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.
The improvement in household decoration is one of the most encouraging signs of American artistic development, but in many instances it is but partial: only in the case of the most widely cultured, or those employing the best decorators, can it be called complete. Most reforms begin in the same manner; the improvement at first is usually one of details, finally sweeping on to their proper end.
Household decoration in this country, then, began with the room as its unit, whereas the proper conception is the house, or apartment, as the unit, each room being merely an integral part of a consistent whole. The faulty point of view so largely obtaining has usually resulted in disunity - greater or less in degree according to the taste of the owner. To the average householder, and equally the average decorator, the thought of complete consistency in decoration has hardly occurred, and when it has the result has been at the expense of the equally desirable and necessary variety. It will be the purpose of the present section to point out, and for the first time, how both may be obtained.
What then is the disunity against which our attention should be directed? Let us at once realise that a home, a club-house or even a hotel is not to be a congeries of rooms of various styles, characters or colourings: it is an entity, and if in the final result we do not feel it to be such then there is disunity.
Happily the day is past when we have such examples as "Harthover," amusingly described in "The Water-Babies," where the third floor was Norman, the second cinquecento, the first Elizabethan, the right wing Pure Doric and the back staircase from the Taj Mahal, but unfortunately we may still cite such examples as the following - examples that would be unthinkable at the hands of the best men but which are not beyond the perpetration of some whose establishments bear the sign "Interior Decorators." The hall wall then, say, is of a greenish-gray sand-finish, and the furniture of mahogany. In open view at the left is the library, in Tudor style, with panelled walls and bookcases of dark oak and with upholstery and hangings of a deep crimson red. On the right is the drawing-room, with walls of yellow damask, and Louis Seize furniture in ivory-white, covered in the yellow of the walls. At the rear we discover the hospitable dining-room papered in blue, with its festive board and other furniture in quartered oak of golden hue. Each one of these rooms may be consistent in itself - but fancy the prospect to the visitor entering the hall and from his point of vantage glancing about at the disunity opened before him in these four rooms.
Even if the construction of the house made it possible for us to view but one of these rooms at a time the result would intrinsically be nearly as bad, because one's optical memory is not so short that the character of one room is forgotten in passing into the hall and on into another room.
We may still say that there are builders who are not architects, that there are artisans who are not artists.
The most certain method of improvement in any direction is the keeping before us of an ideal; or, to phrase it in our more modern way, the scheme of "what we are after," and that scheme must be firmly based upon the facts and circumstances.
The home, to suit the requirements of modern life, must possess two sets of qualities. On the one hand our aim should be to secure a restful habitation, not a museum or a melange. The watchwords here may be rest, peace, sleep. On the other hand we are living, active human beings, fond of variety and filled with many interests. These may be comprised in the words cheer, action, companionship. Our homes must express both. The first means unity: the second variety. How shall we accomplish the securing of the one without sacrificing the other?
Unity must exist in many directions but one of the most important of these is colour - and it is one of those most frequently violated. Unity in its other relations will be considered in other chapters.
As shown in the chapter on "Walls: as Decoration and as Background," neutral backgrounds are by no means, a necessity; they are, however, largely employed by all good decorators and certainly much simplify the work of the person superintending his own furnishing. Indeed, when we consider the following line of thought regarding backgrounds, it will be plain that treating the walls of a series of rooms in other than a rather neutral manner will land the amateur among problems which while susceptible of solution he might find beyond his management.
I. If we preserve unity in the background (walls and ceilings) we shall then have a basis throughout the house which will act as a balance to the various other colours that we may and should introduce in attractively furnishing it. Naturally this unity does not need to be actual identity; it will suffice where rooms are but singly visible if a general impression be kept. "Where rooms communicate it is certainly better that the likeness should be very close: if, for instance, one is panelled it would be better that both should be, and that the tones should be the same in each. If the walls are painted or papered the general tone of wall-surface should be kept, but identity is not necessary, especially if the purpose of the rooms be different.
II. A moment's practical thought will show us that if we keep this unity throughout and choose any strong colouring for our walls, we should have a definitely yellow, red, blue, green or purple house - a condition which would be intolerable. We are therefore guided to the selection of a more neutral colouring.
III. Neutrality means to many - drabness. To the lover of beauty it means some of the most beautiful tones in a beautiful world. Among these are the ivories, champagne, dull gold, creams, buffs and certain tans; pinkish grey or ashes of rose, bluish grey, greenish grey and mauve grey, or the combinations of these.
Some good decorators also extensively use rugs of the same character, or at least general colouring, throughout the house, considering the floors as a portion of the background and likewise choosing neutral shades such as grey and taupe. This is usually unnecessary and involves too great a sacrifice of decorative opportunity.
The securing of unity by harmonious and closely related backgrounds is much, but suppose we should now proceed to fill this beautiful shell of the house, apartment or club-house with objects of many incongruous hues! Should we not at once destroy the unity we had taken such pains to secure? And yet, speaking by and large, there is usually too little colour in American and British homes rather than too much - and the too little is often badly used.
The truth is that the western nations have greatly lost their colour-sense, either through materialism, drabness of life, or what other defect it behooves us not to argue here.
The principles of colour harmony which have been mentioned are true of all intensities of colour and are therefore perfectly adapted to any of the three tendencies in decoration - as has been mentioned some decorators use in general quiet, attenuated shades of colour and then "key up" with a few more vivid spots: others use tones such as those shown in the colour-charts, of sufficient vitality and yet of a harmonising quality: the so-called "Modern" school, considered in the next section, uses strong and positive colour. The plan which will be suggested is of equal use whichever degree of intensity may be decided upon.