IN a study of this character, necessarily brief and necessarily didactic in method, it is difficult to say anything at all without saying too much. This difficulty is especially perplexing in the matter of color, where all is relative and nothing absolute, and where every rule is subject to numberless exceptions. However, we have at least a fixed point of departure, for we know that whatever colors are used in the decoration of a room, and however they are used, one among them must be dominant. That is, one hue must seem to give color character to the room, to make the strongest demand upon the attention, and to exercise the strongest influence upon the emotions. This it may do through superiority either in area or in intensity, or in both.
A hue may be made dominant through either of two general methods, which will be studied at some length in the chapter on color harmony. By the first method it is made a constituent of most of the other colors by a process of infusion, and appears on all the principal surfaces of the room in more or less subtle variations. By the second method it is used in relatively pure form on small areas, while the walls and ceiling available. Choice of the dominant hue is in a considerable measure influenced by the purpose of the room. Each decorative treatment ought, as we have seen, to be built around a motive; and while the motive of a given room must be expressed through the convergent power of many different factors, the one most readily available, most easily emphasized, and most subtle in its effect, is the power of hue.
Of course purity and luminosity are factors but little less important than hue itself, and in some situations more important. Qualities which are sober, permanent and inactive are expressed in some degree by the low values of any hue, as those which are gay, sprightly or transient are expressed by the high values. In careful work, however, the decorator must add to the power of tone the peculiar power of hue. For example, in composition both pale blue and pale red express a measure of daintiness as well as a measure of gayety; but as a dominant hue there is in pale blue a suggestion of reticence and fastidiousness which makes it peculiarly the color of daintiness, and in pink an ardent quality which makes it peculiarly the color of gayety and abandon. This by no means implies that pale blue must always be used to express daintiness, but only the highest degree of daintiness; as dark blue must be used to express the highest degree of tranquillity, or pale yellow to express the highest degree of animation and buoyancy. In ordinary situations the decorator can produce his effects in any one of several different ways, because he is aiming at moderation. As the degree of emphasis aimed at is increased, the methods by which the desired effect can be produced are correspondingly diminished, and when the extreme emphasis is desired the unique means through which it can be produced must be employed.
Red may be made to concur, as the dominant hue, in effects of warmth, of hospitality, of richness and splendor, and of excitement and activity. Obviously it is a poor bedroom color, nor can it often be used as the dominant color in the living room. It is, other considerations permitting, excellent in the hall, library or dining room.
In a hall not too brightly lighted, red gives a fine atmosphere of warmth and dignified welcome. Where the walls are paneled, or papered with a stripe or a simple diaper pattern, a rich-red figured rug, either an Oriental or a good copy, can be used effectively on the floor, while the red of its ground can be matched in the portieres and in a plain or self-toned stair runner. Where the walls are covered with a damask or tapestry, or papered with verdure, landscape, or large-figured flock or duplex paper, a self-toned red rug will ordinarily be better, with hangings and stair runner to.
It is the same with the dining room. We know the soft coolness of blue and silver, the restful freshness of reseda and ivory; yet when we think of the ideal dinner-of the soft lights, the hospitable warmth, the sparkle of crystal, the gleam of silver, the quick talk and gay laughter of the guests-we think of red, for the color is indissolubly bound in thought with the ideas of warmth, richness, hospitality and excitement.