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Periods Of Decoration - Part 1

[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 )

The traditional periods of decoration covered in this chapter are the ones most popular and best suited to our American way of life.

A thumbnail historic sketch of their development and of the traditional architectural backgrounds are given to make the styles more understandable to the contemporary shopper. You won't go wrong in choosing or mixing styles if you read these notes and take the book along with you to consult while shopping.



The provincial French styles that we know and which have the greatest appeal in this country are those that came from Normandy and Brittany, influenced by the periods of Louis XV and Louis XVI, and the Directoire, the decorative period of classic inspiration that directly followed the French Revolution.

In their pure form, the styles of Louis XV and Louis XVI created for the elaborate palaces of the kings, are obviously inappropriate for our homes of today, just as they were for those of the average provincial landholders of France.

Local cabinetmakers, aiming at a popular market, eliminated the more elaborate carving, gilding, and finishing of the palace designers, confining themselves to copying the lines and only the simplest of decorative motifs. They used local woods, mainly fruit woods or walnut. It is the very simplicity and smallness of scale of these provincial pieces, and the soft patina (satin finish), that have endeared them to us and make them combine so well with our own Early American pieces of furniture.

Interior Architectural Treatment

Walls were treated in one of the following ways:

l. Paneled in oak, with moldings designed in the curvilinear forms of Louis XV, or in rectangular and straight forms after the Louis XVI period.

2. Covered with wallpapers in quaint and small-scaled floral designs, medallions, Toile de Jouy designs of Chinese figures or French pastoral scenes. Sometimes the walls were covered with fabrics featuring these same motifs.

3. Plain white-washed walls of smooth or rough-textured plaster.

Smooth plaster finishes were also painted in blue-greens,warm yellows and other colors. For design interest on plain walls, fine pottery plates were frequently hung in groupings. Monotone wash drawings and flower prints in French mats were also popular, and, in the simpler homes, brightly polished copper utensils were hung neatly in a row from a shelf.

Mantels were of wood, small in scale and simply carved, in either the curved or straight line. These often had a trumeau (a combination of a large mirror with a painting inset at the top, framed as a unit) hung above them and extending to the ceiling. Graceful sconces of ormolu (cast bronze with gold leaf) with candles were used on the walls, and doors were paneled in the manner of wall paneling and had long, leaf-like handles of bronze, rather than knobs.

With paneled walls beyond the price of most of us, we use painted or papered walls; but a mantel after the French designs is almost a must for such interiors. Reproductions can be obtained at better furniture stores.

Furniture Characteristics

Lines are curved or straight, as described earlier, and woods are fruit woods or walnut. The sides of the sofas usually are as high as the back, and deep cushions are used for comfort. Side chairs and open-armed chairs often have rush or cane seats and backs, and use tied-on pads. Chairs are also upholstered, with small brass nailheads for trimming. Other typical pieces are open cupboards with shelves, chests (commodes), wardrobes (armoires), and round or rectangular tables on slender legs. These tables usually have a drawer or an open shelf beneath the top. Cupboard doors are often made of decorative wire screening.


Raspberry and wine red, deep and pale gray-blues, deep and pale blue-greens, warm yellows, clear yellow with a touch of green, creamy white, and warm gray-almost a mauve-are suitable colors.


Choose from small floral motifs in an allover design; plaids, checks, narrow stripes, peasant designs, and toile de Jouy with pastoral or Chinese scenes.


Use hand-blocked linens and cottons, twills, serge, poplin, striped ticking, cotton taffeta, quilted cottons, rough homespuns, rough-textured and dull satins (formal), gingham and other simple cottons and linens, and embroidery of all kinds, although needlepoint is best for chair seats and backs. The fabric motifs are the same as those in the wallpapers.

Window Treatments

Draperies hang to the floor (formal), or sill (informal). Valances of fabric are simply shaped or scalloped, or merely flounced. Wooden valance boards follow the shapes of the fabric valances and are waxed in a natural finish, or painted.

Windows are of the casement type to the floor or to the sill, or are or the double-hung type. These often have inside shutters and are decorated with pastoral or peasant designs. Such windows could, in these provincial interiors, dispense with draperies altogether and rely on the painted shutters or simply glass curtains for interest.

Glass curtains are often hung on casement windows from the middle height of the window or from next to the top pane of glass, either gathered or hung from small sliding rings on a slender rod. In the case of a double-hung window, the glass curtains would be hung from the top of the lower sash and piped in color or edged with coarse lace or tatting. Another method, on a casement type of window, is to use an hourglass treatment, caught in the middle with a bow of the valance or drapery fabric. Traditionally, if this method is used, the curtains should be gathered on a rod at the bottom as well as the top. Fabrics used are homespun linens and sheer cottons.


On wood floors, hooked or coarse needlepoint rugs are used, or rugs with simple floral designs. On brick floors, rush rugs are suitable.


Vases, urns, and columns are the best shapes. Lamps may be of pewter, pottery with floral or Chinese designs, copper, glass, crystal (formal), or toleware with Chinese designs (this may be in the shape of a tea-canister).

Lamp shades are tailored or pleated in linen, cotton, and printed cotton fabrics; cotton or silk taffetas (formal); shantung; white or colored papers.


Faience pottery (from Rouen, Nevers, etc.) on shelves and grouped on a wall. Pewter and copper utensils. Wall sconces of gilt bronze of the period; trumeau (overmantel mirror with painting); and water colors and wash drawings of pastoral scenes, in keeping with the period, or flower prints. Wallpaper screens showing pastoral or Chinese scenes in soft colors.

Harmonizing Styles

All French styles are absolute. One French style can be used with the one preceding or following it, but the total effect is better if one or the other dominates. French provincial furniture pieces can be used charmingly with some early American (which is also provincial); but oddly, an American furniture piece will often look out of place in a French interior. There are exceptions to this rule, however, as demonstrated in the illustrations on page 68 and at the top of page 120. These show examples of French style furniture used in contemporary settings in combination with modern accessories.


William and Mary (1689-1702) Queen Anne (1702-1714)

Interior Architectural Treatment

In formal homes, walls were paneled in pine, fir, or walnut in finely proportioned divisions, framed by heavy moldings (bolections), and waxed or painted. In today's homes, paneling usually must give way, for reasons of economy, to painted or papered walls. Fireplace openings were faced with marble and framed with these heavy bolection moldings, as were the doors. Simple adaptations of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century mantels and moldings are available at building supply stores.

In more informal homes, walls were paneled in cheaper woods and painted or wallpapered, although the fireplace wall was almost invariably paneled. Fireplace openings were often surrounded by pictorial tiles from Holland.

Furniture Characteristics-William and Mary

Legs are straight, some square and tapered or spiraled. Most are turned (rounded) with large inverted bell cups at the top. Flat and shaped stretchers (see Glossary) connect the legs, which usually end in bun-shaped feet. Walnut is the wood used and important case furniture (see Glossary) is lacquered or inlaid in intricate designs with rare woods and ivory. Secretaries and china cabinets often have double-hooded pediments, as have sofas.

Typical furniture pieces of the period are wing chairs, gateleg tables, corner cupboards, kneehole desks, highboys, grandfather clocks.

Furniture Chorocteristics-Queen Anne

Chair backs have top rails which dip in a curve in the middle and have curved shoulders. Wide, curved slats in the shape of a fiddle fill the center space between top and seat. Legs curve out from the knee and arc sometimes enriched with a scalloped shell motif. The shell motif is sometimes used in the middle of the front of the scat or at the top of the chair back. Feet are of the pad or club-foot type. Later, as the result of the Chinese influence, the ball foot appeared. Higliboys and secretaries have broken or scrolled pediments, or a single-hood pediment.

Typical furniture pieces are tilt-top, tray-top, piecrust, gallerytop, and gate-leg tables; china cabinets, highboys, lowboys, tall grandfather's clocks.

Hardware. The hardware of these two periods is of the teardrop type. Characteristic handles are also round rings known as "bail handles," or masks of humans with a ring through the nose, or hardware in the shape of a spread eagle with a drop handle.


Chandeliers are of plain brass; wood, richly carved and gilded; and cut glass or crystal. Lamp bases may be of glass, Chinese porcelains, Delft china, crackleware, earthenware, rose quartz, alabaster, silver and Sheffield plate, brass and copper.

Lamp shades vary, depending upon the texture of the lamp base. Silk is used with china, glass, alabaster or silver; linen or parchment paper with earthenware, copper, and brass.


World globes, barometers, case (mantel) clocks; dull silver and Sheffield plate; lacquered trays, boxes, and screens; Chinese porcelains, Delft china (from Holland), earthenware, crackleware, copper luster pieces; brass fireplace accessories. Mirrors are framed in veneered woods with curving tops; the glass is beveled and is usually in two sections.


Eighteenth-Century English The Period of the Great Cabinetmakers The early Georgian influences were Chinese and French Rococo in furniture and fabric designs, while architectural backgrounds were influenced by the classic in the use of fluted pilasters flanking fireplaces and pediments topping many doorways and chimney pieces.

Interior Architectural Treatments

In formal treatments, the walls are paneled as in the earlier tradition. Fireplaces are flanked by tall classic pilasters and often crowned with a pediment of the pointed, broken, or scroll type. Doorways are often treated this way, too.

In informal treatments, the walls are simply painted or covered with wallpapers. The above-mentioned architectural fireplace and door treatments are also used in the less formal interiors.

Thomas Chippendale (1705-1779) Cabinetmaker

Furniture Characteristics

Thomas Chippendale, one of the greatest cabinetmakers, found his inspiration for designs in the classic, the Gothic, the Louis XV period (rococo) of France, and in the Chinese. He worked mostly in mahogany. Ills best designs are identified with his chairs, although he made all kinds of furniture, so by his chairs let us know him.


Pierced-fiddle-back or slat-back chairs. The top rail is slightly dipped in the middle and finely carved, often with a shell motif in the center, and almost invariably, his chairs can be identified by the extension of the top rail into ears. Legs are curved (cabriole) ending in ball and claw feet or lion's paw feet, similar to those of the Queen Anne chairs.

Ladderbach chairs. Each rung of the ladderback has a pierced scroll form in its center. Legs are square to the floor. Ribbon-back chairs. The center of the back consists of delicately carved, interlacing ribbons. Legs are curved. This style was inspired by the Louis XV French style.

Gothic chairs. The design in the center of the chair back is of pointed Gothic arches or of another Gothic form, the quatrefoil, a rose design with four stylized petals in outline form. Legs are straight.

Chinese Chairs. The backs are square or pagoda-shaped in outline, and the center backs are filled with openwork fret motifs or stylized pagoda designs. Legs are straight.

Other Pieces

Upholstered sofas have arched backs and rolled-over arms. Highboys, secretaries and breakfronts either have pediment tops of the straight, broken, or scroll neck type, or simple straight cornices.

Chests of drawers are rectangular or have bulging fronts, known as "Dutch Bombe."

Tables by Chippendale follow his chairs in the shape of legs and carved motifs. Chippendale is credited with having introduced the tripod type of table into England. This has a carved, round, or rectangular top, frequently with a gallery (rim) around it. The pie-crust form of top belongs to this family. Feet are of the ball and claw type.

Chippendale designed beautiful mirror frames in the Chinese manner, known as F eng-Huang, consisting of curving leaf forms with Chinese pagodas and pheasants and waterfalls, intricately carved and gilded.


Rich red, yellow, blue, green and golden yellow, beige, and cafe' au luit are best with Chippendale furniture.


Chinese motifs, small or large in scale. Chinese scenics, flock papers, florals, fret patterns, silver and gold tea-box papers, grass cloth, straw matting (contemporary). The last three are excellent with Chinese Chippendale, as are Chinese fret designs.


Brocade, damask, fine chintz, velvet, antique satin, slipper satin (shiny) for accent notes, morocco leather, and needlepoint are used with Chippendale furniture in formal rooms. Linen, chintz and cretonnes in large patterns, corduroy, and rep are good in informal interiors. Fabric motifs consist of large and small floral patterns, Chinese motifs, fretwork, large and bold self-colored patterns (toneon-tone). Use Chinese motifs with Chinese Chippendale, and florals with the pieces that show the French influence, such as the ribbon-back chairs.

Window Treatments

Painted cornice boards; swags with ball fringe; deep-shaped valances of satin, damask, or chintz, shaped with a curve in the center and following shape of bracket feet on case furniture, and edged with ball fringe.

Trimmings consist of fringe, balls tied to braid, wood and glass tassels, molded tassels, plaiting, and contrasting binding. Glass curtains are of silk gauze, fine net, ninon, marquisette, tambour (formal; a fine muslin with chain-stitch embroidery of flowing floral and leaf designs). Bamboo blinds and Venetian blinds may also be used.

Floor Coverings

Oriental throw rugs; plain and carved (sculptured) broadlooms. With Chinese Chippendale you can use Chinese rugs or straw matting, or even cork.


Lamp bases may be made of Chinese porcelains, glass, silver, lusterware, Chinese porcelains, bronze, pewter, wood, or earthenware. They should be vase-shaped, preferably squared, or in the form of human Chinese figures and horses (Tang earthenware).

Lamp shades are of fine silks, such as taffeta, damask, and shantung, and paper, for bases of fine porcelain, glass, or silver. Rough-textured silks, such as shantung, fine or coarse linens, and paper are also used, depending upon the texture of the lamp base.


Mirrors (Feng-Huang type), hanging shelves (usually carved or fretted), and fire screens. Barometer cases and grandfather clocks. Candle stands on a tripod base, wine coolers; Chinese porcelains; lacquered screens ( Coramandel ).

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