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Interior Decorating - Walls, As Decoration And As Background

( Originally Published 1919 )

THE treatment of walls is one of the fundamentals of decoration; and this is evident when we realise that no furnishing, however handsome in itself, will constitute a good interior unless the walls, also, have been adequately studied and carried out in accordance with the principles of good design.

Walls, with their "trim," ceilings, and floors compose the shell of the room; and to these may be added the shades and curtains of the windows and the doors or hangings. So intimately are all these connected one with another in any scheme of decoration that no one of them should be proceeded with until all have been taken into account; nor should the treatment of that shell be decided upon without a consideration of that which is to occupy it—the furniture, with its covering, especially as to colour and pattern, and the various subsidiary objects of use and ornament.

As is indicated by the title of this chapter, walls may either be decorative or simple but adequate and beautiful backgrounds. Extremely spacious: rooms, such as ball-rooms and the more public rooms of palatial houses need a decorative treatment (such as the Italian Renaissance, Adam, Louis XV and Louis XVI styles afford) and less imposing premises are often susceptible of a due amount of decoration in the wall surfaces, which will be shown as we proceed. The drawing-rooms of small houses and apartments may frequently be given a more ornamental character than the private rooms without a disturbance of the unities, and in such properties the "Modern" decoration (considered at the end of this chapter) will also be found a resource of value. On the other hand, the treatment of walls as backgrounds is often the best, as it is the most generally feasible, method; so that both styles will have equal attention here, the simply painted or papered wall being as carefully considered as the most elaborate.

A particularly careful consideration of Walls during the historic periods has been given in Part I, and the chapters on International-Interperiod Decoration (Part III) indicates those to be used under each of the great decorative influences. The subject is now expanded by the taking up here of the methods most of value to the present-day householder, including some of the less usual effects by way of suggestion to those who wish to give individuality to their homes.

Before treating of the more simple painting or papering it will be well to consider walls of a constructional nature. In the adoption of such walls the services of an architect or decorator are required, but it is advisable that the reader should here at least consider their possibility and advantages.


These and their appropriate ceilings are primarily of Period character and where a distinctly period style of decoration is desired a correct following of that style is necessary. Modern architects have, however, designed many more non-committal derivations and these may be employed where a general method of furnishing is adopted. A charming British example of such panelling in a modern bedroom is illustrated in colour in Plate 64. It may be said here that panelling of even such an elaborate character as that in the Georgian dining-room shown in Plate 65 A, while decorative, is still of background nature, and allows, with-out confusion, the employment of pattern and colour in the furnishings, as does all other panelling not in itself too ornamental, colourful or of striking contrast. In eighteenth century England and America panelling was often painted not only in white but in such tones as cream, pale green, blue green, grey and chocolate, and frequently the carving was gilded or parcel gilt.

With panelled walls, should be included those with painted inserts and others mentioned in the section on Modern Decoration which follows. The very simple method of panelling by canvas and applied mouldings (Plate 65 B) is deserving of special attention be-cause of its inexpensiveness and excellent effect. In drawing-rooms, dining-rooms and boudoirs such fabrics as damask and watered silk and distinguished ornamental Japanese and other papers may be used with fine effect as panel inserts. Such treatments give excellent scope to tasteful ingenuity—a plain or figured gold Japanese paper such as comes in sheets would go excellently well with panelling of a deep cream, or a silvered paper with grey or oyster-white. Conventional, or flower, or figure decorations may also be painted in panels, doorheads, and the like.


When, in the eighteenth century, wainscotting gradually dwindled to a panelled dado (and finally to mere baseboard and cornice) the plastered portion of the wall was either in white or in such tints as cream, grey, or light green, or else covered with fabric, or the wall-papers which by then had come in fashion. Such papers might either be in monotone or poly, chrome; or, as suggested above, in gold or silver.


Able architects, both here and abroad, in certain instances use wood with plaster to such an extent that the result may probably be considered a combination wall. The woodwork consists of inglenooks, built-in furniture, special features and beamed ceilings, and so altogether charming and homelike are most of these effects that they are especially called to the attention of the reader. Two of these are illustrated here (Plate

66 A and B), and others will be found in Plates 53 and 78 B. In such cases the wall itself may be in white, tint, or in a strong tone, harmonising either by likeness or contrast with the woodwork and the furnishings. Woodwork will be considered at the end of this chapter.

Other combination walls are those of stone, brick or tile with plaster, and each of these may have its use in appropriate situations.


In large houses of appropriate architectural character the walls of halls, stairways and some of the other more public portions may be of cut stone, as may also be specially designed studios, living-rooms, etc. (P'Iate

67 B). Palatial rooms and halls are also sometimes lined with marble, white, flecked or of colour. Sometimes these and the following but partially cover the walls with a high dado, the upper portion being tinted (such as a white marble with pale green-grey plaster) or decorated. A certain amount of roughness and texture is allowable in stone walls of entirely in-formal nature, but to the writers the cobblestone wall usually adjacent to a fireplace is hideous even for a "camp." It should also be mentioned that plaster imitation of stonework is a piece of architectural dishonesty and a thing to be abhorred.

Concrete blocks with mortar afford such an admirable wall of less elaborate and expensive character that an example is illustrated (Plate 67 A). No better foil for the fine Italian furniture could be imagined, and the cross-beamed ceiling with rosettes at the crossings carries out an effect of unusual and sanely architectural character. In such an instance the poly-chrome painting of the rosettes would give additional decorative quality.

Brick walls are useful for solaria and other in-formal purposes, and in their place a combination of brick with rough-cast plaster above it would be very attractive.

Tile, when appropriately chosen, is another desirable finish, either alone or with plaster.

With plaster walls we arrive at one of the most practical surfaces at our disposal and one susceptible of a variety of treatments. Sand-finished plaster, either in its natural tone or tinted, is most desirable, especially for spacious rooms such as the dining-room illustrated (Plate 68). While on first thought such a wall might seem to possess no great handsomeness it is found to make one of the most admirable finishes as background to richly carved furniture of noble proportions and hangings of tapestry or brocade. Its use during the Renaissance period in instances where the walls were not of decorative character, is a sufficient credential of its merit. More smoothly finished plaster was also there, and may now, constantly, be employed. Such a wall finished with a frieze in "comp)," as in the Adam room illustrated (Plate 69), likewise affords an excellent background with sufficient decoration above to avoid entire plainness of effect. The treatment of plaster walls as an architectural and decorative feature was a special metier with the Adam Brothers ("The Adelphi") and anyone considering walls of this character should consult the recently published book on their lives and work. Tinted, painted and decorated plaster may best be treated in subsequent sections.


In an old Dutch Colonial house, the roof of which descended to the hillside upon which it was built, the interior walls bore both the tooth and tone of time. Its purchasers, with enlightened common-sense, wished to preserve its genuine antiquity and yet secure freshness; they whitewashed the walls (using the Light-house Mixture± which does not rub off) and when they had hung simple white curtains and introduced their fine old mahogany furniture, the result was all that could be desired.

Walls so done, or painted in oil colours, or with some of the numerous advertised preparations, naturally possess much of the same character as those treated in the previous section—there is a simplicity and bigness about them all.

As compared with papered walls, soon to be considered, each has its own advantages. The painted wall is more sanatory than the papered wall, particularly when many layers of paper are allowed to accumulate without scraping. With paint any desired tone may readily, be mixed, whereas the precise shade desired may not always be obtained in paper. Paint demands walls in perfect condition and properly pre-pared: paper is not so exigent and is readily applied.

That the simply painted wall possesses great charm in combination with appropriate, well-placed pictures and attractive furniture, is shown by the man's living-room illustrated (Plate 70 A).


This heading at once brings us face to face with the important query : Shall our walls be considered and treated as Background or as Decoration? and, after all, the question should not be difficult for each of us to decide. The masters of the late Italian Renaissance (Plate 139) and of some subsequent periods, revelling in ornament and colour, were quite competent to endue all their surfaces and furnishings—walls, ceilings, floors, hangings and furniture—with these qualities—and yet secure harmony and repose : it is possible for our best architects and a few decorators to-day to do likewise, but it is hardly needful to mention that the problem demands knowledge, wisdom and taste of an high order. Unless, then, the house-holder can avail himself of such aid he had better deny himself an universal ornateness. As a general principle ornament requires the relief of plain surfaces; strong colour the relief of neutral tones. It is evident, then, in our use of ornament that we must have relative simplicity and quietness somewhere, and it should not be difficult for us to decide where it shall be.

It should at once be said that spaciousness is a great simplifier, so that if our rooms are large and anything approaching crowding is sedulously avoided, much more ornament and colour may be employed than in smaller and necessarily well-filled apartments.

If furniture is scant and simple, walls of rather decorative character are almost demanded to avoid bareness of effect. If furniture, hangings, and the various other objects with which we surround ourselves are rich and ornamental, the relief of background is the evident prescription. If walls are decorative, and particularly if ornamental ceilings are added thereto, the floor should be restful, and the upholstery and hangings without obtrusive pattern and strong contrasts. Walls may be decorative and yet not insistent, and these naturally allow a considerable degree of these qualities of pattern and contrast elsewhere.

The principles guiding us are, therefore, plain and we may pass on to the consideration of decorative walls.

An illustration is given of a fine living-room in Plate 70 B. With the influence of Italy as inspiration this handsome and altogether happy result was secured in this manner :

The lofty walls were covered with canvas painted a dull gold, and the pattern stencilled upon it in burnt umber, not with hardness and regularity but with different quantities of colour, so that in some cases it is quite transparent. The polychrome frieze is painted, and in the cartouches are inserted a series of reprints from Piranesi.

As previously mentioned, panelled walls may be made highly or quietly decorative by inserts of all-over painted decorations, smaller, conventional designs, Watteau or Oriental figures, etc. Or the inserts may be of fabrics or of ornamental papers. They may also be enriched with colour and the mouldings gilded. A number of genuine Japanese papers in gold, silver, odd designs and colourings are imported by the Japan Paper Company of New York and Philadelphia. These are in small sheets and are not primarily designed for wall use, but those who are willing to go to some trouble for the sake of securing individual effects would find some of these things distinctly unusual for panel inserts or even for the papering of an entire room.

Fainted walls may have panelling or a dado of lines supplemented by other painted decorations such as those mentioned in the panel section above.

A favourite device of some ingenious modern British architects is the painting or stencilling of a conventionally decorative frieze above woodwork (Plate 66 B), panelling, or with an otherwise plain wall, above a strong rail set two or three feet below the ceiling. Sometimes such a frieze is in modelled "compo" with or without colour. We recall one example of conventional trees and figures in this medium, and another in which, the rest of the wall being plain, there were strongly modelled heraldic designs above the fireplace.

Bands of conventional decoration may be used around a plain centre or run only perpendicularly down the sides of such a centre.

A very interesting treatment, in the "newer decoration," with strong colour, of wall in connexion with a piano, by Mr. Aschermann, is illustrated in the last section of this chapter and a full description of the colour-scheme given beneath. (Plate 77 A.)

Walls may be entirely covered by rich fabrics or strongly ornamental papers or decorated leather.

The degree of ornament or colour in walls consistent with a considerable amount of decoration in other surfaces and objects should be carefully weighed in each instance or confusion will result. As an instance, it may be said that an ivory-white panelling with a damask insert of rose, old blue, light green or old gold would be a perfectly appropriate background for a drawing-room furnished with Sheraton painted satin-wood or painted Louis Seize furniture upholstered in the same colouring as the panel insert.


In general, walls in the whites, neutrals, and soft, light shades of colour will be found the most practical. The reasons have before been given but may be repeated here:

1. Through them we are able to key together all the various rooms in a dwelling or an apartment without that house or apartment becoming noticeably of strong yellow, or blue, pink or green.

2. They allow the employment in such rooms of a greater variety of colour.

3. They are reposeful and possess wholesomeness and cheer.

It should be noted, however, that the general advocacy of a good thing by no means presupposes its universal use. A truly catholic taste is as acutely conscious of the desirability of other things in their proper circumstances. In very light houses or in apartments situated on upper floors where the light pours in undiluted glare, and where heavy curtains may not be desired, somewhat darker colours for walls are appropriate. They will give rest and richness. Even here, however, a middle tone of the chosen colour will be found sufficient, and usually it had better be of rather neutral shade. For more positive treatments the section on the Newer Decoration should be consulted.

Perhaps no other one thing has given such scope to the fiendish ingenuity of man as the designing of paper for the wall. The usual shop is a museum of horrors where out of a hundred patterns ninety are to be shunned. Yet even here one may find good and simple things, and the best shops and decorating establishments have papers of great beauty.

In viewing any possible selection four questions should mentally be asked.

I. Is it beautiful in itself?

II. Will it lie back on the wall?

III. Is it in accordance with the purposes of the room?

IV. Will it be harmonious with the room and its furnishings in colour, pattern and scale?

As a practical aid in selection, suggestions as to the best styles are given in the following paragraphs.

Stripes : Stripes have always an intrinsic style (Plate 72). They add somewhat to the apparent height of the wall, which is sometimes an advantage where the walls are low. With lofty walls they may be used if treated according to later suggestions. The narrow stripes of cream white and grey are exceedingly attractive, practical and have a modest elegance. They may advantageously be used for an entire suite of rooms except perhaps the drawing-room, where a striped paper generally agreeing in tone, but of still greater elegance, may be substituted.

There are many other good stripes in white, light shades and in all colours likely to be used, the stripes being of varying widths. The two-surface stripes are of simple but undoubted style. In these one stripe is plain and the next is of satin finish, watered, brocaded or patterned.

In addition to these two-surface papers there are those in two tones of the same colour, and also in two tints, which also often have varying surfaces as well.

While exercising care that the stripe selected should not be out of proportion to the size of the room, it should be remembered that if there is little difference in tone or surface between the alternate stripes wider ones may be used than where the contrast is strong.

Crane and Morris Designs : The papers by Walter Crane, William Morris and other designers are of strongly decorative character, possessing as they do both pattern and colour. Crane's "Macaw" design" is perhaps the most beautiful of them all.

Brocades : An all-over conventional brocade in some such pattern as the damask wall illustrated (Plate 73 A) and in pale ashes of roses or cream is very beautiful. In these papers brocaded in the surface the pat-tern only shows strongly on portions of the wall where the light strikes at certain angles, but adds richness to the remainder. As previously noted some papers are both brocaded and striped.

Diamond Pattern Papers : There are papers in tan, grey, and light colours in which the lines run diagonally, thus forming a diamond pattern in which there is a small figure. These are attractive, and being unobtrusive, the direction of the lines is not objectionable. As a usual principle it is not well to use lines at variance with the perpendiculars and horizontals of the room.

Solid Colourings : Where a solid-colour wall is de-sired in soft but definite tone, the pulp and felt papers are available, but in light shades they are characterless and the present writers advocate a plain painted wall rather than these. The following three are, however, often better than either.

Stippled Papers : These effects are in imitation of walls which are stippled with paint in various tones over a toned background and most of these are of great beauty. As the tones would not match, at the joints this paper comes to such great width as fifteen feet. Decorators frequently stipple papers themselves with a sponge and water colour, but it would be unwise for the inexperienced to undertake it.

Surfaced Effects : There are several styles of papers which may be grouped under this heading, all of them giving more or less the effect of solid colour. They are very slightly varied in surface or colouring so as to relieve monotony and add richness. They have a texture which is hardly that of plaster or stone, but of which these are the nearest comparisons, and they are all the better for not being a direct imitation.

There is also a sand-finished paper which gives approximately the same effect as the so-finished plaster.

Canvas Papers : The Canvas and Jasper papers are good, although they do not possess any great distinction. There is, however, a Canvas paper which is of decided richness. This is of dull gold on which the canvas lines are imprinted in brown, so that the general effect is of a golden tan.

Gold and Silver: Papers entirely covered with gold or silver, either plain or with oriental figuring, are handsome and likewise expensive. Some of these have stamped raised patterns in different tones or with suggestions of colour.

Japanese Grass : This is one of our very- desirable assets, giving a rich but unobtrusive surface. It may be found in such tones as silver grey, warmer grey, gold, green and gold, and blue and silver. There are also good imitations of grass cloth.

Two-Toned Papers : Available also are many de-signs of conventional character in two tones so nearly alike as to be unobtrusive. These have the advantage of richness often at moderate cost.

Sprinkled and Small Pattern Effects are simple and attractive. Snow-flakes, triangles or dots are all pleasing and especially suitable for bedrooms.

Small Effects : There is a paper with a tiny black design at frequent regular intervals on a white ground, and also on a background of Chinese yellow, and perhaps other colours. Such a wall-covering could be used in a series of rooms, though it might in time become more tiresome than stripes.

Medallions : These papers are a mistake—if one were ill he would lie and count the medallions till moved to despair. There was an instance where an occupant, though in perfect health, discarded a very beautiful medallion paper costing ninety cents per roll and substituted an eleven-cent small-specked paper to immense advantage.

Period Papers: Wall-papers are furnished by manufacturers for certain period rooms, such as Adam and Empire, and these may sometimes be appropriately used.

Attention should be called to the reproductions of French wall-papers designed by David with subjects drawn from classic history and mythology. The figures are large and the subjects are in sequence and, in-tended to be used as panels.

Late eighteenth century Architectural (Plate 74) and Landscape Papers have been reproduced and are excellent if the room be furnished as were those in which these papers were originally employed—with simplicity. If they are strong in effect the walls then become the decoration and other features should be subordinated or confusion is apt to ensue.

Cretonne Papers : Another instance is the cretonne effect of which an illustration is given in Plate 75. In this case, with black ground and conventional flowers in varied colours and with bird's-eye maple furniture in simple lines, the result is good, except for the pictures erroneously hung upon such a wall.

Foliage Effects : Foliage papers in pale tones (Plate 73 B) are less obtrusive than the landscape effects, but judgment must here also be employed.

Flowered Papers : Small all-over flowered or leaf designs in greys, creams or pale tones of colour are often charming for bedrooms or above a dado in the whites or appropriate tints.

The bower of naturalistic red roses and the gar-den of blooms may be relegated to the use of those who have yet to learn of what household decoration consists.


These have all had their special vogue and, as is always the case with "crazes," have afterwards been discredited—and probably will again be revived with equal fervour. Each has its own uses and may at any time be employed. Present readers would probably properly prefer to use them when not rendered undesirable by too frequent occurrence.

Panelled Papers : When well done paper panelling is attractive, especially for drawing-rooms and boudoirs. It should always be of simple architectural character, with straight lines marking the divisions rather than flowered or other edging.

Friezes : These are usually of too heavy and obtrusive design, thus overweighing the upper wall. Their use is not recommended: however, where it may be expedient two or three bands of the same or differing colours painted around the wall below the ceiling give a more individual effect. A wide painted band down to the picture rail is also good. Fabrics with a moulding below are often applied to form friezes, but the writers advise caution in seeing that the texture does not conflict with that of the wall beneath.

Dados : These may be employed especially for halls, dining-rooms, drawing-rooms, living-rooms, and libraries if desired. The lower paper should, of course, be the darker, and if one is ornamental the other should be plain. The huge flowered effects at one time in vogue would disturb the poise of any room. On the other hand the writer once occupied as a bedroom the room formerly used in an apartment as a dining-room; the lower wall of a soft medium green in plain felt, the upper wall being of a cream shade with a stripe composed of a rose stem and conventional leaves in the same green as the base. With a four-post bed and other dignified mahogany furniture it made one of the prettiest rooms imaginable.

Canopies : Canopies may be of decided use in lofty rooms, as they lower the apparent height. The ceiling paper is carried down over the side wall, without border, to a picture-rail. This arrangement often allows the use of striped papers where otherwise they would be inappropriate. There are instances in which the division between wall and canopy was a strip of flat moulding perhaps four or five inches wide and of dark colour, matching the "trim" of the room. This moulding is set even with the top of the door trim, so becoming an extension running around the room.


As the walls should be lighter than the floors, the ceilings should be lighter than the walls, but of the same colour, they being properly an extension of them. If the walls are of two tones, such as a cream and grey stripe, the ceiling should be keyed to the lighter tone—in this instance fortunately also the warmer, the cream.

In most cases there is nothing more simply elegant than a perfectly plain ceiling paper, but if the ceiling is in poor condition a. dotted or small figured surface is preferable. Silver paper may sometimes be used to advantage for the ceiling surmounting a painted panelled wall. Although somewhat darker than a white wall the reflections and high lights of the metal surface remove any oppressive sense of weight. Wall-paper manufacturers have exercised their ingenuity in de-signing side papers, elaborate borders and decorated ceilings, "to match," but these things are usually to be avoided by the tasteful decorator.

The beamed ceiling is appropriate to certain architectural styles and if paper is used in such cases it should be only in the spaces between the beams. In the large living-room of a certain handsome country house the beams also were papered over— an indefensible practice subservient of all character.

Ceilings of plaster work, parge or "compo" are attractive when well designed, and good patterns may be, secured "in stock." They should follow the period styles in which they were used or at least be based thereon, and great care should of course be exercised to have them agree in style with the architecture and furnishings and to have them in proper scale with the room.

Where the walls are white or nearly so such a ceiling may be left white, but otherwise it should be tinted a light shade of the wall tone.


It is accepted without question by many persons that borders are a decorative necessity. So far is this from being the case that one should carefully consider whether they are needed before using them at all. If employed they should be good in design, not more than four inches wide for the ordinary room, and with straight edge. Cut-out borders destroy architectural lines to no purpose. Occasionally borders are of value in the less formal rooms for the carrying up of the dominant colour upon the wall (Plate 76), but usually there is no particular reason for the strong marking of the dividing line between walls and ceiling. If it is felt that a greater finish be required, a simple cornice-moulding is the better device. This is quite commonly simply a picture rail set just below the edge of the ceiling, leaving sufficient space for the picture hook to go over the rail. If the woodwork is dark the rail may also be stained dark and this gives a "snappy" appearance, which is sometimes desirable if there is little interest in the remainder of the wall.

This placing of the rail is a thoroughly good one when the ceiling is low, but otherwise the necessarily long picture-wires are apt to give a "stringy" appearance, and if this is the case it is better practice to set down the picture rail fourteen to eighteen inches from the ceiling (Plate 76). The finish thus given is sufficient and no other is really necessary.


The trim of windows and doors (and the doors themselves) with which most of us have to do are of wood, or in strictly fireproof buildings of metal. Stone or brick are, of course, also frequently used for trim, and we occasionally see tile or mosaic, but these last are such definitely architectural features that they should not be undertaken except under professional advice. (Plate 144.)

Varnished golden oak is the bete noire of the decorator, professional or domestic, and toffy-coloured pine is worse. If at all possible either should be got rid of by painting or staining, and this should be before moving into the premises, where one can. If one is already an occupant the change involves disturbance and dirt, but the result will be found worth while. Owners and builders should be made effectively to realise the objectionableness of this "tobacco juice" colour of woodwork so that it may quickly become a barbarity of the past.

In order to get rid of the "goldenness"—heaven save the mark !—the hard finish must be taken off with varnish remover or else rubbed down. It may then be restained an unobtrusive shade and oiled, or it may be painted.

Pleasing Finishes : Paint, enamel, mahogany and dark oak, real or stained, and many other woods less usually employed, are all good. The first two may be either in white or in tint. Great stress is laid by some upon the use of ivory or cream rather than pure white, and this is often advisable, but pure white quite usually becomes ivory and the deeper shades grow "more so."

Where walls are in tint or in colour, whether painted or papered, the painted trim may either be of white or of the same or a kindred colour, in the same or not greatly differing tone. This question will by-and-by be dealt with in detail.

If the trim is not keyed to the wall it may be keyed to the wood of the furniture. If the furniture is mahogany the woodwork had better be of mahogany tone, or in some light tint or one of the whites. Dark oak woodwork is naturally the best for furniture of the same tone. Unlimited varnish is disturbing upon any wood, not less so over that which is dark than over the lighter species.

Grey-fumed oak when well done is in itself not an unpleasing finish, but it is not a practical one except where the furniture is also grey, white enamel or harmonious in colour. The writers recently visited a new apartment-house in which this grey was the universal finish, and thought with many a head-shake of the deplorable result when the unusual mahogany or oak furniture should be placed by the tenants.

As previously mentioned, the trim, may be keyed to the walls, or it may be white, or it may be dark. The first means harmony, the last contrast. If the walls be of the Whites, white trim will be harmonious ; if they be in colour white will be a contrast. For strong effects the section on Modern Decoration should be consulted.

There is room for a broad and unprejudiced choice. As Mr. George Moore said of literature, "all methods are good," but all methods are not equally good in every circumstance. If our furnishings are likely to be so full of life, colour and contrast that further emphasis would be disturbing, by all means let us have harmony. If we feel that our rooms are strongly balanced in mass and colour, we may well afford ourselves some contrast.


There is a theory abroad that white walls contrast too strongly with the furnishings of a room; and mahogany furniture used with their extreme form of white, calcimine walls, has been pronounced "impossible." Pure white curtains have for the same reason come in for their share of deprecation. In accordance with our usual policy of first-hand investigation, let us consider this question, for it has its importance not only in connexion with the so-called "Colonial" interior but in many other cases.

There is first to be noted that in any but a perfectly bare and unfurnished room there is no such thing as a dead white wall. Immediately the windows have been duly shaded and curtained and the furnishings placed, nothing remains of a true whiteness but the highest lights, the shadows and half-tones going off to grey. Just here it is well to remember Whistler's amusing search for the brown necktie. When it or its substitute had been found Mr. Eddy tells us:

"Then mark you the brown of the tie was by no means reproduced in the portrait, but the brown as modified by all the browns and notes of the entire costume, and as still further modified by all the browns and all the notes and shades and lights of the studio."

The fact is that in any room in which there is the richness of mahogany, coupled with the hues of rugs, upholstery and hangings, there are refractions of colour upon a white wall modifying it to the tones in the room, refractions impalpable perhaps but nevertheless there.

We may similarly say that the moment that the whitest of white curtains are hung at the window no white remains of them but the highest lights. We know how artists of the Genre school delight in the painting of white curtains. Does one suppose they would do so if the pigment pourtraying them were pure Flake White ? The artist's pleasure arises from the exquisite tones of yellow, blue, pink and violet grey, of which these "white" curtains consist as soon as they drape into folds.

Nor can one with an artist's eye speak of mahogany as wholly dark. There are darks and decided ones, but note also their grey half-tones and their sparkling lights, which in their turn can only be pourtrayed in pigment by white which is almost pure.

Let us then by all means keep to principles, but let us develop these from fact. In such cases, then, we shall still indubitably find contrast, and strong con trast, between white walls and mahogany, but contrast is of the spice of life. We shall thank the purists not to try to take away our spice.

The simple truth is that white is pure, wholesome in its mental influence and noble. It is also sanatory—for to remain white it must be kept clean.


As has been said in Part I, Chapter IX, simplicity and right organisation are prominent tenets of the newer school, and it is recognised that the correct handling of backgrounds is necessary to this result. If they are to be prominently decorative a restful balance must elsewhere be secured and, as this involves the sacrifice of many other decorative possibilities, it is frequently found more feasible that they should remain backgrounds and allow the introduction of decoration in other objects. There is, therefore, with this school a recognised use of walls in greys, creams, buffs and other tints and light tones. These have now for some time past, however, been so largely employed by good decorators that it is felt by the moderns that they make somewhat for monotony and that stronger colour may often advantageously be used. This is but a re-turn to the past, for during the period from Queen Anne to Adam walls both plain and panelled were often in virile tones. They were still tones, nevertheless, and bright blues, red orange, and the like, were certainly not used.

If we had but one or two rooms to consider, quite brightly coloured walls might easily be managed, but if a certain degree of unity be lacking in the background it will be difficult to supply it elsewhere, and if one strong colour be adopted throughout it will become exceedingly tiresome before many months of its company.

For plain-coloured walls, whether quiet or in brighter hue, any of the resources mentioned in the previous section may be drawn upon. Painted and sand-finished walls are among the very best for this method, but paper also is frequently used. That with some texture or slight mottling is better than a perfectly smooth surface. Narrow vertical stripes are also good and give an approximately plain result. Gold and silver papers are rich and handsome and grass-cloth papers are unexcelled.

As a sense of unity is all that is required, there may be some considerable variation in colour or surface in the different rooms. If, for example, a silver-grey grass-cloth paper is the general covering the employment of a grey blue of fairly strong shade, or of silver paper in one or two rooms would not create undue dissimilarity; nor would strong yellow, salmon or light tan vary too greatly from a general tone of cream.


Many devices for this purpose are used by the newer school of decoration. One of the most prominent of them is the painting of the woodwork (the "trim") a different shade from the walls, lighter or darker, or a strongly contrasting colour. Another is the lining up of the walls with a wainscot or a panel effect, or with vertical lines, or with a frieze or canopy, or around the ceiling, corners and doors (Plate 77 A). When such contrasts are used by the new movers as violet woodwork, or lines, with yellow walls, bright blue with red-orange walls, etc., one can only ask what becomes of restfulness : when various strong colours are used in the different rooms of the same house, one may en-quire where their theory of unity has gone : and in both cases we may wonder how good a background these supply for our persons and our costumes, and how good they are to live with? Of course, if such decoration is to be merely temporary and to afford a passing diversion for variety's sake, these purposes are fulfilled.

Considerable strong colour may, however, be employed with unusual but most satisfactory results. The office and reception room by Mr. Aschermann (Plate 52 A) is a good example in point, and a combination used by Mrs. Grace Wood was also charming. This was a hall-bedroom with walls of grey, panelled with a broad band of mulberry and an inner line of pistache green. The furniture was in the green with mulberry lines, and the bed-cover mulberry. Such things have a freshness and verve which it would be well to impart into many dull and conventional homes. Fortunately these ideas may be carried out with sanity of effect and even strong contrast be preserved. Black or indigo lines upon a Chinese yellow, which are often used, are not at all bad if not overdone, because the contrasting hue is sombre and not brilliant.

Panelling is another strong resource of this method of decoration and many effects may be gained by its use. Both the small squared and the larger panelling of later times are used, and either in one or in two col-ours, these being either quiet or strong. Applied mouldings (Plate 65 B) are excellent for this purpose.

One very tasteful room known by the writers has a white ceiling and canopy effect with walls of peacock-blue burlap with cornice, background and vertical strip panelling in white enamel. This, however, is a single room. In a suite the panels of one or two important rooms may be filled with a painted decoration for greater ornament or with such a beautiful polychrome heavy Japanese paper as shown in Plate 54. Effective papers may also be used above a dada (Plate 78 A).

Conventional decorations in colour are often introduced in panels, and if well done the effect is excellent. They take the place of pictures, which should not appear upon such walls as these strongly marked ones unless of appropriate decorative and colourful character.

As cottage art is looked to for inspiration in one phase of "modern" decoration an exceptionally good example is given in Plate 78 B. In this instance the tones are quiet, but such restful interiors as this and those on Plate 93 would. sustain a great deal of colour without disturbance.

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