ABC’s Of Decorating: Fundamentals & Rules

The best way to begin home planning is to forget all the talk about changes in architecture, equipment, materials, and design. No matter what improvements come about in structure, design, or utility, a lounge chair will still be a lounge chair, and good chintz will remain a good chintz.

The fundamental rules never change, they are essential. So start with them, whether you’re redecorating or starting from scratch, adding touches your family dictates.

  • Start a file. Large manila envelopes work well–one for each room of your house. Be sure to include halls and bathrooms. Several sheets of heavy paper in each envelope will take pasted or pinned samples and clippings of ideas you like.
  • Draw floor plans in ink on graph paper, with doors, windows, other permanent parts located accurately and inked in. Pencil in ideas for furniture; erase and redraw as your mind changes.
  • Find the faults in each room: drab colors, muddled color schemes, lifeless arrangements, dull accessories, inadequate lighting, impractical locations for reading and writing.
  • Throw out the bad, keeping only the good elements of your furnishings. List what you need (slipcovering, reupholstering, etc.) to renew your good pieces.
  • Simple architectural changes may help to set the pace you want. Built-in bookcases, window seats, radiator covers, a new mantel–all can be foils for your new furnishings.
  • Avoid drabness in your color scheme. Don’t choose neutral and lifeless tones, because they show less dirt and are the easy way out in matching pieces. Give rooms a life with bright colors.
  • Timid wallpaper, with wishy-washy designs and un-identifiable colors, is worse than no wallpaper at all. Choose a pattern that stands out, speaks for itself honestly.
  • Bold colors bring out character in furniture and accessories, bring drama to window treatments. Use deep, rich colors on your walls as the basis for over-all schemes that are brilliant and distinct.
  • Use color as a bond of unity between your living and dining rooms, den and hall, wherever two rooms keep close company. Walls don’t need to be the same color, nor wallpaper patterns match. But let one basic color in your scheme carry through adjoining rooms.
  • Now, start shopping. If a favorite local store has a decorating consultant, take your file of samples and clippings to her, and spread it out for her advice and any suggestions she has.
  • Shop to please the family. Don’t begin with a theme so set that your family’s comfort will be sacrificed to style or decor. Well-chosen variations of your scheme can leave decorating rules unbroken and still allow your family to relax.
  • Shop to fit the family. If you’re all large persons, don’t buy spindly furniture and doily accessories. Turnabout, little people look still littler when surroundings are overstuffed.
  • Shop to fit the house. Small houses and rooms look cramped with massive, plushy furnishings; similarly, large rooms must have furniture keyed to the space. Before buying a new piece, try it out in its own room; don’t hesitate to send it back.
  • Buy quality. Don’t let showy exteriors fool you into buying cheap stuff. Ask questions about fabrics and construction to insure lasting value. You’ll profit by paying more.
  • Start with good pieces, good in design and construction. A few carefully selected pieces to which others can be added later are better economy in the long run than lots of cheap, hastily bought pieces that are poorly designed, quick to wear out.
  • Good and bad colors can be identified very easily by you. Bad colors are muddy and vague, subtly irritating, while good colors are clean and honest, in harmony with each other.
  • Balance your colors, using three colors as the basis of your scheme. One scheme, for example, uses 50 per cent gray, 30 per cent yellow, 20 per cent red. Let the smallest proportion be given to the most brilliant color. Though other colors may be present, they should appear as subtle undertones.

Source: Homemaker’s Institute, 1946 (slightly edited)

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