PRINCIPLES OF HOME DECORATION With Practical Examples
Candace Wheeler 1903
Mrs Wheeler wrote for the moneyed upper class, and was an important figure in the world of American design
Again, if you wish to read the book, the link is at the bottom of the article. There are some very good photographs, I’ve included some of them here.
A colonial mantel and English hob-grate in Mrs. Wheeler's home
The same care in choice of colour will be as well bestowed on the servants' floor as on those devoted to the family, and curtains, carpets and furniture may possess as much beauty and yet be perfectly appropriate to servants' use.
On this upper floor, it goes almost without saying, that the walls must be painted in oil-colour instead of covered with paper. That the floors should be uncarpeted except for bedside rugs which are easily removable. That bedsteads should be of iron, the mattress with changeable covers, the furniture of painted and enameled instead of polished wood, and in short the conditions of healthful cleanliness as carefully provided as if the rooms were in a hospital instead of a private house—but the added comfort of carefully chosen wall colour, and bright, harmonizing, washable chintz in curtains and bed-covers.
……As I have said elsewhere, the walls in a servant's bedroom—and preferably in any sleeping-room—should for sanitary reasons be painted in oil colours, but the possibilities of decorative treatment in this medium are by no means limited. All of the lighter shades of green, blue, yellow, and rose are as permanent, and as easily cleaned, as the dull grays and drabs and mud-colours which are often used upon bedroom walls—especially those upper ones which are above the zone of ornament, apparently under the impression that there is virtue in their very ugliness.
"A good clean gray" some worthy housewife will instruct the painter to use, and the result will be a dead mixture of various lively and pleasant tints, any one of which might be charming if used separately, or modified with white. A small room with walls of a very light spring green, or a pale turquoise blue, or white with the dash of vermilion and touch of yellow ochre which produces salmon-pink, is quite as durably and serviceably coloured as if it were chocolate-brown, or heavy lead-colour; indeed its effect upon the mind is like a spring day full of sunshine instead of one dark with clouds or lowering storms.
The rule given elsewhere for colour in light or dark exposure will hold good for service bedrooms as well as for the important rooms of the house. That is; if a bedroom for servants' use is on the north or shadowed side of the house, let the colour be salmon or rose pink, cream white, or spring green; but if it is on the sunny side, the tint should be turquoise, or pale blue, or a grayish-green, like the green of a field of rye. With such walls, a white iron bedstead, enameled furniture, curtains of white, or a flowered chintz which repeats or contrasts with the colour of the walls, bedside and bureau rugs of the tufted cotton which is washable, or of the new rag-rugs of which the colours are "water fast," the room is absolutely good, and can be used as an influence upon a lower or higher intelligence.
As a matter of utility the toilet service should be always of white; so that there will be no chance for the slovenly mismatching which results from breakage of any one of the different pieces, when of different colours. A handleless or mis-matched pitcher will change the entire character of a room and should never be tolerated.
If the size of the room will warrant it, a rocking-chair or easy-chair should always be part of its equipment, and the mattress and bed-springs should be of a quality to give ease to tired bones, for these things have to do with the spirit of the house….
Buckram frieze for a dining room, note portieres
COLOR AND STENCILLING
What I have said with regard to painted walls in plain tints applies to bedrooms of every grade, but where something more than merely agreeable colour effect is desired a stencilled decoration from the simplest to the most elaborate can be added.
Its simplest form is that of a stencilled border in flat tints used either in place of a cornice or as the border of a wall-paper is used…………….. After this we come to borders of repeating design used as friezes. This can be done with the most delicate and delightful effect, although the finished wall will still be capable of withstanding the most energetic annual scrubbing. Frieze borders of this kind starting with strongly contrasting colour at the top and carried downward through gradually fading tints until they are lost in the general colour of the wall have an openwork grille effect which is very light and graceful. There are infinite possibilities in the use of stencil design without counting the introduction of gold and silver, and bronzes of various iridescent hues which are more suitable for rooms of general use than for bedrooms. Indeed in sleeping-rooms the use of metallic colour is objectionable because it will not stand washing and cleaning without defacement. The ideal bedroom is one that if the furniture were removed a stream of water from a hose might be played upon its walls and ceiling without injury. I always remember with pleasure a pink and silver room belonging to a young girl, where the salmon-pink walls were deepened in colour at the top into almost a tint of vermilion which had in it a trace of green. It was, in fact, an addition of spring green dropped into the vermilion and carelessly stirred, so that it should be mixed but not incorporated. Over this shaded and mixed colour for the space of three feet was stencilled a fountain-like pattern in cream-white, the arches of the pattern rilled in with almost a lace-work of design. The whole upper part had an effect like carved alabaster and was indescribably light and graceful.
The bed and curtain-rods of silver-lacquer, and the abundant silver of the dressing-table gave a frosty contrast which was necessary in a room of so warm a general tone. This is an example of very delicate and truly artistic treatment of stencil-work, and one can easily see how it can be used either in simple or elaborate fashion with great effect.
There are other methods of decoration in oils which will meet the wants of the many who like to exercise their own artistic feelings and ability in their houses or rooms. The painting of flower-friezes upon canvas which can afterward be mounted upon the wall is a never-ending source of pleasure; and many of these friezes have a charm and intimacy which no merely professional painter can rival. These are especially suitable for bedrooms, since there they may be as personal as the inmate pleases without undue unveiling of thoughts, fancies, or personal experiences to the public. A favourite flower or a favourite motto or selection may be the motive of a charming decoration, if the artist has sufficient art-knowledge to subordinate it to its architectural juxtaposition. A narrow border of fixed repeating forms like a rug-border will often fulfil the necessity for architectural lines, and confine the flower-border into limits which justify its freedom of composition.
If one wishes to mount a favourite motto or quotation on the walls, where it may give constant suggestion or pleasure—or even be a help to thoughtful and conscientious living—there can be no better fashion than the style of the old illuminated missals. Dining-rooms and chimney-pieces are often very appropriately decorated in this way; the words running on scrolls which are half unrolled and half hidden, and showing a conventionalised background of fruit and flowers.
Tiled walls, impervious to moisture, and repellent of fumes, are ideal boundaries of a kitchen, and may be beautiful in colour, as well as virtuous in conduct. They may even be laid with gradations of alluring mineral tints, but, of course, this is out of the question in cheap buildings; and in demonstrating the possibility of beauty and intrinsic merit in small and comparatively inexpensive houses, tiles and marbles must be ruled out of the scheme of kitchen perfection. Plaster, painted in agreeable tints of oil colour is commendable, but one can do better by covering the walls with the highly enamelled oil-cloth commonly used for kitchen tables and shelves. This material is quite marvellous in its combination of use and effect. Its possibilities were discovered by a young housewife whose small kitchen formed part of a city apartment, and whose practical sense was joined to a discursive imagination. After this achievement—which she herself did not recognise as a stroke of genius—she added a narrow shelf running entirely around the room, which carried a decorative row of blue willow-pattern plates. A dresser, hung with a graduated assortment of blue enamelled sauce-pans, and other kitchen implements of the same enticing ware, a floor covered with the heaviest of oil-cloth, laid in small diamond-shapes of blue, between blocks of white, like a mosaic pavement, were the features of a kitchen which was, and is, after several years of strenuous wear, a joy to behold. It was from the first, not only a delight to the clever young housewife and her friends, but it performed the miracle of changing the average servant into a careful and excellent one, zealous for the cleanliness and perfection of her small domain, and performing her kitchen functions with unexampled neatness.
I have used this expedient of oil-cloth-covered walls—for which I am anxious to give the inventor due credit—in many kitchens, and certain bathrooms, and always with success.
It must be applied as if it were wall-paper, except that, as it is a heavy material, the paste must be thicker. It is also well to have in it a small proportion of carbolic acid, both as a disinfectant and a deterrent to paste-loving mice, or any other household pest. The cloth must be carefully fitted into corners, and whatever shelving or wood fittings are used in the room, must be placed against it, after it is applied, instead of having the cloth cut and fitted around them.
When well mounted, it makes a solid, porcelain-like wall, to which dust and dirt will not easily adhere, and which can be as easily and effectually cleaned as if it were really porcelain or marble.
Such wall treatment will go far toward making a beautiful kitchen. Add to this a well-arranged dresser for blue or white kitchen china, with a closed cabinet for the heavy iron utensils which can hardly be included in any scheme of kitchen beauty; curtained cupboards and short window-hangings of blue, or "Turkey red"—which are invaluable for colour, and always washable; a painted floor—which is far better than oil-cloth, and one has the elements of a satisfactory scheme of beauty.
A French kitchen, with its white-washed walls, its shining range and rows upon rows of gleaming copper-ware, is an attractive subject for a painter; and there is no reason why an American kitchen, in a house distinguished for beauty in all its family and semi-public rooms, should not also be beautiful in the rooms devoted to service. We can if we will make much even in a decorative way of our enamelled and aluminum kitchen-ware; we may hang it in graduated rows over the chimney-space—as the French cook parades her coppers—and arrange these necessary things with an eye to effect, while we secure perfect convenience of use. They are all pleasant of aspect if care and thought are devoted to their arrangement, and it is really of quite as much value to the family to have a charming and perfectly appointed kitchen, as to possess a beautiful and comfortable parlour or sitting-room.
If the chairs are chosen for strength and use, and are painted or stained to match the colour of the floor, they add to the satisfaction of the eye, as well as minister to the house service. ……... Of course in selecting such furnishings of the kitchen as chairs, one must bear in mind that even their legitimate use may include standing, as well as sitting upon them; that they may be made temporary resting-places for scrubbing pails, brushes, and other cleaning necessities, and therefore they must be made of painted wood; but this should not discourage the provision of a cane-seated rocking-chair for each servant, as a comfort for weary bones when the day's work is over.
In establishments which include a servants' dining-or sitting-room, these moderate luxuries are a thing of course, but in houses where at most but two maids are employed they are not always considered, although they certainly should be.
A suggested sitting area for maids
If a corner can be appropriated to evening leisure—where there is room for a small, brightly covered table, a lamp, a couple of rocking-chairs, work-baskets and a book or magazine, it answers in a small way to the family evening-room, where all gather for rest and comfort.
In simple houses with plaster ceilings the tints to be used are easily decided. The rule of gradation of colour from floor to ceiling prescribes for the latter the lightest tone of the gradation, and as the ceiling stands for light, and should actually reflect light into the room, the philosophy of this arrangement of colours is obvious. It is not, however, an invariable rule that the ceiling should carry the same tint as the wall, even in a much lighter tone, although greater harmony and restfulness of effect is produced in this way. A ceiling of cream white will harmonise well with almost any tint upon the walls, and at the same time give an effect of air and light in the room. It is also a good ground for ornament in elaborately decorated ones.
If the walls are covered with a light wall-paper which carries a floral design, it is a safe rule to make the ceiling of the same colour but a lighter shade of the background of the paper, but it is not by any means good art to carry a flower design over the ceiling. One sometimes sees instances of this in the bedrooms of fairly good houses, and the effect is naturally that of bringing the ceiling apparently almost to one's head, or at all events, of producing a very unrestful effect…….
For the ordinary, or comparatively inexpensive home, we need not consider the ceiling an object for serious study, because it is so constantly out of the line of sight, and because its natural colourless condition is no bar to the general colour-effect………….
A sitting room in a country house
Mosaic floors, being as a rule confined to halls in private houses, need hardly be considered in this relation, and costly wood floors are almost necessarily confined to the yellows of the natural woods. ……..
As it is one of the principles of colour in a house that the floor is the foundation of the room, this weakness of colour in hard-wood floors must be acknowledged as a disadvantage. The floors should certainly be able to support the room in colour as well as in construction. It must be the strongest tint in the room, and yet it must have the unobtrusiveness of strength. This makes floor treatment a more difficult problem, or one requiring more thought than is generally supposed, and explains why light rooms are more successful with hard-wood floors than medium or very dark ones.
………to cover enough of the space with rugs to attract the eye, and restore the balance lost by want of strength of colour in the wood. Sometimes one or two small rugs will do this, and these may be of almost any tint which includes the general one of the room, even if the general tint is not prominent in the rug. If the use or luxury of the room requires more covered space, it is better to use one rug of a larger size than several small and perhaps conflicting ones…..
……in a room where the walls are of a pale shade of copper, the rugs should bring in a variety of reds which would be natural parts of the same scale, like lower notes in the octave; and yet should add patches of relative blues and harmonising greens; possibly also, deep gold, and black and white;—the latter in minute forms and lines which only accent or enrich the general effect……..
In bedrooms …... Good pine floors well fitted and finished can be stained to harmonise with almost any tint used in furniture or upon the wall.
I remember a sea-side chamber in a house where the mistress had great natural decorative ability, and so much cultivation as to prevent its running away with her, where the floor was stained a transparent olive, like depths of sea-water, and here and there a floating sea-weed, or a form of sea-life faintly outlined within the colour. In this room, which seemed wide open to the sea and air, even when the windows were closed, the walls were of a faint greenish blue, like what is called dead turquoise, and the relation between floor and walls was so perfect that it remained with me to this day as a crowning instance of satisfaction in colour…..
……There is still a word to be said as to floor-coverings, which relates to healthful housekeeping instead of art, and that is, that in all cases where carpets or mattings are used, they should be in rug form, not fitted in to irregular floor-spaces; so as to be frequently and easily lifted and cleaned…………..
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 curiously changed; the modern house is fitted to its inmates, while the old-fashioned house, modelled upon the early eighteenth century art of England, obliged the inmates to fit themselves as best they might to a given standard.
PRINCIPLES OF HOME DECORATION