A room of Colonial design is ordinarily best carried out in cream-white painted woodwork, as was done in most residences of the Colonial period, frequently the doors being of mahogany. This offers a pleasure-able contrast, and the white woodwork is best adapted to showing off the delicate furniture of that period, generally mahogany, with which a room of this style only should be furnished. Occasionally, a room in a \ery elaborate dwelling may be carried out entirely in mahogany, although this was rarely done in actual Colonial times; where occasional rooms - such as halls or libraries - were almost as rarely finished in oak. A room of English architectural character may be most appropriately carried out in oak, stained dark in tone. Less frequently rooms of this period were executed in mahogany or walnut and very often their woodwork was painted and handled in a way not unlike our present so-called "Colonial" finish. The modern English, or so-called "mission style" of furniture, requires room backgrounds of similar simplicity and with oak or ash finish stained and treated in the same manner as the furniture itself. Sometimes appropriate and simple rooms of modern design may have their standing finish - even when of a soft wood or white-wood - stained and finished in a like manner.
Painted woodwork should receive one coat of shellac varnish to prevent the sap, which is now very frequently in the wood placed upon the market, from coming through and staining the surface of the paint. Upon this first coat there should be applied four coats of paint, this number being about the least that can be depended upon to thoroughly cover the stock. Even then, if whitewood and pine are used side by side - such as for architraves and door, for instance - it is quite possible that a difference between the two colors of white may be noticeable, the pine door being of a warmer, creamier tone and the whitewood being a little more toward the gray white. The least expensive way of finishing painted woodwork is to put a little varnish in the last coat and so impart a slight gloss to the surface.
When the more expensive enamel finish is desired, the painter uses more stock and each coat of paint is rubbed down with felt and pumice-stone until it is given a dull lustre or flat polish. From six to eight coats of paint are necessary to obtain the best effects. Such painted finish should only go over certain kinds of moulded woodwork, as where many sharp exterior angles break up the surface, the painters are likely to rub entirely through the paint down to the surface of the wood, which is then exposed and left unprotected at these places.
Where mahogany is finished to go with Colonial white woodwork, it should be shellaced and varnished four to six coats in all. Each coat of varnish should be rubbed down to the same dead lustre that is found in old furniture. The better the finish, the greater number of coats will be of varnish and the fewer of shellac, as the more expensive varnish furnishes the better surface for wear and polish. Any surface where water or hot pans and dishes may be placed, such as the upper shelf in a side-board or a table top, if of hardwood, should be finished, polished and rubbed down in oil; if the ordinary stock is used, it will show all the marks made by water or heat, while with an oiled surface such blemishes can be easily wiped off with a damp rag.
Where oak is used for "standing finish" (i. e. the upright wood-moulded finish placed upon the walls of a room, and around doors and windows, including base or mop boards, etc.,) it should be finished in shellac or varnish, or with a waxed surface, according to the effect desired. Wax treatment is generally given by using a semi-fluid composition which is put upon the wood with a rag, and then polished as dully or as highly as may be desired. Hardwood, along with cypress, whitewood and pine or spruce, are frequently stained in order to bring out the grain and fibre of the wood the more effectively. Some of the best modern finish, especially on furniture, is now obtained by means of burning the wood with acid or ammonia, or "fuming" and smoking it, and thus bringing out the grain instead of by a liquid stain, which is too likely to fill up, overlay and obscure the grain instead of bringing it out to the best advantage. The staining of a piece of wood is always the first thing done; the remainder of the painters finish, the shellac, varnish, wax, etc., being applied on top of the stain.
The popularity of mahogany "Colonial" furniture and finish has recently waned in favor of the softer color effects given by the earlier "English" styles in oak or walnut.