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Home Decorating And Budgeting

[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 )


Do as professional decorators do; plan well in advance before you buy a single thing, and you will save many dollars and needless headaches. Follow this plan carefully and you won't go wrong.


Start with the size of the room and its shape. Is it small or large, narrow and long, square or L-shaped? This will affect the size, shape, and number of pieces you can use, and their arrangement.

Consider the existing architectural features, such as the mantel, wood trim, doors and windows (how many and where placed); and the cornice, if any. Are they formal or informal in type? To what period of architecture, if any, do they belong? (See Chapter 9.) Note: If you wish your room to be strictly in character, the architectural period features provide an obvious cue as to what style of period furniture, fabric, wallpaper motifs, and accessories you should buy. In a classic Cape Cod cottage, for instance, the effect would be out of keeping and out of scale if the cottage were furnished with large, formal English Georgian or American Colonial type furniture with its accompanying rich and formal type of fabrics and accessories. The setting calls for informal, simple, and small scale furnishings, which, in their turn, would be out of place in a large house with high ceilings such as were popular in Victorian times.

Do you wish the appearance of your home to be formal or informal in character? Does the architecture give you the right sort of background for your choice? If not, can certain prominent details such as cornices, light fixtures, and moldings, be replaced or painted out to provide a more or less formal background? Or can two small rooms be made into one large one to accommodate larger furniture?

Decide on whatever period style you will feel happiest with and that is in keeping as much as possible with the architectural background of your house or apartment and with your way of life. Floor Plan and Elevation. The next step is to work out your floor plan. Take the measurements of the room in feet and inches. Use a metal tape measure or yardstick, to be accurate. Then draw a floor plan of your room to scale, let's say, onequarter inch to a foot. (Graph paper, marked in 1/4-inch squares, is available in almost any stationery or art supply store, and this will make the task easier.)

Measure the length and width of the room, doors, windows, projections, and recesses. Indicate the swing of the doors out of the room). Also make note and telephone connections-where to have them.

This scale drawing constitutes your floor plan, to which you must now add elevation. Measure the height of the walls, doors, and windows, and the width and height of the mantel or other architectural features. Draw these to the same scale as your floor plan. This constitutes elevation.


Make a list of the furniture you now own and must use. Then make a list of the furniture pieces and accessories you will need in addition to these. Measure the furniture you have and want to use. Take the length, width, depth, and height, and make a separate memo of these measurements for reference when you start out to shop for additional pieces.

Now, draw a diagram of each piece of furniture to the same scale as the plans, cut them out, and place them on your floor plan. Then, draw the height and width on a separate sheet of paper. Cut out and place against your wall elevations. Don't try to make accurate architectural drawings. Just sketch the furniture in block form to get an idea of how much space each piece will take up in the room.

If, for example, you are planning a living room, work out interesting groupings-one or more conversational groups; a desk group; a television, game, or music group. And don't forget to plan and set apart a little grouping consisting of a comfortable chair with its accompanying table and lamp for the man of the house or for your mother-in-law.

By working all this out on paper, you will know just how many additional pieces you will need, where they should be placed, and how large or small they should be.

When you finally go shopping for your new pieces, take along your metal tape measure, or have the sales person take the measurements for you, to be sure each piece is the right size, before you spend a single cent.

A beautiful sofa might be just too long or too short for the space where you plan to put it. Or a table might be much too high or too low for the sofa or chair arm next to which you want to place it. It is at this point that many people go wrong, and they are forced to live with their mistakes until they can afford to correct them by buying new and more suitable things.


Decide on the treatment of your walls. Do you want them to be painted, or do you want to use wallpaper? If the latter, do you want all four walls covered; or three of them; or just one, using paint on the remaining ones? Or do you want the walls paneled or covered with cork, straw matting, or any other special wall covering? If you wish to use a room divider, will it be a screen; or a division made by the use of glass bricks or opaque glass or plastic sheeting, or by fabrics hung from the ceiling on a ceiling track; or a divider of bookshelves or furniture specifically built for that purpose? Now is the time to make these decisions.


Do you wish to use a wood or metal cornice, a valance, or a swag treatment? How are your draperies to be hung-straight or looped back? To the floor or to the window sill?

Decide now on fabrics for curtains, upholstery, slipcovers, etc. Do you want them textured, rough and bumpy, or deep piled, such as chenilles and imitation furs; or smooth and shiny, such as satins and chintzes? Do you want to use patterns, stripes, or plain-colored fabrics?

Your choice depends, to a great extent, on the formality or informality and the period feeling of a room.


Do you wish your home to be light or dark in color valuesthat is, bright and colorful or pleasantly subdued? Warm, or on the coolish side?


Settle the question of your floor covering. Are you going to have wall-to-wall carpeting or a rug? Or do you plan on using throw rugs, or hard-flooring such as rubber or asphalt tile or linoleum?

If you choose to have carpets or rugs, do you wish them to be patterned or plain, rough-textured, sculptured, or smooth? If your choice should be hard-flooring, decide whether it is to be plain and of one color, with perhaps an interesting border or center motif set in, or to be of the marbleized or checkerboard type.

Again, if it is more suitable, you might wish to use straw matting or rush or cork flooring.


Decide on the amount of illumination desired and the kind to be used. Do you wish indirect lighting built into a cove along the ceiling line or projected from standing lamps or table lamps toward the ceiling? Or would you prefer a window treatment with attractive fabrics dramatized by indirect lighting behind a cornice board? Perhaps you would like to have a china cabinet, book case, or display cabinet wired for special illumination. Plan it now. If you want an unusual dramatic lighting effect, call in your local lighting expert for advice. In many cities and towns the local lighting company will be glad to send their experts for a consultation with you.

Make sure that baseboard plugs have been well arranged. For extensions, ordinary wiring is available at hardware stores in white, brown, and black. These wires can be painted or taped in other colors.

If you wish to use table lamps, decide on the type or style most suitable to the period or modern feeling you are trying to capture. Decide on the height, width, and shape, and whether the base should be of metal, porcelain, pottery, wood, or other material. All kinds of models are made for both formal and informal settings. Decide on the shape of the shade, the depth and width, and the fabric and color.

Strictly period rooms should be decorated with lamp bases that in shape, material, and design were in use at that period. Reproductions of all period styles are available in most furniture stores.

It is vitally important that the base and shade should be in proportion to each other and that, as a whole, both lamp and shade should be in proportion to the table on which they are used. A little shade on a large base is as out of proportion as a huge shade on a small base. And a huge lamp and shade on a small table looks just as odd as a small lamp and shade on a large table or chest.

Today, whenever possible, it is smart to use large lamps. For good reading light, the top of the shade should be about 59 inches from the floor.

A good rule to follow, if you can, is to have all lamp shade tops in the room the same height from the floor, regardless of the height of the table or chest on which they stand. Avoid too many shapes and types of shades. Plan to have at least a pair alike. If you prefer, you can have two different pairs of lamp bases, but do have matching shades. Plain tailored silk shades and opaque paper types of matching color can be intermingled. Like everything else, lamps and their shades are part of your decorative scheme and should be chosen to harmonize with your walls and fabrics. They can provide a bright color accent or be of an inconspicuous color, according to your requirements.


Pictures and mirrors should be hung so that no wires are visible and so that they lie as flat as possible against the wall. This is done by placing the screws for the wire toward the top of the frame and inserting the hanging fixture into the wall just below the point where the top of the frame will come. Wires can be adjusted, if necessary, to make the hanging a little higher or lower.

A large painting or mirror, if hung over a sofa, should have its center a little above eye level. The center should be about five feet from the floor.

If you wish to hang several pictures of different sizes on a wall, arrange them so that, as a group, they will form a rectangle, square, straight line, or triangle. In painting, the masters have arranged many of their finest compositions on the lines of the triangle. Try building up your wall groupings to an imaginary point, as in a triangle. This way you, too, can achieve a good composition.

Always remember to hang pictures and mirrors in relation to some object below. The elements, or groups, within a group should be similar in technique, or at least in color value-all oil paintings, all etchings, all flower prints, aquatints, or water colors. However, etchings and ink or pencil drawings go well together, as do water colors and drawings.


Keep the scale, period styles, and textures as consistent as possible. Keep the amount of ornamentation or design to the minimum and well distributed. And don't forget to coordinate your color scheme within each room, between connecting rooms, and, as far as possible, throughout the home as a whole.


Do have lamps of sufficient height and appropriately near to sofa or chairs for reading purposes. Desk lamps are best placed on the left-hand side of the desk, so that the right hand (if you are right-handed) does not cut off the light.

Do have your occasional or end tables as nearly level with the arms of the sofa or chairs as possible. Before buying such tables, measure the height of the sofa or chair arm. Table legs, if straight and simple, can be cut down, but not built up. The height can vary between 23 to 26 inches.

Do give ample space for knee room between your coffee or cocktail table and your armchairs or sofa. Eighteen inches should be sufficient.

And do avoid cluttering these tables with knickknacks and souvenirs and a conglomeration of unrelated designs and textures. These are not places to display your collections. Furthermore, they make housekeeping difficult. Put them away in cabinets.

A handsome lamp and shade, or a container of flowers, leaves or fruit, plus the necessary ash tray and box for cigarettes is really all that is necessary, with, perhaps, one really fine display piece of porcelain, ivory, pottery, or silver. Such things constitute your accessories and these are places where you can introduce your proper color accents to a telling effect. For those on a budget, the big square glass ash trays which are found in most five and ten cent stores, duplicating the finer crystal ones, look well and fit into most any interior.


If you are starting from scratch, allow about 60 per cent of your budget for furniture, 15 to 20 per cent for rugs, and the balance for curtains and accessories. Good box springs and mattresses and a comfortable, well-made sofa are investments for a lifetime of comfort, so don't skimp on these items. If your husband is tall, consider spending a little extra on a longer bed and mattress so he can stretch out comfortably. After all, onethird of his life is spent in bed, and it's a good investment to make him comfortable.

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