Secondary Contracts between Background and Ornamental Objects
In the secondary contrasts between backgrounds and ornamental objects the two tones ought not in general to be more than fifty degrees apart. White, for example, emphasizes the effectiveness of gray. Cream white woodwork sets off reseda or tan walls having the luminosity of light gray, as well as dark reseda or brown rugs of the luminosity of gray; but when the contrasting tones are farther apart than white and gray-that is, more than fifty degrees on our scale-the effect is too abrupt for repose and beauty. The com- bination of black and white is very hard, and, notwithstanding the refreshing quality of the work done by Professor Hoffman and other European decorators, black and white rooms are too harsh for common use. Where black and white are employed in the same composition they should normally be separated by graduated intermediate tones, which make the transition by perceptible degrees of likeness. The general principle, governing all secondary contrasts of tone, as well as contrasts of hue, line, and form, is that the vivacity of a decorative treatment increases directly with the number and intensity of the contrasts. Sharper tone contrasts give to a room increased snap and animation, up to the point where unity of effect is lost, and complexity degenerates into confusion.
The decorator must not only arrange his light and dark color values in an orderly arrangement from top to bottom; he must also, as far as practicable, so group the furnishings of his room that light tones are put with light, and dark with dark. This process of mass- ing, as it is called by the painters, gives when skilfully carried out an effect of spaciousness, order and dignity quite impossible when furniture, hangings, upholsteries, screens, lamps and other colored objects are so placed that the lights and darks appear in small sharply contrasting masses and much divided. The hit-and-miss distribution of high and low values invariably perplexes and fatigues the eye and affects the mind with a sense of incoherence and disturbance, and the effect of spottiness and confused activity produced by the contrasts destroys the repose of the room, vulgarizes its decorative treatment, and robs it of distinction and charm.
A room gains in distinction and charm not only in the degree that the tones are so massed as to give breadth rather than spottiness of effect, but also in the degree that the illumination both by day and by night is so controlled as to divide the room, as a well-painted picture is divided, into areas of high and low illumination. Under natural light this effect must be achieved through a carefully studied arrangement of curtains, shades and hangings, and at night through a careful choice and arrangement of lamps with their shades. In this, as in other questions of decorative practice, principality is a first consideration. There must not be two equal areas of equal intensity of illumination. One area must be either larger or more brightly lighted than the other or others.
In planning the choice and arrangement of color in areas of low illumination, the decorator must remember that the hues do not lose character at the same rate with failing light. Red, which is so powerful a color in full light, fades into gray and deadens toward black most quickly, followed in order by yellow and green, while blue retains its character longest. Thus in a multi-colored composition we must expect to find the color relations characteristic of full light altered perceptibly when the light is dimmed by shaded lamps. The warm and brilliant hues will approach dark gray, while the cold hues will be changed but little.
It is also to be remembered that, even with modern electric lamps, there is a considerable difference between natural and artificial light, and that accordingly all colors to be used by night must be chosen with the modifications likely to be caused by artificial light in mind. While the only safe way is to try the actual fabric to be used under the lights of the room in which it is to be used, it may be noted as a general guide that all colored objects tend to appear black if lighted only by a color which they do not possess. There is much yellow and very little blue in the light of candles, oil lamps and gas jets, and for that reason, while red, orange and yellow surfaces illuminated by such a light will be changed but little, blue will appear either greenish or blackish, according to the amount of green or violet in it; while violet will appear either grayish or reddish brown, according to the amount of blue or red in it.
The whole matter of proper illumination is of the very greatest importance, not only practically but artistically. Both the comfort and the beauty of our rooms are more largely dependent upon the amount, character and distribution of the light than most of us suspect. However, the subject is too large for treatment here, and the student must look to other sources-particularly to the studies of Luckiesh, which are available in every library-for a more complete discussion. In point of fact, the distribution of light and of light and dark color in a room involves so many factors which are peculiar to that room and to its occupants that the happiest results can usually be attained only through experiment. The decorator must often arrange and rearrange until the arrangement finally satisfies. The difference in distinction and beauty between a perfect and a mediocre arrangement is so great that whatever time and energy is spent in experiment will be richly rewarded.