Floors And Floor-coverings

Although in ordinary sequence the colouring of floors comes after that

of walls, the fact that--in important houses--costly and elaborate

floors of mosaic or of inlaid wood form part of the architect's plan,

makes it necessary to consider the effect of inherent or natural colours

of such floors, in connection with applied colour-schemes in rooms.

Mosaic floors, being as a rule confined to halls in private houses, need
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hardly be considered in this relation, and costly wood floors are almost

necessarily confined to the yellows of the natural woods. These yellows

range from pale buff to olive, and are not as a rule inharmonious with

any other tint, although they often lack sufficient strength or

intensity to hold their own with stronger tints of walls and furniture.

As it is one of the principles of colour in a house that the floor is

the foundation of the room, this weakness of colour in hard-wood floors

must be acknowledged as a disadvantage. The floors should certainly be

able to support the room in colour as well as in construction. It must

be the strongest tint in the room, and yet it must have the

unobtrusiveness of strength. This makes floor treatment a more difficult

problem, or one requiring more thought than is generally supposed, and

explains why light rooms are more successful with hard-wood floors than

medium or very dark ones.

There are many reasons, sanitary as well as economic, why hard-wood

floors should not be covered in ordinary dwelling-houses; and when the

pores of the wood are properly filled, and the surface kept well

polished, it is not only good as a fact, but as an effect, as it

reflects surrounding tints, and does much to make up for lack of

sympathetic or related colour. Yet it will be found that in almost every

case of successful colour-treatment in a room, something must be added

in the way of floor-covering to give it the sense of completeness and

satisfaction which is the result of a successful scheme of decoration.

The simplest way of doing this is to cover enough of the space with rugs

to attract the eye, and restore the balance lost by want of strength of

colour in the wood. Sometimes one or two small rugs will do this, and

these may be of almost any tint which includes the general one of the

room, even if the general tint is not prominent in the rug. If the use

or luxury of the room requires more covered space, it is better to use

one rug of a larger size than several small and perhaps conflicting

ones. Of course in this the general tone of the rug must be chosen for

its affinity to the tone of the room, but that affinity secured, any

variations of colour occurring in the design are apt to add to the

general effect.

A certain amount of contrast to prevailing colour is an advantage, and

the general value of rugs in a scheme of decoration is that they furnish

this contrast in small masses or divisions, so well worked in with other

tints and tones that it makes its effect without opposition to the

general plan.

Thus, in a room where the walls are of a pale shade of copper, the rugs

should bring in a variety of reds which would be natural parts of the

same scale, like lower notes in the octave; and yet should add patches

of relative blues and harmonising greens; possibly also, deep gold, and

black and white;--the latter in minute forms and lines which only accent

or enrich the general effect.

It is really an interesting problem, why the strong colours generally

used in Oriental rugs should harmonise so much better with weaker tints

in walls and furniture than even the most judiciously selected carpets

can possibly do. It is true there are bad Oriental rugs, very bad ones,

just as there may be a villain in any congregation of the righteous, but

certainly the long centuries of Eastern manufacture, reaching back to

the infancy of the world, have given Eastern nations secrets not to be

easily mastered by the people of later days.

But if we cannot tell with certainty why good rugs fit all places and

circumstances, while any other thing of mortal manufacture must have its

place carefully prepared for it, we may perhaps assume to know why the

most beautiful of modern carpets are not as easily managed and as


In the first place having explained that some contrast, some fillip of

opposing colour, something which the artist calls snap, is absolutely

required in every successful colour scheme, we shall see that if we are

to get this by simple means of a carpet, we must choose one which

carries more than one colour in its composition, and colour introduced

as design must come under the laws of mechanical manufacture; that is,

it must come in as repeating design, and here comes in the real

difficulty. The same forms and the same colours must come in in the same

way in every yard, or every half or three-quarter yard of the carpet.

It follows, then, that it must be evenly sprinkled or it must regularly

meander over every yard or half yard of the surface; and this regularity

resolves itself into spots, and spots are unendurable in a scheme of

colour. So broad a space as the floor of a room cannot be covered by

sections of constantly repeated design without producing a spotty

effect, although it can be somewhat modified by the efforts of the good

designer. Nevertheless, in spite of his best knowledge and intention,

the difficulty remains. There is no one patch of colour larger than

another, or more irregular in form. There is nothing which has not its

exact counterpart at an exact distance--north, south, east and west, or

northeast, southeast, northwest and southwest--and this is why a carpet

with good design and excellent colour becomes unbearable in a room of

large size. In a small room where there are not so many repeats, the

effect is not as bad, but in a large room the monotonous repetition is

almost without remedy.

Of course there are certain laws of optics and ingenuities of

composition which may palliate this effect, but the fact remains that

the floor should be covered in a way which will leave the mind tranquil

and the eye satisfied, and this is hard to accomplish with what is

commonly known as a figured carpet.

If carpet is to be used, it seems, then, that the simplest way is to

select a good monochrome in the prevailing tint of the room, but several

shades darker. Not an absolutely plain surface, but one broken with some

unobtrusive design or pattern in still darker darks and lighter lights

than the general tone. In this case we shall have the room harmonious,

it is true, but lacking the element which provokes admiration--the

enlivening effect of contrast. This may be secured by making the centre

or main part of the carpet comparatively small, and using a very wide

and important border of contrasting colour--a border so wide as to make

itself an important part of the carpet. In large rooms this plan does

not entirely obviate the difficulty, as it leaves the central space

still too large and impressive to remain unbroken; but the remedy may be

found in the use of hearth-rugs or skin-rugs, so placed as to seem

necessities of use.

As I have said before, contrast on a broad scale can be secured by

choosing carpets of an entirely different tone from the wall, and this

is sometimes expedient. For instance, as contrast to a copper-coloured

wall, a softly toned green carpet is nearly always successful. This one

colour, green, is always safe and satisfactory in a floor-covering,

provided the walls are not too strong in tone, and provided that the

green in the carpet is not too green. Certain brownish greens possess

the quality of being in harmony with every other colour. They are the

most peaceable shades in the colour-world--the only ones without

positive antipathies. Green in all the paler tones can claim the title

of peace-maker among colours, since all the other tints will fight with

something else, but never with green of a corresponding or even of a

much greater strength. Of course this valuable quality, combined with a

natural restfulness of effect, makes it the safest of ordinary


In bedrooms with polished floors and light walls good colour-effects can

be secured without carpets, but if the floors are of pine and need

covering, no better general effect can be secured than that of plain or

mixed ingrain filling, using with it Oriental hearth and bedside rugs.

The entire second floor of a house can in that case be covered with

carpet in the accommodating tint of green mentioned, leaving the various

colour-connections to be made with differently tinted rugs. Good pine

floors well fitted and finished can be stained to harmonise with almost

any tint used in furniture or upon the wall.

I remember a sea-side chamber in a house where the mistress had great

natural decorative ability, and so much cultivation as to prevent its

running away with her, where the floor was stained a transparent olive,

like depths of sea-water, and here and there a floating sea-weed, or a

form of sea-life faintly outlined within the colour. In this room,

which seemed wide open to the sea and air, even when the windows were

closed, the walls were of a faint greenish blue, like what is called

dead turquoise, and the relation between floor and walls was so

perfect that it remained with me to this day as a crowning instance of

satisfaction in colour.

It is perhaps more difficult to convey an idea of happy choice or

selection of floor-colour than of walls, because it is relative to

walls. It must relate to what has already been done. But in

recapitulation it is safe to say, first, that in choosing colour for a

room, soft and medium tints are better than positively dark or bright

ones, and that walls should be unobtrusive in design as well as colour;

secondly, that floors, if of the same tint as walls, should be much

darker; and that they should be made apparent by means of this

strength of colour, or by the addition of rugs or borders, although the

relation between walls and floor must be carefully preserved and

perfectly unmistakable, for it is the perfection of this relation of one

colour to another which makes home decoration an art.

There is still a word to be said as to floor-coverings, which relates to

healthful housekeeping instead of art, and that is, that in all cases

where carpets or mattings are used, they should be in rug form, not

fitted in to irregular floor-spaces; so as to be frequently and easily

lifted and cleaned. The great, and indeed the only, objection to the use

of mattings in country or summer houses, is the difficulty of frequent

lifting, and removal of accumulated dust, which has sifted through to

the floor--but if fine hemp-warp mattings are used, and sewn into

squares which cover the floor sufficiently, it is an ideal summer

floor-covering, as it can be rolled and removed even more easily than a

carpet, and there is a dust-shedding quality in it which commends itself

to the housekeeper.