The information in this section is culled from two books, one British the other American, published in 1880 and 1882. Both were very similar, and expressed opinions I'd seen echoed in other, later books.
In both cases the books were geared toward the well to do for the most part, but they were also read by the budget-minded.
The above sketch shows an “inner” hall for a large, important house designed in a “modern Jacobean style….as a fair example of the kind of internal work suitable for the new style of architecture, yclept, for want of a better name, ' Queen Anne.'.” Just as a note of interest, the word yclept is not a misprint. It is a word that was already archaic in 1880, meaning, more or less, ‘called’ as in, called, for want of a better name, ‘Queen Anne’. I went and looked it up.
THE FRONT HALL
A Victorian era house’s front door was generally painted, then varnished for protection against the weather and for easier washing. A recommended color was chocolate or some other warm shade of brown.
Most London town houses apparently had stone floors in the front hall. Though stonework could be kept clean and white with judicious scrubbing, Robert W. Eddis suggested that it may be desirable to paint the stone margins in a soft brown or other similar color. The center of the hallway should be covered with a rug or thick felt drugget. Oilcloth and linoleum were also commonly used, but some didn’t feel that the painted pattern on the oilcloth bore up well under daily wear and tear, over time they could crack. Linoleum was a new product that found favor with many, and came in assorted colors and patterns.
Parquet floors, in squares of one inch thick solid wood were another option, though quite expensive, so not as often seen.
Ella Rodman Church suggested…
“A strip of cocoanut or Japanese matting looks very well …..and a brightly checked Canton matting also makes a pretty and inexpensive hall carpet. A band of color at either edge, blue or crimson flannel or felt, makes a very good finish. A width of carpet running through the hall, with a bordering of inlaid wood, wood-carpet, or the brown walnut stain of the floor, showing at either side, will also look well. The carpet itself, if in harmony with the walls and staircase, may be in two shades of green, crimson, or chocolate-brown, in small set figures. If the hall is square in shape, the carpet should be so also, with the bordering on the four sides.
Marble mosaics and plain or encaustic tiles had come into the forefront, and it was advised by some that when using tiles one should stick to simple patterns and plain colors like red, grey, or buff….“the all-over patterns, which are published in most of the pattern books laid before the public ; not only are these elaborate geometrical patterns unsatisfactory when laid, ….but they are infinitely more expensive than plain red 4 or 6 inch tiles laid over the whole space, with a simple border of black or buff. A plain red tile pavement of this kind is infinitely pleasanter, warmer, and more suitable for a town hall, than any of the elaborate patterns which are offered for the public choice, and repeated ad nauseam, in oilcloth and linoleum.” The marble mosaics and tiles were more expensive in America, and at this point were not often used
WALLS & CEILINGS
The walls of the front hall could be treated in several ways. One, which was considered the most suitable option, was to paint the walls about two thirds of their height with a pleasant color that wouldn’t show up finger marks. A pattern could be stenciled onto the painted wall, a dark over light or light over dark. The wall was then varnished to make it easier to clean. The upper third portion of the wall could be divided from the lower by a “plain wooden molding” which could, if desired be made in the form of a narrow shelf to display pieces of porcelain or stoneware, etc.
The question of how high the dado should be was a matter of personal choice. As stated above, some preferred the 2/3 height, while others specified a height of about 3 feet. The “plain wooden molding” mentioned, when lowered became what is known as a chair rail. The chair rail was sometimes dispensed with and a paper border was substituted.
Around this period the idea of a dado was a rather new one, and many still preferred the entire wall painted or papered as one. American critic Ella Rodman Church wrote,
“The field to choose from is so large, and so much is to be considered in the way of harmony with regard to the other furnishing, that the covering of walls is a subject for almost endless discussion. Among the things to be absolutely excluded, however, are " wall-papers in imitation of moldings, pilasters, and heavy carved cornices, which are vulgar in the extreme. In the vast majority of instances, the things imitated would be out of place; for no one wants a row of fluted pilasters with Corinthian capitals or elaborate cornices in an ordinary hall. If the reality would be objectionable, the cheap imitations are much more so ; and, if it is considered desirable to break up the blank walls, it can be done much better and at less cost by other means. Papers printed in imitation of marble,
granite, and wood graining are also in bad taste. Perfectly plain tints are very much handsomer."
Among Mrs. Church’s recommendations were “…. dado of paper, the ground of a dull red, with the pattern in black, and the wall above painted in pale buff, green, or gray. …
For a hall, the palest of greens or browns is usually the most pleasing in effect; or the walls may be paneled artistically.”
The upper portion of the wall under the cornice usually became discolored quickly from the effects of gas lighting. Robert W. Eddis recommended using distemper, a paint that could be washed off every year and redone cheaply.
“In the frieze might be panels containing birds and figures, which could be done in distemper with good effect, the general drawing being done in plain red outline, contrasting well with a cream-coloured general tone of ground. ………a plain running stencil pattern of foliage, shields, and birds, as an enriched border just below the cornice, might be judiciously introduced, or a good light-toned and simple pattern, or stamped paper…..may be hung over the whole space instead of distemper. …….Decorative wreaths of one or two colours, and pots of flowers or foliage sufficiently large to form a good decorative frieze in distemper colouring, may be done from 2s. 6d. to 3$. 6d. a yard run, and the patterns may be kept, so that the work may be renewed, if necessary, each year, or changed with new patterns, which can be cut out at a very small expenditure of time and money. The ceiling should be lightly tinted in a vellum, pink, or grey tone, with some slight stencil decoration to relieve it, and the cornice treated in very light shades in distemper.”
The author continued…….
“Remember these ceilings are certain in a little space to get dingy from ordinary town atmosphere, and the wretched impurities of gas. It is unfortunate that in this nineteenth century we are still obliged to burn gas which is generally impure and a disgrace to
modern science and civilisation. Consumers are made to pay a large price for this kind of light, and ought fairly to expect to be supplied with it free from all those impurities, which tend to destroy, not only the painting and decoration on our walls, but all pictures, gilding, and other works of the kind which are left unprotected by glass. At a little extra cost, plain deal or canvas plaster ribs might be laid over the existing plaster work, and the panels thus formed could be filled in with good flock paper to relieve the general flatness of the surface, and could be painted whenever required, or the whole surface may be covered with canvas plaster in a delicate all-over pattern of naturalistic or conventional leaf ornament cast in low relief, the ground work being tinted golden-yellow colour.”
Another wall treatment recommended for the hall was to panel it to a height of 6 or 7 feet with a plain inexpensive wood, like pine, then paint it in red or dark blue lacquer. Above
Use a flocked wallpaper, painted golden yellow, flecked with a bit or a reddish or golden color.
Polished marble or mosaic tiles or slabs were another wall recommendation. It was advised that the woodwork be painted in two colors, with the moldings done in a darker shade, “….if the mullions and framing of the door be done in a dark shade, let us say of chocolate or brown, the panels might be lighter in tone, with stencil decoration of flowers, birds, or fruit in a darker shade. Here let me say that all woodwork, such as doors, windows, and shutters, which are subject to the wear of not always clean hands, should be varnished throughout “.
Yet another decorating option…….
“A warm golden-brown or yellow forms a good general tone for a hall and staircase, with a Pompeian-red dado painted, with black skirting and rail, and a frieze of light pattern paper or cream-coloured distemper ground, with line enrichment in dark golden brown or red. The general woodwork should be painted black, where there is not too much of it, or in two shades of good red or brown, or the general tone might be peacock or light blue, with soft vellum grey and blue pattern papers or distemper. A deep frieze
of boldly designed painted or stencil ornament will assist much in breaking the usual bad proportion of the staircase wall, while panels may be formed in bold lines of paint or distemper, wherein may be framed pictures or other art work. A good neutral tint or warm grey ground, with ornament in green and vermilion, has a good effect if the colours be carefully treated; or a wide diaper, with patterns interchanged, and charged with shields and legends here and there. Any good photographs, sketches, or studies are useful to hang on the rake of the staircase, on the eye line, to take off the general coldness. Many varieties of tints will suggest themselves, which will help to give a bright and cheerful character to the passage-way of the whole house, in place of the cold and dreary, rightly called, well, to which we are so accustomed.”
There was, at this time, a great interest in Japanese and Chinese art. Markets were full of colorful, inexpensive Japanese fans and prints, etc., and they were considered to be good pieces with which to decorate halls and staircases. Stencils done in an Oriental style were also in favor.
These fish stencils were used to decorate the panels of a door. The stencil was done in dark chocolate over a light reddish brown. Mr. Eddis felt that a door stenciled in such a manner was a marked improvement over the “……dull monotony of imitation graining of oak, maple, or satin wood, to which we are so much accustomed. “
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Sometimes the front hall was divided in two, the front portion consisting of a vestibule.
The inner door, with perhaps sidelights, was often glazed in plain plate glass. Critics advised the use of leaded or stained glass panels. Lace and figured Swiss muslin were two popular glass coverings. Some people used their crafting skills and applied things like diaphane and vitromania. If you’d like more information about these crafts check this book.
HOUSEHOLD ELEGANCIES: suggestions in household art and tasteful home decorations.
In larger homes, with larger front halls, there could be a small fireplace.
‘If you wish for places for china, have plain painted deal shelves, made in groups, gradually diminishing from the lower to the upper shelf, and fixed above the mantel-piece. Do not, as is so often done, cover the mantel-shelf with a wooden top, covered with cloth or velvet, nailed on with a fringe and brass nails ; this will be an endless source of annoyance, from the fact that it never can be kept free from dirt and dust, not to say anything of its spotty and unartistic effect.”
For the basic, garden variety hall, finishing touches included a hat rack and umbrella stand, which in those days was one, often fairly large piece of furniture. A massive hall table flanked by similar chairs was in order when there was room for it. If the hall was a small one, a chair and a wall hat rack would do.