This section is from the book "Homes And Their Decoration", by Lillie Hamilton French. Also available from Amazon: Homes and their decoration.
WHEN one considers what the bedroom suggests in the way of personal habits, refinements, and niceties of life, a more than particular interest in it excites no surprise, since a discussion of its appointments involves questions not only of beauty and fitness, but of health, and a rounded development as well. The man or woman who has not slept well is the man or woman who cannot work well; and though an ability to sleep well depends primarily upon a certain mental repose, there are many of us who cannot get that repose in uncongenial or unwholesome surroundings. The stuffy effects which are produced by heavy hangings or thick carpets would keep some awake all night. A thousand odors seem to lodge in them - stale, profitless suggestions of other days, when the sun was not allowed to shine, nor any breeze to blow, upon them. I could almost fancy myself surrounded by former denizens of the room, persons with whom I should not have a sympathy in common.
Neither could I sleep with maroon on the walls; and many patients convalescing from fevers have told us what mental tortures they endured when forced to study from their pillows two vines that would not meet, or some geometrical figure that went on repeating itself indefinitely. There are women who will lie awake all night unless, as they express it, they can feel the sunlight in the feathers under their heads, and who insist that their pillows shall be sunned all day, first on one side, then on the other. Some doctors will not rest in rooms containing any furniture except the bed and night-table, - no carpet, no hangings, no upholstered things being permitted. I have sometimes been tempted to compare the bedroom to some secret chamber of the soul, where the individual retires for the refreshment which shall enable him to meet whatever difficulties his position may entail. For that reason, it seems to me that, like water, or air, meant for the refreshment of man, it should suggest a perennial purity. And certainly this has been the ideal of all advanced civilizations - whatever their customs, or the exigencies of particular climates, the question of the freshness and daintiness of the sleeping apartments has never been neglected. It might seem unnecessary to accentuate with such persistence the need of exercising a like care among ourselves, except that we see the subject so often neglected. I remember a young girl's bedroom into which I was once ushered with pride by her mother. An old pair of woollen curtains hung at the window, - a pair sent upstairs when the front parlor was done over and they seemed too shabby for the first floor; the table was covered by another discarded article, of fringed woollen; the washstand, in an alcove, was concealed in similar fashion. I did not wonder at the ill health of the young girl. The family doctor said it was a case of nerves. He never suspected the curtains. In simple town or country houses, white woodwork is to be preferred, and when there is a wainscoting of white wood, a most interesting addition is made to the simplest of bed-chambers. The ugly walnut of many old-fashioned town-house bedrooms is to be avoided; where it exists it should, if possible, be painted. The impression it makes is one of heaviness and gloom, the wood seldom being beautiful enough to justify its preservation. Panelled walls, like those of old European houses, are another matter: the wood-work to which I refer is that which is found in the city house of a former day, when expensive wood, preferably walnut, was used in and about the doorways and windows, and cherished as the best evidence of the owner's opulence. Houses in Fifth Avenue, once regarded with pride by the moneyed magnates who dwelt there, and now used as tailor's fitting-rooms, are filled with this sort of decoration.
When, as is often the case in a rented house owned by an obdurate landlord, it is necessary to retain this wood-work, the question of paper or paint for the walls should be considered with especial care. Violent contrasts between wood and walls must be avoided. The tapestry paper, which, with such wood, is often good in dining-rooms, is too heavy for a sleeping-room. There are, however, excellent flowered papers which imitate old chintzes and Indian cottons, papers in which the white ground is not too defined, and in which the foliage is closely matched. I saw one such paper in a certain room. It had soft pink and brown chrysanthemums, with massed pale leaves. The green draperies of the room then took up the greens of the leaves and the colors of the flowers. They might equally well have taken up the golden browns. All the furniture was dark. A white enamelled bed would have stood out too clearly. The decorations were low in key; the light effects, so desirable in a bedroom, were obtained by the mirrors and pictures being framed without mats in dull gold. There was little on the walls; the surfaces were broken by tall mirrors to the height of the doors. Brass and crystal added to the general air of pleasantness. Fish bowls were filled with roses and ferns. The thin curtains at the windows were not white, but cream. I know another of these bedrooms done with yellow walls and mahogany furniture, the four-post bedstead being hung with a yellow damask.
In the choice of a color for the bedroom, individual predilections should be permitted, even if opposed to those which rule the rest of the household. A bedroom means an individual possession, a retreat in which the owner should be supreme. The rest of the house must, in its arrangement, take into consideration the needs of the family as a whole, have regard to the place which that family holds in life; but in a bedroom special attention should be paid to the taste of the person or the child whose province it is.