The Law Of Appropriateness
I have laid much stress upon the value of colour in interior decoration,
but to complete the beauty of the home something more than happy choice
of tints is required. It needs careful and educated selection of
furniture and fittings, and money enough to indulge in the purchase of
an intrinsically good thing instead of a medium one. It means even
something more than the love of beauty and cultivation of it, and that
perfect adherence to the law of appropriateness.
This is, after all, the most important quality of every kind of
decoration, the one binding and general condition of its accomplishment.
It requires such a careful fitting together of all the means of beauty
as to leave no part of the house, whatever may be its use, without the
same care for appropriate completeness which goes to the more apparent
features. The cellar, the kitchen, the closets, the servants' bedrooms
must all share in the thought which makes the genuinely beautiful home
and the genuinely perfect life. It must be possible to go from the top
to the bottom of the house, finding everywhere agreeable, suitable, and
thoughtful furnishings. The beautiful house must consider the family as
a whole, and not make a museum of rare and costly things in the
drawing-room, the library, the dining-room and family bedrooms, leaving
that important part of the whole machinery, the service, untouched by
the spirit of beauty. The same care in choice of colour will be as well
bestowed on the servants' floor as on those devoted to the family, and
curtains, carpets and furniture may possess as much beauty and yet be
perfectly appropriate to servants' use.
On this upper floor, it goes almost without saying, that the walls must
be painted in oil-colour instead of covered with paper. That the floors
should be uncarpeted except for bedside rugs which are easily removable.
That bedsteads should be of iron, the mattress with changeable covers,
the furniture of painted and enameled instead of polished wood, and in
short the conditions of healthful cleanliness as carefully provided as
if the rooms were in a hospital instead of a private house--but the
added comfort of carefully chosen wall colour, and bright, harmonizing,
washable chintz in curtains and bed-covers.
These things have an influence upon the spirit of the home; they are a
part of its spiritual beauty, giving a satisfied and approving
consciousness to the home-makers, and a sense of happiness in the
service of the family.
In the average, or small house, there is room for much improvement in
the treatment and furnishing of servants' bedrooms; and this is not
always from indifference, but because they are out of daily sight, and
also from a belief that it would add seriously to the burden of
housekeeping to see that they are kept up to the standard of family
In point of fact, however, good surroundings are potent civilizers, and
a house-servant whose room is well and carefully furnished feels an
added value in herself, which makes her treat herself respectfully in
the care of her room.
If it pleases her, the training she receives in the care of family rooms
will be reflected in her own, and painstaking arrangements made for her
pleasure will perhaps be recognised as an obligation.
Of course the fact must be recognised, that the occupant is not always a
permanent one; that it may at times be a fresh importation directly from
a city tenement; therefore, everything in the room should be able to
sustain very radical treatment in the way of scrubbing and cleaning.
Wall papers, unwashable rugs and curtains are out of the question; yet
even with these limitations it is possible to make a charming and
reasonably inexpensive room, which would be attractive to cultivated as
well as uncultivated taste. It is in truth mostly a matter of colour; of
coloured walls, and harmonising furniture and draperies, which are in
themselves well adapted to their place.
As I have said elsewhere, the walls in a servant's bedroom--and
preferably in any sleeping-room--should for sanitary reasons be painted
in oil colours, but the possibilities of decorative treatment in this
medium are by no means limited. All of the lighter shades of green,
blue, yellow, and rose are as permanent, and as easily cleaned, as the
dull grays and drabs and mud-colours which are often used upon bedroom
walls--especially those upper ones which are above the zone of ornament,
apparently under the impression that there is virtue in their very
"A good clean gray" some worthy housewife will instruct the painter to
use, and the result will be a dead mixture of various lively and
pleasant tints, any one of which might be charming if used separately,
or modified with white. A small room with walls of a very light spring
green, or a pale turquoise blue, or white with the dash of vermilion and
touch of yellow ochre which produces salmon-pink, is quite as durably
and serviceably coloured as if it were chocolate-brown, or heavy
lead-colour; indeed its effect upon the mind is like a spring day full
of sunshine instead of one dark with clouds or lowering storms.
The rule given elsewhere for colour in light or dark exposure will hold
good for service bedrooms as well as for the important rooms of the
house. That is; if a bedroom for servants' use is on the north or
shadowed side of the house, let the colour be salmon or rose pink, cream
white, or spring green; but if it is on the sunny side, the tint should
be turquoise, or pale blue, or a grayish-green, like the green of a
field of rye. With such walls, a white iron bedstead, enameled
furniture, curtains of white, or a flowered chintz which repeats or
contrasts with the colour of the walls, bedside and bureau rugs of the
tufted cotton which is washable, or of the new rag-rugs of which the
colours are "water fast," the room is absolutely good, and can be used
as an influence upon a lower or higher intelligence.
As a matter of utility the toilet service should be always of white; so
that there will be no chance for the slovenly mismatching which results
from breakage of any one of the different pieces, when of different
colours. A handleless or mis-matched pitcher will change the entire
character of a room and should never be tolerated.
If the size of the room will warrant it, a rocking-chair or easy-chair
should always be part of its equipment, and the mattress and bed-springs
should be of a quality to give ease to tired bones, for these things
have to do with the spirit of the house.
It may be said that the colouring and furnishing of the servants'
bedroom is hardly a part of house decoration, but in truth house
decoration at its best is a means of happiness, and no householder can
achieve permanent happiness without making the service of the family
sharers in it.
What I have said with regard to painted walls in plain tints applies to
bedrooms of every grade, but where something more than merely agreeable
colour effect is desired a stencilled decoration from the simplest to
the most elaborate can be added. There are many ways of using this
method, some of which partake very largely of artistic effect; indeed a
thoroughly good stencil pattern may reproduce the best instances of
design, and in the hands of a skilful workman who knows how to graduate
and vary contrasting or harmonising tints it becomes a very artistic
method and deserves a place of high honour in the art of decoration.
Its simplest form is that of a stencilled border in flat tints used
either in place of a cornice or as the border of a wall-paper is used.
This, of course, is a purely mechanical performance, and one with which
every house-painter is familiar. After this we come to borders of
repeating design used as friezes. This can be done with the most
delicate and delightful effect, although the finished wall will still be
capable of withstanding the most energetic annual scrubbing. Frieze
borders of this kind starting with strongly contrasting colour at the
top and carried downward through gradually fading tints until they are
lost in the general colour of the wall have an openwork grille effect
which is very light and graceful. There are infinite possibilities in
the use of stencil design without counting the introduction of gold and
silver, and bronzes of various iridescent hues which are more suitable
for rooms of general use than for bedrooms. Indeed in sleeping-rooms
the use of metallic colour is objectionable because it will not stand
washing and cleaning without defacement. The ideal bedroom is one that
if the furniture were removed a stream of water from a hose might be
played upon its walls and ceiling without injury. I always remember with
pleasure a pink and silver room belonging to a young girl, where the
salmon-pink walls were deepened in colour at the top into almost a tint
of vermilion which had in it a trace of green. It was, in fact, an
addition of spring green dropped into the vermilion and carelessly
stirred, so that it should be mixed but not incorporated. Over this
shaded and mixed colour for the space of three feet was stencilled a
fountain-like pattern in cream-white, the arches of the pattern rilled
in with almost a lace-work of design. The whole upper part had an
effect like carved alabaster and was indescribably light and graceful.
The bed and curtain-rods of silver-lacquer, and the abundant silver of
the dressing-table gave a frosty contrast which was necessary in a room
of so warm a general tone. This is an example of very delicate and truly
artistic treatment of stencil-work, and one can easily see how it can be
used either in simple or elaborate fashion with great effect.
Irregularly placed floating forms of Persian or Arabic design are often
admirably stencilled in colour upon a painted wall; but in this case the
colours should be varied and not too strong. A group of forms floating
away from a window-frame or cornice can be done in two shades of the
wall colour, one of which is positively darker and one lighter than the
ground. If to these two shades some delicately contrasting colour is
occasionally added the effect is not only pleasing, but belongs to a
thoroughly good style.
One seldom tires of a good stencilled wall; probably because it is
intrinsic, and not applied in the sense of paper or textiles. It carries
an air of permanency which discourages change or experiment, but it
requires considerable experience in decoration to execute it worthily;
and not only this, there should be a strong feeling for colour and taste
and education in the selection of design, for though the form of the
stencilled pattern may be graceful, and gracefully combined, it must
always--to be permanently satisfactory--have a geometrical basis. It is
somewhat difficult to account for the fact that what we call natural
forms, of plants and flowers, which are certainly beautiful and graceful
in themselves, and grow into shapes which delight us with their freedom
and beauty, do not give the best satisfaction as motives for interior
decoration. Construction in the architectural sense--the strength and
squareness of walls, ceilings, and floors--seem to reject the yielding
character of design founded upon natural forms, and demand something
which answers more sympathetically to their own qualities. Perhaps it is
for this reason that we find the grouping and arrangement of horizontal
and perpendicular lines and blocks in the old Greek borders so
It is the principle or requirement, of geometric base in interior design
which, coupled with our natural delight in yielding or growing forms,
has maintained through all the long history of decoration what is called
conventionalised flower design. We find this in every form or method of
decorative art, from embroidery to sculpture, from the Lotus of Egypt
to the Rose of England, and although it results in a sort of crucifixion
of the natural beauty of the flower, in the hands of great designers it
has become an authoritative style of art.
Of course, there are flower-forms which are naturally geometric, which
have conventionalised themselves. Many of the intricate Moorish frets
and Indian carvings are literal translations of flower-forms
geometrically repeated, and here they lend themselves so perfectly to
the decoration of even exterior walls that the fretted arches of some
Eastern buildings seem almost to have grown of themselves, with all
their elaboration, into the world of nature and art.
The separate flowers of the gracefully tossing lilac plumes, and the
five-and six-leaved flowers of the pink, have become in this way a very
part of the everlasting walls, as the acanthus leaf has become the
marble blossom of thousands of indestructible columns.
These are the classics of design and hold the same relation to ornament
printed on paper and silk that we find in the music of the Psalms, as
compared with the tinkle of the ballad.
There are other methods of decoration in oils which will meet the wants
of the many who like to exercise their own artistic feelings and ability
in their houses or rooms. The painting of flower-friezes upon canvas
which can afterward be mounted upon the wall is a never-ending source of
pleasure; and many of these friezes have a charm and intimacy which no
merely professional painter can rival. These are especially suitable for
bedrooms, since there they may be as personal as the inmate pleases
without undue unveiling of thoughts, fancies, or personal experiences
to the public. A favourite flower or a favourite motto or selection may
be the motive of a charming decoration, if the artist has sufficient
art-knowledge to subordinate it to its architectural juxtaposition. A
narrow border of fixed repeating forms like a rug-border will often
fulfil the necessity for architectural lines, and confine the
flower-border into limits which justify its freedom of composition.
If one wishes to mount a favourite motto or quotation on the walls,
where it may give constant suggestion or pleasure--or even be a help to
thoughtful and conscientious living--there can be no better fashion than
the style of the old illuminated missals. Dining-rooms and
chimney-pieces are often very appropriately decorated in this way; the
words running on scrolls which are half unrolled and half hidden, and
showing a conventionalised background of fruit and flowers.
In all these things the knowingness, which is the result of study,
tells very strongly--and it is quite worth while to give a good deal of
study to the subject of this kind of decoration before expending the
requisite amount of work upon a painted frieze.
Canvas friezes have the excellent merit of being not only durable and
cleanable, but they belong to the category of pictures; to what Ruskin
calls "portable art," and one need not grudge the devotion of
considerable time, study, and effort to their doing, since they are
really detachable property, and can be removed from one house or room
and carried to another at the owner's or artist's will.
There is room for the exercise of much artistic ability in this
direction, as the fact of being able to paint the decoration in parts
and afterward place it, makes it possible for an amateur to do much for
the enhancement of her own house.
More than any other room in the house, the bedroom will show personal
character. Even when it is not planned for particular occupation, the
characteristics of the inmate will write themselves unmistakably in the
room. If the college boy is put in the white and gold bedroom for even a
vacation period, there will shortly come into its atmosphere an element
of sporting and out-of-door life. Banners and balls and bats, and
emblems of the "wild thyme" order will colour its whiteness; and life of
the growing kind make itself felt in the midst of sanctity. In the same
way, girls would change the bare asceticism of a monk's cell into a
bower of lilies and roses; a fit place for youth and unpraying
The bedrooms of a house are a pretty sure test of the liberality of
mind and understanding of character of the mother or house-ruler. As
each room is in a certain sense the home of the individual occupant,
almost the shell of his or her mind, there will be something narrow and
despotic in the house-rules if this is not allowed. Yet, even
individuality of taste and expression must scrupulously follow sanitary
laws in the furnishing of the bedroom. "Stuffy things" of any sort
should be avoided. The study should be to make it beautiful without such
things, and a liberal use of washable textiles in curtains, portieres,
bed and table covers, will give quite as much sense of luxury as heavily
papered walls and costly upholstery. In fact, one may run through all
the variations from the daintiest and most befrilled and elegant of
guests' bedrooms, to the "boys' room," which includes all or any of the
various implements of sport or the hobbies of the boy collector, and
yet keep inviolate the principles of harmony, colour, and
appropriateness to use, and so accomplish beauty.
The absolute ruling of light, air, and cleanliness are quite compatible
with individual expression.
It is this characteristic aspect of the different rooms which makes up
the beauty of the house as a whole. If the purpose of each is left to
develop itself through good conditions, the whole will make that most
delightful of earthly things, a beautiful home.