Learn about Life in the 1920s

Furnishings for Small Homes

MOST psychologists agree that the greatest influence on our lives is environment—that we react directly to our immediate surroundings. If this be true, how important it would seem to be that our homes be planned to bring out the best that is in us.

A large part of the attractiveness of the modern home depends upon the taste and skill with which it has been decorated and furnished. Of course in countless instances the cost of the house itself has been so great that every available dollar has been devoted to actual building, and the matter of furnishing, coming as it does toward the end of the operation, finds the home treasury in a condition too depleted to permit of adequate furnishing and decorating being done. It would seem, however, to be the height of folly to neglect the detail upon which the appearance of the home so largely depends.

We find everywhere an increasing interest and enthusiasm in the matter of furnishing and decoration. Numerous periodicals are devoted to the subject, and they have familiarized the people with a higher standard of taste than seemed possible a decade ago. Manufacturers of furnishings of many kinds have followed the popular trend—sometimes they have led it—and if any more definite proof of this growing interest were needed we have the statement made by a competent authority that during the past seven years the proportion of increase in money spent on home furnishings has grown so that this is now the largest item in the average family budget.


This increase in popular interest in the subject of domestic furnishing may have possibly been the cause—or else the result—of a large increase in the number of interior decorators whose efforts are undoubtedly doing much to arouse and maintain interest in the subject.

The average home owner is hardly accustomed to selecting and purchasing household fittings upon an extended scale, and is not often prepared to enter into such a purchasing campaign as is involved in the fitting up of even a small suburban home. He is seldom able to visualize the entire result and is therefore unable to give to countless details the careful attention which they deserve if the house, as a whole, is to be a success.

Far more experienced is the average interior decorator who is accustomed to purchasing and who, with extended buying, has acquired an intimate knowledge of the market and of the use of materials which often insure the obtaining of the utmost in value for the amount which the home owner feels able to spend. There are many decorators who would not disdain such a commission as the furnishing of a moderate cost home and the giving of the commission to an interior decorator would not often mean added cost to the owner, for decorators usually receive as their compensation the difference between wholesale prices and the retail prices which the owner would pay in any event.

Let us suppose, for example, that a definite sum has been appropriated for the complete fitting up of a moderate sized suburban home and that the owner has entrusted the work to an interior decorator. The owner has no doubt dealt with the decorator very frankly, and both understand exactly what is to be provided in the way of furnishings and decorations. From a careful examination of the plans, if the house is not yet completed, the decorator will study requirements and obtain dimensions, and will apportion to each room its definite share of the total. Wall and floor coverings, draperies and furniture will receive due consideration, the condition of the market will be ascertained and the decorator will then offer for the owner's approval a complete layout for the house, showing samples, perhaps of wall coverings and fabrics, and photographs of pieces of furniture, or else both decorator and owner may visit various warerooms or shops where all these details are to be seen.

The final result, when the work has been completed and the house is ready for occupancy, would probably be a well thought out and carefully executed interior, wherein nothing has been overlooked or slighted and which may well possess an artistic unity or cohesion which it might not have had if the owner had carried out the furnishing himself.

Considerable attention should be given to the coverings for walls. Space forbids here a discussion of the relative merits of wall paper and paint, though both have their advantages. Paints—particularly "flat" paints— when stippled, are very satisfactory either with or without the use of wooden "stiles" or lengths of moulding, nailed to the wall and painted, either the color of the wall itself or a contrasting color. It is well known that painted walls may easily be washed when they become soiled, and this advantage is fully appreciated by housekeepers.

Painted walls must necessarily be of solid colors, or at best of two or three contrasting colors, so if it is desired to use wall coverings in which design appears it will be necessary to resort to wall paper or some similar material to be applied to the walls. With wall coverings, more than with almost any other detail of furnishing, it is well to be guided by the advice of someone who has had considerable experience. It is not always possible to visualize the appearance of a room with walls painted or papered. Much depends upon the choice of colors which look well with the standing woodwork, such as door and window trim, for example, and it is often impossible to undo the harm caused by a single mistake made in an important room.

The questions of floor coverings and draperies depend to some extent upon the solution of the problem of the walls. Frequently rugs and draperies of figured materials are preferred where the walls are of solid colors, and the use of plain fabrics in draperies and rugs where walls are covered with materials having figured surfaces—but not always, for it is hardly possible to lay down hard and fast rules which must always apply. Much depends upon circumstances, and more upon the character of the materials themselves.

With wall coverings, rugs and draperies it is always wise to adhere to effects and combinations which are distinctive and out of the ordinary without being so unusual and striking as to soon become tiresome. One must often retain the same furnishings for years and they should therefore be such as will "wear well." The question of draperies is particularly important; they have been called the "salt and pepper" of interior decoration and so much depends upon their careful selection that it would be wise to obtain the best possible advice. By draperies, would ordinarily be meant not only the window shades and sash curtains, which are often alike or almost alike throughout in order to give to the exterior of the house a certain uniformity, but also the heavier draperies at windows and for certain doorways.

With the question of walls, floors and draperies disposed of the selection of furniture will be taken up. Here again much depends upon the exercise of trained taste which will often make possible highly satisfactory results with small expenditure. The purchasing of "suites" of furniture has lost much of its old time vogue. It would seem now—to look back—that often the purchase of a "bedroom suite," for example, was largely a matter due to mental laziness. Since any one piece indicated exactly the appearance of all the other pieces, it appeared to be an easy way to solve the problem of the entire room. It seemed to be economical, too, but it really wasn't, for often certain pieces of the suite were not needed at all.

In selecting bedroom furniture it would seem to be extremely unwise to spend so much on actual furniture that undue economy must be practiced in buying the highly important details of springs and mattresses. It doesn't require the advertisements of certain firms of mattress makers to make one realize that since one third of the average lifetime is spent in bed, such a lengthy period should be made as comfortable as possible.

Much of the furnishing of a room can often be done by the architect, on whom rests the original responsibility of making the room possible by his sense of proportion and division of space. In the living room he can do much by providing built-in bookcases, for the decorative value of books en masse can not be overestimated. He can provide seats over radiators, perhaps, or in windows or beside fire-places, and there may be broad sills inside or outside the windows for holding flower boxes or plants. Even one flower or growing bit of green in a room is of inestimable value, decoratively and spiritually, and quantities of fascinating potteries and glass have come into the market to hold these flowers or a glinting goldfish. The greatest satisfaction is given when these smaller pieces are acquired as the actual need for them arises. This does not exclude the need of beauty as such. An interesting painting or a colorful hanging has its use, for beauty has its utilitarian as well as its ethical value. Quantity is not the essential, for one piece of true merit if properly placed and worked up to, can give charm and atmosphere to an entire room. The problem is to know how to do it, for unto knowledge is given power.

Source: FURNISHING THE SMALL HOME: By Hettie Rhoda Meade




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