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.
Mirrors fulfilled an important function in the fixed decoration of many Adam rooms and were set above mantels, over consoles in symmetrical placings or sometimes in the panelling of doors, the gilded frames being designed to accord with the light and airy interpretations of classicism elsewhere in evidence. Not a few door heads contained semi-elliptical fan lights, filled with clear glass or with mirrors, and traversed with delicately moulded leaden tracery. The effect of these door heads was singularly rich and beautiful.
Mantel pieces, as might be expected, were the objects of no less solicitous care (Plates 10 and 69) than was lavished upon all the other permanent accessories. They were of the finest white marble carved in the characteristic Adam motifs, consisting of urns, swags, drops, flutings and the like, sometimes with a central panel above the fireplace opening exhibiting a Flaxman or a Templetown design in low relief, and frequently yellow (Plate 69), buff, black or green Italian marbles were so combined as to throw the carved devices into conspicuous relief, or else the whole mantel structure was of wood carved in the same refined and delicate fashion or with the more intricate detail modelled in compo and applied to the wooden ground before painting. There were few architectural superstructures or attached and "continued" chimney pieces, as in the days of Kent, and the chimney breast above the mantel shelf was adorned with a mirror or in some one of the other ways previously indicated. For many of the fireplaces, grates of burnished steel or of brass were designed in a fashion to coincide with the rest of the decoration.
The woodwork of doors and of door and window trims (Plate 69) displayed refined mouldings of rather low relief and the same chaste and delicate decorative detail, sometimes elaborate, sometimes simple, as already noted in the wooden mantels and other permanent features. Straight door heads often carried a considerable degree of elaboration and occasionally central panels in the manner shown in Plate 69. The refining effect of flutings and of other close parallel lines was especially well exemplified in Adam woodwork. As the century advanced the size of window panes gradually increased and, although there was no approximation to the horrors of large sheets of glass with which we are now sometimes afflicted and which utterly destroy the character of a window, the lights were perceptibly larger than they were during the first half of the century. The muntins, also, were appreciably pared down in dimensions. Wrought ironwork, while used chiefly in exterior embellishment, also often made its appearance in the composition of stair rails and balustrades and was fashioned in graceful, light and frequently attenuated devices to correspond with the interior ensemble.
The ceilings (Plates 10, 69 and 159), designed by the Brothers Adam were among the most beautiful and finished of all their exquisite compositions. The Adelphi not only had a goodly heritage of plaster tradition behind them in the work of English designers and artificers, but they also had constantly in their mind's eye the wonderful ceiling enrichments of the classic precedents upon which they drew so freely for inspiration. In the matter of physical execution they were able to avail themselves of the services of skilled plasterers, adepts in every minute detail of their craft, and also, in addition to this, they made extensive use of a newly perfected process of applying compo ornament in large moulded sections. The low reliefs, which the Adelphi knew how to employ with such marvellous effect upon walls, they used to no less advantage in the decoration of their ceilings. Motifs of the same description as those already noted were, of course, employed in ceiling treatment. Sometimes the ceilings were un-ooloured, sometimes there was a pale ground colour to throw the low reliefs into sharp contrast, and sometimes whole surfaces were covered with painted panels or frescoes, polychrome enrichment and gilding. A great many of the ceilings were flat, but it was not uncommon to find them coved and still others domed and vaulted. Some of these vaulted and domed ceilings were quite plain except for the ornamentation around the cornice and, we may add, were exceedingly beautiful and effective, one of their great merits being the perfection of their proportions. There was the same relative gradation between the elaboration of ceilings and the elaboration of walls, some of them being exceedingly ornate while others were quite simple, but even where the walls were almost devoid of ornamentation there was usually some attempt at more decorative amenity on the ceiling, especially if it was a flat ceiling and had not the interest of curving lines to fascinate the eye.
Floors were made of both wood and marble and a certain degree of restrained decoration was sometimes employed, but in most cases the floor was either regarded as a plain foundation for the rest of the composition or else intended to be carpeted so that a fixed decoration thereon would have been lost. The increasing vogue of full-sized carpets or rugs, both of which were often especially designed and woven for the rooms in which they were to be used, discouraged the elaborate ornamental parquetting of floors, a fashion that had obtained at an earlier date when large floor coverings were not so numerous.
A survey of the elements entering into the fixed decoration of Adam rooms, as indicated in the foregoing paragraphs, shows that a hitherto unprecedented degree of refinement and completeness had been attained - indeed, we may say that it has never since been excelled - and that punctilious care was bestowed upon the least as well as upon the greatest factors comprehended in a decorative scheme. That this thorough and painstaking care was contributory in a great degree to the success of the Brothers Adam in their domestic work we need hardly emphasise.