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.
This heading at once brings us face to face with the important query: Shall our walls be considered and treated as Background or as Decoration? and, after all, the question should not be difficult for each of us to decide. The masters of the late Italian Renaissance (Plate 139) and of some subsequent periods, revelling in ornament and colour, were quite competent to endue all their surfaces and furnishings - walls, ceilings, floors, hangings and furniture - with these qualities - and yet secure harmony and repose: it is possible for our best architects and a few decorators today to do likewise, but it is hardly needful to mention that the problem demands knowledge, wisdom and taste of an high order. Unless, then, the householder can avail himself of such aid he had better deny himself an universal ornateness. As a general principle ornament requires the relief of plain surfaces; strong colour the relief of neutral tones. It is evident, then, in our use of ornament that we must have relative simplicity and quietness somewhere, and it should not be difficult for us to decide where it shall be.
It should at once bo said that spaciousness is a great simplifier, so that if our rooms are large and anything approaching crowding is sedulously avoided, much more ornament and colour may be employed than in smaller and necessarily well-filled apartments.
If furniture is scant and simple, walls of rather decorative character are almost demanded to avoid bareness of effect. If furniture, hangings, and the various other objects with which we surround ourselves are rich and ornamental, the relief of background is the evident prescription. If walls are decorative, and particularly if ornamental ceilings are added thereto, the floor should be restful, and the upholstery and hangings without obtrusive pattern and strong contrasts. Walls may be decorative and yet not insistent, and these naturally allow a considerable, degree of these qualities of pattern and contrast elsewhere.
The principles guiding us are, therefore, plain and we may pass on to the consideration of decorative walls.
An illustration is given of a fine living-room in Plate 70 B. With the influence of Italy as inspiration this handsome and altogether happy result was secured in this manner:
The lofty walls were covered with canvas painted a dull gold, and the pattern stencilled upon it in burnt umber, not with hardness and regularity but with different quantities of colour, so that in some cases it is quite transparent. The polychrome frieze is painted, and in the cartouches are inserted a series of reprints from Piranesi.
As previously mentioned, panelled walls may be made highly or quietly decorative by inserts of all-over painted decorations, smaller, conventional designs, Watteau or Oriental figures, etc. Or the inserts may be of fabrics or of ornamental papers (Plate 54). They may also be enriched with colour and the mouldings gilded. A number of genuine Japanese papers in gold, silver, odd designs and colourings are imported by the Japan Paper Company of New York and Philadelphia. These are in small sheets and are not primarily designed for wall use, but those who are willing to go to some trouble for the sake of securing individual effects would find some of these things distinctly unusual for panel inserts or even for the papering of an entire room.
Painted walls may have panelling or a dado of lines supplemented by other painted decorations such as those mentioned in the panel section above.
A favourite device of some ingenious modern British architects is the painting or stencilling of a conventionally decorative frieze above woodwork (Plate 66 B), panelling, or with an otherwise plain wall, above a strong rail set two or three feet below the ceiling. Sometimes such a frieze is in modelled "compo" with or without colour. We recall one example of conventional trees and figures in this medium, and another in which, the rest of the wall being plain, there were strongly modelled heraldic designs above the fireplace.
Bands of conventional decoration may be used around a plain centre or run only perpendicularly down the sides of such a centre.
A very interesting treatment, in the "newer decoration," with strong colour, of wall in connexion with 16 a piano, by Mr. Aschermann, is illustrated in the last section of this chapter and a fall description of the colour-scheme given beneath. (Plate 77 A.)
Walls may be entirely covered by rich fabrics or strongly ornamental papers or decorated leather.
The degree of ornament or colour in walls consistent with a considerable amount of decoration in other surfaces and objects should be carefully weighed in each instance or confusion will result. As an instance, it may be said that an ivory-white panelling with a damask insert of rose, old blue, light green or old gold would be a perfectly appropriate background for a drawing-room furnished with Sheraton painted satin-wood or painted Louis Seize furniture upholstered in the same colouring as the panel insert.