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What Walls Are Made Of
( Originally Published 1935 )
Taste has improved greatly in the choice of colors for walls. In the last forty years there have been striking patterns, followed by strong but plain colors, later by monotonous tans and browns, and now by pale neutralized colors. Some moderns have gone on to pure colors, but the general public is not likely to follow that step for some time to come. Rather light and neutral colors such as cream, tan, beige, bisque, putty, sand, taupe, in fact all soft yellows and grays, are usually the most desirable wall colors. Warm colors on the wall tend to hold other colors together and are kind to one's homely possessions, but cool colors separate them and make them look their worst. Medium or darker colors for walls are sometimes used in modern rooms. It is best to use medium color values in rooms that are very light or that have rather ungainly furniture. Medium values make more kindly backgrounds than very light ones for middle-aged persons. With dark wood trim it is necessary to use walls of medium or low value.
Borders of stenciled designs or of wall paper are generally poor. Recently modern paper borders have appeared in the shops, but they should be avoided by amateur decorators. Sometimes a few horizontal lines of color may be used along the picture molding if it is felt that some decoration is necessary there. A width of fabric may be used around the top of a high wall to make an unusual border; the edge should be covered with molding.
Plaster.Plaster is the commonest wall finish. It may be left in natural color, it may have color mixed throughout, or it may be painted or calcimined. Mixing the color with the plaster is desirable because then it can not accidentally be rubbed off. In the first treatment of plaster in a new house some good effects are obtained by rubbing dry color on the browning coat before it is dry. Plaster walls of soft yellow-green, yellow, orange, bluegray, or lavender-gray are especially interesting. Whitewashed plaster is excellent for use in cottages, particularly of the Spanish Colonial type.
Unsmoothed plaster showing the natural trowel marks is desirable for some types of homes, such as primitive, Spanish, or Early English. The larger the room the rougher the plaster may be, within reason. Trowel marks should not seem deliberate or extreme, however, as they so often do. This kind of plaster was so badly overdone a few years ago that it is still somewhat in disgrace.
Smooth plaster is a necessary background for fine furniture, such as that of the eighteenth century. In fact, smooth plaster is quite generally used, because it is more pleasant to touch than rough plaster.
Walls of Wood. Wood produces very different wall effects, depending upon the way it is used. Dark wood paneling as frequently used in dining rooms and home libraries is stately, rich, and masculine, but often gloomy. A cottage wall sheathed in pine of natural color is quaint and simple. Ultra-modern effects are obtained by use of squares of wood with the grain going in opposite directions in adjoining squares. Flex wood is a very thin wood surface that is successfully handled in rolls like wall paper. It is quite different from those wall papers that are unpleasant imitations of wood. Natural-finished wood when waxed often has excellent color. Those colors that are natural to wood, such as browns and tans, are the best colors to use in staining it. If greens, blues, or other unnatural colors are desired, paint should be used, not stain. A small room should not be lined or paneled with wood or it will have a box-like appearance.
Composition Walls. Plastic walls are now often used instead of the conventional plaster. Glass-like and enamel-like materials, and also rubber and linoleum compositions, are made for kitchen and bathroom walls. For other rooms there are many highly desirable wood fiber compositions which can be decorated in various ways.
Metal Walls. In modern interiors copper or aluminum sheets are sometimes used to cover entire walls or parts of them. Standardized houses will no doubt have metal walls.
Brick Walls. Bricks for interior as well as for exterior walls were demonstrated in a fireproof house at the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago. These walls have a sturdy and rough character, making a suitable background for heavy, unfinished, or roughly finished furniture. Fabrics used with brick walls obviously have to be sturdy and rough in texture, such as burlap, monk's cloth, or corduroy. It is possible to whitewash or paint brick walls without loss of quality. With brick walls, plank, composition, stone or brick floors may be used.