One of the basic principles in all the arts is that any composition must have unity; that is, the parts must seem to belong together to form one thing. A building may be unified by virtue of being one unit, as for example a small house of rectangular shape, covered with a simple gable roof. But, if we go beyond one part and have a number, it is essential that we produce unity by making one central part much more important than the others. A house consisting of a number of extensions should be so designed that these additions are made less high and bulky than the main body of the house.
Now the same is true with the interior of the home. A sense of unity must be produced by the room arrangement inside. The living room should be bigger, have a higher ceiling and be more elegantly treated than any other room, so that it may dominate the plan and give a sense of unity to the house. This is important in the small house.
There are a number of ways of doing this. The length and width of the living room may be made quite large, by contrast to the other rooms. The ceiling may be made higher by not covering the floor beams with plaster, increasing their thickness, separating them further apart than usual and so letting the flooring on top of them serve as the ceiling. If one can afford it, the living room which extends up two stories in height is most effective. This however is an uneconomical thing to do in a small house. But there is another way of giving importance to the living room which is neglected in the American home. It is to cover the walls with wood paneling and have exposed wooden beams on the ceiling.
A living room which is decorated in this manner seems to be, if it is properly done, more homelike, than one decorated in any other way. There is a sense of warmth and intimacy about walls of wood. The rich colors and the variations of texture produced by the grain lend an'air of dignity.....Not only do the panels seem warmer, but they actually are, especially if one coat of plaster has been put on before they are applied.
1 Adapted from "Paneled Walls of Wood for the Small Home," Small Home, May, 1929.
Without effort, a living room decorated with wood paneling dominates the plan and produces that unity which is necessary in any artistic composition. It becomes the center of the family life, and the members gravitate to it without effort. It is not like so many living rooms which are vacant, except when company comes.
Often, home-owners, although realizing all of these qualities, hesitate to have wood-paneled rooms, fearing the cost will be prohibitive. This fear is usually well founded, for wood paneling as installed in the homes of the wealthy and designed after the finest of Tudor or French traditions is work for a cabinetmaker. Yet it is possible to select types of paneling that are beautiful, and which can be put on by the ordinary carpenter, at a reasonable price.
Fig. 52. - Paneling with wood is an effective wall treatment, and it requires less wall decoration. (Photograph by Mattie Edwards Hewitt.)
Old English cottages offer some suggestions as to the methods of paneling that are simple enough for any carpenter to make. One method, which is quite effective, reveals appreciations of light and shade which the old carpenters had. Vertical boards were laid up so that every other one was forward of those on either side of it, by about one half the thickness of the board. This was done by having tongues along each edge of half of the boards and grooves along the edges of the other half. By fitting the boards together in this staggered fashion, a feeling of thickness and variety of shade resulted. Other similar methods were used in early times.
In our own Colonial period there were similar wooden partitions constructed, but they were slightly more elaborate. Boards about 18" wide were cut to make a lap joint at the edges, and then ornamented by an interesting molding to hide the joint. Sometimes a molding was also run down the middle of the board to resemble the joint molding, and make the board seem narrower. To-day, if we could get a board as wide as 18", we would be so proud of it, that we would think it a sacrilege to make it seem like two narrower boards.
We can easily sheathe our walls, to-day, with this type of wood finish. Boards of pine, redwood, Douglas fir and yellow pine, or cypress are very well suited to this type of decoration. An ordinary carpenter can do the work too. In finishing this boarding, wax rubbed into the wood and slightly colored with burnt umber brings out the warmth of the wood and makes a somewhat dull finish in harmony with the simplicity and crudeness of this kind of wood wainscoting.
Ornamental effects, something like carving, can be obtained with the sand-blasting method, at very little additional expense. Designs can be made to stand out on the board by shielding selected surfaces of the wood from the eating action of the sand. Patterns of the design are cut from manila paper and pasted on the board, so that the portion of the wood under the paper is shielded against the corroding action of the sand blast. When the process is completed and the paper removed, the ornament will seem to be raised from the surface. Additional effects can be obtained by staining the patterns. Redwood is particularly attractive when treated in this manner.
Of course it will be next to impossible to secure boards as wide as 18", as did our Colonial fathers, but even if it were, they would split under the action of our steam heat in the winter months. However, broad and fine surfaces of wood can be obtained, even more beautiful in grain than ordinary boards, by using plywood. This is a wood board, constructed of three layers of thin veneer. The interior layer has its grain at right angles to the exterior layers. These veneers are glued together under great pressure and are more durable than real boards. Widths of four and five feet are possible which do not crack under the drying action of steam heat. As the exterior veneer is especially selected for its richness of grain, some charming effects are possible. Nearly all of our native woods are made up into these plywood boards, and they are quite reasonable in price. Indeed, not only is the cost low but it is a better type of construction than solid boards. Panels made from plywood will not warp or crack so easily.
From the earliest times, carpenters have realized that wood swells in moist weather and shrinks in dry weather and that nothing can prevent this action. This movement of wood is more pronounced across the grain than in its length. A wide board will shrink and swell in its width a good deal, but very little in its length. Knowing this, carpenters and cabinetmakers have developed a method of building panels which has not changed much even in these days of new things. Narrow boards, two and three inches wide, are used to build a frame for the panels of wood. If a room is to be covered with panels, these framing boards, if horizontal, are called rails and if vertical are called styles or muntins. Along their edges are cut grooves into which the edges of the panels can be fitted. Thus the panel boards are held in place but are free to shrink and swell.
In English paneling the rails and muntins were made about two and three quarters of an inch wide. The edges were cut with a rebate so that the panels slipped behind them. In cross section they were something like a T with a very wide stem and narrow cross bar. Some rails, however, were made like an H in cross section and the edges of the panels were fitted into the slots.
The proportions of the panels were quite well established. The width was to the height as 3 is to 5. Usual dimensions in inches were 12" wide and 20" high. The horizontal rails were usually continuous strips and the muntins were cut into short lengths and fitted in between the rails. Moldings were cut along the edges of the muntins, and a molding added at the top of the panel under the rail to match and miter at the corners. No molding was carried along the bottom of the panel, but the upper edge of the rail was chamfered. The panel itself was about one inch thick and decorated with carving. The design which was most in vogue was the so called linenfold.
Now to build paneling of this type to-day is a cabinetmaker's job and the cost is rather great. However, there is a way of constructing it so that it has much the same character, but is very much less difficult to build, and is therefore more in keeping with the economies which must be practiced in the small house.
This is the way to do it. First cover the studding with gypsum boards or lath and one coat of rough plaster to serve as a fire stop behind the wood paneling. The position of the various muntins and rails in relation to the openings in the room must, of course, be laid off in a drawing. To maintain good character, the size of the panels should be as near to 12" wide to 20" high as possible.
Use plywood, veneered on one side with oak, in lengths which will go roughly from floor to ceiling. Paint the back with linseed oil before setting in place to retard the penetration of dampness. Nail all joints in a position where they will be behind rails or muntins. This of course is also true of the position of nail heads. On top of the walls thus sheathed with plywood, nail the horizontal rails, consisting of plain oak boards 2 1/4" wide by 3/4" thick. The short lengths of vertical muntins can also be nailed on. Then apply along the edges of the rails and muntins, mitering at the corners, an oak molding having the right character of profile.
It is best not to nail these moldings or rails too firmly together for the first year, for as the house settles, some stresses will be set up in this paneling, and if free to move a little, the wood will not split. After the first year, more nails can be driven in. Counter sink these nails where they show and fill up the holes with plastic wood compound.
The effect of wood paneling of this type is very pleasing, besides being very much cheaper to build than real paneling. If it is stained slightly, and the middle of the panels rubbed with steel wool to lighten up the stain and add a high-light and then wax applied, a very rich room decoration will result.
An even less expensive paneled effect can be secured by using plywood of Douglas fir and styles of the same wood. The graining of the fir is very beautiful for the veneers are taken from the out layer of the tree and since the logs are so great, and the cut is almost parallel to the annual ring of the new growth all the irregularities of the new growth produce a curling, twisting grain of great interest. This wood paneling will look best if no stain is applied. A stain will accentuate the grain so much that it will give the room a restless feeling. The unstained wood, finished with a little wax, in which burnt umber has been added, will be quieter and more cheerful. As the general tone is amber color, the room will not be as dark and heavy as one paneled with oak.
For a living room 13' x 22' and 8' high, the materials for paneling of this type cost about $85. The labor of applying will be about as much again. The same paneling done in the real manner would cost in the neighborhood of $1,000.....