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.
There is a theory abroad that white walls contrast too strongly with the furnishings of a room; and mahogany furniture used with their extreme form of white, calcimine walls, has been pronounced "impossible. " Pure white curtains have for the same reason come in for their share of deprecation. In accordance with our usual policy of first-hand investigation, let us consider this question, for it has its importance not only in connexion with the so-called "Colonial" interior but in many other cases.
There is first to be noted that in any but a perfectly bare and unfurnished room there is no such thing as a dead white wall. Immediately the windows have been duly shaded and curtained and the furnishings placed, nothing remains of a true whiteness but the highest lights, the shadows and half-tones going off to grey. Just here it is well to remember Whistler's amusing search for the brown necktie. When it or its substitute had been found Mr. Eddy tells us:
"Then mark you the brown of the tie was by no means reproduced in the portrait, but the brown as modified by all the browns and notes of the entire costume, and as still further modified by all the browns and all the notes and shades and lights of the studio."*
The fact is that in any room in which there is the richness of mahogany, coupled with the hues of rugs, upholstery and hangings, there are refractions of colour upon a white wall modifying it to the tones in the room, refractions impalpable perhaps but nevertheless there.
* Recollections and Impressions of Whistler, by Arthur Jerome Eddy.
We may similarly say that the moment that the whitest of white curtains are hung at the window no white remains of them but the highest lights. We know how artists of the Genre school delight in the painting of white curtains. Does one suppose they would do so if the pigment pourtraying them were pure Flake White? The artist's pleasure arises from the exquisite tones of yellow, blue, pink and violet grey, of which these "white" curtains consist as soon as they drape into folds.
Nor can one with an artist's eye speak of mahogany as wholly dark. There are darks and decided ones, but note also their grey half-tones and their sparkling lights, which in their turn can only be pourtrayed in pigment by white which is almost pure.
Let us then by all means keep to principles, but let us develop these from fact. In such cases, then, we shall still indubitably find contrast, and strong contrast, between white walls and mahogany, but contrast is of the spice of life. We shall thank the purists not to try to take away our spice.
The simple truth is that white is pure, wholesome in its mental influence and noble. It is also sanatory - for to remain white it must be kept clean.