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How To Be A Decorator:
Principles Of Decoration
Painting Points
Wallpaper Points
Wall Points
Floor Points
Colonial Living Rooms
Veneered Paneling
The English Room
Spanish-Italian Living Rooms
The Living Room Without A Mantel
Living Room Points
Dining Rooms
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
Bedroom Points
Colorful, Comfortable Nurseries
Nursery Points
New Fashions In Draperies
How To Make Curtains And Draperies
Drapery Points
Slip Covers
Slip Cover Points
How To Make Slip Covers
How To Paint Furniture
Finishes For Natural Wood Furniture

The English Living Room

( Originally Published 1930's )

Plastered Walls, Dark Woodwork and Massive Furniture

The houses in the Early English feeling are gaining in popularity, not only for the large country house, but also for the smaller suburban house. To create a living room with this English atmosphere requires more than period furniture or furnishings. This type must have a well-proportioned architectural background to be really attractive.

Structaral Background

As frequently stated, to create an atmosphere successfully in any style, there must be a controlling motive, and to understand the motive expressed in English rooms, it is necessary to make some study of Elizabethan and Jacobean periods in England, roughly speaking, from 1558 to 1658. In those early days, construction in building was more apparent, and in following that type of design, the heavy beams which carry the weight of the second story are exposed and become part of the background of the room.

A beamed ceiling, the lintels (the wood construction above the windows), the trim under the broad casement windows, and other somewhat crude but attractive essentials of building which are usually hidden by plaster and interior finish in a modern house. In the room with the English feeling of this period, they are exposed. The rest of the wall is plastered, but instead of being smooth, there is a certain unevenness about it that was characteristic of this early period, and which today we find quite charming. Make these walls a soft tone, and stain the woodwork a dark oak, waxing it to a dull glossy finish. Such a treatment gives the impression of the mellowing of time.

The Built-In Book Cases

The built in book cases gives an idea of the manner in which the book cases are set into the wall. They are a distinct feature of the room, and could be put into any room, just as the beams could be added to the ceiling. The effect shown in the illustration may be obtained in remodeling a house, or building one on less authentic structural lines, by the use of ordinary seven-eighth-inch boards nailed to the walls. The detailed elevation given above shows the size of these boards which may be obtained in oak or chestnut from any dealer in mill-work. The ceiling has seven-inch beams set at intervals of four feet six inches. These may be "boxed beams," instead of solid wood beams, that is, made up in box form of thin material shaped as the solid timbers would be. The doors should be made of small panels with pointed tops to conform to the style of the room, and can be constructed easily by any carpenter capable of building the usual type of door. To give the character desired, the windows should be casements, opening out. But, instead of using wooden frames, as in the sixteenth century, there are today steel casement sash and frames that are highly to be recommended. These can be obtained in standard sizes ready to set into the wall, with all the necessary hardware.

The mantel is of stone instead of wood in a room of this type. Above it may be a portrait or picture, or merely the rough plaster with some design worked into it. The fire-irons and other tools would be of iron, not brass.

One of the charms of this style is its irregularity. The designer need not be tied down by the necessities of symmetry. Therefore, there could be a fireplace in the middle of one wall and a broad casement window in the opposite wall. Book cases could be balanced on each side of the window and on each side of the fireplace, and should you wish a door to lead to a terrace on one side of the room, for instance, disturbing the symmetrical treatment, it is possible to do it and add rather than detract from the style of the room.

Those interested in English rooms will be glad to know that it is possible to purchase, by the foot, plaster moldings to form the cornice around the top of a plastered wall, as well as small ornaments called "pargetry." A surface of this character may be applied over either rough or smooth walls, or even wallpaper, by procuring hand-patted plaster, which comes in sheets about five feet square. While the sheets are being put up, and are still wet, the edges are pointed together. Plaster parge ornaments may be purchased from any dealer in ornamental plaster work. When the wall is thoroughly dry, one coat of glue size, with a little umber in it, will give a soft antique color. This is what gives the mellowing of age. The floor and the woodwork should be stained, as stated above, a dark oak color, or, as one maker calls it, Cathedral Oak. This is really a mellow, soft walnut shade. So much for the making of the background.

Jacobean Hand-Blocked Linens and Chintzes

In the days of Queen Elizabeth, the ladies of the realm decorated the material used for their curtains with worsted stitchery. This was known as crewel work. Because it is distinctive of this period, manufacturers have copied the designs in hand-blocked linens and chintzes. The predominating characteristic is a brown branch of a tree going through the pattern, with conventionalized flowers in a deep red, and leaves, also conventionalized, in shades of blues and greens. Another characteristic is that the leaves and branches, and even the flowers, never show a hard or definite outline, but are broken to suggest the stitches of the original pieces. There is a certain crudeness in these patterns which is delightful, and which suits the dark oak of the furniture and the plain cream-colored plastered walls. The backgrounds in some of these chintzes, although they were originally cream-colored, are being reproduced today in soft greens and blues, with the bright colorings applied to them. You will have no difficulty in securing this type of hand-blocked linen if you ask for Jacobean patterns or Crewel Work patterns.

Oriental rugs are perhaps the nicest floor covering for a room of this sort, especially those with shades of rich deep red and other subdued colors. Both Persian and Turkish rugs can be procured with these colorings. It is also possible to procure excellent copies of the Oriental patterns.

Elizabethan Furniture

Furniture used in an early English room is just as different from that used in a Colonial room as black is from white. To begin with, the wood that the pieces are made of is oak instead of mahogany, walnut or pine. The larger pieces are somewhat heavier in scale. A table of Elizabethan type, long, heavy, and rather massive, may hold a pair of metal candlesticks, wired for electricity. These candlesticks must be somewhat heavy also, and they would be best of metal rather than of porcelain or china.

Oak is the characteristic wood of this early period, and the excellent reproductions made by some of our best American manufacturers are well constructed of seasoned wood and have a hand-rubbed finish, approximating in tone the mellowness which time alone can give wood pieces. Long tables, such as the one to which I have just referred, usually have the bulbous legs characteristic of the Elizabethan era. The stool drawn up by the chair, the pedestal-table used for a lamp and a potted fern perhaps, must also be of oak and with the Elizabethan or Jacobean feeling. A gate-leg table is appropriate in such a room, provided it is of a heavy early type. The overstuffed chairs should be rather large and show the under-strapping of wood. One, for instance, could be covered with deep brown mohair, rep, or velvet, and another big chair could have a slip cover to match the curtains. A Jacobean arm chair is used behind the table in the picture opposite. The yellow damask cushion on the seat is a pleasant color note.

Grouping Furniture Around the Fireplace

Although the furniture and the hangings and the background are of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, the arrangement of the furniture may be modern to give the comfort which we demand of our living-rooms today. Starting with the fireplace as a center of interest, on one side place an upholstered chair with a lamp near by and a small table to hold a book or any other necessity for comfort. The illustration at the head of this chapter shows this grouping. Opposite the fireplace, in front of the windows, place a long oak table, putting a carved high-backed chair behind it with its back to the window so that the light may come over the shoulder for writing. If the table is arranged as a writing table, which it is well to do, a leather portfolio may be put between the lamps and an ink stand in front of it. Comfortably near, put a cabinet, preferably of oak, which, while holding papers, is also a decorative note in the corner, and adds height to that end of the room.

At one end of the room there are apt to be windows. Between them place a comfortable davenport with a small table in front of it suggesting a place for tea. A nice arrangement, if there is a davenport against the wall, is to place a chair at right angles to it with a stool or a little table at one side. Sometimes, if the room happens to be a large one, a chair can be used at each end of the sofa.

To Get Good Lighting Effects

To get the best out of artificial illumination in any room, the lights must be so placed that the daylight is not only replaced, but supplemented. An arrangement of side lights, as novel as it is pretty and practical, is the hanging of electrified wrought iron lanterns above the book cases. If you use book cases as suggested, this would give four lights and sufficient illumination in the room with the addition of direct light on the table for writing and by some of the chairs for reading. In fact, if a light is put by each of the overstuffed chairs, the users of the room will rise up and call the decorator of it "blessed." There is nothing that adds more to the comfort of a livingroom than a pleasant subdued general illumination (which does not tire the eyes), and a good strong light which can be turned right on the book for reading.

Characteristic Accessories

Accessories or small things for this room should be of the same early character. Standard lamps may be of wrought iron, and one of the table lamps could be of sang de boeuf porcelain (the deep red Chinese porcelain), mounted perhaps on metal or teakwood, but in all other instances metal rather than porcelain is the texture desired. Heavy brass book ends, a treasure chest which might well be a miniature copy of a pirate's strong-box, but holding cigarettes or modern writing accessories instead of the hoarded gold of the pirate; a few bits of pottery; a handsome silver paper knife; a family portrait or two, or oil paintings rather than prints, are the things which give the look of the "lived-in" room with the old world atmosphere of yesterday, but the comfort of today.

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