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How To Be A Decorator:
Principles Of Decoration
Colonial Living Rooms
The English Room
Spanish-Italian Living Rooms
The Living Room Without A Mantel
Living Room Points
Dining Rooms Points
Combination Living Room - Dining Room
Living Room - Dining Room Points
Halls, Sun Rooms And Porches
Points For Halls, Sun Rooms And Porches
Colonial And Modern Bedrooms
Colorful, Comfortable Nurseries
New Fashions In Draperies
How To Make Curtains And Draperies
Slip Cover Points
How To Make Slip Covers
How To Paint Furniture
Finishes For Natural Wood Furniture
( Originally Published 1930's )
The Early American Living-Room-The Eighteenth Century Living-Room-The Modern Room With Colonial Feeling
Since there are many houses being built today along Colonial lines, and since there is a tremendous interest m early American furniture, let us put the two together in the making of an early American living-room.
The word "Colonial" may cover a multitude of sins, as well as a multitude of types. The "Early American" room shown opposite page q is characterized by a big chimney-place and early pine furniture. The more generally known Colonial room is the more formal one on the opposite page. Such a room is furnished with eighteenth century wood pieces of either mahogany or walnut, and may have a paneled background, or have one end of the room paneled, with the other three walls plastered and papered, or plastered and painted. First determine which of these two types you wish to create. The wood pieces will do this. If you furnish the room in reproductions of old pine, which were used in the seventeenth century and early eighteenth century in our American colonies, you will create a somewhat quaint effect. If you furnish the room with walnut or mahogany which was used in the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, you will create a more formal effect.
Briefly, let me sketch the background and the furnishings of each of these types with you.
Early American Room
The Early American room has a more informal background than the later type. The walls are plastered, and today may be painted, or have a very simple small-figured or delicately-striped Colonial paper. For the sake of argument, let us paint the walls deep ivory. Paint the woodwork to match. Make the ceiling a lighter tone. No cornice is required at the top of the walls. In an early room of this character, there are two types of fireplace which might be used. One is the big chimney shown opposite page g. It is less likely that you will be able to follow this type unless the house happens to be an old one. The other type is a simple fireplace opening of the usual dimensions, with a wood panel over it. It may be with or without a mantel. This mantel and whatever woodwork there is would also be painted ivory.
Stain the floor a walnut tone and wax it. Today electric waxing machines may be rented by the hour, and can be handled by a woman. The most satisfactory floor covering is a plain-colored rug of brown-taupe which covers the better part of the room. This may be of linen, wool, or chenille, whichever can be afforded, and acts as a background for small colorful hooked or braided rugs.
Early American Furniture
To give the room a really Early American feeling, select furniture of early pine and combine it with davenport, overstuffed chairs, and electrified lamps to make a comfortable living-room. Instead of the square overstuffed chair, select one of the Colonial type such as a wing or a barrel chair or one of the wing chairs with wooden arms and upholstered back and seat as illustrated on the following page.
The American manufacturers are making excellent reproductions of early pine pieces in birch. The illustrations show the "tavern" table, the "butterfly" table, and the "splay-leg" table, some "Windsor" chairs, a small "tip-top" pedestal table and a "candle-stand." Arrange a Windsor chair and butterfly table as suggested in the previous chapter as a fireside group; an easy chair by a window for reading in the day time; and a desk group on another side of the room. The desk may be of the secretary type, or without the top, with drop leaf and three or four drawers below it. Such desks usually have the bracket foot, and are an earlier type than the Governor Winthrop desk, for instance, although of the same general character. The sketches, all clearly marked, give you the best idea of what to look for in furniture. If you cannot find old pine, the maple reproductions, when nicely finished, have much the same color and today are excellent copies.
Chintzes, Lamps and Accessories
The draperies in such a room may be brightly colored and gaily patterned. The Colonials used fewer draperies than we do today, but, without marring the atmosphere, we may use, with good effect, pretty chintzes in the small patterns. Glass curtains should be of plain scrim or of dotted swiss edged with ruffles or white ball fringe.
If you wish to create an Early American atmosphere, you must use the sort of lamps and little things our Colonial ancestors used. For instance, many of their lamps were of glass, or of a combination of marble base with glass bowl. Therefore, select such a lamp for the reading table. Although old ones are still to be found, excellent reproductions are be ing made at moderate prices. Use a plaited shade of book cloth in a plain or figured pattern according to whether or not it is outlined against a chintz curtain or a plain wall. The lamp shade should be the reverse of its background to give a contrast. There are today many standard lamps of iron made with a Colonial feeling on which parchment or plaited paper shades may be used.
For the mantel, old-fashioned vases or candlesticks with crystals hanging from them will give character. The fireplace fittings may be of brass or iron, but again, in the Colonial feeling. Solid brass, with ball or urn-like tops, are best.
Books and magazines, cigarette boxes, a ship picture, a hunting scene, or a group of silhouettes, would complete such a room.
The Eighteenth Century Colonial Room
The background of this room is more formal than the earlier type. To begin with, if the house is true to type, the proportions of the living-room will be a little longer than wide, with ceilings between eight and nine feet high. Nine feet is an average height-seven feet is low. The walls may be papered, painted, or paneled, but the paneled room or partly paneled room will give the real atmosphere, and approximate more nearly what our well-to-do ancestors did. In some sections of the country in 1776, the more formal houses or manor houses were paneled and then painted. Less formal houses had papered walls with one side paneled and painted; other houses had plastered white-washed walls, with the woodwork painted white.
For the room which we will now make and which is of a character shown in the picture opposite page 33, panel the side of the room where the fireplace is, covering the rest of the wall with a tan-colored canvas, approximating the natural tone of old pine, or of birch veneer, which could be used for the paneling. Or paint the wood paneling ivory or gray, and the remainder of the walls to match it. Either arrangement would be correct. If it is possible to do any paneling, when building it into the room, arrange for book cases as suggested in the elevation on the following page. This as well as the elevations on pages 46 and 47 show formal types of paneling which The Studio executed in birch veneer at a reasonable cost. Costs and the method of construction are given. It would be possible to use the book cases between the pilasters and not build the rest of the paneling if expense is a consideration, and the book cases are a necessity. The Studio left the birch veneer in the natural color and waxed it. The other three sides of the room may be paneled, painted, or covered with a fabric, approximating the soft tannish-brown tones of the wood.
Stain the floor a walnut tone and wax it. Cover the better part of it with a velvet rug of taupe, or use small Orientals, or very gay hooked rugs in connection with the furniture groupings.
Eighteenth Century Mahogany and Walnut Furniture
The furniture of this period is as beautiful as any that has ever been produced. The great cabinet makers-Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Sheraton and Adam-set a new standard of grace and beauty. Duncan Phyfe of New York, and Savory of Philadelphia ably followed them in this country. Hence, during this period much fine furniture was imported by the more prominent Colonists, and some was made here. To make a modern room with the Colonial spirit, as The Studio did in re-creating Doctor Shippen's House at the Sesquicentennial in Philadelphia, in 1926, we combined reproductions of some of these fine old pieces with upholstered pieces, and arranged them in accordance with modern ideas of comfort. For instance, by the fireplace was a most comfortable upholstered chair in what is known as the barrel type. Either this or the wing chair could be used with a slip cover of the same chintz as the curtains. On the opposite side of the fireplace was a Chippendale chair with upholstered seat and back, and wooden arms. It could be replaced by a modern davenport. But to keep the atmosphere of the room, the wooden pieces of furniture must be correct in type. The pedestal table, for instance, shown in the illustration, is an excellent piece to choose. Smaller tiptop `-pedestal tables, to be placed at each end of the daven port, are comfortable places on which to put lamps, and are correct in such a room. A secretary desk of the Sheraton type could be placed on the wall opposite the fireplace. In a corner near it, or by one of the windows, a pie-crust table could hold either a lamp or a bowl of flowers, and have a comfortable wing chair beside it.
Draperies and Accessories
Glass curtains in such a room should be of net and rather inconspicuous. The over-curtains may be either of a semiglazed chintz or a hand-blocked linen in a more formal pattern than that in the Early American room. So many delightful chintzes are on the market today, that it is not difficult to choose one in gay colors. Let me suggest, however, that a sample large enough to give an idea of the pattern, be tried in the place where it is to go before being decided upon. In the room illustrated, a pattern known as the Vauxhall chintz was used. This shows a grouping of beaux and belles, with powdered wigs, knee-breeches and hooped skirts, and in the background the famous Vauxhall. Other suitable fabrics are the toiles de Jouy which also show groups of small figures. They are to be had today in nice colorings, showing the Colonial log house, an attack of the Indians, the landing of the Pilgrims, and such motifs. They are usually in one color-mulberry is an excellent one-on a cream ground.
Those fortunate enough to have visited the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, will have seen rooms of this type. If it has not been possible to visit the Museum, the various articles published regarding it, or the book, "The Home of Our Ancestors," published by the Museum, would be a great help to the woman who wishes to do her own decorating.
The lighting of such rooms today, instead of being done by candles,is naturally lights done by electricity. But the side in designs (now available) suitable for the rooms, using a small candle bulb instead of a heavier light. Crystal drops reflecting the light of candles were a favorite ornamentation, and as there is nothing more charming, it is well to use them in such a room on side lights, and possibly on a lamp or two. At least one lamp, instead of having a modern shade, would be charming with a ground glass shade, in one of the attractive globe shapes of the eighteenth century. Or, if lamps cannot be found, glass candlesticks wired, with glass and crystal drops are procurable.
In choosing ornaments, look for some of the Wedgwood pieces, old glass for flower vases, and something rather quaint for book-ends. There is really so much to find nowadays among excellent reproductions that there is but little difficulty in recreating the pleasant atmosphere of a past day.
The Modern Room With Colonial Feeling
A great many people have not the opportunity to panel even the side of a room, or to do very much in changing a background. Therefore, to those of my readers who have a modern room, but who like Colonial things, let me suggest that they do the following:
Paint the walls a soft tint-ivory, parchment, green or apricot. Make the ceiling a lighter tone. If possible, put a nice cornice at the top of the walls and paint it to match.
Use moldings to form paneling if possible. If not, leave the walls plain. These applied moldings are not very expensive and do a great deal to give a finished appearance to a room.
If your furniture is modern, place it as suggested in the modern living-room. Use a pretty flowered chintz for the curtains and some of the slip covers. Get a lamp or two with the Colonial feeling. Of course, if you can buy end-tables, a footstool, or a desk, choose a Governor Winthrop desk, for instance, a pie-crust table, or a small tip-top pedestal table, rather than more modern forms. Hang either a painted flower panel, a ship picture, or an old print over the mantel-piece. Use some nice silver or glass candlesticks with candles in them, with hanging glass prisms. Have a hooked rug or two over a plain dark rug, and you will be surprised to find that you have a room as livable as it is comfortable, with a distinctly Colonial feeling.