On no account commit yourself to a wall-paper until you have brought home a generous sample and have lived with it in your house for several days. Hang it up and study it from several points of view; turn away and forget it, then turn round again suddenly and see how its color and design impress you, - whether pleasantly or with a shock; put two widths together and notice how the pattern repeats; try it back of your sofas and pictures; see it in daylight and at night. It may have seemed to you delightful when hanging in the shop, and yet prove itself to be the most uncomfortable of companions at home; like some acquaintance made in summer, - charming enough on a hotel piazza, or on his native heath - altogether intolerable upon longer and more intimate acquaintance.
And this brings me to another point, - one to be still more strongly urged. Before beginning a hunt for papers, save yourself trouble by making a list and entering on it the things which you should avoid.
At the head of this list place papers with gilt figures; until they have been tried no one can know the agonies they are capable of inspiring. They are one thing to-day and another to-morrow. They have no stability, no surety. They are forever deceiving you. They are bright and promising in one light, gloomy and repellant in another.
They have no repose; they permit none. You may arrange a corner carefully, having reference to such a paper as its background. Change your seat and look at your corner from another side. Everything is wrong!
Put second on your list a paper with a shining, smooth surface. It can be as bad as a polished tin. It holds no light, softens no reflection, takes on no tone: it is hard and repellent always.
Next on your "Index Purgatorium" put the ordinary frieze that repeats a paper in color and design, then straggles off into lighter tones above. This frieze, you may be sure, is bad. You want none of it. You can run your paper up to your ceiling, if you desire, or bring your ceiling down to it. The every-day frieze is a mistake; is indeed no longer used by the best decorators.
I speak in no language of exaggeration when I say that my heart has often ached for women in different parts of the country who have sent me samples of the paper chosen for their walls, their frieze, and their ceilings. With what pride these samples have been submitted at times! And how impossible they have proved to be, although their purchasers have been assured they all "went well together." It used to take every bit of my courage to declare against them. Now and then, however, a woman would write to me that she was in despair. "It all sounded so well, this particular combination," she would say in her letter, "but now that the papers are hung I cannot bear to go into the room. My husband and I keep the door shut. What shall we do to make the room bearable?" And I would unfold her samples, spread them out before me, and not wonder at her suffering; indeed, I have generally found my respect grow for the woman, and for the husband capable of sympathizing with her mistake. "The mark of rank in nature" is certainly the "capacity for pain." Her pain proved her excellence. There is always hope for those like her: I have tested and tried, but never found them wanting, even when I counselled new papers, going without a dinner or two, if necessary, in order to pay for them. None of those truly craving the beautiful are unwilling to deny themselves to attain it; to starve gracefully and cheerfully and silently - exulting in the possession of the beauty gained. Many a meal the impecunious book-lover denies himself to defray the cost of a special volume; many a luncheon the restricted home-lover goes without to pay for a beautiful hanging or a bit of old mahogany that will add gladness to her days. Many a shabby hat has been worn to gain the price of a new sofa cushion. And this is as it should be, and not foolish. In our homes we work for more than ephemeral pleasures. We must remember that as the color-schemes of individual rooms are studied, so those of whole houses must be studied in relation to each other, that one room need not be thrown out of harmony with another. Thus in a certain country house the owner determined to permit no paper or picture that did not express a feeling for nature, and no appointment that suggested care. Her house is green and white throughout, but the green of each room is the green of some tree or some bush. Even her lamp-shades show green on a white ground. In one case, for instance, the green of the pine-tree enters in as a design of needles and cones on the shade. No pictures are permitted in certain rooms that do not suggest forest interiors. The effect is by no means monotonous, but cool and refreshing, and she has surrounded herself with a delightfully original expression of her own individuality.
Cartridge papers, with their uneven surfaces which break the light, have stood the test of many experiments. Improved examples of this paper are made. In a more expensive material nothing in the way of a wall-covering has yet been manufactured so satisfactory for a variety of purposes as a burlaps. It adapts itself to so many different conditions. Architects use it as a background for the finest tapestries. It appears in beautiful libraries; it is congenial in simple surroundings. It fades delightfully. It never annoys you by the reflection for which you have not asked. It can be painted, stained, or treated with a wash of gold. It is easily kept clean with a wet rag and ammonia. Moreover, - and this really recommends it most highly, - it comes in good colors, the manufacturers having devoted much attention to the subject; though more expensive than ordinary papers, it lasts longer.
Burlaps is put on like paper. Denim can be put on in the same way. When cretonnes, brocades, and costly stuffs are used, the habit is to employ fine, invisible brass nails, which are afterwards concealed by a gimp. When woods are employed on a wall the services of a carpenter are necessary. He can at any time ceil an ordinary room with pine, walls and ceiling alike. Rooms treated in this way are especially desirable in camps, in cabins, or in simple country-house dining-rooms and bedrooms; those, for instance, built in out-of-the way places, where the householder wants to save herself the trouble of papers. The soft browns and yellows of the grain of the wood are agreeable, lending themselves to a variety of hangings. It can be stained if desired. Sometimes, for the sake of variety, it can be made to stop a foot or so below the ceiling, the frieze being rilled with a piece of chintz or calico. I know a young girl's bedroom so treated in the Catskills. She repeated the chintz of her frieze in the hangings of her bed, on the covers of her low window-seats, and again in her curtains. Their colors were charming with the simple, unpainted pine.