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.
In no country has skillful needlework ever commanded more sincere admiration or counted a greater number of proficient devotees than in England. It is not surprising, therefore, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to learn of the high esteem in which the decorative products of the loom and of the embroidery frame were held and of the extent to which they were utilised in the adornment of houses. Allusion has already been made to the 2600 tapestries which Henry Vlll had in his possession. Nor was he by any means alone as a collector. England was always regarded as a good market for Continental tapestries and an enormous number crossed the Channel to be hung up in English halls and bring brilliant colour into sombre oak-panelled rooms. During the reign of James I the Mortlake looms were set up and the exportation of English-made tapestries from the island was several times forbidden.
Besides numerous tapestries a great many other hangings were used to liven the walls; velvets with applique devices, embroideries, and large pieces of the carious multi-coloured zig-zag needlework which we are accutsomed to associate with upholstered seats and chair backs rather than with the adornment of walls. When we remember that needlework was one of the principal occupations of ladies of position and quality, we can more readily understand the abundance of this sort of decoration. Besides the hangings for doors and windows, which were often enriched with embroidery, there were the bed hangings and bedspreads by which so much store was set that they were specifically bequeathed by will as important items of inheritance. These hangings and spreads were not only made of costly materia? bat were enriched with the most lavish and exquisite needlework as well. In the simpler rooms window hangings and bed hangings were occasionally of printed linen with striking patterns and brilliant colouring.
In addition to the woven and embroidered hangings that decked the walls of oak-panelled rooms, another resource for polychrome decoration was to be found in the stamped, tooled, coloured and sometimes gilded leather that was hung or else fastened tight upon the wall surface. Other wall adornments no less effective were portraits and occasionally other paintings. When neither paintings nor hangings graced the wall, the surface was oftentimes relieved by antlers, heads, fox masques and other trophies of the chase.
Of course, there were numerous small accessories such as candlesticks, sconces, candelabra, and fire dogs, the last named of which were often large and of imposing design. Besides these, such objects as silver and pewter tankards, bowls and platters, pieces of brass and copper, the small brass fireside ornaments and fittings and brass bracket clocks lent welcome spots of interest and lustre.
While many of the floors were strewn with rushes, especially in the fore part of the period under consideration, it was not at all unusual to have rugs made of rushes woven by hand. In the wealthier houses Oriental rugs were by no means unknown.
After the Restoration curtains and draperies assumed an importance in the scheme of furnishing (Plate 1) previously unknowp in England. The most splendid fabrics imported from Venice and Genoa, and afterwards made in England, were used for this purpose. Curiously enough, although the Mortlake looms continued in operation during the Restoration period and tapestries were still imported from the Continent, the vogue for this particular sort of wall decoration somewhat languished and abated in use and manufacture, in large measure, no doubt, owing to the new styles of decoration by means of more pretentious panelling, the use of niches, and the inserting of decorative paintings as panels and overdoor embellishments - a change for which Wren and his school were to a great extent responsible. Bed hangings and bedspreads maintained their wonted hold on public taste. Linens and calicoes printed in gay colours and fascinating designs, many of them of Oriental origin, took the place of the more expensive fabrics for draperies and hangings in rooms of simpler equipment.
Mention has already been made of the use of mirrors set in the panelling as a means of wall decoration. Mirrors in wonderfully wrought frames were no less esteemed as an effective factor in furnishing elegantly. Since the establishment of glass works at Lambeth and Greenwich it had become possible to obtain the best glass and of a much larger size than formerly and English decorators were not slow to avail themselves of this new resource. Some of the mirror frames were made of coloured, bevelled and engraved glass and were exceedingly rich in appearance. This glass of excellent quality was also turned to account in making large, cut lustres or crystals for the admirably designed chandeliers and sconces that now became common. Other chandeliers were made of brass, of iron embellished with colour and gilding and of wood painted and parcel gilt.
Paintings, both portraits and pictures of a decorative character, afforded a constantly used resource. And to all this rich array, we must add the colour and grace of form conveyed by the Oriental porcelains the collection of which had become not only a fashionable hobby but an absolute passion among the people at large. Here, again, the power of Chinoiserie showed itself plainly in the history of decoration. The Dutch were not slow to emulate the Chinese and their Delft soon came to hold nearly as high a place in the esteem of English people. What with porcelains, lacquer and other odds and ends of Eastern luxuries that constantly found their way into England, Oriental influence made a deep impression on the modes of the period.
Up to the end of the Commonwealth period oak had been the staple wood of England for all purposes architectural and mobiliary, although, of course, there were plenty of occasional departures from this precedent and exceptions to the rule. Nevertheless, the period mentioned must be considered par excellence the "age of oak." About the time of the Restoration walnut came into popular use, being partly imported and partly derived from native sources which became plentifully available at this time. In addition to walnut, which may be considered the staple wood for fine furniture after the Eestoration, other woods were employed for inlay and marqueterie purposes and oak continued to have an accepted position, especially in country districts.
Owing to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and, to some extent, to a certain tide of immigration into England before that event, great numbers of silk workers came over from France and began to ply their craft in England. They soon made brocades and velvets the equals in gorgeous colour, graceful pattern and excellent texture of the fabrics that had previously been imported in vast quantities from Venice and Genoa.
Throughout the whole of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the English colour sense was fresh and vigorous (Plate 1) and, despite the somewhat sombre hue of oak panelled walls, English interiors did not lack for colour and plenty of it. This passion for colour reached its culmination in the latter part of the seventeenth century, so that by 1700 the country was in a very riot of rich, virile, scintillating colour, a condition that was perfectly compatible with good taste because the massive, strong, and rather dark backgrounds of the architectural setting made such treatment not only permissible but absolutely necessary.
During the earlier part of this period the architectural arrangement was rather fortuitous than formal, and the arrangement of the furniture units was much the same. The units themselves were not overly numerous, so that it was not difficult to place the important pieces in the broad spaces where they would be most effective. The fireplace, of course, was always a centre about which a number of movables would naturally be grouped.
In the latter part of the seventeenth century furniture items were far more numerous and notions of symmetrical arrangement, brought back by the refugees, imparted to the rooms an aspect of orderly and balanced composition.