How to furnish your house to make it a true home (1887)

Original publication: Good Housekeeping Date: February 5, 1887
Categories: 1880s, Home & garden, Magazines
Tags: , , ,

Home furnishing, with a view to making a true home

Of all the advancement and improvements that have first seen the light during the last decade, none are more noticeable or commendable than the changes in styles of house furnishing.

Only a few years ago, the prevalent idea of a well-furnished parlor consisted of brussels or velvet carpet, gorgeous in bright hues of red and green and blue, a suite of stiff upholstered furniture, selected with very little regard to harmony with carpet, blue-white lace curtains over chilly Holland shades of the same color; blank, staring white walls from which family portraits and engravings or paintings and the inevitable “what-not” started out most painfully.

Now all is changed, and people are rapidly learning, especially bright, aggressive young people in whose sunny homes lies the bright promise for the future of our dear land, that there are other things far more to be desired than an expensive carpet or suite of furniture, and that the one thing needful in home making is neither the one nor the other, purchased upon the advice of the dealer or manufacturer or of the limitations of one’s own purse, but those things which contribute most generously to the deeper, truer life of its inmates, the life of the mind and soul.

A study in contrasts

There rise before me, while I write, two homes which I sometimes visit. In one, the walls and ceilings are beautifully papered, the carpet a very pretty Brussels, the curtains expensive lace, the furniture plush covered — and yet, were it not for the sweet little life which looks out to me from a pair of eyes so lately from Heaven descended as to retain some of its unearthliness, I should feel strangely starved and homesick every moment I spend there, in spite of true friendship for its owners.

Why? Because there is no true individual and higher life expressed there. True, there is a piano, but the music, what little there is, is piled up so primly that one can see at a glance it is never used. There are no books except two or three elegantly bound ones, which lie on the marble-topped table. The one engraving, in its handsome frame, is rather pretty, but utterly powerless to convey one idea of inspiration or repose, as the eye returns to it again and again, for very lack of others and of those little articles of beauty in brie-a-brac, etc., which most women of refinement feel they must have, though it be at the sacrifice of personal adornment or table luxuries.

In the other house, the walls are covered with paper which probably cost about one-third as much as the first, its neutral color being relieved by a band of maroon “flock” paper and gilt picture rail. The carpet, which only covers the floor to within about eighteen inches of the walls, is an ingrain, repeating the maroon and neutral tint of the paper, the floor painted maroon. The furniture is in odd pieces. In place of a sofa is a cheap but comfortable lounge, there is a large rattan rocker, two or three upholstered rockers of different but harmonious colors.

The commodious table is covered by an ample spread of maroon, and upon it always may be found the last number of the best magazines or the newest book. Upon the walls are many engravings and etchings in the cheapest, simplest wood frames, with broad mats, but each possessing some peculiar merit or interest to which the mind returns with pleasure. The old square piano is always open and the well-worn music and song books show the result of use of many years. In short, the refined, intelligent owners have succeeded in imparting something of their own lives to these objects with which they are daily surrounded, and the result is a bright home, full of intensest vitality, and yet the truest rest.

Seek out the sun

These hints are not written for old experienced housekeepers whose ideas and tastes long ago passed through the crystallizing period and are henceforth unchangeable, but for young people whose future homes are only building.

First, in regard to location, always aim at sunny rooms. No elegance or taste in furnishing can make up for lack of this health-giving property for mind and body — the blessed sunlight. I am convinced that comparatively few housekeepers realize its true value. In the days of gloom following a great bereavement, I often felt unusually uplifted into a better atmosphere of hope and consolation, and in trying to trace the influence to its fountain, could find no other reason than that I had spent a whole forenoon in a room whose curtainless east window let in the full glory of the morning sun, whose glad, sweet message to my physical nature had begun the Father’s own work of healing to my soul.

Premising always that you will allow no influence whatever to lead you into buying anything you feel beyond your means and avoiding debt and useless extravagance as you would a pestilence, let me say to you first, last and always, and with all the emphasis of which the English language is capable, insist upon harmony in color and character of your furnishing.

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It has been truly said that wisdom lies in knowing what not to buy rather than what to buy. How often is the effect of a pretty or even handsome piece of furniture ruined by being placed in a room whose other appointments do not harmonize with it.

The wallpaper is all-important, and should be chosen not only with regard to harmony with proposed carpet and furniture and woodwork, but also with consideration to light and whether you have heavy, handsome oil paintings for the walls or engravings, etchings or watercolors.

For a north room, or any room not too light, nothing is prettier for woodwork than cherry finish, natural if possible; if not, then imitation. With this woodwork a paper of golden olive effect, or two shades of dull blue or tea-green or citrine would be suitable. For carpet, if ingrain, one of the new patterns showing two shades of a color; in this case, maroon or Indian or dull red. Ingrain is preferable to tapestry Brussels, but if body Brussels is preferred, then a pattern showing olive ground with figures in olives, dull reds and dull blues will be pretty.

For curtains and portieres, if one does not wish to go to the expense of buying the handsome manufactured ones, the best quality of felt cloth, with broad band of velours at the top of the same color, gives very satisfactory results.

Care must be observed in regard to figure. If the wall paper shows a decided figure, then plain curtains and portieres afford a restful contrast; but if the paper gives the effect of one color, then figured or striped draperies are allowable.

For summer wear, mattings instead of carpets are much used. They come in pretty artistic shades — old pink and sage green, olive and dull red — and cost forty or fifty cents a yard. In winter, a large central rug is used of Brussels or Smyrna, or a square of ingrain with surrounding border.

In regard to bedroom furnishing, don’t get a plain, cheap set of furniture for your own use and put a handsome suite in the guest chamber for the benefit of the occasional visitor. Get one bedroom suite of as handsome a style as you can afford, knowing it will never wear out, and if nice in the beginning, will always remain so, though it may grow old-fashioned, and you have no idea with what tenacity these relics of your early housekeeping will cling to your heart in after years.

Plan thoughtfully

In the first place, decide — if possible — on the exact sum you wish to use for your house furnishing. Then go into your mother’s kitchen and pantry and make a complete list of the things which you must have first of all, though there be no carpet in the parlor or lamp in the hall. Deduct the cost of these from the first amount, and to the expenditure of the remainder devote your very best judgment, taste and forethought.

Never, never buy expensive furniture and carpets at the sacrifice of books, music, pictures and other things which so much more truly help to make the sunshine of our days. Better, far better have painted and varnished floors, with ingrain or even matting for rugs with these, than without them to indulge in these creature comforts of elegance.

Strive to make your home a haven of rest for the tired hearts and minds as much as the wearied bodies of your friends, administering refreshment by your intellectual bright surroundings, just as truly to the former as to the latter. When they sit around your board, and you will find that your abode will be an alluring spot to many a worn pilgrim on life’s way, and you will feel something of the joys of creation, having created that sweet, rare thing — true emblem of heavenly rest — a true home.

– E E B

Top photo: Parlor in the Pratt/Campbell residence, located at 1313 North Emporia, Wichita, Kansas, circa 1890. Second image: Couronne imperiale by Eugène Grasset, circa 1896.


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Source publication: Good Housekeeping

Publication date: February 5, 1887


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