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Interior Decoration - Walls And Ceilings
( Originally Published 1918 )
Fortunate indeed is he who has the privilege of building his home after individual plans suited to his own uses and tastes. Then, after the site and style have been determined, a general plan of the interior can be easily and pleasantly evolved. Often the architect is also an interior decorator of no little ability, and he can safely be allowed to suggest a harmonious scheme for walls, ceilings, and furniture.
However, the pleasure of planning and building is vouchsafed to a comparative few. The usual person must live in house or apartment originally designed for another, or, worse, designed for any possible renter. He must often adjust himself to an environment foreign to his nature and make his home within walls at variance with his ideals. This is no easy task and yet every home maker can control, to a certain extent, the finish of the walls and ceilings, and the furnishings of the rooms wherein he dwells, and make them speak of his personality and the personality of his family.
Much can be accomplished by refinishing the woodwork and doing over the walls and ceilings. If the problem is a rented house or apartment, the landlord may not be willing to make changes, but can usually be persuaded to allow the tenant to redecorate at his own expense. Such expense may be made very slight by using the proper materials, and there is nothing so necessary in good interior decorating as well-toned woodwork, walls, and ceiling. A well-furnished room makes a beautiful picture, and a beautiful picture must have a beautiful background.
The dominant color used in a room, and the contrasting and combined effects of other shades employed, are of the greatest importance. Although physiologists have long known that colors affect the temperament in different ways, many people fail to profit by this when they select colors for their home. Rooms should be decorated in colors appropriate to their use, but also to the feelings and actions of the occupant. Where contrast is used, it should be agreeable and interesting. Where there is no contrast, one tone should melt softly into another, making a completed color scheme.
A dark woodwork with a light wall is not usually agreeable. A fairly light wall is often desirable, so, for this reason, the woodwork should be finished in a medium shade, or enameled white or ivory. Ivory is especially suited to the bedrooms and, in a colonial home, is admirable in the living and dining rooms. It is well to adhere to the plan of finishing the standing woodwork in adjoining rooms in the same color, or varying shades of the same color. The walls, too, of the different rooms should show no crude contrast, but should harmonize well, and the ceiling color should show a tone slightly lighter than that of the side wall.
If the home is an apartment or a small cottage, it will usually be found well to have the same tone of woodwork and the same tone of wall in all the adjoining rooms. A surprising impression of additional space can be effected in this way. If, on the other hand, the rooms are overlarge and cold in character, the best plan is to finish the standing woodwork in a darker tone, and place a more deep value upon the side walls.
Architecturally, the proportions of a room must be good in order to give a proper background for the beauties of the foreground. If the ceilings are too low, additional height may seemingly be gained by placing the picture molding at the very top of the side wall, or even, at times, bringing the tone of the side wall six inches over on to the ceiling, terminated there by a molding. If, on the other hand, the ceilings are too high for the size of the room, the picture molding should be placed at a distance of a third of the side wall from the ceiling, and the tone of the ceiling brought down to the molding.
Tones of cream and brown, gray, and occasionally green, are usually best for the hall, living and dining rooms. Cream and brown belong to the warm colors and should be used on the north side of the house or where there is little sunshine. Gray is a cold color and is often admirable in a well-lighted, sunny room, containing vivid hangings, upholstery, or tapestry. Green, as a wall tone, should be carefully considered before it is used. Uninformed or unscrupulous merchants sometimes sell wall papers and stains containing a dangerously large quantity of arsenic. For this reason it is well to have a green wall finish tested by a reliable chemist before it is used. As a wall color it is restful and is adapted to use in a well-lighted library or living room. In the bedrooms light walls should always be used. A bedroom should be dainty, and only light colors are dainty. A soft blue tone may be used only on the south side of the house, for blue is a cold color, almost colder than gray, and is apt to give a gloomy effect to a room with a northern exposure. If you have a dark, dismal room, use a pale yellow tone for the walls. You will be surprised at the effect of sunlight.
The whole trend of present-day decoration is toward the psychological use of color. Instead of the vivid, figured wall papers, plain painted or papered walls which are restful are now used. What sick person has not feverishly counted and recounted the dancing stripes and figures on walls and ceilings, and longed for a single flat tone of color to rest his tired eyes. But equally important is the artistic side. As the wall is the background for the room, it must be quiet and stay back in its proper perspective. Flat tone, washable wall paints are now on the market and are cheap and satisfactory. Good ingrain, oatmeal, and burlap paper are also to be had, at about the same cost, but of course are not as sanitary as washable tints.
Wood-paneled rooms are very beautiful and are seen far too seldom. While they are of course more expensive, there is still a richness given by a high wainscoting and a 'beamed ceiling which may compensate for the extra cost. Comparatively inexpensive building materials can be selected and satisfactorily stained, thus eliminating much expense. A paneled wall in natural color wood adds dignity to a library or dining room, while even a bedroom is charming with ivory panels. If pictures are desired on the walls of a paneled room, they should be unframed and merely fitted into the panels of the wainscoting with a narrow molding matching the woodwork. A formal arrangement is most pleasing. One charming bedroom which I saw recently had the entire side walls paneled in deep ivory. On either side of a slender, built-in dressing table a long panel was fitted with a soft mural painting, done in oil on canvas. I have also seen similar effects by the use of good reproductions in lithographs, shellacked after fitting in the panels.
An equally formal and artistic arrangement of pictures may be carried out in the simpler homes where the walls are painted or papered in a plain tone. Unframed pictures for each room are carefully selected. Then a narrow molding is secured and painted or stained to exactly match the woodwork of the room or rooms in which it is to be used. The finished molding should then be taken to a cabinet maker to be used as frames for the selected pictures. These pictures should have no mats and should be hung flat on the wall with screws and eyes.
When no formal effect is desired and where there is a variety in the style and framing of the pictures, there are several general rules which it is well to follow. In the main, pictures should be hung on a level with the eye, so they can be inspected with comfort. Scenes showing great altitude, such as of mountains, or pictures claiming adoration, as the Madonnas, may, however, be placed above the level of the eye. There should be no pictures hung in the hall and only formal pictures in the dining room. Ancestral portraits and old prints of historical scenes are suitable for the library, while etchings, sepia prints, and color photogravures are charming in the living room. Framed photographs of family and friends should be reserved for the bedrooms, if it is wished to see them on the walls at all. The casual caller has little or no interest in them.
Original paintings to adorn the home should not be purchased unless the purse and artistic knowledge of the buyer are sufficiently large to insure true works of art. Reproductions of recognized master pieces are always safe and may be obtained at very reasonable prices. Millet, Corot, and Jacques, who idealized the life and home of the French peasants, Whistler in his works in black and white, Abbey, Sargent, Kenyon Cox, and many other great painters have given us pictures which are now beautifully copied and which we can all enjoy. Prints of the ruins of the Greek Parthenon or Temple of Athena, the Roman Forum and Colosseum, are also interesting. For informal breakfast rooms and for bedrooms soft Japanese prints are excellent.
The size and character of the picture, the size of the wall space, and the character of the other pictures to be placed on the same wall determine the group arrangement of the hanging. Large pictures should be hung alone on a wall space. Small pictures should be grouped together, without any attempt at symmetry. Heavy pictures only should be suspended from the picture molding, and then by two parallel wires, from two hooks. One hook should never be used, as the angle formed by the single wire is unrelated to the straight lines of the wall and picture frame.
Occasionally the fortunate home maker possesses a piece of fine tapestry. Nothing could be more beautiful hung upon the wall of the living room, if the colors blend well with the furnishings. Old samplers may be framed for protection and hung in the hall above the card table.
The lack of culture and refinement in the occupants of a household is more often revealed in poor choice of pictures and wall decorations than in any other way. As careful attention should be given to this phase of furnishing as to the items more usually considered important.