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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playing into each other's hands, as it were, to make a perfect whole. To
many people, a room is simply a room to be treated as they wish; whereas
many rooms are absolute laws unto themselves, and demand a certain kind
of treatment, or disaster follows. In America this kind of house is not
found so often as in Europe, but the number is growing rapidly as
architects and their clients realize more and more the beauties and
possibilities of the great periods as applied to the modern house. It is
only to the well-trained architect and decorator with correct taste that
one may safely turn, for the ill-trained and commonplace still continue
to make their astounding errors, and so to have the decoration of a room
truly successful one must begin with the architect, for he knows the
correct proportions of the different styles and appreciates their
importance. He will plan the rooms so that they, when decorated, may
complete his work and form a beautiful and convincing whole. This will
give the restfulness and beauty that absolute appropriateness always

[Illustration: This room shows how fresh and charming white paint and
simplicity can be.]

This matter of appropriateness must not be overlooked, and the whole
house should express the spirit of the owner; it should be in absolute
keeping with his circumstances. There are few houses which naturally
demand the treatment of palaces, but there are many which correspond
with the smaller chateaux of France and the manor-houses of England. It
is to these we must turn for our inspiration, for they have the beauty
of good taste and high standards without the lavishness of royalty; but
even royalty did not always live in rooms of state, for at Versailles,
and Petit Trianon, there is much simple exquisite furniture. The
wonderful and elaborate furniture of the past must be studied of course,
but to the majority of people, then as now, the simpler expression of
its fundamental lines of beauty are more satisfactory. The trouble
with many houses is that their furnishings are copied from too grand
models, and the effect in an average modern house is unsuitable in every
way. They cannot give the large vistas and appropriate background in
color and proportion which are necessary. Beauty does not depend upon

[Illustration: The warm tones of a brown Chinese wallpaper are
attractive with the mahogany furniture, and the pattern is prevented
from becoming monotonous by the strong rectangular lines of the ivory
woodwork which frames it. The corner cupboard and the exceptionally fine
dining-table and the variety of chairs are interesting.]

If one has to live in a house planned and built by others one often has
to give up some long cherished scheme and adopt something else more
suited to the surroundings. For instance, the rooms of the great French
periods were high, and often the modern house has very low ceilings,
that would not allow space for the cornice, over-doors and correctly
proportioned paneling, that are marked features of those times. Mrs.
Wharton has aptly said: "Proportion is the good breeding of
architecture," and one might add that proportion is good breeding
itself. One little slip from the narrow path into false proportion in
line or color or mass and the perfection of effect is gone.

Proportion is another word for the fitness of things, and that little
phrase, "the fitness of things," is what Alice in Wonderland calls a
"portmanteau" phrase, for it holds so much, and one must feel it
strongly to escape the pitfalls of period furnishing. Most amazing
things are done with perfect complacency, but although the French and
English kings who gave their names to the various periods were far from
models of virtue, they certainly deserved no such cruel punishment as
to have some of the modern rooms, such as we have all seen, called after

The best decorators refuse to mix styles in one room and they thus save
people from many mistakes, but a decorator without a thorough
understanding of the subject, often leads one to disaster. A case in
point is an apartment where a small Louis XV room opens on a narrow hall
of nondescript modern style, with a wide archway opening into a Mission
dining-room. As one sits in the midst of pink brocade and gilding and
looks across to the dining-room, fitted out in all the heavy
paraphernalia of Mission furniture, one's head fairly reels. No contrast
could be more marked or more unsuitable, and yet this is by no means an
uncommon case.

If one intends to adopt a style in decorating one's house, there should
be a uniformity of treatment in all connecting rooms, and there must be
harmony in the furniture and architecture and ornament, as well as
harmony in the color scheme. The foundation must be right before the
decoration is added. The proportion of doors and windows, for instance,
is very important, with the decorated over-door reaching to the ceiling.
The over-doors and mantels were architectural features of the rooms, and
it was not until wallpapers came into common use, in the early part of
the nineteenth century, that these decorative features slowly died out.

The mantel and fireplace should be a center of interest and should be
balanced with something of importance on the other side of the room,
either architectural or decorative. It was this regard for symmetry,
balance, proportion, and harmony, which made the old rooms so
satisfying; there was no magic about it, it was artistic common sense.

The use for which a room is intended must be kept in view and carried
out with real understanding of its needs. The individuality of the owner
is of course a factor. Unfortunately the word individuality is often
confounded with eccentricity and to many people it means putting
perfectly worthy and unassuming articles to startling uses. By
individuality one should really mean the best expression of one's sense
of beauty and the fitness of things, and when it is guided by the laws
of harmony and proportion the result is usually one of great charm,
convenience, and comfort. These qualities must be in every successful

In furnishing any house, whether in some special period or not, there
are certain things which must be taken into account. One of these is the
general color scheme. Arranging a color scheme for a house is not such a
difficult matter as many people suppose, nor is it the simple thing that
many others seem to think. There is a happy land between the two
extremes, and the guide posts pointing to it are a good color sense, a
true feeling for the proportion and harmony of color, and an
understanding of the laws of light. The trouble is that people often do
not use their eyes; red is red to them, blue is blue, and green is
green. They have never appeared to notice that there are dozens of
tones in these colors. Nature is one of the greatest teachers of color
harmony if we would but learn from her. Look at a salt marsh on an
autumn day and notice the wonderful browns and yellows and golds in it,
the reds and russets and touches of green in the woods on its edge, and
the clear blue sky over all with the reflections in the little pools. It
is a picture of such splendor of color that one fairly gasps. Then look
at the same marsh under gray skies and see the change; there is just as
much beauty as before, the same russets and golds and reds, but
exquisitely softened. One is sparkling, gay, a harmony of brilliancy;
the other is more gentle, sweet and appealing, a harmony of softened

Again, Nature makes a thousand and one shades of green leaves to
harmonize with her flowers; the yellow green of the golden rod, the
silver green of the milkweed, the bright green of the nasturtium. Notice
the woods in wintertime with the wonderful purple browns and grays of
the tree trunks and branches, the bronze and russet of the dead leaves,
and the deep shadows in the snow. Everywhere one turns there are lessons
to learn if one will only use seeing eyes and a thinking mind.

A house should be looked at as a whole, not as so many units to be
treated in a care-free manner. A room is affected by all the rooms
opening from it, as they, in turn, are affected by it. There can be
variety of color with harmony of contrast, or there can be the same
color used throughout, with the variety gained by the use of its
different tones. The plan of each floor should be carefully studied to
get the vistas in all directions so that harmony may reign and there
will be no danger of a clashing color discord when a door is opened. The
connecting rooms need not be all in one color, of course, but they
should form a perfect color harmony one with another, with deft touches
of contrast to accent and bring out the beauty of the whole scheme: This
matter of harmony in contrast is an important one. The idea of using a
predominant color is a restful one, and adds dignity and apparent size
to a house. The walls, for instance, could be paneled in white enameled
wood, or plaster, and the necessary color and variety could be supplied
by the rugs, hangings, furniture, and pictures.

Another charming plan is to have different tones of one color used - a
scheme running from cream or old ivory through soft yellow and tan to a
russet brown would be lovely, especially if the house did not have an
over supply of light. Greens may be used with discretion, and a cool and
attractive scheme is from white to soft blue through gray. If different
colors are to be used in the different rooms the number of combinations
is almost unlimited, but there must always be the restraining influence
of a good color sense in forming the scheme or the result will be
disappointing, to say the least.

A very important matter in the use of color is in its relation to the
amount and quality of the light. Dreary rooms can be made cheerful, and
too bright and dazzling rooms can be softened in effect, by the skillful
use of color. The warm colors, - cream white, yellows - but not lemon
yellow - orange, warm tans, russet, pinks, yellow greens, yellowish reds
are to be used on the north or shady side of the house. The cool
colors, - white, cream white, blues, grays, greens, and violet, are for
the sunny side. Endless combinations may be made of these colors, and if
a gray room, for example, is wished on the north side of the house, it
can be used by first choosing a warm tone of gray and combining with it
one of the warm colors, such as certain shades of soft pink or yellow.
We can stand more brilliancy of color out-of-doors than we can in the
house, where it is shut in with us. It is too exciting and we become
restless and nervous. No matter on what scale a house is furnished one
of its aims should be to be restful.

There is one great mistake which many people make of thinking of red as
a cheerful color, and one which is good to use in a dark room. The
average red used in large quantities absorbs the light in a most
disheartening manner, making a room seem smaller than it really is; it
makes ugly gloomy shadows in the corners, for at night it seems to turn
to a dingy black, and increases the electric light bill. Red is also a
severe strain on the eyes, and many a red living-room is the cause of
seemingly unaccountable headaches. I do not mean to say that red should
never be used, for it is often a very necessary color, but it must be
used with the greatest discretion, and one must remember that a little
of it goes a long way. A room, for instance, paneled with oak, with an
oriental rug with soft red in it, red hangings, and a touch of red in an
old stained glass panel in the window, and red velvet cushions on the
window seat, would have much more warmth and charm than if the walls
were covered entirely with red. One red cushion is often enough to give
the required note. The effect of color is very strong upon people,
although a great many do not realize it, but nearly everyone will
remember a sudden and apparently unexplained change of mood in going
into some room. One can learn a deal by analyzing one's own sensations.
Figured wall-papers should also be chosen with the greatest care for
this same reason. Papers which have perpetual motion in their design, or
eyes which seem to peer, or an unstable pattern of gold running over it,
must all be ignored. People who choose this kind of paper are blest, or
cursed, whichever way one looks at it, by an utter lack of imagination.

A room is divided into three parts, the floor, the walls, and the
ceiling, and the color of the room naturally follows the law of nature;
the heaviest or darkest at the bottom, or floor; the medium tone in the
center, or walls; and the lightest at the top, or ceiling. It is only
when one has to artificially correct the architectural proportions of a
room that the ceiling should be as dark, or darker, than the walls. A
ceiling can also be seemingly lowered by bringing the ceiling color down
on the side walls. A low room should never have a dark ceiling, as it
makes the room seem lower.

Walls should be treated as a background or as a decoration in
themselves. In the latter case any pictures should be set in specially
arranged panels and should be pictures of importance, or fresco
painting. The walls of the great periods were of this decorative order.
They were treated architecturally and the feeling of absolute support
which they gave was most satisfactory. The pilasters ran from base or
dado to the cornice and the over-doors made the doors a dignified part
of the scheme, rather than mere useful holes in the wall as they too
often are nowadays.

Paneling is one of the most beautiful methods of wall decoration. There
are many styles of paneling, stone, marble, stucco, plaster, and wood,
and each period has its own distinctive way of using them, and should be
the correct type for the style chosen. The paneling of a Tudor room is
quite different from a Louis XVI room. In the course of a long period
like that of Louis XV the paneling slowly changed its character and the
rococo style was followed by the more dignified one that later became
the style of Louis XVI.

Tapestry and paintings of importance should have panels especially
planned for them. If one does not wish to have the paneling cover the
entire wall, a wainscot or dado with the wall above it covered with
tapestry, silk, painting, or paper, will make a beautiful and
appropriate room for many of the different styles of furniture. A
wainscot should not be too high; about thirty-six inches is a good
height, but should form a background for the chairs, sofas, and tables,
placed around the room.

A wainscot six or more feet high is not as architecturally correct as a
lower one, because a wall is, in a way, like an order in its divisions,
and if the base, or wainscot, is too high it does not allow the wall,
which corresponds to the column, to have its fair proportion. This
feeling is very strong in many apartment houses where small rooms are
overburdened by this kind of wainscot, and to make matters worse, the
top is used as a plate-rail. A high wainscot should be used only in a
large room, and if there are pilasters arranged to connect it with the
cornice, and the wall covering is put on in panel effect between, the
result is much better than if the wall were left plain, as it seems to
give more of a _raison d'être_.

Tapestry is another of the beautiful and important wall coverings, and
the happy possessor of Flemish or Gobelin, or Beauvais, tapestries, is
indeed to be envied. A rare old tapestry should be paneled or hung so it
will serve as a background. Used as portières, tapestry does not show
the full beauty of its wonderful time-worn colors and its fascination
of texture. It is not everyone, however, who is able to own these almost
priceless treasures of the past, and so modern machinery has been called
to the aid of those who wish to cover their walls and furniture with
tapestry. Many of these modern manufactures are really beautiful, thick
in texture, soft in color, and often have the little imperfections and
unevennesses of hand weaving reproduced, so that we feel the charm of
the old in the new. Many do not realize that in New York there are looms
making wonderful hand-woven tapestries with the true decorative feeling
of the best days of the past. On the top floor of a large modern
building stand the looms of various sizes, the dyeing tubs, the dripping
skeins of wool and silk, the spindles and bobbins, and the weavers hard
at work carrying out the beautiful designs of the artist owner. There
are few colors used, as in mediæval days, but wonderful effects are
produced by a method of winding the threads together which gives a
vibrating quality to the color. When the warp in some of the coarser
fabrics is not entirely covered it is sometimes dyed, which gives an
indescribable charm. Tapestries of all sizes have been made on these
looms, from the important decoration of a great hall, to sofa and chair
coverings. Special rugs are also made. It is a pleasure to think that an
art which many considered dead is being practiced with the highest
artistic aim and knowledge and skill in the midst of our modern rush.
This hand-woven tapestry is made to fit special spaces and rooms, and
there is nothing more beautiful and suitable for rooms of importance to
be found in all the long list of possibilities.

The effect of modern tapestry, like the old, is enhanced if the walls
are planned to receive it, for it was never intended to be used as
wall-paper. It is sometimes used as a free hanging frieze, so to speak,
and sometimes a great piece of it is hung flat against the wall, but as
a general thing to panel it is the better way.

Another beautiful wall covering is leather. It should be used much more
than it is, and is especially well adapted for halls, libraries,
dining-rooms, smoking-and billiard-rooms, and dens. Its wonderful
possibilities for rooms which are to be furnished in a dignified and
beautiful manner are unsurpassed. It may be used in connection with
paneling or cover the wall above a wainscot.

Fresco painting is another of the noble army of wall treatments which
lends itself beautifully to all kinds and styles of rooms.

Amidst all the grandeur of tapestry and painting one must not lose sight
of the simpler methods, for they are not to be distained. Wall-papers
are growing more and more beautiful in color, design, and texture, and
one can find among them papers suited to all needs. Fabrics of all kinds
have become possibilities since their dust-collecting capacity is now no
longer a source of terror, as vacuum cleaners are one of the
commonplaces of existence. Painting or tinting the walls, when done
correctly, is very satisfactory in many rooms.

There is no doubt that in many houses are wonderful collections of
furniture, tapestries and treasures of many kinds, that are placed
without regard to the absolute harmony of period, although the general
feeling of French or Italian or English is kept. They are usually great
houses where the sense of space keeps one from feeling discrepancies
that would be too marked in a smaller one, and the interest and beauty
of the rare originals against the old tapestries have an atmosphere all
their own that no modern reproduction can have. There are few of us,
however, who can live in this semi-museum kind of house, and so one
would better stick to the highway of good usage, or there is danger of
making the house look like an antique shop.

[Illustration: Dorothy Quincy's bedroom contains a fine old mahogany
field bed, which is appropriately covered with the flowered chintz
popular at the end of the Eighteenth Century. The chairs are fitting for
all bedrooms decorated in Colonial style. Notice the woodwork in the
room and hall.]

To carry out a style perfectly, all the small details should be attended
to - the door-locks, the framework of the doors and windows, the carving.
All these must be taken into account if one wishes success. It is better
not to attempt a style throughout if it is to be a makeshift affair and
show the effects of inadequate knowledge. The elaborate side of any
style carried out to the last detail is really only possible and also
only appropriate for those who have houses to correspond, but one can
choose the simpler side and have beautiful and charming rooms that are
perfectly suited to the average home. For instance, if one does not
wish elaborate gilded Louis XVI furniture, upholstered in brocade, one
can choose beautiful cane furniture of the time and have it either in
the natural French walnut or enameled a soft gray or white to match the
woodwork, with cushion of cretonne or silk in an appropriate design.
Period furnishing does not necessarily mean a greater outlay than the
nondescript and miscellaneous method so often seen.

[Illustration: A very solid but not especially pleasing desk that was
used by Washington while he was President. The railing is interesting.
The idea was used by Chippendale in his gallery tables.]

[Illustration: The tambour work doors in the upper part of this Sheraton
secretary roll back; also notice the handles and inlay and tapering

Whatever the plan for furnishing a house may be, the balance of
decoration must be kept; the same general feeling throughout all
connecting parts. If a drawing-room is too fine for the hall through
which one has to pass to reach it, the balance is upset. If too simple
chairs are used in a grand dining-room the balance is upset, the fitness
of things is not observed. When the happy medium is struck throughout
the house one feels the delightful well-bred charm which a regard for
the unities always gives. It is not only in the quality of the
decorations that this feeling of balance must be kept, but in the style
also. If one chooses a period style for the drawing-room it is better to
keep to it through the house, using it in its different expressions
according to the needs of the different rooms. If one style throughout
should seem a bit monotonous at least one nationality should be kept,
such as French, or English. If several styles of French furniture are
used do not have them in the same room; for instance, Louis XV and
Empire have absolutely nothing in common, but very late Louis XVI and
early Empire have to a certain extent. It does not give the average
person a severe shock to walk from a Louis XVI hall into a Louis XV
drawing-room, but the two mixed in one room do not give a pleasing
effect. The oak furniture of Jacobean days does not harmonize with the
delicate mahogany furniture of the eighteenth century in England. The
delicate beauty of Adam furniture would be lost in the greatness of a
Renaissance salon. A lady whose dining-room was furnished in Sheraton
furniture one day saw two elaborate rococo Louis XV console tables which
she instantly bought to add to it. The shopman luckily had more sense of
the fitness of things than a mere desire to sell his wares, and was so
appalled when he saw the room that he absolutely refused to have them
placed in it. She saw the point, and learned a valuable lesson. One
could go on indefinitely, giving examples to warn people against
startling and inappropriate mixtures which put the whole scheme out of

I am taking it for granted that reproductions are to be chosen, as
originals are not only very rare, but also almost prohibitive in price.
Good reproductions are carefully made and finished to harmonize with the
color scheme. The styles most used at present are, Louis XIV, XV, XVI,
Jacobean, William and Mary, and Georgian. Gothic, Italian and French
Renaissance, Louis XIII, and Tudor styles are not so commonly used. We
naturally associate dignity and grandeur with the Renaissance, and it
is rather difficult to make it seem appropriate for the average American
house, so it is usually used only for important houses and buildings.
Some of the Tudor manor houses can be copied with delightful effect. The
styles of Henri II and Louis XIII can both be used in libraries and
dining-rooms with most effective and dignified results.

The best period of the style of Louis XV is very beautiful and is
delightfully suited to ball-rooms, small reception-rooms, boudoirs, and
some bedrooms. In regard to these last, one must use discretion, for one
would not expect one's aged grandmother to take real comfort in one. Nor
does this style appeal to one for use in a library, as its gayety and
curves would not harmonize with the necessarily straight lines of the
bookcases and rows of books. Any one of the other styles may be chosen
for a library.

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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 6 of 12)