in
breadth and length, with a height
exactly proportioned to the space.
It has had the advantage of separate
creation — being "thought out" years
after the early period of the house,
and is, consequently, a concrete re-
sult of study, travel, and oppor-


tunities, such as few families are
privileged to experience. Aside from
the perfect proportions of the room,
it is not difficult to analyse the art
which makes it so distinguished an
example of decoration of space, and
decide wherein lies its especial charm.
It is undoubtedly that of colour, al-
though this is based upon a detail so
perfect, that one hesitates to give it
predominant credit. The whole, or
nearly the whole west end of the
room is thrown into one vast, slightly
projecting window of clear leaded
glass, the lines of which stand against
the light like a weaving of spiders'
webs. There is a border of various
tints at its edge, which softens it into
the brown shadow of the room, and
the centre of each large sash is marked
by a shield-like ornament glowing
with colour like a jewel. The long
ceiling and high wainscoting melt
away from this leaded window in




















a perspective of wonderfully carved
planes of antique oak, catching the
light on lines and points of projection
and quenching it in hollows of relief.
These perpendicular wall panels
were scaled from a room in a Vene-
tian palace, carved when the art and
the fortunes of that sea-city were at
their best, and the alternately repeat-
ing squares of the ceiling were fash-
ioned to carry out and supplement
the ancient carvings. If this were
a small room, there would be a
sense of unrest in so lavish a use of
broken surface, but in one large
enough to have it felt as a whole,
and not in detail, it simply gives a
quality of preciousness. The soft
browns of the wood spread a mystery
of surface, from the edge of the pol-
ished floor until it meets a frieze of
painted canvas filled with large reclin-
ing figures clad in draperies of red,
and blue, and yellow — separating the


walls from the ceiling by an illumi-
nation of colour. This colour-deco-
ration belongs to the past, and it is a
question if any modern painting could
have adapted itself so perfectly to the
spirit of the room, although in itself
it might be far more beautiful. It
is a bit of antique imagination, its
cherub-borne plates of fruit, and
golden flagons, and brown-green of
foliage and turquoise of sky, and
crimson and gold of garments, all
softened to meet the shadows of the
room. The door-spaces in the wain-
scot are hung with draperies of crim-
son velvet, the surface frayed and
flattened by time into variations of
red, impossible to newer weavings,
while the great floor-space is spread
with an enormous rug of the same
colour — the gift of a Sultan. A
carved table stands in the centre,
surrounded with high-backed carved
chairs, the seats covered with the


same antique velvet which shows in
the portieres. A fall of thin crimson
silk tints the sides of the window-
frame, and on the two ends of the
broad step or platform which leads to
the window stand two tall pedestals
and globe-shaped jars of red and
blue-green pottery. The deep, ruby-
like red of the one and the mixed
indefinite tint of the other seem to
have curdled into the exact shade for
each particular spot, their fitness is so

The very sufficient knowledge
which has gone to the making of this
superb room has kept the draperies
unbroken by design or device, giving
colour only and leaving to the carved
walls the privilege of ornament.

It will be seen that there are but
two noticeable colour-tones in the
room — brown with infinite variations,
and red in rugs and draperies.

There is no real affinity between


these two tints, but they are here so
well balanced in mass, that the two
form a complete harmony, like the
brown waves of a landscape at even-,
ing tipped with the fire of a sunset

Much is to be learned from a
room like this, in the lesson of unity
and concentration of effect. The
strongest, and in fact the only, mass
of vital colour is in the carpet, which
is allowed to play upwards, as it were,
into draperies, and furniture, and
frieze, none of which show the same
depth and intensity. To the concen-
tration of light in the one great win-
dow we must give the credit of the
Rembrandt-like effect of the whole
interior. If the walls were less rich,
this single flood of light would be a
defect, because it would be difficult
to treat a plain surface with colour
alone, which should be equally good
in strong light and deep shadow.








Then, again, the amount of living
and brilliant colour is exactly pro-
portioned to that of sombre brown,
the red holding its value by strength,
as against the greatly preponderating
mass of dark. On the whole this
may be called a " picture-room," and
yet it is distinctly liveable, lending
itself not only to hospitality and
ceremonious function but also to
real domesticity. It is true that
there is a certain obligation in its
style of beauty which calls for fine
manners and fine behaviour, possibly
even, behaviour in kind ; for it is in
the nature of all fine and exceptional
things to demand a corresponding
fineness from those who enjoy them.

I will give still another dining-
room as an example of colour, which,
unlike the others, is not modern, but
a sort of falling in of old gentility
and costliness into lines of modern
art — one might almost say it hap^


pened to be beautiful, and yet the
happening is only an adjustment of
fine old conditions to modern ideas.
Yet I have known many as fine a
room torn out and refitted, losing
thereby all the inherent dignity of
age and superior associations.

A beautiful city home of seventy
years ago is not very like a beautiful
city home of to-day ; perhaps less so
in this than in any other country.
The character of its fineness is curi-
ously changed ; the modern house is
fitted to its inmates, while the old-
fashioned house, modelled upon the
early eighteenth century art of Eng-
land, obliged the inmates to fit them-
selves as best they might to a given

The dining-room I speak of be-
longs to the period when Washington
Square, New York, was still sur-
rounded by noble homes, and almost
the limit of luxurious city life was


Union Square. The house fronts to
the north, consequently the dining-
room, which is at the back, is flooded
with sunshine. The ceiling is higher
than it would be in a modern house,
and the windows extend to the floor,
and rise nearly to the ceiling, far in-
deed above the flat arches of the
doorways with their rococo flourishes.
This extension of window-frame, and
the heavy and elaborate plaster cor-
nice so deep as to be almost a frieze,
and the equally elaborate centre-
piece, are the features which must
have made it a room difficult to

I could fancy it must have been
an ugly room in the old days when
its walls were probably white, and

1 2 3 4 5 6 8

Online LibraryCandace WheelerPrinciples of home decoration, with practical examples → online text (page 8 of 9)