[Frontispiece: Dining-room in "Pennyroyal" (in Mrs. Boudinot Keith's Cottage, Onteora)]
Principles of Home Decoration
With Practical Examples
Doubleday, Page & Company
Published February 1903
CHAPTER I. Decoration as an Art. Decoration in American Homes. Woman's Influence in Decoration.
CHAPTER II. Character in Homes.
CHAPTER III. Builders' Houses. Expedients.
CHAPTER IV. Colour in Houses. Colour as a Science. Colour as an Influence.
CHAPTER V. The Law of Appropriateness. Cleanliness and Harmony Tastefully Combined. Bedroom Furnished in Accordance with Individual Tastes.
CHAPTER VI. Kitchens. Treatment of Walls from a Hygienic Point of View.
CHAPTER VII. Colour with Reference to Light. Examples of the Effects of Light on Colour. Gradation of Colour.
CHAPTER VIII. Walls, Ceilings and Floors. Treatment and Decoration of Walls. Use of Tapestry. Leather and Wall-Papers. Panels of Wood, Painted Walls. Textiles.
CHAPTER IX. Location of the House. Decoration Influenced by Situation.
CHAPTER X. Ceilings. Decorations in Harmony with Walls. Treatment in Accordance with Size of Room.
CHAPTER XI. Floors and Floor Coverings. Treatment of Floors—Polished Wood, Mosaics. Judicious Selection of Rugs and Carpets.
CHAPTER XII. Draperies. Importance of Appropriate Colours. Importance of Appropriate Textures.
CHAPTER XIII Furniture. Character in Rooms. Harmony in Furniture. Comparison Between Antique and Modern Furniture. Treatment of the Different Rooms.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Dining-room in "Penny-royal" (Mrs. Boudinot Keith's cottage, Onteora)
Hall in city house, showing effect of staircase divided and turned to rear
Stenciled borders for hall and bathroom decorations
Sitting-room in "Wild Wood," Onteora (belonging to Miss Luisita Leland)
Large sitting-room in "Star Rock" (country house of W.E. Connor, Esq., Onteora)
Painted canvas frieze and buckram frieze for dining-room
Square hall in city house
Colonial chairs and sofa (belonging to Mrs. Ruth McEnery Stuart)
Colonial mantel and English hob-grate (sitting-room in Mrs. Candace Wheeler's house)
Sofa designed by Mrs. Candace Wheeler, for N.Y. Library in "Woman's Building," Columbia Exposition
Rustic sofa and tables in "Penny-royal" (Mrs. Boudinot Keith's cottage, Onteora)
Dining-room in "Star Rock" (country house of W.E. Connor, Esq., Onteora)
Dining-room in New York house showing leaded-glass windows
Dining-room in New York home showing carved wainscoting and painted frieze
Screen and glass windows in house at Lakewood (belonging to Clarence Root, Esq.)
Principles of Home Decoration
DECORATION AS AN ART
"Who creates a Home, creates a potent spirit which in turn doth fashion him that fashioned."
Probably no art has so few masters as that of decoration. In England, Morris was for many years the great leader, but among his followers in England no one has attained the dignity of unquestioned authority; and in America, in spite of far more general practice of the art, we still are without a leader whose very name establishes law.
It is true we are free to draw inspiration from the same sources which supplied Morris and the men associated with him in his enthusiasms, and in fact we do lean, as they did, upon English eighteenth-century domestic art—and derive from the men who made that period famous many of our articles of faith; but there are almost no authoritative books upon the subject of appropriate modern decoration. Our text books are still to be written; and one must glean knowledge from many sources, shape it into rules, and test the rules, before adopting them as safe guides.
Yet in spite of the absence of authoritative teaching, we have learned that an art dependent upon other arts, as decoration is upon building and architecture, is bound to follow the principles which govern them. We must base our work upon what has already been done, select our decorative forms from appropriate periods, conform our use of colour to the principles of colour, and be able to choose and apply all manufactures in accordance with the great law of appropriateness. If we do this, we stand upon something capable of evolution and the creation of a system.
In so far as the principles of decoration are derived from other arts, they can be acquired by every one, but an exquisite feeling in their application is the distinguishing quality of the true decorator.
There is quite a general impression that house-decoration is not an art which requires a long course of study and training, but some kind of natural knack of arrangement—a faculty of making things "look pretty," and that any one who has this faculty is amply qualified for "taking up house-decoration." Indeed, natural facility succeeds in satisfying many personal cravings for beauty, although it is not competent for general practice.
Of course there are people, and many of them, who are gifted with an inherent sense of balance and arrangement, and a true eye for colour, and—given the same materials—such people will make a room pleasant and cozy, where one without these gifts would make it positively ugly. In so far, then, individual gifts are a great advantage, yet one possessing them in even an unusual degree may make great mistakes in decoration. What not to do, in this day of almost universal experiment, is perhaps the most valuable lesson to the untrained decorator. Many of the rocks upon which he splits are down in no chart, and lie in the track of what seems to him perfectly plain sailing.
There are houses of fine and noble exterior which are vulgarized by uneducated experiments in colour and ornament, and belittled by being filled with heterogeneous collections of unimportant art. Yet these very instances serve to emphasize the demand for beautiful surroundings, and in spite of mistakes and incongruities, must be reckoned as efforts toward a desirable end.
In spite of a prevalent want of training, it is astonishing how much we have of good interior decoration, not only in houses of great importance, but in those of people of average fortunes—indeed, it is in the latter that we get the general value of the art.
This comparative excellence is to be referred to the very general acquirement of what we call "art cultivation" among American women, and this, in conjunction with a knowledge that her social world will be apt to judge of her capacity by her success or want of success in making her own surroundings beautiful, determines the efforts of the individual woman. She feels that she is expected to prove her superiority by living in a home distinguished for beauty as well as for the usual orderliness and refinement. Of course this sense of obligation is a powerful spur to the exercise of natural gifts, and if in addition to these she has the habit of reasoning upon the principles of things, and is sufficiently cultivated in the literature of art to avoid unwarrantable experiment, there is no reason why she should not be successful in her own surroundings.
The typical American, whether man, or woman, has great natural facility, and when the fact is once recognized that beauty—like education—can dignify any circumstances, from the narrowest to the most opulent, it becomes one of the objects of life to secure it. How this is done depends upon the talent and cultivation of the family, and this is often adequate for excellent results.
It is quite possible that so much general ability may discourage the study of decoration as a precise form of art, since it encourages the idea that The House Beautiful can be secured by any one who has money to pay for processes, and possesses what is simply designated as "good taste."
We do not find this impulse toward the creation of beautiful interiors as noticeable in other countries as in America. The instinct of self-expression is much stronger in us than in other races, and for that reason we cannot be contented with the utterances of any generation, race or country save our own. We gather to ourselves what we personally enjoy or wish to enjoy, and will not take our domestic environment at second hand. It follows that there is a certain difference and originality in our methods, which bids fair to acquire distinct character, and may in the future distinguish this art-loving period as a maker of style.
A successful foreign painter who has visited this country at intervals during the last ten years said, "There is no such uniformity of beautiful interiors anywhere else in the world. There are palaces in France and Italy, and great country houses in England, to the embellishment of which generations of owners have devoted the best art of their own time; but in America there is something of it everywhere. Many unpretentious houses have drawing-rooms possessing colour-decoration which would distinguish them as examples in England or France."
To Americans this does not seem a remarkable fact. We have come into a period which desires beauty, and each one secures it as best he can. We are a teachable and a studious people, with a faculty of turning "general information" to account; and general information upon art matters has had much to do with our good interiors.
We have, perhaps half unconsciously, applied fundamental principles to our decoration, and this may be as much owing to natural good sense as to cultivation. We have a habit of reasoning about things, and acting upon our conclusions, instead of allowing the rest of the world to do the reasoning while we adopt the result. It is owing to this conjunction of love for and cultivation of art, and the habit of materializing what we wish, that we have so many thoroughly successful interiors, which have been accomplished almost without aid from professional artists. It is these, instead of the smaller number of costly interiors, which give the reputation of artistic merit to our homes.
Undoubtedly the largest proportion of successful as well as unsuccessful domestic art in our country is due to the efforts of women. In the great race for wealth which characterizes our time, it is demanded that women shall make it effective by so using it as to distinguish the family; and nothing distinguishes it so much as the superiority of the home. This effort adheres to small as well as large fortunes, and in fact the necessity is more pronounced in the case of mediocre than of great ones. In the former there is something to be made up—some protest of worth and ability and intelligence that helps many a home to become beautiful.
As I have said, a woman feels that the test of her capacity is that her house shall not only be comfortable and attractive, but that it shall be arranged according to the laws of harmony and beauty. It is as much the demand of the hour as that she shall be able to train her children according to the latest and most enlightened theories, or that she shall take part in public and philanthropic movements, or understand and have an opinion on political methods. These are things which are expected of every woman who makes a part of society; and no less is it expected that her house shall be an appropriate and beautiful setting for her personality, a credit to her husband, and an unconscious education for her children.
But it happens that means of education in all of these directions, except that of decoration, are easily available. A woman can become a member of a kindergarten association, and get from books and study the result of scientific knowledge of child-life and training. She can find means to study the ethics of her relations to her kind and become an effective philanthropist, or join the league for political education and acquire a more or less enlightened understanding of politics; but who is to formulate for her the science of beauty, to teach her how to make the interior aspect of her home perfect in its adaptation to her circumstances, and as harmonious in colour and arrangement as a song without words? She feels that these conditions create a mental atmosphere serene and yet inspiring, and that such surroundings are as much her birthright and that of her children as food and clothing of a grade belonging to their circumstances, but how is it to be compassed?
Most women ask themselves this question, and fail to understand that it is as much of a marvel when a woman without training or experience creates a good interior as a whole, as if an amateur in music should compose an opera. It is not at all impossible for a woman of good taste—and it must be remembered that this word means an educated or cultivated power of selection—to secure harmonious or happily contrasted colour in a room, and to select beautiful things in the way of furniture and belongings; but what is to save her from the thousand and one mistakes possible to inexperience in this combination of things which make lasting enjoyment and appropriate perfection in a house? How can she know which rooms will be benefited by sombre or sunny tints, and which exposure will give full sway to her favourite colour or colours? How can she have learned the reliability or want of reliability in certain materials or processes used in decoration, or the rules of treatment which will modify a low and dark room and make it seem light and airy, or "bring down" too high a ceiling and widen narrow walls so as to apparently correct disproportion? These things are the results of laws which she has never studied—laws of compensation and relation, which belong exclusively to the world of colour, and unfortunately they are not so well formulated that they can be committed to memory like rules of grammar; yet all good colour-practice rests upon them as unquestionably as language rests upon grammatical construction.
Of course one may use colour as one can speak a language, purely by imitation and memory, but it is not absolutely reliable practice; and just here comes in the necessity for professional advice.
There are many difficulties in the accomplishment of a perfect house-interior which few householders have had the time or experience to cope with, and yet the fact remains that each mistress of a house believes that unless she vanquishes all difficulties and comes out triumphantly with colours flying at the housetop and enjoyment and admiration following her efforts, she has failed in something which she should have been perfectly able to accomplish. But the obligation is certainly a forced one. It is the result of the modern awakening to the effect of many heretofore unrecognized influences in our lives and the lives and characters of our children. A beautiful home is undoubtedly a great means of education, and of that best of all education which is unconscious. To grow up in such a one means a much more complete and perfect man or woman than would be possible without that particular influence.
But a perfect home is never created all at once and by one person, and let the anxious house-mistress take comfort in the thought. She should also remember that it is in the nature of beauty to grow, and that a well-rounded and beautiful family life adds its quota day by day. Every book, every sketch or picture—every carefully selected or characteristic object brought into the home adds to and makes a part of a beautiful whole, and no house can be absolutely perfect without all these evidences of family life.
It can be made ready for them, completely and perfectly ready, by professional skill and knowledge; but if it remained just where the interior artist or decorator left it, it would have no more of the sentiment of domesticity than a statue.
CHARACTER IN HOUSES
"For the created still doth shadow forth the mind and will which made it.
"Thou art the very mould of thy creator."
It needs the combined personality of the family to make the character of the house. No one could say of a house which has family character, "It is one of ——'s houses" (naming one or another successful decorator), because the decorator would have done only what it was his business to do—used technical and artistic knowledge in preparing a proper and correct background for family life. Even in doing that, he must consult family tastes and idiosyncracies if he has the reverence for individuality which belongs to the true artist.
A domestic interior is a thing to which he should give knowledge and not personality, and the puzzled home-maker, who understands that her world expects correct use of means of beauty, as well as character and originality in her home, need not feel that to secure the one she must sacrifice the other.
An inexperienced person might think it an easy thing to make a beautiful home, because the world is full of beautiful art and manufactures, and if there is money to pay for them it would seem as easy to furnish a house with everything beautiful as to go out in the garden and gather beautiful flowers; but we must remember that the world is also full of ugly things—things false in art, in truth and in beauty—things made to sell—made with only this idea behind them, manufactured on the principle that an artificial fly is made to look something like a true one in order to catch the inexpert and the unwary. It is a curious fact that these false things—manufactures without honesty, without knowledge, without art—have a property of demoralizing the spirit of the home, and that to make it truly beautiful everything in it must be genuine as well as appropriate, and must also fit into some previously considered scheme of use and beauty.
The esthetic or beautiful aspect of the home, in short, must be created through the mind of the family or owner, and is only maintained by its or his susceptibility to true beauty and appreciation of it. It must, in fact, be a visible mould of invisible matter, like the leaf-mould one finds in mineral springs, which show the wonderful veining, branching, construction and delicacy of outline in a way which one could hardly be conscious of in the actual leaf.
If the grade or dignity of the home requires professional and scholarly art direction, the problem is how to use this professional or artistic advice without delivering over the entire creation into stranger or alien hands; without abdicating the right and privilege of personal expression. If the decorator appreciates this right, his function will be somewhat akin to that of the portrait painter; both are bound to represent the individual or family in their performances, each artist using the truest and best methods of art with the added gift of grace or charm of colour which he possesses, the one giving the physical aspect of his client and the other the mental characteristics, circumstances, position and life of the house-owner and his family. This is the true mission of the decorator, although it is not always so understood. What is called business talent may lead him to invent schemes of costliness which relate far more to his own profit than to the wishes or character of the house-owner.
But it is not always that the assistance of the specialist in decoration and furnishing is necessary. There are many homes where both are quite within the scope of the ordinary man or woman of taste. In fact, the great majority of homes come within these lines, and it is to such home-builders that rules, not involving styles, are especially of use.
The principles of truth and harmony, which underlie all beauty, may be secured in the most inexpensive cottage as well as in the broadest and most imposing residence. Indeed, the cottage has the advantage of that most potent ally of beauty—simplicity—a quality which is apt to be conspicuously absent from the schemes of decoration for the palace.
"Mine own hired house."
A large proportion of homes are made in houses which are not owned, but leased, and this prevents each man or family from indicating personal taste in external aspect. A rich man and house-owner may approximate to a true expression of himself even in the outside of his house if he strongly desires it, but a man of moderate means must adapt himself and his family to the house-builder's idea of houses—that is to say, to the idea of the man who has made house-building a trade, and whose experiences have created a form into which houses of moderate cost and fairly universal application may be cast.
Although it is as natural to a man to build or acquire a home as to a bird to build a nest, he has not the same unfettered freedom in construction. He cannot always adapt his house either to the physical or mental size of his family, but must accept what is possible with much the same feeling with which a family of robins might accommodate themselves to a wren's nest, or an oriole to that of a barn-swallow. But the fact remains, that all these accidental homes must, in some way, be brought into harmony with the lives to be lived in them, and the habits and wants of the family; and not only this, they must be made attractive according to the requirements of cultivated society. The effort toward this is instructive, and the pleasure in and enjoyment of the home depends upon the success of the effort. The inmates, as a rule, are quite clear as to what they want to accomplish, but have seldom had sufficient experience to enable them to remedy defects of construction.
There are expedients by which many of the malformations and uglinesses of the ordinary "builder's house" may be greatly ameliorated, various small surgical operations which will remedy badly planned rooms, and dispositions of furniture which will restore proportion. We can even, by judicious distribution of planes of colour, apparently lower or raise a ceiling, and widen or lengthen a room, and these expedients, which belong partly to the experience of the decorator, are based upon laws which can easily be formulated. Every one can learn something of them by the study of faulty rooms and the enjoyment of satisfactory ones. Indeed, I know no surer or more agreeable way of getting wisdom in the art of decoration than by tracing back sensation to its source, and finding out why certain things are utterly satisfactory, and certain others a positive source of discomfort.
In what are called the "best houses" we can make our deductions quite as well as in the most faulty, and sometimes get a lesson of avoidance and a warning against law-breaking which will be quite as useful as if it were learned in less than the best.
There is one fault very common in houses which date from a period of some forty or fifty years back, a fault of disproportionate height of ceilings. In a modern house, if one room is large enough to require a lofty ceiling, the architect will manage to make his second floor upon different levels, so as not to inflict the necessary height of large rooms upon narrow halls and small rooms, which should have only a height proportioned to their size. A ten-foot room with a thirteen-foot ceiling makes the narrowness of the room doubly apparent; one feels shut up between two walls which threaten to come together and squeeze one between them, while, on the other hand, a ten-foot room with a nine-foot ceiling may have a really comfortable and cozy effect.
In this case, what is needed is to get rid of the superfluous four feet, and this can be done by cheating the eye into an utter forgetfulness of them. There must be horizontal divisions of colour which attract the attention and make one oblivious of what is above them.
Every one knows the effect of a paper with perpendicular stripes in apparently heightening a ceiling which is too low, but not every one is equally aware of the contrary effect of horizontal lines of varied surface. But in the use of perpendicular lines it is well to remember that, if the room is small, it will appear still smaller if the wall is divided into narrow spaces by vertical lines. If it is large and the ceiling simply low for the size of the room, a good deal can be done by long, simple lines of drapery in curtains and portieres, or in choosing a paper where the composition of design is perpendicular rather than diagonal.
To apparently lower a high ceiling in a small room, the wall should be treated horizontally in different materials. Three feet of the base can be covered with coarse canvas or buckram and finished with a small wood moulding. Six feet of plain wall above this, painted the same shade as the canvas, makes the space of which the eye is most aware. This space should be finished with a picture moulding, and the four superfluous feet of wall above it must be treated as a part of the ceiling. The cream-white of the actual ceiling should be brought down on the side walls for a space of two feet, and this has the effect of apparently enlarging the room, since the added mass of light tint seems to broaden it. There still remain two feet of space between the picture moulding and ceiling-line which may be treated as a ceiling-border in inconspicuous design upon the same cream ground, the design to be in darker, but of the same tint as the ceiling.
The floor in such a room as this should either be entirely covered with plain carpeting, or, if it has rugs at all, there should be several, as one single rug, not entirely covering the floor, would have the effect of confining the apparent size of the room to the actual size of the rug.
If the doors and windows in such a room are high and narrow, they can be made to come into the scheme by placing the curtain and portiere rods below the actual height and covering the upper space with thin material, either full or plain, of the same colour as the upper wall. A brocaded muslin, stained or dyed to match the wall, answers this purpose admirably, and is really better in its place than the usual expedient of stained glass or open-work wood transom. A good expedient is to have the design already carried around the wall painted in the same colour upon a piece of stretched muslin. This is simple but effective treatment, and is an instance of the kind of thought or knowledge that must be used in remedying faults of construction.
Colour has much to do with the apparent size of rooms, a room in light tints always appearing to be larger than a deeply coloured one.
Perhaps the most difficult problem in adaptation is the high, narrow city house, built and decorated by the block by the builder, who is also a speculator in real estate, and whose activity was chiefly exercised before the ingenious devices of the modern architect were known. These houses exist in quantities in our larger and older cities, and mere slices of space as they are, are the theatres where the home-life of many refined and beauty-loving intelligences must be played.
In such houses as these, the task of fitting them to the cultivated eyes and somewhat critical tests of modern society generally falls to the women who represent the family, and calls for an amount of ability which would serve to build any number of creditable houses; yet this is constantly being done and well done for not one, but many families. I know one such, which is quite a model of a charming city home and yet was evolved from one of the worst of its kind and period. In this case the family had fallen heir to the house and were therefore justified in the one radical change which metamorphosed the entrance-hall, from a long, narrow passage, with an apparently interminable stairway occupying half its width, to a small reception-hall seemingly enlarged by a judicious placing of the mirrors which had formerly been a part of the "fixtures" of the parlour and dining-room.
The reception-room was accomplished by cutting off the lower half of the staircase, which had extended itself to within three feet of the front door, and turning it directly around, so that it ends at the back instead of the front of the hall. The two cut ends are connected by a platform, thrown across from wall to wall, and furnished with a low railing of carved panels, and turned spindles, which gives a charming balcony effect. The passage to the back hall and stairs passes under the balcony and upper end of the staircase, while the space under the lower stair-end, screened by a portiere, adds a coat-closet to the conveniences of the reception-hall.
This change was not a difficult thing to accomplish, it was simply an expedient, but it has the value of carefully planned construction, and reminds one of the clever utterance of the immortal painter who said, "I never lose an accident."
Indeed the ingenious home-maker often finds that the worse a thing is, the better it can be made by competent and careful study. To complete and adapt incompetent things to orderliness and beauty, to harmonise incongruous things into a perfect whole requires and exercises ability of a high order, and the consciousness of its possession is no small satisfaction. That it is constantly being done shows how much real cleverness is necessary to ordinary life—and reminds one of the patriotic New York state senator who declared that it required more ability to cross Broadway safely at high tide, than to be a great statesman. And truly, to make a good house out of a poor one, or a beautiful interior from an ugly one, requires far more thought, and far more original talent, than to decorate an important new one. The one follows a travelled path—the other makes it.
Of course competent knowledge saves one from many difficulties; and faults of construction must be met by knowledge, yet this is often greatly aided by natural cleverness, and in the course of long practice in the decorative arts, I have seen such refreshing and charming results from thoughtful untrained intelligence,—I might almost say inspiration,—that I have great respect for its manifestations; especially when exercised in un-authoritative fashion.
COLOUR IN HOUSES
"Heaven gives us of its colour, for our joy, Hues which have words and speak to ye of heaven."
Although the very existence of a house is a matter of construction, its general interior effect is almost entirely the result of colour treatment and careful and cultivated selection of accessories.
Colour in the house includes much that means furniture, in the way of carpets, draperies, and all the modern conveniences of civilization, but as it precedes and dictates the variety of all these things from the authoritative standpoint of wall treatment, it is well to study its laws and try to reap the full benefit of its influence.
As far as effect is concerned, the colour of a room creates its atmosphere. It may be cheerful or sad, cosy or repellent according to its quality or force. Without colour it is only a bare canvas, which might, but does not picture our lives.
We understand many of the properties of colour, and have unconsciously learned some of its laws;—but what may be called the science of colour has never been formulated. So far as we understand it, its principles correspond curiously to those of melodious sound. It is as impossible to produce the best effect from one tone or colour, as to make a melody upon one note of the harmonic scale; it is skilful variation of tone, the gradation or even judicious opposition of tint which gives exquisite satisfaction to the eye. In music, sequence produces this effect upon the ear, and in colour, juxtaposition and gradation upon the eye. Notes follow notes in melody as shade follows shade in colour. We find no need of even different names for the qualities peculiar to the two; scale—notes—tones—harmonies—the words express effects common to colour as well as to music, but colour has this advantage, that its harmonies can be fixed, they do not die with the passing moment; once expressed they remain as a constant and ever-present delight.
Notes of the sound-octave have been gathered by the musicians from widely different substances, and carefully linked in order and sequence to make a harmonious scale which may be learned; but the painter, conscious of colour-harmonies, has as yet no written law by which he can produce them.
The "born colourist" is one who without special training, or perhaps in spite of it, can unerringly combine or oppose tints into compositions which charm the eye and satisfy the sense. Even among painters it is by no means a common gift. It is almost more rare to find a picture distinguished for its harmony and beauty of colour, than to see a room in which nothing jars and everything works together for beauty. It seems strange that this should be a rarer personal gift than the musical sense, since nature apparently is far more lavish of her lessons for the eye than for the ear; and it is curious that colour, which at first sight seems a more apparent and simple fact than music, has not yet been written. Undoubtedly there is a colour scale, which has its sharps and flats, its high notes and low notes, its chords and discords, and it is not impossible that in the future science may make it a means of regulated and written harmonies:—that some master colourist who has mechanical and inventive genius as well, may so arrange them that they can be played by rule; that colour may have its Mozart or Beethoven—its classic melodies, its familiar tunes. The musician, as I have said—has gathered his tones from every audible thing in nature—and fitted and assorted and built them into a science; and why should not some painter who is also a scientist take the many variations of colour which lie open to his sight, and range and fit and combine, and write the formula, so that a child may read it?
We already know enough to be very sure that the art is founded upon laws, although they are not thoroughly understood. Principles of masses, spaces, and gradations underlie all accidental harmonies of colour;—just as in music, the simple, strong, under-chords of the bass must be the ground for all the changes and trippings of the upper melodies.
It is easy, if one studies the subject, to see how the very likeness of these two esthetic forces illustrate the laws of each,—in the principles of relation, gradation, and scale.
Until very recently the relation of colour to the beauty of a house interior was quite unrecognised. If it existed in any degree of perfection it was an accident, a result of the softening and beautifying effect of time, or of harmonious human living. Where it existed, it was felt as a mysterious charm belonging to the home; something which pervaded it, but had no separate being; an attractive ghost which attached itself to certain houses, followed certain people, came by chance, and was a mystery which no one understood, but every one acknowledged. Now we know that this something which distinguished particular rooms, and made beautiful particular houses, was a definite result of laws of colour accidentally applied.
To avail ourselves of this influence upon the moods and experiences of life is to use a power positive in its effects as any spiritual or intellectual influence. It gives the kind of joy we find in nature, in the golden-green of light under tree-branches, or the mingled green and gray of tree and rock shadows, or the pearl and rose of sunrise and sunset. We call the deep content which results from such surroundings the influence of nature, and forget to name the less spiritual, the more human condition of well-being which comes to us in our homes from being surrounded with something which in a degree atones for lack of nature's beauty.
It is a different well-being, and lacks the full tide of electric enjoyment which comes from living for the hour under the sky and in the breadths of space, but it atones by substituting something of our own invention, which surprises us by its compensations, and confounds us by its power.
THE LAW OF APPROPRIATENESS
I have laid much stress upon the value of colour in interior decoration, but to complete the beauty of the home something more than happy choice of tints is required. It needs careful and educated selection of furniture and fittings, and money enough to indulge in the purchase of an intrinsically good thing instead of a medium one. It means even something more than the love of beauty and cultivation of it, and that is a perfect adherence to the law of appropriateness.
This is, after all, the most important quality of every kind of decoration, the one binding and general condition of its accomplishment. It requires such a careful fitting together of all the means of beauty as to leave no part of the house, whatever may be its use, without the same care for appropriate completeness which goes to the more apparent features. The cellar, the kitchen, the closets, the servants' bedrooms must all share in the thought which makes the genuinely beautiful home and the genuinely perfect life. It must be possible to go from the top to the bottom of the house, finding everywhere agreeable, suitable, and thoughtful furnishings. The beautiful house must consider the family as a whole, and not make a museum of rare and costly things in the drawing-room, the library, the dining-room and family bedrooms, leaving that important part of the whole machinery, the service, untouched by the spirit of beauty. 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.
These things have an influence upon the spirit of the home; they are a part of its spiritual beauty, giving a satisfied and approving consciousness to the home-makers, and a sense of happiness in the service of the family.
In the average, or small house, there is room for much improvement in the treatment and furnishing of servants' bedrooms; and this is not always from indifference, but because they are out of daily sight, and also from a belief that it would add seriously to the burden of housekeeping to see that they are kept up to the standard of family sleeping-rooms.
In point of fact, however, good surroundings are potent civilizers, and a house-servant whose room is well and carefully furnished feels an added value in herself, which makes her treat herself respectfully in the care of her room.
If it pleases her, the training she receives in the care of family rooms will be reflected in her own, and painstaking arrangements made for her pleasure will perhaps be recognised as an obligation.
Of course the fact must be recognised, that the occupant is not always a permanent one; that it may at times be a fresh importation directly from a city tenement; therefore, everything in the room should be able to sustain very radical treatment in the way of scrubbing and cleaning. Wall papers, unwashable rugs and curtains are out of the question; yet even with these limitations it is possible to make a charming and reasonably inexpensive room, which would be attractive to cultivated as well as uncultivated taste. It is in truth mostly a matter of colour; of coloured walls, and harmonising furniture and draperies, which are in themselves well adapted to their place.
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.
It may be said that the colouring and furnishing of the servants' bedroom is hardly a part of house decoration, but in truth house decoration at its best is a means of happiness, and no householder can achieve permanent happiness without making the service of the family sharers in it.
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. There are many ways of using this method, some of which partake very largely of artistic effect; indeed a thoroughly good stencil pattern may reproduce the best instances of design, and in the hands of a skilful workman who knows how to graduate and vary contrasting or harmonising tints it becomes a very artistic method and deserves a place of high honour in the art of decoration.
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. This, of course, is a purely mechanical performance, and one with which every house-painter is familiar. 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.
Irregularly placed floating forms of Persian or Arabic design are often admirably stencilled in colour upon a painted wall; but in this case the colours should be varied and not too strong. A group of forms floating away from a window-frame or cornice can be done in two shades of the wall colour, one of which is positively darker and one lighter than the ground. If to these two shades some delicately contrasting colour is occasionally added the effect is not only pleasing, but belongs to a thoroughly good style.
One seldom tires of a good stencilled wall; probably because it is intrinsic, and not applied in the sense of paper or textiles. It carries an air of permanency which discourages change or experiment, but it requires considerable experience in decoration to execute it worthily; and not only this, there should be a strong feeling for colour and taste and education in the selection of design, for though the form of the stencilled pattern may be graceful, and gracefully combined, it must always—to be permanently satisfactory—have a geometrical basis. It is somewhat difficult to account for the fact that what we call natural forms, of plants and flowers, which are certainly beautiful and graceful in themselves, and grow into shapes which delight us with their freedom and beauty, do not give the best satisfaction as motives for interior decoration. Construction in the architectural sense—the strength and squareness of walls, ceilings, and floors—seem to reject the yielding character of design founded upon natural forms, and demand something which answers more sympathetically to their own qualities. Perhaps it is for this reason that we find the grouping and arrangement of horizontal and perpendicular lines and blocks in the old Greek borders so everlastingly satisfactory.
It is the principle or requirement, of geometric base in interior design which, coupled with our natural delight in yielding or growing forms, has maintained through all the long history of decoration what is called conventionalised flower design. We find this in every form or method of decorative art, from embroidery to sculpture, from the Lotus of Egypt to the Rose of England, and although it results in a sort of crucifixion of the natural beauty of the flower, in the hands of great designers it has become an authoritative style of art.
Of course, there are flower-forms which are naturally geometric, which have conventionalised themselves. Many of the intricate Moorish frets and Indian carvings are literal translations of flower-forms geometrically repeated, and here they lend themselves so perfectly to the decoration of even exterior walls that the fretted arches of some Eastern buildings seem almost to have grown of themselves, with all their elaboration, into the world of nature and art.
The separate flowers of the gracefully tossing lilac plumes, and the five-and six-leaved flowers of the pink, have become in this way a very part of the everlasting walls, as the acanthus leaf has become the marble blossom of thousands of indestructible columns.
These are the classics of design and hold the same relation to ornament printed on paper and silk that we find in the music of the Psalms, as compared with the tinkle of the ballad.
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.
In all these things the knowingness, which is the result of study, tells very strongly—and it is quite worth while to give a good deal of study to the subject of this kind of decoration before expending the requisite amount of work upon a painted frieze.
Canvas friezes have the excellent merit of being not only durable and cleanable, but they belong to the category of pictures; to what Ruskin calls "portable art," and one need not grudge the devotion of considerable time, study, and effort to their doing, since they are really detachable property, and can be removed from one house or room and carried to another at the owner's or artist's will.
There is room for the exercise of much artistic ability in this direction, as the fact of being able to paint the decoration in parts and afterward place it, makes it possible for an amateur to do much for the enhancement of her own house.
More than any other room in the house, the bedroom will show personal character. Even when it is not planned for particular occupation, the characteristics of the inmate will write themselves unmistakably in the room. If the college boy is put in the white and gold bedroom for even a vacation period, there will shortly come into its atmosphere an element of sporting and out-of-door life. Banners and balls and bats, and emblems of the "wild thyme" order will colour its whiteness; and life of the growing kind make itself felt in the midst of sanctity. In the same way, girls would change the bare asceticism of a monk's cell into a bower of lilies and roses; a fit place for youth and unpraying innocence.
The bedrooms of a house are a pretty sure test of the liberality of mind and understanding of character of the mother or house-ruler. As each room is in a certain sense the home of the individual occupant, almost the shell of his or her mind, there will be something narrow and despotic in the house-rules if this is not allowed. Yet, even individuality of taste and expression must scrupulously follow sanitary laws in the furnishing of the bedroom. "Stuffy things" of any sort should be avoided. The study should be to make it beautiful without such things, and a liberal use of washable textiles in curtains, portieres, bed and table covers, will give quite as much sense of luxury as heavily papered walls and costly upholstery. In fact, one may run through all the variations from the daintiest and most befrilled and elegant of guests' bedrooms, to the "boys' room," which includes all or any of the various implements of sport or the hobbies of the boy collector, and yet keep inviolate the principles of harmony, colour, and appropriateness to use, and so accomplish beauty.
The absolute ruling of light, air, and cleanliness are quite compatible with individual expression.
It is this characteristic aspect of the different rooms which makes up the beauty of the house as a whole. If the purpose of each is left to develop itself through good conditions, the whole will make that most delightful of earthly things, a beautiful home.
The kitchen is an important part of the perfect house and should be a recognised sharer in its quality of beauty; not alone the beauty which consists of a successful adaptation of means to ends, but the kind which is independently and positively attractive to the eye.
In costly houses it is not hard to attain this quality or the rarer one of a union of beauty, with perfect adaptation to use; but where it must be reached by comparatively inexpensive methods, the difficulty is greater.
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.
The mistress—who had standards of perfection in all things, whether great or small, and was moreover of Southern blood—confessed that her ideal of service in her glittering kitchen was not a clever red-haired Hibernian, but a slim mulatto, wearing a snow-white turban; and this longing seemed so reasonable, and so impressed my fancy, that whenever I think of the shining blue-and-silver kitchen, I seem to see within it the graceful sway of figure and coffee-coloured face which belongs to the half-breed African race, certain rare specimens of which are the most beautiful of domestic adjuncts.
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.
Every detail should be considered from the double point of view of use and effect. If the curtains answer the two purposes of shading sunlight, or securing privacy at night, and of giving pleasing colour and contrast to the general tone of the interior, they perform a double function, each of of which is valuable.
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. A pursuance of this thought adds to the harmony of the house both in aspect and actual beauty of living. 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.
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.
There is no reason why the wall space above it should not have its cabinet for photographs and the usually cherished prayer-book which maids love both to possess and display. Such possessions answer exactly to the bric-a-brac of the drawing-room; ministering to the same human instinct in its primitive form, and to the inherent enjoyment of the beautiful which is the line of demarcation between the tribes of animals and those of men.
If one can use this distinctly human trait as a lever to raise crude humanity into the higher region of the virtues, it is certainly worth while to consider pots and pans from the point of view of their decorative ability.
COLOUR WITH REFERENCE TO LIGHT
In choosing colour for walls and ceilings, it is most necessary to consider the special laws which govern its application to house interiors.
The tint of any particular room should be chosen not only with reference to personal liking, but first of all, to the quantity and quality of light which pervades it. A north room will require warm and bright treatment, warm reds and golden browns, or pure gold colours. Gold-colour used in sash curtains will give an effect of perfect sunshine in a dark and shadowy room, but the same treatment in a room fronting the south would produce an almost insupportable brightness.
I will illustrate the modifications made necessary in tint by different exposure to light, by supposing that some one member of the family prefers yellow to all other colours, one who has enough of the chameleon in her nature to feel an instinct to bask in sunshine. I will also suppose that the room most conveniently devoted to the occupation of this member has a southern exposure. If yellow must be used in her room, the quality of it should be very different from that which could be properly and profitably used in a room with a northern exposure, and it should differ not only in intensity, but actually in tint. If it is necessary, on account of personal preference, to use yellow in a sunny room, it should be lemon, instead of ochre or gold-coloured yellow, because the latter would repeat sunlight. There are certain shades of yellow, where white has been largely used in the mixture, which are capable of greenish reflections. This is where the white is of so pure a quality as to suggest blue, and consequently under the influence of yellow to suggest green. We often find yellow dyes in silks the shadows of which are positive fawn colour or even green, instead of orange as we might expect; still, even with modifications, yellow should properly be reserved for sunless rooms, where it acts the part almost of the blessed sun itself in giving cheerfulness and light. Going from a sun-lighted atmosphere, or out of actual sunlight into a yellow room, one would miss the sense of shelter which is so grateful to eyes and senses a little dazzled by the brilliance of out-of-door lights; whereas a room darkened or shaded by a piazza, or somewhat chilled by a northern exposure and want of sun, would be warmed and comforted by tints of gold-coloured yellow.
Interiors with a southern exposure should be treated with cool, light colours, blues in various shades, water-greens, and silvery tones which will contrast with the positive yellow of sunlight.
It is by no means a merely arbitrary rule. Colours are actually warm or cold in temperature, as well as in effect upon the eye or the imagination, in fact the words cover a long-tested fact. I remember being told by a painter of his placing a red sunset landscape upon the flat roof of a studio building to dry, and on going to it a few hours afterward he found the surface of it so warm to the touch—so sensibly warmer than the gray and blue and green pictures around it—that he brought a thermometer to test it, and found it had acquired and retained heat. It was actually warmer by degrees than the gray and blue pictures in the same sun exposure.
We instinctively wear warm colours in winter and dispense with them in summer, and this simple fact may explain the art which allots what we call warm colour to rooms without sun. When we say warm colours, we mean yellows, reds with all their gradations, gold or sun browns, and dark browns and black. When we say cool colours—whites, blues, grays, and cold greens—for greens may be warm or cold, according to their composition or intensity. A water-green is a cold colour, so is a pure emerald green, so also a blue-green; while an olive, or a gold-green comes into the category of warm colours. This is because it is a composite colour made of a union of warm and cold colours; the brown and yellow in its composition being in excess of the blue; as pink also, which is a mixture of red and white; and lavender, which is a mixture of red, white, and blue, stand as intermediate between two extremes.
Having duly considered the effect of light upon colour, we may fearlessly choose tints for every room according to personal preferences or tastes. If we like one warm colour better than another, there is no reason why that one should not predominate in every room in the house which has a shadow exposure. If we like a cold colour it should be used in many of the sunny rooms.
I believe we do not give enough importance to this matter of personal liking in tints. We select our friends from sympathy. As a rule, we do not philosophise much about it, although we may recognise certain principles in our liking; it is those to whom our hearts naturally open that we invite in and have joy in their companionship, and we might surely follow our likings in the matter of colour, as well as in friendship, and thereby add much to our happiness. Curiously enough we often speak of the colour of a mind—and I once knew a child who persisted in calling people by the names of colours; not the colour of their clothes, but some mind-tint which he felt. "The blue lady" was his especial favourite, and I have no doubt the presence or absence of that particular colour made a difference in his content all the days of his life.
The colour one likes is better for tranquillity and enjoyment—more conducive to health; and exercises an actual living influence upon moods. For this reason, if no other, the colour of a room should never be arbitrarily prescribed or settled for the one who is to be its occupant. It should be as much a matter of nature as the lining of a shell is to the mussel, or as the colour of the wings of a butterfly.
In fact the mind which we cannot see may have a colour of its own, and it is natural that it should choose to dwell within its own influence.
We do not know why we like certain colours, but we do, and let that suffice, and let us live with them, as gratefully as we should for more explainable ministry.
If colours which we like have a soothing effect upon us, those which we do not like are, on the other hand, an unwelcome influence. If a woman says in her heart, I hate green, or red, or I dislike any one colour, and then is obliged to live in its neighbourhood, she will find herself dwelling with an enemy. We all know that there are colours of which a little is enjoyable when a mass would be unendurable. Predominant scarlet would be like close companionship with a brass band, but a note of scarlet is one of the most valuable of sensations. The gray compounded of black and white would be a wet blanket to all bubble of wit or spring of fancy, but the shadows of rose colour are gray, pink-tinted it is true; indeed the shadow of pink used to be known by the name of ashes of roses. I remember seeing once in Paris—that home of bad general decoration—a room in royal purples; purple velvet on walls, furniture, and hangings. One golden Rembrandt in the middle of a long wall, and a great expanse of ochre-coloured parquetted floor were all that saved it from the suggestion of a royal tomb. As it was, I left the apartment with a feeling of treading softly as when we pass through a door hung with crape. Vagaries of this kind are remediable when they occur in cravats, or bonnets, or gloves—but a room in the wrong colour! Saints and the angels preserve us!
The number, size, and placing of the windows will greatly affect the intensity of colour to be used. It must always be remembered that any interior is dark as compared with out-of-doors, and that in the lightest room there will be dark corners or spaces where the colour chosen as chief tint will seem much darker than it really is. A paper or textile chosen in a good light will look several shades darker when placed in large unbroken masses or spaces upon the wall, and a fully furnished room will generally be much darker when completed than might be expected in planning it. For this reason, in choosing a favourite tint, it is better on many accounts to choose it in as light a shade as one finds agreeable. It can be repeated in stronger tones in furniture or in small and unimportant furnishings of the room, but the wall tone should never be deeper than medium in strength, at the risk of having all the light absorbed by the colour, and of losing a sense of atmosphere in the room. There is another reason for this, which is that many colours are agreeable, even to their lovers, only in light tones. The moment they get below medium they become insistent, and make themselves of too much importance. In truth colour has qualities which are almost personal, and is well worth studying in all its peculiarities, because of its power to affect our happiness.
The principles of proper use of colour in house interiors are not difficult to master. It is unthinking, unreflective action which makes so many unrestful interiors of homes. The creator of a home should consider, in the first place, that it is a matter as important as climate, and as difficult to get away from, and that the first shades of colour used in a room upon walls or ceiling, must govern everything else that enters in the way of furnishing; that the colour of walls prescribes that which must be used in floors, curtains, and furniture. Not that these must necessarily be of the same tint as walls, but that wall-tints must govern the choice.
All this makes it necessary to take first steps carefully, to select for each room the colour which will best suit the taste, feeling, or bias of the occupant, always considering the exposure of the room and the use of it.
After the relation of colour to light is established—with personal preferences duly taken into account—the next law is that of gradation. The strongest, and generally the purest, tones of colour belong naturally at the base, and the floor of a room means the base upon which the scheme of decoration is to be built.
The carpet, or floor covering, should carry the strongest tones. If a single tint is to be used, the walls must take the next gradation, and the ceiling the last. These gradations must be far enough removed from each other in depth of tone to be quite apparent, but not to lose their relation. The connecting grades may appear in furniture covering and draperies, thus giving different values in the same tone, the relation between them being perfectly apparent. These three masses of related colour are the groundwork upon which one can play infinite variations, and is really the same law upon which a picture is composed. There are foreground, middle-distance, and sky—and in a properly coloured room, the floors, walls, and ceiling bear the same relation to each other as the grades of colour in a picture, or in a landscape.
Fortunately we keep to this law almost by instinct, and yet I have seen a white-carpeted floor in a room with a painted ceiling of considerable depth of colour. Imagine the effect where this rule of gradation or ascending scale is reversed. A tinted floor of cream colour, or even white, and a ceiling as deep in colour as a landscape. One feels as if they themselves were reversed, and standing upon their heads. Certainly if we ignore this law we lose our sense of base or foundation, and although we may not know exactly why, we shall miss the restfulness of a properly constructed scheme of decoration.
The rule of gradation includes also that of massing of colour. In all simple treatment of interiors, whatever colour is chosen should be allowed space enough to establish its influence, broadly and freely, and here again we get a lesson from nature in the massing of colour. It should not be broken into patches and neutralised by divisions, but used in large enough spaces to dominate, or bring into itself or its own influence all that is placed in the room. If this rule is disregarded every piece of furniture unrelated to the whole becomes a spot, it has no real connection with the room, and the room itself, instead of a harmonious and delightful influence, akin to that of a sun-flushed dawn or a sunset sky, is like a picture where there is no composition, or a book where incident is jumbled together without relation to the story. In short, placing of colour in large uniform masses used in gradation is the groundwork of all artistic effect in interiors. As I have said, it is the same rule that governs pictures, the general tone may be green or blue, or a division of each, but to be a perfect and harmonious view, every detail must relate to one or both of these tints.
In formulating thus far the rules for use of colour in rooms, we have touched upon three principles which are equally binding in interiors, whether of a cottage or a palace; the first is that of colour in relation to light, the second of colour in gradation, and the third of colour in masses.
A house in which walls and ceilings are simply well coloured or covered, has advanced very far toward the home which is the rightful endowment of every human being. The variations of treatment, which pertain to more costly houses, the application of design in borders and frieze spaces, walls, wainscots, and ceilings, are details which will probably call for artistic advice and professional knowledge, since in these things it is easy to err in misapplied decoration. The advance from perfect simplicity to selected and beautiful ornament marks not only the degree of cost but of knowledge which it is in the power of the house-owner to command. The elaboration which is the privilege of more liberal means and the use of artistic experience in decoration on a larger scale.
The smaller house shares in the advantage of beautiful colour, correct principles, and appropriate treatment equally with the more costly. The variations do not falsify principles.
WALLS, CEILINGS, AND FLOORS
The true principle of wall treatment is to make the boundary stand for colour and beauty, and not alone for division of space.
As a rule, the colour treatment of a house interior must begin with the walls, and it is fortunate if these are blank and plain as in most new houses with uncoloured ceilings, flat or broken with mouldings to suit the style of the house.
The range of possible treatment is very wide, from simple tones of wall colour against which quiet cottage or domestic city life goes on, to the elaboration of walls of houses of a different grade, where stately pageants are a part of the drama of daily life. But having shown that certain rules are applicable to both, and indeed necessary to success in both, we may choose within these rules any tint or colour which is personally pleasing.
Rooms with an east or west light may carry successfully tones of any shade, without violating fundamental laws.
The first impression of a room depends upon the walls. In fact, rooms are good or bad, agreeable or ugly in exact accordance with the wall-quality and treatment. No richness of floor-covering, draperies, or furniture can minimise their influence.
Perhaps it is for this reason that the world is full of papers and other devices for making walls agreeable; and we cannot wonder at this, when we reflect that something of the kind is necessary to the aspect of the room, and that each room effects for the individual exactly what the outer walls of the house effect for the family, they give space for personal privacy and for that reserve of the individual which is the earliest effect of luxury and comfort.
It is certain that if walls are not made agreeable there is in them something of restraint to the eye and the sense which is altogether disagreeable. Apparent confinement within given limits, is, on the whole, repugnant to either the natural or civilised man, and for this reason we are constantly tempted to disguise the limit and to cover the wall in such a way as shall interest and make us forget our bounds. In this case, the idea of decoration is, to make the walls a barrier of colour only, instead of hard, unyielding masonry; to take away the sense of being shut in a box, and give instead freedom to thought and pleasure to the sense.
It is the effect of shut-in-ness which the square and rigid walls of a room give that makes drapery so effective and welcome, and which also gives value to the practice of covering walls with silks or other textiles. The softened surface takes away the sense of restraint. We hang our walls with pictures, or cover them with textiles, or with paper which carries design, or even colour them with pigments—something—anything, which will disguise a restraining bound, or make it masquerade as a luxury.
This effort or instinct has set in motion the machinery of the world. It has created tapestries and brocades for castle and palace, and invented cheap substitutes for these costly products, so that the smallest and poorest house as well as the richest can cover its walls with something pleasant to the eye and suggestive to the mind.
It is one of the privileges and opportunities of art to invent these disguises; and to do it so thoroughly and successfully as to content us with facts which would otherwise be disagreeable. And we do, by these various devices, make our walls so hospitable to our thoughts that we take positive and continual pleasure in them.
We do this chiefly, perhaps, by ministering to our instinctive love of colour; which to many temperaments is like food to the hungry, and satisfies as insistent a demand of the mind as food to the body.
At this late period of the world we are the inheritors of many methods of wall disguise, from the primitive weavings or blanket coverings with which nomadic peoples lined the walls of their tents, or the arras which in later days covered the roughness and rudeness of the stone walls of kings and barons, to the pictured tapestries of later centuries. This latter achievement of art manufacture has outlived and far outweighed the others in value, because it more perfectly performs the object of its creation.
Tapestries, for the most part, offer us a semblance of nature, and cheat us with a sense of unlimited horizon. The older tapestries give us, with this, suggestions of human life and action in out-of-door scenes sufficiently unrealistic to offer a vague dream of existence in fields and forests. This effectually diverts our minds from the confinements of space, and allows us the freedom of nature.
Probably the true secret of the never-failing appreciation of tapestries—from the very beginning of their history until this day—is this fact of their suggestiveness; since we find that damasks of silk or velvet or other costly weavings, although far surpassing tapestries in texture and concentration of colour, yet lacking their suggestiveness to the mind, can never rival them in the estimation of the world. Unhappily, we cannot count veritable tapestries as a modern recourse in wall-treatment, since we are precluded from the use of genuine ones by their scarcity and cost.
There is undoubtedly a peculiar richness and charm in a tapestry-hung wall which no other wall covering can give; yet they are not entirely appropriate to our time. They belong to the period of windy palaces and enormous enclosures, and are fitted for pageants and ceremonies, and not to our carefully plastered, wind-tight and narrow rooms. Their mission to-day is to reproduce for us in museums and collections the life of yesterday, so full of pomp and almost barbaric lack of domestic comfort. In studios they are certainly appropriate and suggestive, but in private houses except of the princely sort, it is far better to make harmonies with the things of to-day.
Nevertheless if the soul craves tapestries let them be chosen for intrinsic beauty and perfect preservation, instead of accepting the rags of the past and trying to create with them a magnificence which must be incomplete and shabby. Considering, as I do, that tapestries belong to the life and conditions of the past, where the homeless many toiled for the pampered few, and not to the homes of to-day where the man of moderate means expects beauty in his home as confidently as if he were a world ruler, I find it hardly necessary to include them in the list of means of modern decoration, and indeed it is not necessary, since a well-preserved tapestry of a good period, and of a famous manufacturer or origin, is so costly a purchase that only our bounteous and self-indulgent millionaires would venture to acquire one solely for purposes of wall decoration. It would be purchased as a specimen of art and not as furnishing.
Yet I know one instance of a library where a genuine old foliage tapestry has been cut and fitted to the walls and between bookcases and doors, where the wood of the room is in mahogany, and a great chimney-piece of Caen stone of Richardson's designing fills nearly one side of the room. Of course the tapestry is unapproachable in effect in this particular place and with its surroundings. It has the richness and softness of velvet, and the red of the mahogany doors and furniture finds exactly its foil in the blue greens and soft browns of the web, while the polished floor and velvety antique rugs bring all the richness of the walls down to one's feet and to the hearth with its glow of fire. But this particular room hardly makes an example for general following. It is really a house of state, a house without children, one in which public life predominates.
There is a very flagrant far-away imitation of tapestry which is so far from being good that it is a wonder it has had even a moderate success, imitation which does not even attempt the decorative effect of the genuine, but substitutes upon an admirably woven cotton or woollen canvas, figure panels, copied from modern French masters, and suggestive of nothing but bad art. Yet these panels are sometimes used (and in fact are produced for the purpose of being used) precisely as a genuine tapestry would be, although the very fact of pretence in them, brings a feeling of untruth, quite at variance with the principles of all good art. The objection to pictures transferred to tapestries holds good, even when the tapestries are genuine.
The great cartoons of Raphael, still to be seen in the Kensington Museum, which were drawn and coloured for Flemish weavers to copy, show a perfect adaptation to the medium of weaving, while the paintings in the Vatican by the same great master are entirely inappropriate to textile reproduction.
A picture cannot be transposed to different substance and purpose without losing the qualities which make it valuable. The double effort to be both a tapestry and a picture is futile, and brings into disrepute a simple art of imitation which might become respectable if its capabilities were rightly used.
No one familiar with collections of tapestries can fail to recognise the largeness and simplicity of treatment peculiar to tapestry subjects as contrasted with the elaboration of pictures.
If we grant that in this modern world of hurry, imitation of tapestries is legitimate, the important question is, what are the best subjects, and what is the best use for such imitations?
The best use is undoubtedly that of wall-covering; and that was, indeed, the earliest object for which they were created. They were woven to cover great empty spaces of unsightly masonry; and they are still infinitely useful and beautiful in grand apartments whose barren spaces are too large for modern pictures, and which need the disguise of a suggestion of scenery or pictorial subject.
If tapestries must be painted, let them by all means follow the style of the ancient verdure or foliage tapestries, and be used for the same purpose—to cover an otherwise blank wall. This is legitimate, and even beautiful, but it is painting, and should be frankly acknowledged to be such, and no attempt made to have them masquerade as genuine and costly weavings. It is simply and always painting, although in the style and spirit of early tapestries. Productions of this sort, where real skill in textile painting is used, are quite worthy of admiration and respect.
I remember seeing, in the Swedish exhibit of women's work in the Woman's Building at the Columbian Exposition, a screen which had evidently been copied from an old bit of verdure tapestry. At the base were broad-leaved water-plants, each leaf carefully copied in blocks and patches of colour, with even the effect of the little empty space—where one thread passes to the back in weaving, to make room for one of another colour brought forward—imitated by a dot of black to simulate the tiny shadow-filled pen-point of a hole.
Now whether this was art or not I leave to French critics to decide, but it was at least admirable imitation; and any one able to cover the wall spaces between bookcases in a library with such imitation would find them as richly set as if it were veritable tapestry.
This is a very different thing from a painted tapestry, perhaps enlarged from a photograph or engraving of a painting the original of which the tapestry-painter had never even seen—the destiny of which unfortunate copy, changed in size, colour, and all the qualities which gave value to the original, is probably to be hung as a picture in the centre of a space of wall-paper totally antagonistic in colour.
When I see these things I long to curb the ambition of the unfortunate tapestry-painter until a course of study has taught him or her the proper use of a really useful process; for whether the object is to produce a decoration or a simulated tapestry, it is not attained by these methods.
The ordinary process of painting in dyes upon a wool or linen fabric woven in tapestry method, and fixing the colour with heat, enables the painter—if a true tapestry subject is chosen and tapestry effects carefully studied—to produce really effective and good things, and this opens a much larger field to the woman decorator than the ordinary unstudied shams which have thrown what might become in time a large and useful art-industry into neglect and disrepute.
I have seen the walls of a library hung with Siberian linen, stained in landscape design in the old blues and greens which give tapestry its decorative value, and found it a delightful wall-covering. Indeed we may lay it down as a principle in decoration that while we may use and adapt any decorative effect we must not attempt to make it pass for the thing which suggested the effect.
Coarse and carefully woven linens, used as I have indicated, are really far better than old tapestries for modern houses, because the design can be adapted to the specific purpose and the texture itself can be easily cleaned and is more appropriate to the close walls and less airy rooms of this century.
For costly wall-decoration, leather is another of the substances which have had a past of pomp and magnificence, and carries with it, in addition to beauty, a suggestion of the art of a race. Spanish leather, with its stamping and gilding, is quite as costly a wall covering as antique or modern tapestry, and far more indestructible. Perhaps it is needlessly durable as a mere vehicle for decoration. At all events Japanese artists and artisans seem to be of this opinion, and have transferred the same kind of decoration to heavy paper, where for some occult reason—although strongly simulating leather—it seems not only not objectionable, but even meritorious. This is because it simply transfers an artistic method from a costly substance, to another which is less so, and the fact may even have some weight that paper is a product of human manufacture, instead of human appropriation of animal life, for surely sentiment has its influence in decoration as in other arts.
Wood panelling is also a form of interior treatment which has come to us by inheritance from the past as well as by right of natural possession. It has a richness and sober dignity of effect which commends it in large or small interiors, in halls, libraries, and dining-rooms, whether they are public or private; devoted to grand functions, or to the constantly recurring uses of domesticity. Wood is so beautiful a substance in itself, and lends itself to so many processes of ornamentation, that hardly too much can be said of its appropriateness for interior decoration. From the two extremes of plain pine panellings cut into squares or parallelograms by machinery, and covered with paint in tints to match door and window casings, to the most elaborate carvings which back the Cathedral stalls or seats of ecclesiastical dignity, it is always beautiful and generally appropriate in use and effect, and that can hardly be said of any other substance. There are wainscotted rooms in old houses in Newport, where, under the accumulated paint of one or two centuries, great panels of old Spanish mahogany can still be found, not much the worse for their long eclipse. Such rooms, in the original brilliancy of colour and polish, with their parallel shadings of mahogany-red reflecting back the firelight from tiled chimney-places and scattering the play of dancing flame, must have had a beauty of colour hard to match in this day of sober oak and painted wainscottings.
One of the lessons gained by experience in treatment of house interiors, is that plain, flat tints give apparent size to small rooms, and that a satisfying effect in large ones can be gained by variation of tint or surface; also, that in a bedroom or other small room apparent size will be gained by using a wall covering which is light rather than dark. Some difference of tone there must be in large plain surfaces which lie within the level of the eye; or the monotony of a room becomes fatiguing. A plain, painted wall may, it is true, be broken by pictures, or cabinets, or bits of china; anything in short which will throw parts of it into shadow, and illumine other parts with gilded reflections; but even then there will be long, plain spaces above the picture or cabinet line, where blank monotony of tone will be fatal to the general effect of the room.
It is in this upper space, upon a plain painted wall, that a broad line of flat decoration should occur, but on a wall hung with paper or cloth, it is by no means necessary.