No other one factor plays so important a part in the final effect of a room as the treatment of the walls. We may have famous pictures on the walls, artistic and costly furniture may be in the room, and marvelous foreign rugs may bejewel the oak floors it is all to no avail if the walls are provokingly and persistently out of tune. Nothing can redeem the room with discordant walls, for they destroy absolutely and for all time the unity which a room should have.
We will suppose that walls, pictures, furniture, and floors are all of poor quality. Changing the unsatisfactory wall covering for one which is really fine in color and design will do more to enhance the appearance of the room than will the improving of all its other features.
The Apparent Size of a Room
A room papered in light colors seems larger than the same room when its walls are covered with a paper low or dark in value. We hear the phrases, “darkness shut in upon them,” or “the light opened up before them.” The room with the light paper really is no larger, of course, but it does seem to be larger.
The following story has a significance from a decorator’s point of view. A stranger in a town halted before a sign which read, “Mrs. Smith, Board and Lodging.” He said to a native, “Does Mrs. Smith keep her boarders long?” “No,” was the reply, “she just keeps them so thin they look longer than they is.”
The apparent size of a room is affected by the character of the pattern upon the wall paper.
Lowering the Ceiling
If we place the picture molding (or a narrow shelf) a foot or more below the ceiling and carry the ceiling color or paper down to this molding, the ceiling seems lower than when the wall color extends directly to the ceiling. If all the rooms in the house appear to be too highly studded, this plan is an excellent one to follow. Place the picture molding the same distance below the ceiling in each room, thereby giving a consistent and agreeable effect throughout the house.
Cool and Warm Colors
The warm colors are red, orange, and yellow, probably so called from our inherited unconscious association of them with heat or fire. The cool colors are green, blue, and violet, probably associated with the colors of distance, ice, or large areas of water. The effect of rooms may be varied by the use of cool or warm hues of color quite as much as by the use of patterns or values of color. A room with its walls of red, orange, or yellow hue seems actually warmer than one employing cool tones. Hence rooms on the south side of the house may have cool colors, and in those rooms which receive little or no sunlight, the missing warmth and cheer of the sun may be apparently imparted by the use of warm colors of the paper.
The grayed greens, blues and violets in nature are the colors seen in the distance. Red, orange, and yellow are colors seen in nature in the foreground, as a rule. A red tree seen in autumn a mile away becomes purple, and five miles away the red changes to violet, that is, it becomes bluer. The crimson and orange sky at twilight seems nearer than the blue of midday. Therefore, walls in cool colors, perhaps through long association of ideas, appear to be distant, and the room seems larger than when warm colors are used.
Color In Various Rooms
Here, again, nature tells us exactly the right procedure.
Blue and Green
Blue is the coldest of colors, the least cheerful or inviting, and when occasionally employed, it should be warmed and softened by mixing it with orange, yellow, or green. This is what nature does in sky and ocean, as every painter knows.
In nature we rarely find pure green in all its intensity and harshness. The hue of the color is softened by yellow, orange, or red until we say it is a warm green. This is the green for our walls. Because the human race has for thousands of years been accustomed to seeing so much blue and green, they are the colors which tire the eyes the least. We see more green than blue, unless we walk about as did “Johnny-look-up-in-the-air.” The blue that we do see is near the horizon and very gray and warm, hence the eye is really more accustomed to green than to any other color.
On the other hand, colors in which red plays a dominant part are the most irritating to the eye. We should expect this, because red is the color most unlike green. Nature gives us months of green, only a few weeks of red tones. Nature allows us only a half-hour of red in the morning sky (seldom seen), and sometimes a brief similar period at twilight. Nature shows acres of green with only an occasional red insect or flower. Hence, through ages of familiarity, green has become the least irritating of all colors in other words, the most restful.
During the winter, and wherever the growth of green grass is denied, another color brown is very common in nature, and therefore restful to the eye. Brown is really a much grayed tone of orange, in which the red has been nearly eliminated.
The application of all this is evident; the rooms which we most use, as the living room or study, should be papered in colors that are the least irritating in other words, the most restful colors the grayed greens (such as sage green or olive green), or browns.
Floors and Walls
The Floors and Walls are Back-Wall papers similar to those here shown are in poor taste. They present far too great a contrast in light and dark, or color, to make suitable backgrounds for anything. The upper illustrations offer bad combinations, the conventional and the naturalistic supposedly forming one design, which they do not form. Strong individual spots of color like these are wearisome to the eye. In the lower illustrations are naturalistic representations of flowers and fruits which never do actually grow over the walls of a room. Compare these naturalistic designs with the decorative patterns shown in the next illustration.
Satisfactory Wall Papers
The lights and darks, or values, are closely related, so that no strong contrasts are produced. These form quiet, restful backgrounds for pictures, furniture, and people. The illustrations show plant forms treated, not in a naturalistic manner, but decoratively. These papers recognize the wall as a flat, conventional background which requires designs in keeping with the wall itself.
Of all precepts regarding house furnishing, this simple statement is the least understood. Anybody who has hunted the city over for a simple habitation knows that someone buys outrageous wall paper for otherwise possible apartments. A square yard of wall paper may be lovely in design and color, but when the design is repeated a hundred times over the wall, it becomes almost unbearable to a sensitive person.
A gentleman once called upon another, out of business hours. He was ushered into a parlor, where he was assaulted by a muscular design two feet high in crimson on a robin’s egg blue ground; the carpet was green with red figures; the portieres were another hue of red; and the furnishings were as violent as the surroundings. The host soon appeared, but the guest could not recall his errand and with apology took his precipitate departure.