This section is from the book "Hints On Household Taste In Furniture, Upholstery And Other Details", by Charles L. Eastlake. Also available from Amazon: Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery and Other Details.
Nothing is more difficult than to estimate the value and intensity of colour when spread over a large surface from the simple inspection of a pattern-book. The purchaser will frequently find that a paper which he has ordered will look either darker or lighter when hung than it appeared in the piece. For this reason it is advisable to suspend several lengths of the paper side by side in the room for which it is intended, and it is only by this means that a notion of the ultimate effect can be arrived at. In the early part of this century it was a common practice to carry wainscoting round the principal rooms of a house to a height of about three feet from the floor, where it was crowned by a little wooden moulding. The paper was then only required to cover the upper part of the walls, and the effect was far less monotonous than now, when it is carried down to our feet. The old fashion had an additional advantage in protecting the wall from contact with chairs and careless fingers, which generally disfigure delicately-tinted paperhangings. This picturesque old feature of high wainscoting has long been banished, with many others, from modern households, but, to protect walls from being rubbed by furniture, I have seen narrow strips of wood nailed down to the floor within an inch or two of the wall. The legs of chairs (and consequently their back-rails) are thus kept off from the paper behind them, and a 'grazing- line ' is avoided.
As I have had occasion more than once to allude to 'diaper' designs, it may be as well to explain that I mean by them that class of patterns which are either definitely enclosed by bounding lines, or at least divided into compartments of a uniform size throughout. These compartments or 'diapers' are often of a geometrical ferm, and in that case may either be round or square, diamond-shaped or quatrefoiled in outline. The best are those which measure nearly the same in breadth as in length. For ordinary-sized rooms they should not exceed five or six inches across in any direction, but for bedrooms, etc, much less will suffice. It should be borne in mind that nothing dwarfs the size of rooms so much as large-patterned papers. I will not venture to lay down any definite rule for the choice of patterns, but I would earnestly deprecate all that species of decoration which may be included under the head of 'scroll' ornament. It will be easily recognised from its resemblance to the so-called carved work round modern drawing-room mirrors, to which I have already alluded, and is sure to be of bad style.
The leaves of certain plants, when conventionally treated, become excellent decorative forms. Of these, ivy, maple, crowfoot, oak, and fig-leaves are well adapted for the purpose. Where two shades of the same colour are employed, and quietness of effect is especially desired, the overlaid tint should be but very little darker than the ground; and if drawings, etc, arc to be hung upon it, the pattern should be hardly discernible from a little distance.
Pugin, in his designs for mediaeval paperhangings, no doubt borrowed largely from the ancient diaper patterns employed during the Middle Ages for surface-decoration, and of which perhaps the Early Italian school of painting affords the best examples. The picture-gallery at Siena abounds in works of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries which are richly suggestive of such design. When I visited this gallery some years ago, I made notes of several of the patterns introduced in panel-paintings by Niccolo di Segna and other masters. Many of them are well suited for paperhangings, and, indeed, I have adapted some of the richest for that purpose, in designs which have been very ably executed by Mr. Woollams. Four of the patterns are printed among the illustrations of this book, in various combinations of colour, and in gold upon colour. They are remarkable for grace and simplicity of form. The grained paper on which they are printed has been of late years much used for paperhangings, and with excellent effect. It imparts a tone to the colour not otherwise obtainable, and agreeably modifies the sheen of highly-glazed papers.
Paperhangings should in no case be allowed to cover the whole space of a wall from skirting to ceiling. A 'dado,' or plinth space of plain colour, either in paper or distemper, should be left to a height of two or three feet from the floor. This may be separated from the diapered paper above by a light wood moulding stained or gilded. A second space, of frieze, left just below the ceiling, and filled with arabesque ornament painted on a distemper-ground, is always effective, but of course involves some additional expense. The most dreary method of decorating the wall of a sitting-room is to cover it all over with an unrelieved pattern of monotonous design.
About fifteen years ago a fashion prevailed of arranging paper in panels round a room, and enclosing them with narrow strips of the same material stained and shaded in imitation of wood. This style of decoration had its admirers, but, though attractive from its novelty, it was false in principle, and no one need regret that it has fallen into disuse. As a rule, and at ordinary shops, the 'flock' papers are the best in design, because they can represent nothing pictorially. Gold, when judiciously introduced, is always a valuable adjunct in the design of paper-hangings. It frequently however doubles, and sometimes trebles, the price of a piece. Of the cheaper sort very good designs may now be had from threepence to sixpence per yard. But for a shilling or eighteenpence a yard, papers may now be procured which are not only luxurious in effect, but of high artistic excellence.
Messrs. Morris, Marshall and Co., of Queen Square, Bloomsbury, have produced some admirable examples of this latter class, specimens of which, as well as of the chaste and beautiful stained glass manufactured by the same firm, have been used in the decoration of the new refreshment rooms at South Kensington Museum.
Scale: half full size.
Scale: half full size.
Frieze Decoration, executed from a Design by C. Heaton.