For unity's sake in the modern house where the rooms may so easily be thrown together by the use of the ever charming French doors, or open doorways, the woodwork in all the rooms on each floor, especially in the main living rooms, usually should be finished alike. The necessary variety can then be introduced in the wall finish. Of course if one plans to give each room a distinctly different character the woodwork should be finished accordingly, but the surest and simplest method, unless one is an artist, is to finish the woodwork in all the rooms on each floor alike. All built-in features, bookcases, buffets or window seats should be finished in the same manner.
The usual finishes for woodwork may be divided into two main types: Natural and painted or enameled. By the first the native beauty of the wood is strengthened and brought out by the use of transparent finishes: Stain and varnish; or stain, shellac and wax. By the second the surface of the wood is entirely covered.
Because all woods do not take the same finish equally well, in planning a house the choice of wood finish desired should determine the choice of material for the wood trim. Soft woods like whitewood or poplar do not take the natural finish well. Cypress or birch cost very little more and take stain very well. Other good woods for natural finish are oak, gum-wood, and spruce. Pine varies greatly, usually it is better painted.
It always seems a pity, sometimes almost a desecration, to paint beautiful hardwood, especially oak.
At present this method of finishing is somewhat in disrepute because of the very natural reaction from the orgy of "golden oak" and artificially grained woodwork of the past era in decoration. The trouble, however, is not with the finish, but because it was not properly done. There is nothing more beautiful than properly finished rich dark woodwork, particularly for the main rooms of the house. Especially if the walls are paneled this finish has a richness, an elegance, and a dignity not equalled by any other.
1 Adapted from Decorative and Practical Treatments for Woodwork and Walls. Good Housekeeping Institute, 1926.
Improperly done, however, it has no claims to beauty. Many people hesitate to use wood paneling because of the expense, when in fact this finish has many claims for real economy on the score of durability and permanence. From the housewife's point of view the dark natural finish rates high, as it is undoubtedly very easy to care for. The artificial graining of soft woods to represent hard woods is an imitation that should not be tolerated. The need of simple honesty in the construction and finish of our homes to-day cannot be emphasized too often.
Fig. 53. - A wall finish of acid-stained redwood