A room as a work of art (1896)

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A room as a work of art

Prime importance of the mural color scheme

There is no surer test of artistic capabilities of a home beautifier than in her idea of the fitness of things, as exemplified in the wall treatment of her rooms. It is there that she puts the stamp of her knowledge or ignorance concerning the value of backgrounds.

If, when looking over a vacant house with the idea of renting it, she makes no objection to the beflowered and befigured walls, you may draw an exact mental picture of that room’s future eye-wearying make up — its showy furniture covering; its red, blue and green lamp shades; its birds of gorgeous plumage on flaming crimson screens; its collection of nondescript pictures in eccentric frames, all trying in vain to assert their individual claims to beauty against the obtrusiveness of mammoth poppies on some magnificent creeper unknown to botany.

What artist would mar the effect of his central figures by making his background spotty with floriated or geometrical designs? It is impossible to get any sort of satisfactory result with these conditions. Pictures, busts, figures, etchings, draperies and graceful furniture absolutely require a delicate neutral setting to bring out their hidden beauty of form and coloring. Says Ruskin: “It is the best possible sign of a color when nobody who sees it knows what to call it, or how to give an idea of it to anybody else.” Especially is this true of wail surfaces.

A room should indeed be as refined and harmonious as a work of art; and a beautiful room is a supreme work of art which is surely not achieved by every novice. Because Louis Quinze and empire styles have for the last few years been in vogue among those whose taste is for the dainty or the severe, it is nonetheless the fact that the average parlor, the average house to rent, has still its figured walls. Not so flamboyant as the walls of our homes a decade or so ago, when gold daisies thickly sprinkled on a black ground was the chef d’oeuvre of the paperhanger’s art; but beflowered they are. Even though they be in “hints of tints,” this is enough to destroy that particularly restful impression made by a room finished in unfigured flock or granulated plaster, done with thumb impressions of scattered petals, the coloring being worked into the plaster finish in most of the costly houses; but plain paper, paint or even kalsomining will achieve as inherently good results in the moderate home.

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An unbroken surface is, beyond all comparison, the background for one’s Lares and Penates.

Happily, the Louis XVI and Empire styles have made the masses familiar with the air of elegance and beauty imparted to a room by delicate wall coloring, and if we owe the Napoleon craze no more than this, it is s not a trifling matter that the drawing rooms of the stage should elevate the artistic taste of the Philistines, and that the newly-rich should be led by the fad to study good models of old French salons abroad, so that in the near future the too-intense wall paper rose may confidently be expected to become an extinct exotic.

Illustration: William Morris woodblock print wallpaper from 1896, courtesy the Victoria & Albert Museum Collections

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