Lucy Abbot Throop.

Furnishing the Home of Good Taste A Brief Sketch of the Period Styles in Interior Decoration with Suggestions as to Their Employment in the Homes of Today online

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doors have a trying way of appearing in a corner, as if they were a bit
ashamed of themselves; and they have good cause to be, for a badly
placed door is a calamity. If one is fortunate enough to plan one's own
house, this matter can be taken care of properly, but in the average
ready made house one has to try to make the doors less conspicuous by
having them painted in very much the tone of the wall. With a gray wall,
for instance, there should have a slightly lighter tone of gray for the
woodwork, with a white and gray striped paper white paint may be used,
with a soft tan a deep old ivory, and so on.

If a room is badly proportioned it can often be improved by the simple
expedient of using a correct paper. If the room is too high for its size
the ceiling color may be brought down on the side wall for eighteen
inches or so and finished with a moulding. This stops the eye before it
reaches the ceiling and so makes the room seem lower. If the room is too
low a striped paper may be used which will make the room seem higher by
carrying the eye up to the ceiling where the paper is finished with a
moulding. Vertical lines give the appearance of height, horizontal
lines of width. Striped paper should not be used in narrow halls, for it
makes them seem narrower and gives one the feeling of being in a cage.
Two-toned striped papers of nearly the same color value, such as gray
and white, yellow and cream-white, and white and cream color, are better
to use than those of more marked contrast, although some of the green
and white and blue and white are charming and fresh looking for
bedrooms. Black and white is too eccentric for the average house; one
should beware of all eccentric papers. There are a few kinds of paper
which should be left severely alone, for they will spoil any room. One
of them has a plain general tone but a suggestion of other colors which
give it a blurred and mottled appearance which is singularly
disagreeable. Another is plain in color but has a lumpy effect like a
toad's back, and is really quite awful. Others are metallic papers, and
there is a heavy paper embossed in self color with a conventional design
which is apt to have a shining surface. Papers with dashes and little
flecks of gold should be avoided, for the gold gives the wall an
unstable and cheap appearance. Papers with small single figures repeated
all over the surface are apt to look as if a plague of flies or beetles
had arrived and are quite impossible to live with. Borders and cut out
borders have a commonplace appearance and are not in the best of taste.
And then there are papers with vulgarity of design. This quality is hard
to define clearly, for it may be only a slightly redundant curve or
other lack of true feeling for the beauty of line, or a bit too much, or
too little, color, or a bad combination of color, or a lack of knowledge
of the laws of balance and harmony and ornament, or a wrong surface of
texture to the paper. But whatever the cause, a vulgar paper will
vulgarize any room, no matter what is done in the way of furniture. It
will assert itself like an ill-bred person. Luckily both are easily

But the picture is not all dark by any means, for some of the American
made papers, as well as the imported papers, are very beautiful. The
makers are taking great pains to have fine designs and beautiful colors
which will appeal to people of knowledge and taste. The situation is
much better than it was a few years ago. Some of the copies of old
figured and scenic papers are exceptionally fine, and can be used with
great distinction in dining-rooms or halls with ivory or cream-white
woodwork and wainscoting, and Georgian or Colonial furniture. One should
not use pictures with these papers, but mirrors are permissable and will
have the best effect if placed on a wood-paneled over-mantel. These
papers come in tones of gray and white and also sepia. Oriental rugs, if
not of too conspicuous a design, may be used with them, but plain rugs
are better with plain hangings and striped silk chair seats. These
papers are very attractive in country houses. There are also colored
scenic papers, an especially fascinating one having a Chinese design
which could be used as a connected scene or in panels, and would be
lovely in a country house drawing-room or dining-room or hall. It could
also be used in a city house with beautiful effect if due thought be
given to the question of hangings, woodwork, rug, and furniture.
Introduce a false note, and a room of this kind is ruined. These scenic
papers come in sets, but the copies of the other old papers come in the
regular rolls. Some of the lovely old "_Toile de Jouy_" designs have
been used for wall paper, and these with other chintz designs, can be
softened in effect by a special method of glazing which makes them very
harmonious and charming with antique furniture or reproductions of fine
old models. These old chintz papers are lovely for bedrooms or
morning-rooms, with fresh crisp muslin curtains and plain silk or linen
or chambray side-curtains. Either painted or mahogany furniture could be
employed. A motif from the paper can be used for the furniture or it can
simply be striped with the color chosen for the plain curtains. Some of
the good and rather stunning bird design papers treated with this
special glazing make beautiful halls with plain rugs and hangings and
chair covers.

Papers cost from about forty cents to several dollars a roll, but the
choice is large and attractive between one and three dollars a roll, and
there are also excellent ones for eighty-five cents. It is almost
impossible, however, to give a satisfactory list of prices as they vary
in different parts of the country. The reproductions of old scenic
papers of which I have spoken are expensive, costing about one hundred
dollars a set, but they may go down again now that the war is over. The
difference in expense between paint and paper is not very great, in
fact, with the average paper at a dollar or a dollar and a half a roll,
paint is about the same, or perhaps a bit cheaper if the walls are in
fairly good condition. It is a mistake to use inferior paper, and there
should never be more than a lining paper and the paper itself on the
wall. In some cases where there is only one paper of soft color on the
wall, with no lining paper, this paper may be used as a lining paper if
it is absolutely tight and firm. The risk is that the new paste may
loosen the old a bit and so let all come down. Old paper must be
entirely removed if there are any marred places as they will show
through the new and ruin the effect.

The amount of wall space and the quality and the quantity of the light
are important factors in deciding the color scheme because by using them
correctly we can brighten a cheerless, dark room or soften the blaze in
a too sunny one.

If the light is a cold dreary one from the north, the room will be
vastly improved if warm, cheerful colors are used: warm ivory, deep
cream color, soft or bright yellow without any greenish tinge in it,
soft yellow pinks (there is a hard pink which is very ugly), yellow
green (but not olive), and tones of golden tan. It is the dash of yellow
in these colors which makes them cheerful and gives the impression of
sunlight. Tans should never come too close to brown for a dark room, for
nothing is more dreary or hopeless than a room done in that depressing
color. The beautiful tones of old oak, or properly treated modern oak
paneling, are quite a different matter. Small amounts of red or orange
will do wonders, if used with discretion, in brightening a dull room,
and are often just what are needed to bring out the beauty of the rest
of the scheme; but it is a great mistake to think that red walls and a
great deal of red in the hangings and furniture covering will make a
cheerful or pleasant room. Red absorbs light and is also an irritant to
the eyes and nerves, and, unless it is used with great skill, it is apt
to look extremely commonplace and ugly or like an ostentatious hotel or
public building. Few of us have large enough houses to make it possible
to use red in great amounts, and it is well for the average person to
shun it and remember that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred a red
wall will spoil a room.

[Illustration: There are few treatments for walls in a Colonial
dining-room that can compare with paneled walls, or wainscoting with a
decorative paper above. The subject, however, must be in keeping. This
paper is extremely inappropriate, and the center light is also badly
chosen and could be eliminated.]

Cool colors should be used in bright and sunny rooms - blues, greens,
grays, grayish tans, and those delightful colors, old ivory, and soft
deep cream color and linen color. Colors with a tone of yellow in them
are easier to use than cold blues and greens and violets, for the yellow
tinge, be it ever so little, brings them into relation with the majority
of woods used in floors and furniture frames. Light colors make a
room seem larger by apparently making the walls recede, and dark
colors make it seem smaller, as they make us conscious of the walls and
so seem to bring them nearer. Any very bright room may have dark walls
to soften the glare, but if it has to be used by artificial light it
will then be heavy and cheerless in effect; and so a better choice would
be some soft neutral color of medium or lighter color values, such as
gray green, and use awnings and dark shades. This matter of color in
relation to light is important to remember when planning one's house.
There is also another question which has great influence on one's choice
of paper, and that is the amount and kind of furniture to be used in the
room. Georgian furniture calls for plain or paneled walls, or if a
figured paper is used it should be one of the old-fashioned designs or
one of the striped papers. Old-fashioned chintz designs are also
appropriate for bedrooms with mahogany or painted furniture. Plain or
paneled walls, striped paper, and some of the fine floral designs, which
can also be used as panels, and the charming _Toile de Jouy_ designs,
are all appropriate when used with French furniture. Heavily made
furniture like Craftsman or Mission needs the support of strong walls
which may be rough-finished natural-colored or painted plaster, or grass
cloth, or one of the many good plain papers of heavy texture. There are
also figured papers which are appropriate. Wicker furniture will go with
almost any kind of attractive paper which is correct for the room, but
when there is much figure the cushions should be covered with plain
stuff. All-over stuffed furniture when covered with chintz looks best
with plain walls. Painted furniture looks well with plain walls and
chintz. A motif from the chintz can be used on the furniture for the
decoration, but if the wall paper is figured the effect will be more
restful if the furniture is only striped.

[Illustration: This room is unattractive because of the poor arrangement
of the furniture and the inappropriate bed-hangings. The bed, Sheraton
chair, and card-table, are all very good examples.]

In summing up: the important points which govern the choice and color of
wall covering are the connecting rooms, the amount and quality of light,
the size and shape of the room, its use, the furnishings which are to be
used, the condition of the walls, and personal preference as to paint or
paper. Do not be afraid of the idea that plain walls, whether paint or
paper, may become tiresome, for one can stand well planned monotony year
in and year out with a cheerful heart. If some rooms are to be papered
with figured paper be sure the selection is made with care and with the
idea in mind that a figured wall is in itself a decoration and should
not have pictures crowded upon it.

_Artificial Lighting_

To light a room successfully appropriate lights must be placed where
they are needed to keep the feeling of balance and proportion and bring
out the charm of the room by their relation to its furnishing. They
should also be so placed that the life of the household can go on as
cheerfully and smoothly in the evening as in the day time.

The position and style of lighting fixtures is decided by the type of
house, the size and height of the rooms, the amount of wall space, the
use for which the rooms are intended, their style of furnishing, the
chief centers of interest, such as mantels, doors, furniture, and
pictures of importance, and also the manner in which the walls are
treated, whether paneled or papered. If one is building a house one
should give all possible data to the architect in regard to any special
pieces of furniture or pictures which one may wish to use in certain
places. By doing this the tragedy of a slightly too small wall space
will be escaped, and the lights will be properly placed in the

One must always remember in planning the position of the lights for a
room that the eye naturally seeks the brightest spot, and badly placed
lamps and sidelights will upset the balance of a room. The room must not
be glaringly bright, but there should be a feeling of a certain
evenness in the distribution of light. A top light makes the light come
from the wrong direction. Artificial light in a room should take its
general idea from the lighting of the room in the day time. The daylight
comes from the windows, the sides of the room, and the decoration of the
room is built up with that in mind; so when we are planning the lighting
scheme we should remember this and realize that the light should come
from lamps placed advantageously on tables, and wall lights placed
slightly above eye level.

Living-rooms should have a sufficient number of well placed sidelights
to enhance the beauty of the room, and they should be placed near
centers of importance such as each side of the fireplace, or wide door,
or on each side of some important picture or mirror. If there is a group
of two or three windows which need to be more convincingly drawn
together to form a unit, lights may be placed on each side of the group.
Sidelights can be placed in the center of panels, thus forming a
decoration for the panel, and, flanking paintings or mirrors or
tapestries, make beautiful and formal rooms, especially for the
different periods of French, English, or Italian decoration. This
treatment with simpler forms of fixtures may also be used in our
charming, but more or less nondescript, chintz living-rooms and country
house drawing-rooms or dining-rooms. With a sufficient number of lamps
in the room the side-or wall-lights need not be lighted during the
average stay-at-home evenings but are ready if there is some special
occasion for brilliancy. There are some rooms which are much improved by
having no side-lights at all, all the light coming from lamps. There
should be plenty of floor sockets so placed that lamps may be used on
tables near sofas and armchairs and on the writing table or large
living-room table. It is this proper placing of lamps which has so much
to do with the charm and comfort of a room when evening comes.

In the average home there is no greater mistake in the matter of
lighting than having a room lighted by chandelier or ceiling lights.
Lights at the top of the room, or a foot or two from the ceiling, break
up completely the artistic balance of the room by drawing attention to
them as the brightest spot. They make the room seem smaller both by day
and night, they cast ugly shadows, they do not give sufficient or
correct light for reading or writing, and the glare above one's head is
nerve destroying. When the sun is directly overhead we hasten to put up
sunshades, so why should we deliberately reproduce in our homes the most
trying position of light? The fixtures also are usually extremely ugly.
One sees sometimes in private houses what is called the indirect method
of lighting, which is usually an alabaster bowl suspended by chains from
the ceiling in which the lights are concealed. The reflected light on
the ceiling is supposed to give a suffused and bright light. To my mind
there is something extremely obnoxious about this method used in homes,
for it smacks of department stores and banks and public buildings
generally. And then, too, the light is unpleasant. If I were the
unfortunate possessor of such a light I should have it taken down and
use the bowl on a high wrought iron tripod for growing ivy and ferns,
and thus try to get a little good from the ill wind that blew it there.

There are a few cases, however, where top lights may be used, such as
large drawing-or music-rooms, rooms in which formal entertaining is to
be done. Crystal ceiling lights are then best to use, or chandeliers
with crystal drops or pendants. If these rooms are Italian Renaissance
in style, the center lights must naturally harmonize in period. Large
halls with marble stairs and wrought-iron balustrade can have this
elaborate kind of light, but the average hall demands a simpler
chandelier. If one is to be used there are some very good copies of old
Colonial lights and lanterns, but personally I prefer wall brackets and
a dignified lamp, or a floor lamp. Torchères or lacquered floor lamps
may be used in pairs if the hall is large enough to have them placed
properly. In a long, narrow hall they would look a bit like lamp posts.
Rather close fitting round shades, nearly the same size at top and
bottom, made of painted parchment give a decorative touch and sufficient
light. As one does not need an especially bright light in a hall, a
beautiful lamp can be made of one of the fine old alabaster vases which
many people have by dropping an electric bulb in it. Placed on a consol
table before a mirror it makes a delightful spot in the hall. These
lamps may also be used in other rooms where a light is needed for effect
and not for use. In placing lamps the charm and utility of a reflection
in a mirror must not be overlooked.

A vestibule may have a lantern of some attractive design in harmony with
the house, or side lights, if they can be so placed as not to be struck
by the door.

Dining-rooms are far more beautiful and also better lighted if
sidelights are used, with candles on the table, rather than a drop
light. Dining-room drop-lights or "domes" have all the disadvantages of
other center lights and are extremely trying to the eyes of the diners,
as well as being unbecoming. Even when screened with thin silk drawn
across the bottom there is something deadening to one's brain in having
a light just over one's head. Side lights with the added charm of
candles will give plenty of light. It is a cause for thanksgiving that
drop-lights over dining-tables are rarely seen now-a-days.

Bedrooms should have a good light over the dressing table, and to my
mind, two movable lights upon it, which may be in the form of wired
candlesticks or small lamps. These are much more convenient than fixed
lights. There should be a light over any long mirror, and one for the
desk and sofa or _chaise longue_, and one for the bedside table. The
dressing-room should be supplied with a light over the chiffonier and
long mirror, and there should also be a table light. Clothes closets
should have simple lights.

And do not forget the kitchen if one wishes properly cooked meals. A
light so placed that it shines into the oven has saved many a burned
dish, and a light over the sink has saved many a broken one. The
servants' sitting-room should have a good reading lamp.

The question of the style of the fixtures is important, for if they are
badly chosen they will quite spoil an otherwise perfect room. They must
harmonize in period with the room, and also with its scale of
furnishing. There is a wide choice in the shops, and some of the designs
are very good indeed, having been carefully studied and adapted from
beautiful museum specimens of old Italian, French, English, and Spanish,
carvings and ornament. Some of our iron workers make very fine metal
fixtures which are beautiful copies of old French and Italian work.
There are graceful and sturdy designs, elaborate and simple, special
period designs, and many which are appropriate for rooms of no
particular period. There are charming lacquer sconces to go with lacquer
furniture, and old-fashioned prism candelabra and sconces, and fixtures
copied from choice old whale oil lamps in both brass and bronze. There
are suitable designs for each and every room. The difficulty lies not in
finding too few to choose from, but too many, and, growing weary,
making a selection not quite so good as it should be. One should take
blue prints to the shop if possible, but necessary measurements without
fail. One must know not only the width of the wall spaces, but the width
of the pictures and furniture to be put in the room, or the calamity may
happen of having the fixtures a bit too wide. When fixtures are meant to
be a special part of the decorative scheme, and support and enhance
pictures and tapestries, they should have an appropriate decorative
value also, but in the average home it is better and safer to choose the
simpler, but still beautiful, designs. It is better to err on the side
of simplicity than to have them too elaborate.

Lamps should be chosen to harmonize with the room, to add their
usefulness and beauty to it as a part of the whole and be convincingly
right both by day and night. There are many possibilities for having
lamps made of different kinds of pottery and porcelain jars; some
crackle-ware jars are very good in color. Chinese porcelain jars, both
single color and figured, make lovely lamps. Old and valuable specimens
should not be used in this way, for they are works of art. Many modern
jars are copies of the old and these should be used. There are lacquer
lamps, bronze, and brass, and carved wood lamps, and lovely Wedgwood and
alabaster vases. There are charming little floor lamps, some of wrought
iron with smart little parchment shades, some in Sheraton design, some
in lacquer or painted wood, which can be easily carried about to stand
by bridge tables or a special chair. There are dozens of different jars
and lamps to use, but the one absolutely necessary question to ask
oneself is: is it right for my purpose?

Lamp shades are a part of the scheme of the room's decoration and should
be chosen or made to order to achieve the desired effect. Special shades
are made by many clever people to harmonize with any room or period and
are apt to be far better than the ready made variety. There are all
manner of beautiful shades, lace, silk, plain and painted parchment and
paper, mounted Japanese prints, embroidery, and any number of other
attractive combinations. To be perfect, beside the fine workmanship,
they must harmonize in line with the lamps on which they are to be used,
and harmonize in color and style with the room, and have an absolute
lack of frills and furbelows. The shade for a reading lamp should spread
enough to allow the light to shine out. Lamp shades simply for
illuminating purposes may be any desired shape if in harmony with the
shape of the lamp. Lacquered painted tin shades are liked by some for
lamps on writing tables. There should be a certain amount of uniformity
in the style of the shades in a room, although they need not be exactly
alike. Too much variety is ruinous to the effect of simple charm in the
room. The chintz which is used for curtains will supply a motif for the
painted shades if one wishes them, but if there is a great deal of
chintz, plain shades will be more attractive. Side lights may have
little screens or shades, as one prefers, or none may be used. In that
case the bulbs may be toned down by using ground glass and painting them
with a thin coat of raw umber water color paint. Bedroom shades follow
the same rule of appropriateness that applies to the other shades in the
house. There should be several sets of candle shades for the

There is really no reason why so many houses should be so badly lighted.
Often simply rearranging the lamps and changing the shape of the shades
will do wonders in the way of improvement. Radical changes in the wiring
should be carefully thought out so there will be no mistakes to

_Painted Furniture_

The love of color which is strong in human nature is shown in the
welcome which has been given to painted furniture. If we turn back to
review the past we find this same feeling cropping out in the different
periods and in the different grades of furniture. The furniture of the
Italian Renaissance was often richly gilded and painted; the carved

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Online LibraryLucy Abbot ThroopFurnishing the Home of Good Taste A Brief Sketch of the Period Styles in Interior Decoration with Suggestions as to Their Employment in the Homes of Today → online text (page 10 of 12)