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Periods Of Decoration - Part 4

[Furniture]  [Home Decorating And Budgeting]  [How To Use Scale, Proportion, Balance, And Rhythm]  [Periods Of Decoration - Part 1]  [Periods Of Decorations - Part 2]  [Periods Of Decoration - Part 3]  [Periods Of Decoration - Part 4]  [More Home Decorating Tips] 

( Originally Published 1955 )

Lambert Hitchcock (1795-1852)

In 1820 the Hitchcock chair, influenced by adaptations called "fancy Sheraton," came into being. It derived its name from Lambert Hitchcock, cabinetmaker of Riverton, Connecticut. The graceful, backward-curving backs had horizontal slats. The chairs were usually painted black with gold stenciled designs of fruits and flowers. Legs were simply turned and decorated with gold bandings. The seats were of rush.

Characteristics of the Federal, Eagle, and Empire Periods

Since interior architectural and furniture characteristics were so similar during the early nineteenth century to those of the English Regency, it is recommended that you turn to that section for guidance.

Colors were the same, except during the American Eagle phase, when red, white, and blue were also fashionable. Wallpaper and fabric motifs also followed English Regency styles, with the additional motifs of stars, stripes, eagles, and scales of justice. Accessories were identical, with classic motifs and eagles prevailing. The one important addition was the convex mirror, usually topped with a carved and gilded eagle.


When a strictly period type of room, with its fine paneling, wood trim, handblocked wallpapers, or rich, luxurious fabrics, is beyond the family budget, the solution, is to treat period interiors in a contemporary manner. The result is usually cosier, more comfortable, and original.

What Is Meant by "Contemporary" Decoration

As strictly period sofas of the past are to be found mostly among costly antiques, and are not always too comfortable at that, the solution is to use a Tuxedo or Lawson type of upholstered sofa. These two styles fit into any of the period interiors mentioned in this book. They are simple in line and in the best of taste always, and are not apt to be too large in scale. A couple of simply tailored, upholstered lounge chairs can be added for comfort to any of these interiors, too, provided they are not overupholstered or too large, and are also simple in line.

Walls can be painted or covered with wallpaper, either entirely or in panels, or on only one wall. Architectural treatments reminiscent of the period may be confined to mantels and door trims. Where no such architectural treatment exists, walls could be covered with cork, grass cloth, straw matting, or other interesting, textured material, if suitable.

Floor coverings can be traditional, with carpeting in appropriate floral or scroll designs of carved or self-toned type or plain carpeting in smooth or rough and shaggy weaves. Or the floor can be laid with highly polished rubber tile or linoleum, marbleized or plain, with perhaps a few scatter rugs thrown over them. (For the simplest type of furniture, such as Early American, natural finish wood floors with scatter rugs are correct and also economical.)

Fabrics are available today in such a wide choice of attractive textures, designs, and colors, and are so low priced, relatively speaking, that there is little problem in finding something suited to any type of room or budget. The golden rule here is to adhere in feeling to the type of fabrics and fabric motifs of the period which you are adapting. When in doubt, use a pretty shade of plain color that goes with your overall color scheme. An interesting texture can often take the place of a pattern.

When choosing printed fabrics, don't feel that you have to be authentic. If a period calls for large floral bouquets, you might choose a fabric with a newer, fresher, and bolder adaptation of a floral bouquet. If the period was inspired by classic designs, such as the Regency period, where swags, diamond shapes, and classic motifs were used, select a modern fabric with a conventionalized rendering of those motifs.

Don't use heavy velours, tweed fabrics, or dark colors where lightweight silks and chintzes are called for, such as on delicate and lightweight furniture, or in bedroom curtains or draperies.

Inexpensive and smart substitutes for some of the costly fabrics of the past are cotton velvets; corduroy and other ribbed effects, such as rep; diagonal weaves and novelty weaves, some using non-tarnishable metal thread; sateens, printed cottons, and linens. Attractive fabrics in light or heavy weights are now woven of long-wearing mohair.

In contemporary treatments of some of the period styles, you may sometimes use the new, deep-piled modern fabrics and animal skins, but they are most effective when used judiciously and sparingly.

Window treatments can be done in the modern manner, with draperies from ceiling to floor, without benefit of valance or cornice, if you like. However, this treatment is better for the more formal room and would be out of place in an old cottage or where the period was Early American in feeling.

Doors can be painted the same color as the walls. This is particularly good for small rooms, where doors break up the apparent size. Also consider removing a door altogether and widening an entrance into an adjoining room to give more feeling of space.

Combining Different Periods of Furniture

Learn the general characteristics of the periods by referring to the sections in this book that deal with them specifically. Forms and color of woods should be similar, and of the same "family."

For example, furniture of the English eighteenth-century periods (early and late Georgian) blends well with American Colonial because American designs were influenced by England, and most of the same woods are used, particularly mahogany.

Late eighteenth-century French pieces, even Directoire pieces, can be used with late eighteenth-century furniture such as Hepplewhite and Sheraton, for spice. Use only one or two pieces, though, for it is better if one style prevails.

Early American and French Provincial combine well, as they are both provincial and use fruit woods, for the most part. Many people inherit fine furniture and have the problem of combining unrelated styles. This calls for considerable ingenuity but, if well handled, sometimes results in interiors with the most character of all. In larger houses the task is easier, for there is more space to play with. As you start to plan, watch out for scale, form, texture, and color. Consider refinishing certain woods in lighter or darker tones, or painting the less valuable pieces. Color does a tremendous job in tying things together. Coordinate the colors of upholstery, draperies, walls, floor coverings, and choose pictures and accessories carefully to repeat colors and textures at important points. Don't try to crowd in too many things. Keep everything as simple as you can-the room should look comfortable. Where pieces just won't fit, you may be able to arrange an exchange with a dealer for a piece more suited to your needs.

Keep all the rooms on one floor as similar in feeling as you can, and try to have one style predominating. Don't use all Victorian furniture and accessories in, let's say, the living room, and then furnish the dining room across the hall in ranch house style.

Harmony Is the Watchword in Textures

Smooth, fine furnishings belong together. Coarse and rough furnishings belong together. Plaster, woods, metals, fabrics, glass, china, and pottery or earthenware, all have variation in texture, but when combined with one another, they must be in harmony. Even the flowers, leaves, fruits, or vegetables, when used as accessories, should be in harmony.

Oak, hickory, pine, and solid walnut are sturdy and call for rough plaster walls, and wool, linen, and cotton fabrics, homespuns and other rough textures. With these woods, use deep rich colors, never pastel shades; pewter, pottery, or earthenware; iron, copper, and brass; and a garden variety of flowers.

Fruitwoods, such as cherry, pear, apple, and light native walnut, ask for smoother textured walls and simple cottons and finer linens in rich peasant colors, not too bright; hooked and rag rugs or modern broadloom rugs of the twist or textured and shaggy type are also suitable. Use pewter, pottery, crude handblown glass, and other domestic type of products, and garden flowers. (Could you possibly imagine an orchid in such a setting?)

Mahogany, walnut veneers and the exotic flower and fruit woods, like tulip and rosewood, definitely demand smooth textured walls and silk fabrics, or their less expensive substitutes. Very fine linens and cottons (chintz, muslin, percale, etc.), silver, porcelain, fine glass and crystal, and hothouse flowers are best.

Walnut, as you may have noted, can belong in both groups. The grain and color of this wood is beautiful no matter where you put it. But it depends on how this wood is used in a furniture design as to the group into which it falls. If it is used for a heavy and massive piece of furniture of a sixteenth- or seventeenth-century design (such period designs are not given in this book as they rarely are suitable for our homes in America today) then it belongs with oak, rough-textured walls, heavy and rich-colored silks, and heavy linens, etc. If, on the other hand, its design is late seventeenth-century and early eighteenthcentury (William and Mary, and Queen Anne in design, and the American colonial equivalent) then it belongs in the second group with mahogany and the finer-textured fabrics.


In fabrics and wallpapers, modern, stylized versions of period motifs should only be used in interiors where the design motif is in keeping with the period feeling you have established with your furniture and accessories, and with the fixed architectural background, such as your paneling (if any), your wood trim, mantel, and so on.

Otherwise, modern stylized classic and swag motifs belong only in interiors with classic characteristics such as Sheraton, Adam, Directoire, Regency, and Empire.

Chinese motifs belong with Queen Anne, Chippendale, or Chinese Modern.

Scrolls, bouquets, festoons, ribbons, etc., belong with Chippendale (French influence).

Prince of Wales feathers, ribbons, ears of wheat, and stripes go with Hepplewhite. Lyres, urns, columns, swags, classic heads and figures, diamond shapes, swans, and swags are characteristic of Adam interiors.

The above named classic motifs, with the addition of stars, stripes, horses' heads, medallions, eagles, sphinxes, and obelisks, go with Regency and American furniture.

Large floral motifs, scrolls, swags, stripes are choices for Victorian rooms.

Primitive peasant and Indian motifs, plaids and geometrical patterns belong with modern interiors, studios, cabins, and the adobe type of house prevalent in the southwest of this country.

Modern designs of birds, fish, and fruit, if not too large in scale, can be used in some instances in provincial or cottage types of homes, as well as in modern houses. Stylized and bold motifs such as these can also be used most effectively in special rooms, such as sunrooms, playrooms, dinettes, kitchens, and children's rooms.


The Scandinavians contributed enormously to the early development of good modern furniture and accessory design. Oriental influences came from China and Japan. More recently, a group of Italian designers have come to the forefront in Europe, while here in our own country industrial designers and decorators have achieved styles which are already characteristic.

The beauty of a modern interior lies in its utter simplicity, its uncluttered appearance, the scientific use of lighting and color. Modern rooms are usually more handsome than they are pretty. Furniture is devoid of dust-catching carvings; it is lightweight, low-lying, and easily moved. Furniture is often sectional so that "living areas" can be made larger or smaller as occasion demands. Sofas are squared or oval-shaped and extremely comfortable. Closets and chests are built into the walls.

In general, decorative wall treatments are given only to one wall, two walls, or, at the most, three. Plain colors are used; sometimes wallpaper in sophisticated modern designs and textural effects. The elaborately shaped and framed hanging mirrors of the past are out. If mirrors are used in formal rooms, an entire wall can be covered with a plate glass mirror, or it can be used as part of a wall composition from floor to ceiling, or as a part of the fireplace unit.

Paintings are used on a plain wall, usually no more than a large one to a large area. Choose works by modern painters or fine reproductions and frame them with wide frames and mats. Accessories should be few, and of the finest. Primitive sculpture or masks are popular for dramatic accent.

Window treatments are extremely simple. Elaborate cornices and valances are out. Draperies and glass curtains are usually hung very full and straight, from the ceiling to the floor (or to the sill, if windows are high on wall), on a traverse rod, so they can easily be drawn. Often a whole window wall will be so curtained, from end to end.

If the ceiling is sufficiently high, a plain cornice of wood, bamboo, or some other material or board covered with the drapery fabric, is advisable. Behind the cornice indirect lighting can be used to dramatize handsome drapery fabrics. With such window treatments, glass curtains can be eliminated in favor of Venetian or bamboo blinds.

It is not easy to break down the various elements that may be suitably combined, for the modern period expresses itself in several ways.

For instance, not long ago, furniture with chromium legs was eagerly sought after by the budget-minded because it stood hard use and was easy to clean. More recently, small-scale furniture with black wrought-iron legs or supports has come into vogue, and this is equally durable and easy to care for. Indeed, the vogue for wrought iron has become so popular that hanging chandeliers, wall sconces, hanging bookcases, and magazine racks, as well as decorative lamp bases, are made of it.

As a guide to your selection, we might break "modern" down into the following categories.

Ranch House Modern

This is an informal, semimodern style.

Walls can be smooth or rough-textured; plastered and painted, or whitewashed; or of whitewashed brick or stone. Walls can be covered with wooden planks used vertically or horizontally; cork or straw matting; wood veneers or papers imitating wood, marble, or stone, or with large, bold designs or plaids.

Floors can be of polished brick or slate (with radiant heat), rubber tile, linoleum, or cork. Furniture is usually rectangular or square in shape, although one can use a circular, semicircular, or oval piece such as a table or sectional sofa, to achieve rhythm. The woods are light or bleached, and rather rough-textured, such as oak. Darker finishes are also used, and plain lacquered pieces to catch the highlights. Here, as in Swedish Modern, we are apt to find the splayed type of leg on tables and case furniture.

Colors are light or medium in value and closely related. All earth colors, from cream through yellow orange to the rusts and browns, or strong and contrasting colors, such as orange and blue, or white and black, are good.

Fabrics are rough-textured: homespuns, coarse linens and cottons and heavy leather. Fabric and wallpaper motifs could be of Aztec, Indian, Mexican, or African origin, or geometric, or conventionalized designs of naturalistic subjects, plaids, etc.

Rugs may be of rush, in small squares sewn together; or use plain-colored, rough-textured broadlooms or very shaggy rugs. Some Navajo Indian rugs with primitive designs and colors, or with black designs on cream backgrounds, are good, used in conjunction with primitive pottery accessories of the same character. Scatter rugs of bear or wolf skins are also in keeping. Lamps. bases can be made of materials suggested below for accessories. They may be enormous vases, tubular-shaped, and covered with leather or cork, if you like. You may choose boxlike shapes and driftwood branches, even small tree stumps of interesting texture and color, well dried-out and bleached. Slim, wrought iron bases are popular, as are the spot-light type of table lamps with adjustable arms.

Shapes are drum-shaped, square, or rectangular, or cone- or tubular-shaped if the base is of similar form. The material of which the shade is made depends on the texture and color of the base. It can be of cork, leather, metal, plain-colored or metallic papers, parchment, straw matting, heavy-textured cottons, or linens.

Accessories should be on the primitive side. Bowls, jars, plates, and sculpture in earthenware, wood, or metal. Modern paintings in wide, simple frames belong here.

Swedish Modern

This is a semiformal modern style. Walls should be kept plain. Floors of linoleum, rubber tiles, and cork are appropriate, and even scatter-painted floors are effective in such interiors. With hard flooring, a scatter rug or two, of a shaggy type, will add much to the decorative overall picture.

Furniture is small in scale and usually of light-colored woods. Quite often fine wood veneers are applied in square or diamond shapes, or to give the effect of radiating rays. Upholstered furniture tends toward square forms.

Colors may be either subdued tones of one color family, or rich and contrasting, if you prefer.

Fabrics are rough-textured or of the homespun variety, in cottons, linens, wool fabrics, and chintz in modern designs. Motifs are conventionalized natural forms, or abstract and impressionistic; horizontal stripes and wide plaids.

Rugs are rough textured. Carved rugs in geometric designs, hooked rugs, or hand-woven peasant types are good.

Lamps. Bases are bowl or vase shapes, or sculptured forms of wood, pottery, metal, or thick, crude glass.

Shades are of the same materials and shapes as those used in Ranch House Modern, depending on shape and texture of base. Accessories are of Scandinavian peasant inspiration, or impressionistic, and made of metal, pottery, wood, or glass. Impressionistic paintings belong here, in wide and plain modern frames; so do enamel or other decorative plaques.

Chinese Modern

This is a formal style.

Walls can be plastered and painted, or covered with grasscloth, straw matting, bamboo, tea-box paper in small gold or silver squares, rush squares, or wall covering imitating them; Chinese motifs are used in wallpapers. Frosted glass set in black wooden frames may be used either for covering or as sliding doors and room dividers; glass bricks are good for walls and room dividers. Both of these glass treatments are most effective if indirectly lighted from behind.

Floors may be of cork, stained very dark and highly waxed, or a wall-to-wall straw matting, well-padded underneath.

Rugs may be smooth or rough-textured broadloom or carved rugs with geometric patterns. A fine Chinese Oriental rug in blues and creams would be an appropriate and luxurious choice. Furniture should be Wily large in scale and rectangular or square in shape, of teakwood, black lacquer or one or two smaller pieces in deep bottle green or Chinese red lacquer (one or two lacquer pieces are all you'll want), and very dark-stained or bleached mahogany. Legs are square and low; some have turned-in feet, while others rest squarely on the floor. Any decorative motifs, whether carved or applied, would be Chinese fret, (see Glossary) reeded bamboo, or very simple geometric forms.

Colors are beige, rust, copper, deep blue, chartreuse, emerald green, deep green, orange, Chinese pink, black, and golden yellow.

Fabrics of fine quality are required by Chinese Modern. Use textured satins, deep-piled upholstery fabrics, and chintz with Chinese designs. Bamboo blinds are an excellent choice for windows, combined with suitable fabrics and cornice treatments.

Motifs for fabrics and wallpapers are small, all over Chinese geometric designs; tortoise-shell effects; large-scaled, stylized Chinese motifs such as frets, vase forms, Tang horses, etc.

Lamps. Bases should be Chinese or of Chinese inspiration, such as Tang horses, or massive shapes in simple pottery, porcelain, wood, or bronze. Of the various Chinese vase shapes, the squared is usually the best; tubular shapes or Chinese figures are also good.

Shades are square, rectangular, drum- or pagoda-shaped, depending on the shape of the base. The material should be rough silk or tortoise-shell or plain-colored papers.

Accessories. Choose fine Chinese works of art, porcelains, pottery, bronzes, carvings, lacquer. Ornaments outside a cabinet should be small in number and rather large in scale, as in all other versions of modern.

Strictly Modern

Here you can be formal or informal, depending upon your choice of fabrics, plain or expensive wall treatments, and accessories.

Floors can be of rubber tile or linoleum, highly waxed, on which can be thrown shaggy "throw rugs" or animal skins. Cork flooring and slate are also used. Formal interiors may have wall-to-wall carpeting in a single color and floor to ceiling mirrored or glass walls.

Furniture tends toward rectangular or square forms. A curved piece, such as a sectional sofa or cocktail or occasional table, is frequently introduced for rhythm, as in all the modern styles. Each year new and unusual shaped pieces appear.

Colors may be either muted and subtle or contrasting and strong. Natural vegetable dye and earthy colors are used increasingly. A combination of gray, white, and black, with touches of bright red and green, is exceedingly smart.

Fabrics are largely rough-textured. Interesting weaves, sometimes with metallic threads, are combined with some smooth fabrics or leathers. One or two furniture pieces could be upholstered in a fabric resembling some animal skin-zebra, leopard, or tiger-for a striking type of interior. If you use one of these fabrics, it is wise to keep other fabrics plain.

Motifs for fabrics and wallpapers can very well be of Chinese, primitive African, surrealist, geometric, or impressionistic designs, or of conventionalized natural forms. But there should be some tie-in with the accessories you use. Modern wallpapers come in fascinating textures, marble effects, and metallic finishes, with large and small-scaled spatter designs; they are as bright or as subtle in color as you wish.

Rugs may be smooth or rough-textured, in plain colors or with simple, abstract designs, usually light and subtle in tone. Small rugs in bright colors are good for small areas. Less expensive floor coverings can be obtained in fibers.

Fireplaces are characteristically small and are built off the ground at chair seat level. Mantels are usually dispensed with and one large-scale modern picture, primitive mask, or abstract piece of sculpture is mounted above the fireplace.

Lamps are large, with simple outlines. Bases can be of glass or pottery; many come with wrought-iron legs. Concealed lighting is characteristic, and table and floor lamps come with flexible arms so that light can be conveniently directed in any direction.

Accessories. Mobiles, hung from the ceiling; large primitive or abstract paintings and sculpture; driftwood; large glass or pottery ash trays; flat containers filled with fanciful shells or stones; and large-scale flower arrangements are in order.

Additional Hints on Modern Interiors

In most new homes today, the dining room is dispensed with and the living room has to serve more purposes than formerly. In order to keep the dining section separate from the conversation and recreation groupings, room dividers are used.

Room dividers. Many manufacturers feature low case furniture pieces in the form of chests, cabinets, and bookcases to serve as area dividers, usually placed at right angles to the walls. Tall bookcases with cupboards below and open-back shelves above are also used. Books, pottery, or glass can be displayed on the shelves and seen from either side.

In brief, the means of dividing an all-purpose room are:

1. Planned furniture groupings: sofas, sectional cabinets, bookcases or display cases.

2. Sections of glass brick or opaque sheet glass or plastic, built high or low.

3. A grouping of tall green plants, or a hanging mobile.

4. A glass aquarium, with indirect lighting, set on shelving and automatically operated to keep the water clear and fresh.

5. Shelves suspended by wire from the ceiling for displaying works of art, or for holding books.

6. Screens of various types: shutter screens, vertical screens of bamboo or reeds, and folding or sliding screens made of frosted glass, mirrors, wire mesh, or one of the new plastics.

7. Draperies hung full, from the ceiling to the floor on a traverse track or strung on a wire to be opened or closed as desired. Some of the fabrics made for this purpose are semitransparent and permit light to filter from one part of the room to the other.

Built-in furniture. Modern designers are meeting space-saving needs by creating attractive built-in furniture that takes its place as part of the architectural background of a room. These built-in pieces are designed to store everything in the smallest amount of space, and to open and close with the greatest amount of ease. It is no longer necessary to have an ugly phonograph or record rack or television set sticking out into the room, obstructing traffic, or taking up needed wall space. These can now be set into built-in furniture pieces designed so that the machines can be easily serviced and, at the same time, closed off from view when not in use.

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