To have the privilege of planning and building a house according to one's own ideas of convenience and pleasurable living is very desirable. In many cases this cannot be done, but much can be gained by modifying an old house.
A china closet built in the partition between dining room and kitchen can be made both ornamental and convenient. This may be constructed in some pleasing design, with glass doors on the dining-room side, and solid doors on the kitchen side. Arrange the china on the shelves so that the pieces in daily use will stand on that portion of the shelves lying between the opposite doors. The dishes can thus be passed through from the dining room to the kitchen with perfect ease when necessary. Below these doors have shelves or drawers opening into both kitchen and dining room for the purpose of storing clean linen, kitchen towels, etc. Let the space be long enough to admit of a rolled table cloth, and sufficiently spacious to allow the pieces to lie without crowding or creasing.
A hardwood floor is most desirable for the dining room. A dull finish is preferable, as a polished floor is easily marred. Rugs and carpets should be avoided here, because they gather dust, and are also inconvenient. If something is desired to render the noise less apparent, a piece of matting a little larger than the space occupied by the chairs may be used, the edges being well bound. Such a floor covering is light and easily dusted, but is not durable. It is better to leave the floor bare, and use rubber-shod chairs. The rubber prevents noise, and the floor is not marred. In the dining room, simplicity is both attractive and desirable. Here, as in all other parts of the house, we wish to give an individual air, an appearance which will silently say to all who enter, "cheerfulness and hospitality reign here." The decorations and furnishings should tend to make a restful and homelike room. All things suggesting stiffness and gloom must be avoided. Smooth walls are more sanitary and more easily cleaned than those presenting a rough exterior. It is better to have the walls a neutral tint than to leave them pure white. If papered walls are preferred, there are many designs from which to choose, but in order to beautify the home in an economical way, one must gain good ideas of decorative art in simple things, and thus accomplish a pleasing effect with a moderate expenditure of money. The paper must be such as to retain the effect of light and cheerfulness. In choosing it, the size, height, and furnishings of the room must be taken into consideration. In general, the walls should be lighter than the woodwork, but this is not an invariable rule. No form can be given which will suit all conditions. In order to successfully decorate any portion of the house, harmony of color should be studied. Good taste and good judgment, combined with a knowledge of these things, will bring about the desired results.
When possible, have the dining room, and, indeed, all the living rooms, so situated that they will have plenty of air and sunlight. A bright and sunny dining room may employ some shade of green in its decorations. One which is gloomy will be brightened by warm yellows and a little red, judiciously used. Select window shades of such a color that the light emitted through them will add to, rather than detract from, the general effect of rest and peace. Window curtains, whether expensive or inexpensive, simple or elaborate, are most sanitary when made of wash material.
The dining-room furniture should be simple and durable. A beautiful dark wood, with little or no ornamentation, is usually the most desirable kind of material to use in the construction of dining-room furniture. Strong, well-made chairs, with backs of medium height, having no projecting posts, will be found most satisfactory, where one prefers comfort to the caprices of fashion. A good quality of leather makes a very satisfactory covering for the seats of dining-room chairs. Such chairs cost more than some others which are well made, but they will wear a long time without looking scuffed, and they have a substantial appearance.
Whether the table be round or square, let fashion and individual taste decide. A square table gives a better opportunity for decoration, but in some other ways a round or oval shape is more desirable. For instance, when one wishes to seat an uneven number of persons, the round or oval table gives a more pleasing effect. If one wishes room for more elaborate decorations than a common table affords, it is a very easy matter to have a rough top made which can be set over the table when needed. In any case, the table should be well made, and stand firm, and have the legs so arranged as to be as little in the way as possible.
The sideboard should be chosen of a style and quality to harmonize with the rest of the furniture in the room, and its size must be proportioned to the dimensions of the floor space.
The few pictures which decorate the walls of the dining room should be such as will please the eye, and exert a quieting effect upon the nerves.
Some nice, thrifty plants in a sunny window also heighten the pleasure of those who surround the festive board.
In table linens, we find several qualities and many different designs. The cheaper quality of table covering is that woven on an ordinary loom, and is often called simply "table linen." The more expensive linens appear in many different designs, and are termed "damasks." Table linen can be had unbleached or half bleached, and comes in simple designs. It is inexpensive, durable, washes well, and can wisely be used for common hard wear, if damask is deemed too expensive. A cheap quality of damask can be had at about the same price as a good table linen, but does not wear nor launder so satisfactorily.
Where the air is free from smoke and dust, and where there is plenty of green grass and sunshine, as in the country, it is better to buy the half-bleached linen, and do the bleaching at home. One can thus get a better quality of linen for the same money, and it is little trouble to bleach it. Home-bleached linen looks as well as that done at the factory, and it can be bleached as used, if desired. It is not wise to use an artificial bleach, as extreme care is necessary in the use of such materials to avoid injuring fabrics.
One finds, on the linen counters, damask of Scotch, Irish, German, and French manufacture, and some from American looms. You can usually buy unbleached dam-ask of good quality in medium width for seventy-five cents a yard. For fine brands of Irish manufacture, you must pay four or five dollars a yard. Damask of each manufacture has its distinguishing characteristics, but they are not all sufficiently marked to be apparent to the inexperienced buyer.
To obtain linen of good wearing quality, choose that which is pliable and yielding, having no sizing. Such cloth will wear much better than that which is stiff, starchy and glossy.
Avoid a mixture of cotton and linen. All cotton or all linen is better than a mixture of the two. It is not wise to buy linen for fineness especially. Such cloths are less durable than those which are a little coarser, and after having worn each awhile, the difference in appearance does not warrant the difference in price.
Avoid a damask in which the border is separated from the main part of the cloth by a straight band of different weave, as this is very apt to draw (especially if laundred in the steam laundry), and injure the appearance of the cloth. Cross barred cloths are subject to the same criticism.
Never buy fringed cloths or towels. They soon lose bits of fringe here and there, even when properly laundered, and if they come from the laundry with the fringe hanging in matted strings, as is often the case, they are unsightly from the first.
A pattern cloth is prettier than one bought by the yard, but the patterns always cost more. Detached figures in the designs are always prettier than the all-over patterns, in which there is little space between the different portions of the pattern. Select the prettiest pattern there is in the lot you have to choose from, for they are all the same price, and a pleasing design adds much to the beauty of the cloth. One finds greater variety of designs in linens of Irish, Scotch, and French manufacture than in German goods. They are also by many considered more elegant, but a heavy German damask gives excellent satisfaction in durability, and is found in many pretty designs. Avoid a design which has an open, lace-like effect, as the open work will cause the cloth to last a much shorter time.
The way in which linen is made and cared for has much to do with its appearance and durability. Fashion dictates that, in figured damasks, both table cloth and napkins should be finished with a very narrow rolled French hem. By those who have time and skill to hemstitch and ornament their linens, beautiful plain damasks and round thread table linen may be procured. All linens should be hemmed by hand. In laundering linens, avoid rubbing them on the board, and use no starch in them, if they have good body, and in any case not enough to show at all as starchy stiffness.
The silence cloth used under the linen adds to the length of time it can be used without looking soiled, and also renders the cloth more durable, by relieving it of friction from the edges of the table. It also gives a light-weight cloth an appearance of having more body.
The pattern damasks and all of the better piece linens have napkins to match. One has a choice in size between those called five-eighths of a yard square, three-fourths of a yard square, and seven-eighths of a yard square. In most manufactures, they are liable to vary a few inches from the given size.
The best time to buy linen is during the month of January. The holiday rest is then over, and the merchants, anxious to begin the new year auspiciously, have their supplies of new linens ready for the counters at this time. One has wider range of choice in both quality and design now than later, when the most choice pieces have been culled out. Odd lots, shopworn pieces, and remnants are also brought forward at this time. New designs are usually not more costly than those of the year before. Little is gained by buying a certain pattern, in the belief that it can be duplicated in time, for the patterns do not usually run very long.