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

everlastingly satisfactory.

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.