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boards are now associated with old-fashioned boarding-house
parlors, where they are still sometimes seen, covered with a
paper like that on the walls, and looking ugly enough to justify







Fireplaces 87

their disuse. The old fire-boards were very different: in rooms
of any importance they were beautifully decorated, and in Italian
interiors, where the dado was often painted, the same decoration
was continued on the fire-boards. Sometimes the latter were
papered; but the paper used was designed expressly for the pur-
pose, with a decorative composition of flowers, landscapes, or
the ever-amusing cbinoiseries on which the eighteenth-century
designer played such endless variations.

Whether the fireplace in summer should be closed by a board,
or left open, with the logs laid on the irons, is a question for indi-
vidual taste; but it is certain that if the painted fire-board were
revived, it might form a very pleasing feature in the decoration of
modern rooms. The only possible objection to its use is that it
interferes with ventilation by closing the chimney-opening; but
as fire-boards are used only at a season when all the windows are
open, this drawback is hardly worth considering.

In spite of the fancied advancement in refinement and luxury
of living, the development of the modern heating apparatus seems
likely, especially in America, to do away with the open fire.
The temperature maintained in most American houses by means
of hot-air or hot-water pipes is so high that even the slight addi-
tional warmth of a wood fire would be unendurable. Still there
are a few exceptions to this rule, and in some houses the healthy
glow of open fires is preferred to the parching atmosphere of
steam. Indeed, it might almost be said that the good taste and
sawir-vrvre of the inmates of a house may be guessed from the
means used for heating it. Old pictures, old furniture and fine
bindings cannot live in a furnace-baked atmosphere; and those
who possess such treasures and know their value have an ad-
ditional motive for keeping their houses cool and well ventilated.

88 The Decoration of Houses

No house can be properly aired in winter without the draughts
produced by open fires. Fortunately, doctors are beginning to
call attention to this neglected detail of sanitation; and as dry
artificial heat is the main source of throat and lung diseases,
it is to be hoped that the growing taste for open-air life and out-
door sports will bring about a desire for better ventilation, and a
dislike for air-tight stoves, gas-fires and steam-heat.

Aside from the question of health and personal comfort, nothing
can be more cheerless and depressing than a room without fire
on a winter day. The more torrid the room, the more abnormal
is the contrast between the cold hearth and the incandescent tem-
perature. Without a fire, the best-appointed drawing-room is as
comfortless as the shut-up "best parlor" of a New England
farm-house. The empty fireplace shows that the room is not
really lived in and that its appearance of luxury and comfort is
but a costly sham prepared for the edification of visitors.


TO attempt even an outline of the history of ceilings in do-
mestic architecture would exceed the scope of this book;
nor would it serve any practical purpose to trace the early forms
of vaulting and timbering which preceded the general adoption of
the modern plastered ceiling. To understand the development
of the modern ceiling, however, one must trace the two very
different influences by which it has been shaped: that of the
timber roof of the North and that of the brick or stone vault of
the Latin builders. This twofold tradition has curiously affected
the details of the modern ceiling. During the Renaissance, flat
plaster ceilings were not infrequently coffered with stucco panels
exactly reproducing the lines of timber framing; and in the Villa
Vertemati, near Chiavenna, there is a curious and interesting
ceiling of carved wood made in imitation of stucco (see Plate
XXIII); while one of the rooms in the Palais de Justice at Rennes
contains an elaborate vaulted ceiling constructed entirely of wood,
with mouldings nailed on (see Plate XXIV).

In northern countries, where the ceiling was simply the under
side of the wooden floor, 1 it was natural that its decoration

lln France, until the sixteenth century, the same word plancher was used
to designate both floor and ceiling.



The Decoration of Houses

should follow the rectangular subdivisions formed by open
timber-framing. In the South, however, where the floors were
generally of stone, resting on stone vaults, the structural condi-
tions were so different that although the use of caissons based on
the divisions of timber-framing was popular both in the Roman
and Renaissance periods, the architect always felt himself free to
treat the ceiling as a flat, undivided surface prepared for the ap-
plication of ornament.

The idea that there is anything unarchitectural in this method
comes from an imperfect understanding of the construction of
Roman ceilings. The vault was the typical Roman ceiling, and
the vault presents a smooth surface, without any structural pro-
jections to modify the ornament applied to it. The panelling of
a vaulted or flat ceiling was as likely to be agreeable to the eye
as a similar treatment of the walls; but the Roman coffered ceil-
ing and its Renaissance successors were the result of a strong
sense of decorative fitness rather than of any desire to adhere to
structural limitations.

Examples of the timbered ceiling are, indeed, to be found in
Italy as well as in France and England; and in Venice the flat
wooden ceiling, panelled upon structural lines, persisted through-
out the Renaissance period; but in Rome, where the classic
influences were always much stronger, and where the discovery
of the stucco ceilings of ancient baths and palaces produced such
lasting effects upon the architecture of the early Renaissance, the
decorative treatment of the stone vault was transferred to the flat
or coved Renaissance ceiling without a thought of its being
inapplicable or "insincere." The fear of insincerity, in the sense
of concealing the anatomy of any part of a building, troubled the
Renaissance architect no more than it did his Gothic predecessor,




Ceilings and Floors 91

who had never hesitated to stretch a "del" of cloth or tapestry
over the naked timbers of the mediaeval ceiling. The duty of ex-
posing structural forms an obligation that weighs so heavily
upon the conscience of the modern architect is of very recent
origin. Mediaeval as well as Renaissance architects thought first
of adapting their buildings to the uses for which they were in-
tended and then of decorating them in such a way as to give
pleasure to the eye; and the maintenance of that relation which
the eye exacts between main structural lines and their ornamen-
tation was the only form of sincerity which they knew or cared

If a flat ceiling rested on a well-designed cornice, or if a
vaulted or coved ceiling sprang obviously from walls capable
of supporting it, the Italian architect did not allow himself to be
hampered by any pedantic conformity to structural details. The
eye once satisfied that the ceiling had adequate support, the fit
proportioning of its decoration was considered far more important
than mere technical fidelity to the outline of floor-beams and
joists. If the Italian decorator wished to adorn a ceiling with
carved or painted panels he used the lines of the timbering to
frame his panels, because they naturally accorded with his dec-
orative scheme ; while, were a large central painting to be em-
ployed, or the ceiling to be covered with reliefs in stucco, he felt
no more hesitation in deviating from the lines of the timbering
than he would have felt in planning the pattern of a mosaic or
a marble floor without reference to the floor-beams beneath it.

In France and England it was natural that timber-construction
should long continue to regulate the design of the ceiling. The
Roman vault lined with stone caissons, or with a delicate tracery
of stucco-work, was not an ever-present precedent in northern

92 The Decoration of Houses

Europe. Tradition pointed to the open-timbered roof; and as Italy
furnished numerous and brilliant examples of decorative treatment
adapted to this form of ceiling, it was to be expected that both in
France and England the national form should be preserved long
after Italian influences had established themselves in both coun-
tries. In fact, it is interesting to note that in France, where the
artistic feeling was much finer, and the sense of fitness and power
of adaptation were more fully developed, than in England, the
lines of the timbered ceiling persisted throughout the Renais-
sance and Louis XIII periods; whereas in England the Eliza-
bethan architects, lost in the mazes of Italian detail, without a
guiding perception of its proper application, abandoned the tim-
bered ceiling, with its eminently architectural subdivisions, for a
flat plaster surface over which geometrical flowers in stucco
meandered in endless sinuosities, unbroken by a single moulding,
and repeating themselves with the maddening persistency of
wall-paper pattern. This style of ornamentation was done away
with by Inigo Jones and his successors, who restored the archi-
tectural character of the ceiling, whether flat or vaulted; and
thereafter panelling persisted in England until the French Revolu-
tion brought about the general downfall of taste. 1

In France, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the liking
for petits appartements led to greater lightness in all kinds of deco-
rative treatment; and the ceilings of the Louis XV period, while
pleasing in detail, are open to the criticism of being somewhat
weak in form. Still, they are always compositions, and their
light traceries, though perhaps too dainty and fragile in them-
selves, are so disposed as to form a clearly marked design, in-
stead of being allowed to wander in a monotonous network over

1 For a fine example of an English stucco ceiling, see Plate XIII.






















































Ceilings and Floors 93

the whole surface of the ceiling, like the ubiquitous Tudor rose.
Isaac Ware, trained in the principles of form which the teachings
of Inigo Jones had so deeply impressed upon English architects,
ridicules the "petty wildnesses" of the French style; but if the
Louis XV ceiling lost for a time its architectural character, this
was soon to be restored by Gabriel and his followers, while at
the same period in England the forcible mouldings of Inigo Jones's
school were fading into the ineffectual grace of Adam's laurel-
wreaths and velaria.

In the general effect of the room, the form of the ceiling is of
more importance than its decoration. In rooms of a certain size
and height, a flat surface overhead looks monotonous, and the
ceiling should be vaulted or coved. 1 Endless modifications of
this form of treatment are to be found in the architectural treatises
of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as well as in the
buildings of that period.

A coved ceiling greatly increases the apparent height of a low-
studded room ; but rooms of this kind should not be treated with
an order, since the projection of the cornice below the springing
of the cove will lower the walls so much as to defeat the purpose
for which the cove has been used. In such rooms the cove
should rise directly from the walls; and this treatment suggests
the important rule that where the cove is not supported by a cor-
nice the ceiling decoration should be of very light character. A
heavy panelled ceiling should not rest on the walls without the
intervention of a strongly profiled cornice. The French Louis
XV decoration, with its fanciful embroidery of stucco ornament,

!The flat Venetian ceilings, such as those in the ducal palace, with their richly
carved wood-work and glorious paintings, beautiful as they have been made by art,
are not so fine architecturally as a domed or coved ceiling.

94 The Decoration of Houses

is well suited to coved ceilings springing directly from the walls
in a room of low stud; while a ceiling divided into panels with
heavy architectural mouldings, whether it be flat or vaulted,
looks best when the walls are treated with a complete order.

Durand, in his lectures on architecture, in speaking of cornices
lays down the following excellent rules: " Interior cornices must
necessarily differ more or less from those belonging to the orders
as used externally, though in rooms of reasonable height these
differences need be but slight; but if the stud be low, as some-
times is inevitable, the cornice must be correspondingly narrowed,
and given an excessive projection, in order to increase the appar-
ent height of the room. Moreover, as in the interior of the house
the light is much less bright than outside, the cornice should be
so profiled that the juncture of the mouldings shall form not right
angles, but acute angles, with spaces between the mouldings
serving to detach the latter still more clearly from each other."

The choice of the substance out of which a ceiling is to be
made depends somewhat upon the dimensions of the room, the
height of the stud and the decoration of the walls. A heavily
panelled wooden ceiling resting upon walls either frescoed or
hung with stuff is likely to seem oppressive; but, as in all other
kinds of decoration, the effect produced depends far more upon
the form and the choice of ornamental detail than upon the ma-
terial used. Wooden ceilings, however, both from the nature of
the construction and the kind of ornament which may most suita-
bly be applied to them, are of necessity rather heavy in appearance,
and should therefore be used only in large and high-studded rooms
the walls of which are panelled in wood. 1

1 For an example of a wooden ceiling which is too heavy for the wall-decoration
below it, see Plate XL1V.

Ceilings and Floors 95

Stucco and fresco-painting are adapted to every variety of dec-
oration, from the light traceries of a boudoir ceiling to the dome
of the salon d I'ltalienne; but the design must be chosen with
strict regard to the size and height of the room and to the pro-
posed treatment of its walls. The cornice forms the connecting
link between walls and ceiling and it is essential to the harmony
of any scheme of decoration that this important member should
be carefully designed. It is useless to lavish money on the adorn-
ment of walls and ceiling connected by an ugly cornice.

The same objections extend to the clumsy plaster mouldings
which in many houses disfigure the ceiling. To paint or gild a
ceiling of this kind only attracts attention to its ugliness. When
the expense of removing the mouldings and filling up the holes in
the plaster is considered too great, it is better to cover the bulbous
rosettes and pendentives with kalsomine than to attempt their
embellishment by means of any polychrome decoration. The cost
of removing plaster ornaments is not great, however, and a small
outlay will replace an ugly cornice by one of architectural design ;
so that a little economy in buying window-hangings or chair-
coverings often makes up for the additional expense of these
changes. One need only look at the ceilings in the average
modern house to see what a thing of horror plaster may become
in the hands of an untrained "designer."

The same general principles of composition suggested for the
treatment of walls may be applied to ceiling-decoration. Thus it
is essential that where there is a division of parts, one part shall
perceptibly predominate; and this, in a ceiling, should be the
central division. The chief defect of the coffered Renaissance
ceiling is the lack of this predominating part. Great as may have
been the decorative skill expended on the treatment of beams and

96 The Decoration of Houses

panels, the coffered ceiling of equal-sized divisions seems to press
down upon the spectator's head; whereas the large central panel
gives an idea of height that the great ceiling-painters were quick
to enhance by glimpses of cloud and sky, or some aerial effect, as
in Mantegna's incomparable ceiling of the Sala degli Sposi in the
ducal palace of Mantua.

Ceiling-decoration should never be a literal reproduction of wall-
decoration. The different angle and greater distance at which
ceilings are viewed demand a quite different treatment and it is
to the disregard of this fact that most badly designed ceilings owe
their origin. Even in the high days of art there was a tendency
on the part of some decorators to confound the two plane surfaces
of wall and ceiling, and one might cite many wall-designs which
have been transferred to the ceiling without being rearranged to
fit their new position. Instances of this kind have never been so
general as in the present day. The reaction from the badly
designed mouldings and fungoid growths that characterized the
ceilings of forty years ago has led to the use of attenuated
laurel-wreaths combined with other puny attributes taken from
Sheraton cabinets and Adam mantel-pieces. These so-called orna-
ments, always somewhat lacking in character, become absolutely
futile when viewed from below.

This pressed-flower ornamentation is a direct precedent to the
modern ceiling covered with wall-paper. One would think that
the inappropriateness of this treatment was obvious ; but since it
has become popular enough to warrant the manufacture of spe-
cially designed ceiling-papers, some protest should be made. The
necessity for hiding cracks in the plaster is the reason most often
given for papering ceilings; but the cost of mending cracks is
small and a plaster ceiling lasts much longer than is generally




Ceilings and Floors 97

thought. It need never be taken down unless it is actually falling;
and as well-made repairs strengthen and improve the entire sur-
face, a much-mended ceiling is stronger than one that is just
beginning to crack. If the cost of repairing must be avoided, a
smooth white lining-paper should be chosen in place of one of
the showy and vulgar papers which serve only to attract attention.

Of all forms of ceiling adornment painting is the most beautiful.
Italy, which contains the three perfect ceilings of the world
those of Mantegna in the ducal palace of Mantua (see Plate XXV),
of Perugino in the Sala del Cambio at Perugia and of Araldi in
, the Convent of St. Paul at Parma is the best field for the study
of this branch of art. From the semi-classical vaults of the fifteenth
century, with their Roman arabesques and fruit-garlands framing
human figures detached as mere ornament against a background
of solid color, to the massive goddesses and broad Virgilian land-
scapes of the Carracci and to the piled-up perspectives of Gior-
dano's school of prestidigitators, culminating in the great Tiepolo,
Italian art affords examples of every temperament applied to the
solution of one of the most interesting problems in decoration.

Such ceilings as those on which Raphael and Giovanni da
Udine worked together, combining painted arabesques and
medallions with stucco reliefs, are admirably suited to small
low-studded rooms and might well be imitated by painters in-
capable of higher things.

There is but one danger in adapting this decoration to modern
use that is, the temptation to sacrifice scale and general composi-
tion to the search after refinement of detail. It cannot be denied
that some of the decorations of the school of Giovanni da Udine
are open to this criticism. The ornamentation of the great loggia
of the Villa Madama is unquestionably out of scale with the dimen-

98 The Decoration of Houses

sions of the structure. Much exquisite detail is lost in looking up
past the great piers and the springing of the massive arches to the
lace-work that adorns the vaulting. In this case the composi-
tion is less at fault than the scale: the decorations of the semi-
domes at the Villa Madama, if transferred to a small mezzanin
room, would be found to "compose" perfectly. Charming ex-
amples of the use of this style in small apartments may be studied
in the rooms of the Casino del Grotto, near Mantua.

The tendency of many modern decorators to sacrifice composi-
tion to detail, and to neglect the observance of proportion between
ornament and structure, makes the adaptation of Renaissance
stucco designs a somewhat hazardous undertaking; but the very
care required to preserve the scale and to accentuate the general
lines of the design affords good training in the true principles of

Equally well suited to modern use are the designs in arabesque
with which, in France, Berain and his followers painted the ceil-
ings of small rooms during the Louis XIV period (see Plate XXVI).
With the opening of the eighteenth century the Berain arabesques,
animated by the touch of Watteau, Huet and J.-B. Leprince,
blossomed into trellis-like designs alive with birds and monkeys,
Chinese mandarins balancing umbrellas, and nymphs and shep-
herdesses under slender classical ruins. Side by side with the
monumental work of such artists as Lebrun and Lesueur, Coypel,
Vouet and Natoire, this light style of composition was always in
favor for the decoration of petits appartements : the most famous
painters of the day did not think it beneath them to furnish de-
signs for such purposes (see Plate XXVII).

In moderate-sized rooms which are to be decorated in a simple
and inexpensive manner, a plain plaster ceiling with well-designed

Ceilings and Floors 99

cornice is preferable to any device for producing showy effects at
small cost. It may be laid down as a general rule in house-deco-
ration that what must be done cheaply should be done simply.
It is better to pay for the best plastering than to use a cheaper
quality and then to cover the cracks with lincrusta or ceiling-
paper. This is true of all such expedients: let the fundamental
work be good in design and quality and the want of ornament
will not be felt.

In America the return to a more substantial way of building
* and the tendency to discard wood for brick or stone whenever
possible will doubtless lead in time to the use of brick, stone or
marble floors. These floors, associated in the minds of most
Americans with shivering expeditions through damp Italian pal-
aces, are in reality perfectly suited to the dry American climate,
and even the most anaemic person could hardly object to brick or
marble covered by heavy rugs.

The inlaid marble floors of the Italian palaces, whether com-
posed of square or diamond-shaped blocks, or decorated with a
large design in different colors, are unsurpassed in beauty; while
in high-studded rooms where there is little pattern on the walls
and a small amount of furniture, elaborately designed mosaic
floors with sweeping arabesques and geometrical figures are of
great decorative value.

Floors of these substances have the merit of being not only
more architectural in character, more solid and durable, but also
easier to keep clean. This should especially commend them to
the hygienically-minded American housekeeper, since floors that
may be washed are better suited to our climate than those which
must be covered with a nailed-down carpet.

Next in merit to brick or marble comes the parquet of oak or

ioo The Decoration of Houses

other hard wood; but even this looks inadequate in rooms of
great architectural importance. In ball-rooms a hard-wood floor
is generally regarded as a necessity; but in vestibule, staircase,
dining-room or saloon, marble is superior to anything else. The
design of the parquet floor should be simple and unobtrusive.
The French, who brought this branch of floor-laying to perfec-
tion, would never have tolerated the crudely contrasted woods
that make the modern parquet so aggressive. Like the walls

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