This section is from the book "The Practical Book Of Interior Decoration", by Harold Donaldson Eberlein, Abbot Mcclure, Edward Stratton Holloway. See also: The Victorian House Book: A Practical Guide to Home Repair and Decoration.
It is perhaps safe to say that when the colour red is mentioned many understand by it the colour which is represented by vermilion; nor is this strange when even writers on interior decoration give this hue as prismatic red in their colour charts. Nevertheless, the real prismatic red is a quite different colour, strongly inclining toward the crimson shade and more nearly represented by rose madder or carmine.
Anyone at all familiar with the three-colour process of colour-plate making and its present remarkably faithful reproduction of tones of every description will at once realise the truth of this, as the "Red" ink used in printing these plates is of a quite carmine hue. The distinction is of high importance, a misunderstanding of the definition of a point at issue being often the main cause of dispute.
It is, for instance, usually observed that red is a very exciting colour. This is quite true of the vermilion red, which contains some yellow and is therefore really orange red, and true to a less degree of the true prismatic red. All reds have the quality of warmth.
Orange, which partakes of the nature of both yellow and red, therefore combines their qualities of light and heat.
Blue is one of the retiring colours and is quieting in its influence; it is also cool, in some shades cold. These qualities should be borne in mind.
Green, which is the combination of yellow and blue, has the qualities of light, quiet and coolness.
Violet possesses richness and sumptuous* ness, which have associated it with royalty. It has also sombreness, which has associated it ecclesiastically with penitential seasons and death, and individually with a lesser mourning than black.
Having briefly gone over the characteristics and relations of colours, their use in decoration can be taken up, and this can perhaps best be done in an easy-going conversational way. Let us begin with an example:
As a well-dressed man might, for instance, with clothes and accessories of quiet tan, wear a tie of an orange shade, or containing it, so if the colouring of a room were of similar character a strong note might be struck by an orange bowl filled with nasturtiums, an orange screen, or other such object. This strong, introduced note would be an Accent. Without such accent a keyed and related room (or a costume), though harmonious is apt to be monotonous and dead.
But, the man with the tan costume might also, and better yet, wear a tie of blue, and so might the room have a bowl or other object of blue, and if the shade is right it will give an accent of more value and variety than the accent of kindred shade. This is because blue is the complementary or opposing colour of yellow and each therefore gives value and quality to the other.
It will thus be seen that there are two kinds of accent - the related and the opposing - and that without the one or the other a room is characterless and with use becomes exceeding tiresome.
The word accent itself shows its purpose of simply adding emphasis, so that it is at once plain that in such a tan room as we are considering we must not have too much orange or blue (either in mass or number of scattered objects) or instead of accent we shall then have disturbance. It is also obvious that in such a room we might have much more of orange as an emphasis than we could rightly have of blue, because the first is related and the second is not, but is opposing.
It is equally plain that our principles still hold if we reverse the combination. One of the prettiest rooms the writers remember was a simple little guest chamber in a country house. It was furnished in old mahogany and at the rather high-set double windows were curtains of blue and white, while on the floor were simple grey-blue rugs, matching in shade the blue of the curtain. Had there been introduced into this room our previously mentioned orange bowl of nasturtiums the result would have been perfection.
And the citing of this room brings us to another resource we have in furnishing. It will be noticed that in addition to the blue in the curtain there was white, and we would now also mention that the wall-paper was of a grey-white with a little scattered snowflake pattern in white talc thereon. We have, therefore, in addition to the blue and orange the introduction of a third element - white; and a fourth in the mahogany tone of the furniture.
White is not a colour, but is the combination of all the colours and therefore neutral, so that it conflicts with no other color and may safely be used with any.
In the present instance the mahogany is closely related to the orange and contrasted pleasantly with the shade of bine employed, so that here again we have no conflict but a safe and beautiful combination of four colour-elements in the one room. Our resources are growing.
Now say that we introduce, besides the above furnishings, a screen covered with cretonne of which the same tone of blue is the dominant note, but which contains green leaves and perhaps a number of other colours, all of which however occupy lesser space than the blue and are pleasantly related or contrasted - so far as colour is concerned we should still be safe.
We therefore arrive at an important point Many home furnishers and even some professional decorators are apt to limit themselves too closely for life, variety and pleasantness of effect by the laying out of colour schemes or "rhythmic notes" composed exclusively of varying shades of one colour, or adding simply an accent. On the other hand, many women and even women decorators indulge in a riot of colour without a sufficiently large basis of neutral or at least quiet and undisturbed surface. In short, we see that the two errours to be avoided are all "harmony" without "relief" and all "relief" without "harmony."
We must, in furnishing, therefore use consideration, and a little thought will usually set us right. Take up, as an example, the question of the introduction of the varied cretonne screen into the blue and white room we have been considering. It might, so far as colour is concerned, be safe, but would it otherwise be advisable? In this room it would not have been, because the room was small and the only unbroken surfaces of blue were the two small rugs. The cretonne, therefore, might have given the room a crowded, restless effect.
Much better, if a screen were required in this case, would be one of which the covering waa a plain related blue. On the other hand, had the room been large, with correspondingly large unbroken surfaces of blue and white, the cretonne would have afforded a pleasant relief. Here, then, other questions than those of colour have entered - those of space and quantity. Its placing would also have to be taken into account, so involving the question of balance. We note, therefore, simply by way of warning, that in considering one phase of decoration, colour, we must not forget others of like importance and must not be carried off our feet and purchase goods themselves delightful in their colour effect but inadvisable in other respects for the use we wish them for.
Bearing in mind these interesting principles we can go over the various possible colour-schemes and combinations and see their suitability in many instances and their inadvisability in others, treating each colour as including all its varying shades and tones.