At one time there were a few basic paint colors. These were mixed on the job site to produce the shades wanted. With developments in paint technology, manufacturers were able to introduce ready made paints in new brighter, longer lasting colors. Once sample cards were introduced the homeowner could see exactly what they were getting.
During the 1870’s most critics agreed that the hall should be decorated with tripartite walls in subdued colors. Some preferred paper, while others argued for more durable paint in this heavy traffic area. The, as one critic putit, “invariable Sienna marble paper”, which had been popular since the 1830’s, was out. Generally, they agreed that if the space was sunny, a deeper color like Pompeiian red or browns or deeper grays. If the room was dark, delicate greens or soft grays might be in order.
In the mid 1880’s homeowners were urged to use more vibrant colors in the entry hall.
Some color schemes for entry halls form 1886:
Walls painted in old gold or terracotta with old oak stained woodwork. The ceiling painted a lighter shade of the wall color, and the frieze have a background of Pompeiian red with designs in olive, red and yellow. The floor should be stained a deep olive green.
Walls painted old gold or terra cotta with old oak woodwork. Ceiling a lighter shade of the walls and a frieze of Pompeiian red background with designs in olive, red and yellow. Floor to be stained deep olive.
Walls painted olive green with old oak woodwork. Frieze with a plum colored background and designs in dull purples, tans and sunny greens. Floor to be stained mahogany or deep olive green.
Another listed the following color combinations to be used together with a 3 to 5 foot high dado finished in paint or paper.
Walls - Dado/woodwork
Yellow or buff with Chocolate or olive green or dark blue toned with black
Pale salmon with dark bronze-green
Pale sage-green with dark sage-green or dull blue-green or olive brown or India red
Turquoise blue with Chocolate or maroon
Yet another book suggested a higher, two part wall treatment with a paneled wainscot 6 or 7 feet high and the rest of the wall treated as a frieze. Two of the designs suggested using stained mahogany for the woodwork. One paired it with walls painted and stippled in light red similar in color to the mahogany with the ceiling painted yellow with red lines around the perimeter, and the frieze done in a yellow pattern. The other scheme used yellow walls patterned in light brown or bronze, the latter color being carried into the ceiling for about 18” and ending with painted moldings or bands in “strong colors”. The rest of the ceiling was to be painted in a lighter version of the wall color and left plain.
The term “living room” was first used in the 1870’s. Many critics writing for middle class Americans felt that a room just for show, to impress formal visitors, and another for family use were unnecessary. However, there were others who treated drawing rooms separately from sitting rooms.
For many, drawing room or parlor colors should be soft, delicate, gay and feminine. One author advised colors be used like “peach blooms”, “tender blues”, “ethereal greens” and “gold colored satins”. Another source preferred rich tints of blue, drab, gray or pale rose. These were some very old fashioned colors popular throughout the 19th c.
Other writers felt you should consider during what time of day the room was to be used. If the room was used mainly in the evening, then one should decorate it with colors that reflected artificial light like whites, sea greens, golden yellows, etc. Another critics recommended the use of a wallpaper with gold specks or threads to reflect light.
Sunny rooms were easier to decorate. A decorating scheme from one magazine for a south facing parlor with a peacock blue carpet, olive green window shades, bronze-green woodwork: lemon yellow or old gold walls and a lighter tint of that for the ceiling, with a frieze in either bronze-green flocked paper or a dull peacock blue.
For a darker look, the same room could use bronze-green walls, a pale yellow ceiling and a frieze of deep lemon yellow flocked paper.
Another room suggestion for a summer home, was terra cotta for the parlor walls, Tuscan red for the dado, gray for the ceiling, dark brown stain on the woodwork and stenciled patterns in “suitable primary colors” for the “center pieces, borders, corner-pieces and dados”.
One author suggested that the parlor should contrast pleasingly with the dining room, since these rooms were often next to or across from each other. Several other authorities agreed, thus ending the days “when dining rooms were decorated red. Studies brown and drawing rooms white and gold”. Trends were changing. Thirty years before most families of moderate means used the same room as a dining room and a sitting room, but by the 70”s they were using it only for meals. Even the art on the walls was changing. In mid century people were subjected to oil paintings of dead fish or game staring at them from the walls during dinner. Now pictures of flowers or fruits or portraits hung on the walls.
Since the urban working half of the population was getting home later, and no longer home for lunch, the main meal of the day was often eaten by lamplight. The old traditional dark, light absorbing colors were no longer appropriate. Brighter, more cheerful colors began to make their way into the dining room during this period.
Tripartite walls were very popular in the dining room. Those who weren’t too sure which colors went well together tended to stick to varying tones of the same color.
Below are various color schemes recommended by critics of the times.
Bluish slate gray outlined in dull India red with a royal purple carpet
Citrine colored walls with the purple carpet
Wallpaper of pale azure with a delicate lemon yellow pattern and peacock blue carpet
Red walls with a crimson and deep blue Turkish carpet
Black walnut wainscot with pale yellow paper with figures in dark green and red, ceiling papered in 2 shades of blue-gray, 3” cornice painted red and black with a ½” gold molding below it.
Baseboard and chair rail painted black, brown paint in the dado area and Venetian red for the walls
Pale green walls with thin red and blue stripes outlining the woodwork
Crimson dado and frieze with light yellow wallpaper covered in a blue and black design for the field.
Frieze of light olive green with a wainscoting painted maroon and gold or black and gold and a field of sage green.
Terra cotta, yellow or olive green schemes were considered good for dining rooms. Golden oak woodwork went well with olive greens.
Mahogany or walnut furniture went well with sage, olive green and dull gray-blue. Oak or ebonized furniture went well with reds and crimsons.
Most sources of the 1870-90 period seemed to feel that a library was vital to a refined household. Following are some suggestions on how to decorate this room.
High dadoes topped with deep purple, violet or emerald green colors.
Wallpapers patterned in rich red and blue with gold and silver.
Plain or embossed leather paper for the walls in brown, stone, dark green crimson or dull red.
Papers in shades of deep red with a golden olive ceiling, bronze picture rail and woodwork a golden oak.
Simply put, there was a lot of diversity as far as color recommendations went for this room. Color selection would generally be determined by the amount of sun the room received. Bedrooms tended to be much more simply decorated than the rest of the house. Things like wainscot, dadoes and chair rail were not in use here.
Throughout much of the century consumers continued to prefer wallpaper and carpet done in realistic three dimensional designs, even though quite a few critics hated them.
The Centennial of 1876 allowed visitors to see the new styling favored by Eastlake and his compatriots. In addition to the new English designs, visitors saw many exhibitions from lesser known, exotic countries like Japan and Turkey. Americans bought almost all the Japanese products exhibited.
Some wallpapers of the 70's and 80's
above and below are some wallpaper made from Eastlake's designs
Designers started producing Japanese inspired wallpapers during the 70’s and 80’s, eventually, however, by the end of the period, manufacturers were down to producing papers that were Japanese only because they portrayed patterns of fans, vases and kimono-clad figures.
The floral papers that had been popular were falling by the wayside. The newer designs were flatter, as the critics wished. Flowers and foliage, when used were portrayed in a stylized manner. Of course, consumers still bought papers that the critics hated. Vertical stripes were still very popular. One critic complained, “a favorite wall-paper lately has been white or gray, plain or watered ground, with a stamped and gilded bunch of flowers, or a huge ‘fleur-de-lis’ at regular intervals…”
Whatever their choices were, Americans became major consumers of wallpaper in the last quarter of the 19th c.
Americans were still buying a lot of wall to wall carpeting well into this period, but the idea of Oriental carpets laid over wooden floors was beginning to take hold. It still took some time for this look to become widespread. Most houses still had their original softwood floors. Critics advised painting floors, laying a “wood carpet” over them or replacing the floor with parquet. The latter, however, was quite expensive, so the idea of a parquet border was presented, with a carpet in the center. “Wood carpet” could give the look of parquet, but at a lower cost. The material was thinner, about ¼” thick, and glued to a muslin backing. It could be installed over an existing floor. The price of this kind of flooring was competitive with that of a good carpet.
wood carpet and borders
Even at this point, however, some architects continued to specify softwood floors, and many homeowners kept their floors as they were. Books and magazines offer suggestions on how to decorate your old wooden floors. Once the surface was cleaned, cracks puttied and the surface smoothed, you could stencil a pattern in 2 or 3 stains to resemble inlaid woods. The less adventurous tried staining the floor in dark brown with a little red, then coating with shellac. Another alternative was to paint the floor, perhaps with a decorative border. A carpet could be laid in the center. Paint companies were offering products meant expressly for floors. The Glidden Varnish Co offered a combination varnish and stain in 12 colors for floors, baseboards and wainscoting in bathrooms, kitchens, laundries and toilet rooms. Another company produced a line of 6 colors for floors: silver gray, lead, light yellow, dark yellow, terra cotta, and maroon.
Tiles for floors were still expensive, but heartily recommended for vestibules and entry halls because they could take the tough wear and tear. In order to meet the rising demand, many factories were opened in the US in order to produce tile for the domestic market. Tile was also advised for conservatories, porches, kitchens, laundries and bathrooms.
below are some approved tile patterns for floors
Oilcloth, linoleum and a cork product called kamptulicon were all generally less expensive than tile. Eastlake recommended oilcloths for hallways, but he condemned those cloths that imitated marble or parquet. From this we can surmise that those were two popular patterns. He felt the design should consist of a simple diamond pattern in 2 colors or even better, two shades of the same color. American critics liked the use of oilcloth and also recommended simple geometric patterns. One declared that the earlier much favored black and white marble pattern was “too gray and gloomy”. He liked a combination of chocolate and buff or Indian red and buff.
Writers also liked linoleum for hallways and other rooms. Some felt it was warmer than oilcloth, better wearing, cheaper than the imported British oilcloths and had better designs. Linoleum quickly gained favor in the kitchens of America. Kamptulicon, a rubber-cork product, was soft and pleasant on the feet, but expensive, so it wasn’t used as much.
Paper carpet was another floor covering used throughout much of the century, and you could make your own. Start by layering the floor with newspapers, then add a coating of thick flour paste. On top of this add a layer of wallpaper in a “decided” pattern. This was then sized with glue, and finally varnished. Another method was to stretch course muslin and tack it down into place, then wet it with a thin paste. After this, apply lengths of wallpaper in a checked or mosaic pattern. Varnish when dry with 2 coats of shellac topped with two coats of copal varnish. If finish coats were reapplied periodically, the cloth would last for years. It is not known how many homeowners made these.
Grass and hemp matting remained popular during this period, they were the least expensive floor covering you could buy. It was often used in bedrooms, because wall to wall carpet had come to be considered dirty and unhealthy. Few houses had hardwood or parquet flooring on the upper floors. In winter, carpets would often be put down over them for extra warmth. Mattings were available in assorted patterns and dark colors, but the dye didn’t penetrate the fibers very deeply and so showed signs of wear quickly. In order to make the plain, light straw colored mats more appealing, they often had a colored woolen border added. Matting was also used on stairs and in vestibules, though some didn’t care for its use in the latter as it held the dirt and dust. Sometimes it was used in formal rooms also, with smaller rugs and mats spread artfully about upon it.
Drugget was rarely mentioned in this period, except for use in the dining room. Suggestions for this room included a drugget of “coarsely woven flannel stamped in a brilliant pattern” or burlap painted to imitate a Turkish carpet. Earlier in the century drugget was placed over carpets to protect them, but by 1870 it was sometimes the only floor covering placed over parquet or stained and varnished floorboards.
Around this time most carpet making in America had become mechanized, resulting in a less expensive product. A rug that could be periodically lifted and shaken out was much more hygienic than wall to wall carpet. Of course, the new style of carpets laid on varnished wood floors took a while to take hold. Some critics advised that homeowners sew coordinated borders onto existing wall to wall carpets to make them appear more fashionable.
There were two methods of carpeting floors during the last quarter of the century. The preferred was to center the carpet on the parquet, varnished wood or matting. The other was to use the border over wall to wall carpet.
Critics preferred the costly Oriental carpets, but most Americans purchased the domestic products. Axminster carpets were the most expensive, followed by Brussels, Wiltons and mosquettes. The latter were thinner imitations of Axminsters and cost less than the Wiltons and Brussels. The older style carpets, ingrains and Venetians were still in use, though in wealthier homes they might be confined to servants’ areas.
Flowered carpets, so popular for so long and condemned by critics for almost as long were finally on the way out. Oriental designs and simplified patterns were being purchased. The vibrant colors of past carpets, in primary colors were being replaced by more subdued tints.
carpet patterns from Eastlake's book
Front halls might be covered with a small, easily shaken out carpet. Stairways built of hardwood could be carpeted if desired. In a narrow hall, the carpet might be the same color as the walls or woodwork. Carpets in double parlors did not need to match, but should complement one another.
Eastlake and his followers preferred simpler window coverings which they believed emulated Gothic styling, but not all householders subscribed to the new fashions. Many preferred the more ornate, traditional designs, generally based on French taste. Others continued to use old fashioned, simple window coverings.
Exterior shutter blinds were now painted to contrast with the body color of the house rather than being painted the nearly universal green or stone of the past. Interior shutters with movable louvers were being stained or painted to match the woodwork of the room.
an ad for window screens
Americans were using the still often home made gauze or wire screens to keep out insects. Many were still being painted with decorative designs. By the 1880’s, however, American factories were beginning to produce window screens. The wire mesh was painted to guard against rust in green, black or drab, or with landscapes.
Window shades came in several varieties. One was made of a fine linen called Holland and came in a variety of colors. An 1885 catalog listed white, ecru, sage, brown, blue and cardinal. Critics, however, preferred white, buff or gray. Darker colors would dramatically tint the light entering a room. A red shade, for instance suggested “a descent into the Inferno at every afternoon tea.” The shades were often finished with fringe or decorative stitching.
Some homeowners liked transparent shades made from artist’s tracing cloth. The artistic family member could decorate the shade with landscapes or tracings of medieval knights and ladies.
The third type of shade was opaque and made of oilcloth and came in white or colors. Some came in marbleized or grained patters and they ran the gamut from being simply decorated to quite colorful and gaudy.
An interest in Gothic design resulted in the use of stained glass in the home. The look of stained glass could be achieved inexpensively by using colored, transparent paper or transfers (similar to modern decals). One could also paint design on the glass or make an “epiphanie” by cutting a design into heavy cardboard, then filling the spaces with tissue paper or colored cellophane. One could make imitation etched glass by bouncing a putty bag all over the window, and once the putty dried, varnish it. This technique could also be used with stencils. As a side note, the effect was probably similar to the one achieved with Glass Wax for those who remember that window cleaning product.
Portiere hung across a doorway and Eastlakes preferred method of drapery hanging
Eastlake felt that draperies should be hung at doors and windows to keep out drafts. They should hang from rings strung on sturdy 1 or 1 ½” metal rods. Because the rod was placed just above the window, something was needed to keep any wind from blowing upwards and into the room. A wooden box was to be constructed above the rod, then it was covered with a simple valence. In general the window treatments critics advised were a call back to the treatments of the 1830’s and 40’s advocated by Downing and others. There was once difference, though. Curtains were not to be looped back during the day, but allowed to hang straight down on both sides of the window. Because they were no longer to be looped, they were now shorter, just floor length. By the 70’s curtains that puddled onto the floor were considered vulgar.
The height from which the curtains were hung depended on the style of the room. During the 30’s and 40’s, poles were usually attached to the molding at the top of the window. In the 70’s rooms decorated in the Gothic manner continued the practice with an addition of an ornate frieze occupying the space above the window. Rooms decorated in a Renaissance or Louis XIV style used cornices and lambrequins at the top instead of the frieze. No matter what style was used, window treatments did not cover the frieze or molding.
The manner in which lambrequins or as they are known today, valances, were used depended on the style of the rooms furnishings. Some were fairly simple, others ornate. Some were of the same color as the draperies below, others contrasted.
Lighter curtains and roller blinds were used in addition to the heavier drapes,. Eastlake liked Swiss lace made of heavy cotton thread as a glass curtain. Lace curtains ran the gamut as far as cost. Plain muslin edged with lace or having lace panels was a cheaper alternative, and a curtain made of cheesecloth edged in a bit of lace was cheaper still.
Most critics agreed, however, that sheer curtains alone were unattractive. A lace curtain with a lace lambrequin was allowable for summer, though.
Portieres, or doorway curtains were almost universal during the last quarter of the century, while they were almost unknown prior to the 1870’s. They were usually hung at the doorways of public rooms, the parlor, library or sitting room. They were also used in the doorways of double rooms, even with sliding doors. American architect E.C.Gardner would have preferred to do away with the banging nuisance if interior doors altogether and replace them with portieres. Other critics also advised homeowners to banish their doors to attics and basements and replace them with draperies. Portieres, once introduced, remained popular for about 50 years.
Portieres from Eastlake's book
During the 1870’s and 80’s many surfaces were draped. Critics disliked the old marble mantels of earlier days. They advised hanging a lambrequin about 6 to 10” long from the mantle. Others even recommended curtains to hide the grate when not in use. These mini-portieres took the place of the earlier fireboards. Embroidered velvet, felt or satin covers covered the old marble tabletops one critic referred to as “parlor tombstones”. There was a craze for doing needlework in the 70’s and 80’s and most surfaces began to be covered with the resulting artistic endeavors.
beautifying an ugly, outdated marble mantel
The favored fabrics for bedrooms continued in much part to be the washable cottons like dimity, chintz, cretonne, muslin and plain or dotted Swiss. It was stressed at this time that bedrooms required sunlight and fresh air. The half-tester bed came into favor, because while draped, it still allowed the movement of air around the sleeper.
a half-tester bed from Eastlake's book
Most American critics preferred that the bedroom toilet table be draped, in opposition to Eastlake. They suggested things like dimity for the top and cretonne, Swiss or lace over colored muslin for the skirt.
For beds and curtains, it was felt that the same fabric be used on both. If the walls and floors were patterned the fabric should be plain, or vice versa.