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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Furnishing Plans For A Home

( Original Published 1935 )

A woman who is planning to furnish a new home or to reorganize her old furnishings should first of all decide upon the decorative idea to be used in her home. An individual effect of the most simple type, but following one idea throughout, makes a home far more interesting aesthetically than a more costly but more indefinite scheme. An idea, or in other words, a theme, provides the core around which a home can be created, so that the total effect will be one of wholeness.

The decorative idea chosen should depend upon:

1. The expressive quality and style of the house.

2. The needs of the family.

3. The personality of the family.

4. The permanence of the furnishings.

5. The income of the family.

The expressive quality of the house helps to determine the spirit of the furnishings. Formality and elegance belong in a mansion; informality, sturdiness, and simplicity are appropriate in a cottage or farmhouse. The kind of wood to be used for the furniture in a house depends upon the size and character of the house. The choice most often lies between oak and mahogany, as walnut can be used with nearly all other woods. The British have a tradition that oak is the proper wood for cottage furniture. Americans use oak, pine, maple, walnut, and even mahogany for furniture in small houses. Mahogany furniture usually seems incongruous in a cottage, but is often desirable in small apartments as it is made in smaller scale than oak.

The architectural style of the house must also be considered in selecting a decorative idea for it. A house built in a traditional mode requires furnishings of the same tradition, either of cottage or a more pretentious type, depending upon the quality of the house. The modern or engineers' type of house requires unadorned, functional furnishings.

The interior architecture, including such fixed items as walls, windows, doors, moldings, floors, and fireplace should also be considered in furnishing a house. Unless these can be altered they limit the choice of furnishing possible. When the interior architecture and the furnishings are in agreement the result is usually unified and distinctive. The beauty of period furniture is greatly enhanced by correct backgrounds. Although interior architecture is outside the scope of a book on home furnishing it is an important field of study for a home maker.

After allowances have been made for such modifications as the house itself imposes, the personality of the owners and their particular needs provide the focal point around which all other considerations are grouped. A family with children may not care to acquire its permanent furniture until the children are old enough to respect it. The family that is likely to move far or often would naturally buy inexpensive things that might be disposed of easily. The woman who tires of her possessions quickly and wants new ones often should not buy costly furniture.

Some newly married couples buy a few fine pieces first, such as a secretary and table, and fill in with temporary things for the early years. The trouble with this method is that one may develop in taste and wish to change one's style of furnishing. Another way is to buy inexpensive but interesting things at first, and to be frankly poor. Still another method is to furnish one or two rooms with good permanent furniture and use inexpensive furniture in the others. This, however, prevents the home from being a unit.

The woman who has inherited interesting furniture usually has little choice in her decorative idea. The furniture on hand becomes the nucleus around which the home is built. Reproductions in the same spirit and wood as the old pieces are usually obtainable. If a woman feels that her inherited things are not expressive of her personality, they might be lent or given to a museum if really valuable, or passed on to someone else, or stored. In this day of individualism, not all of us are interested in the things that grandmother selected; we prefer to choose our own.

The woman who is reorganizing her old possessions and trying to arrive at a furnishing plan for future purchases often has a difficult task. At least once in every ten years this evaluation should be made. If a family has a noncommittal assortment of furniture styles and woods, it is usually well to let the favorite pieces form the starting point for a decorative plan. In order to make room for new pieces downstairs, some of the old furniture can be moved upstairs, and some f the upstairs furniture passed on to others who are less fortunate

Anyone who is planning to buy home furnishings should write out her decorative idea and a buying plan. Collecting pictures and printed information, and taking notes from her reading, will help to clarify her own ideas as to what she wants to express. This preliminary study is essential to the creation of an individual home, particularly on a limited budget.

Naturally the type of furnishings chosen depends upon the amount of money to be expended. With small funds, frankly inexpensive furnishings should be purchased, depending upon good design and color for beauty. With more means, additional beauty in fine materials and fine workmanship may be sought.

Only inexpensive and medium-priced furniture are treated in this section. Very costly furniture is usually purchased under the guidance of an expert decorator; therefore it is not specially considered here. Moreover, as nearly all books on interior decoration have featured the high-priced furniture, much material about it is available.


The furniture in this group often has greater charm than the more costly, because it is quaint and unpretentious. It is cheaper because the wood and workmanship are less expensive and it is usually made in larger quantities. Inexpensive furniture is manufactured of oak, pine, pecan, hickory, maple, gum, and wicker. The most important quality to demand of inexpensive furniture is that it should not pretend to be expensive furniture by imitating either the costly woods or the costly processes such as carving. The following list shows some types of furniture procurable in the low price range.

Traditional (Cottage):

Early Colonial (New England), called Early American.
Spanish Colonial.
French provincial.
English cottage. Contemporary: Non-period.

Traditional (Cottage). For use in the greater part of the United States the most desirable traditional furniture of low cost is the early Colonial, known as cottage Colonial, Pilgrim Colonial, or Early American. Reproductions in maple of original pieces, and other well-designed articles in the same character, are now generally available. It is desirable to combine with them cottage or peasant furniture from other lands. Belgian, French, or English provincial furniture in oak, pine, or walnut, or painted pieces, adds variety to the better-known American pieces, but it is not easy to find such furniture at reasonable prices.

In the eastern states it is often possible to secure old furniture that has charm. Quaint old farmhouse pieces are sometimes available at moderate cost. Genuine old pieces combine well with good reproductions that have the same character.

The person who has a home of the Spanish Colonial type in the Southwest naturally chooses the kind of furniture that was used in the original houses. It is generally made of oak and is procurable in forms as simple or as elaborate as may be required.

Contemporary. Of the non-period furniture, the simple, straightline pieces are the most usable as they harmonize with many other styles. Straight-line sofas and easy chairs are particularly useful. Well-designed wicker pieces combine well with other inexpensive furniture. They may be used anywhere in a small home, even in the living room.

Modern furniture can be found to suit almost any purse. It is now usually good in design and color. No doubt it will become cheaper when it is made in larger quantities, because its lines are particularly suited to economical manufacturing. '

Craftsman furniture and modern furniture are so rectangular that they can be made at home. An amateur can build tables, benches, bookshelves, cabinets, or anything that does not have drawers or upholstery. Homemade furniture often has the somewhat primitive, sturdy effect desirable in homes where unconventional things are enjoyed. Painted furniture should be used freely at the low price level, because inexpensive wood can serve as its base.


Medium-priced furniture is naturally finer in finish, stronger in construction, and made of more valuable wood than the less expensive furniture. Mahogany or walnut are often used, although gum and birch are freely substituted for mahogany. Some of the modern pieces are made of unusual woods, combined with metal or glass. The following types are procurable in medium-priced furniture.


Colonial (mahogany, walnut)
Early English.
Spanish Colonial.
Cottage traditional.
Modernized period. Contemporary:

Traditional. The Colonial styles can be obtained in mediumpriced furniture in walnut or mahogany. The articles should be rather plain, because good ornamentation means hand-work, which is not possible at this price level. Queen Anne and the Dutch-English styles called William and Mary are the most popular of the Colonial types. Chippendale articles are too ornate to be well made at a medium price.

The Post-Colonial style which came after the Revolution includes the American Sheraton, American Heppelwhite, and our own Duncan Phyfe furniture. This furniture is well reproduced in medium-priced walnut and mahogany. It may be obtained in very fine handmade furniture, as well as in the machine-made.

The oak furniture of the Early English and Spanish Colonial styles is procurable in the medium price range, as well as in the inexpensive or in the high-priced. It is preferable to use the simpler pieces that are not much ornamented with imitation hand carving. Cottage furniture of maple and oak is procurable in the medium price range also. Modernized period furniture can be obtained at medium cost. Fine woods of various kinds are used in it, so the general effect is refined.

Contemporary. Non-period furniture and modern furniture of medium cost often have excellent design quality and technical finish. Painted furniture pieces should be included among furnishings of medium cost also.

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