Designs with Walls and Wall Paper
The walls, as the principal background surface, are so important as to condition definitely the success of the room, and their design must accordingly be most carefully studied. A discussion of the methods of treating walls in modern decorative practice does not lie within the scope of this study. The student will, however, find plenty of material and innumerable illustrations of successful walls in every library. It must be remembered that paneled walls, whether done in natural woods or in canvas and paint, are absolutely dependent upon excellence in proportion, and that they must always be designed by a competent architectural designer. Paneling in natural woods gives to the walls of a room a marked effect of strength and stability-qualities which are, of course, desirable in large rooms of a serious character, but undesirable in large rooms of a lighter and gayer character, and in small rooms of any character. Painted walls, on which plaster or wooden moldings are used with canvas-covered backgrounds, can be used in rooms of any size, though it is clear that the note of restraint and formality with which they always invest a room will become more insistent as the rooms are increasingly smaller.
Concerning excellence in the design of wall papers and cloth fabrics, we have noted in earlier chapters that, in general, size of pattern, or effect of texture, or both, will increase directly with the size and structural emphasis of the room; that the amount of pattern and the number of colors in a wall paper must be decreased as the quantity and number in the other surfaces of the room are increased; and that while the ornamental detail in a paper may be drawn from nature, it must, except in the case of hand-blacked landscape papers, be highly conventionalized.
While a paper intended to serve as a background for pictures or for other objects of marked decorative value must have a pleasing texture, it -will normally be either plain or covered with an inconspicuous self- toned pattern. Water colors, pastels and etchings used in a small room will look best against plain walls. Large heavily-framed pictures in a large room will look better on a coarse or open texture, or, where the proportions of the room demand it, against a medium-sized and symmetrical pattern in a self-toned paper. In a room without pictures or other wall ornament the wall paper may, of course, reveal a more pronounced pattern and richer coloring; but even here it is to be remembered that in the background surfaces of any room to be used regularly and for long periods of time cultivated people can endure but a very moder- ate degree of stimulation. The gorgeous papers that one sees in the shops or reads of in the books can be hung successfully only in rooms used infrequently or for short periods; and even then they can be employed safely only by skillful decorators. In the hands of beginners the use of such papers is practically certain to result in unpleasant and inartistic rooms.
All wall papers, except the hand-blocked scenic papers so much used at the end of the eighteenth century, have of necessity a repeating pattern. Unless the repeat is wholly concealed, as in the case of shaded or blended papers, it should be clearly revealed and even emphasized. For this reason diaper patterns are likely to be far more agreeable when hung than detached figures in which the ornament, though constantly repeated, is set off by plain spaces. Such papers have a spotty effect, and an insistence of appeal that catches the eye and wearies the mind. It is to be noted that fairly small patterns, and ornament either purely geometrical in character or else very highly conventionalized, are best suited to repeating pattern design, whether in wall papers or carpets, and that in the degree that patterns are very large, markedly naturalistic in rendering, or of a strikingly exotic character as in the Chinoiserie's so much the rage in the last quarter of the eighteenth century and so much copied in recent years-they become less well adapted to the requirements of repeating ornament and less pleasing when so used.
The number and variety of colors that can be effectively used in the design of a paper varies inversely with the size of the pattern. In small patterns the colors appear in such minute areas, and so closely juxtaposed, that the eye feels no sense of confusion. In large figures, on the other hand, the number of colors must be narrowly restricted, and the best effects are almost invariably produced in patterns limited to two or three tones of a single hue.