Uses of Wood in Decoration of Homes

Uses of Wood in Decoration of Homes

¶ So much of the success of the whole Craftsman scheme of building and decoration depends upon the right selection and treatment of the woodwork, which forms such an important part of the structural and also of the decorative scheme, that we have considered it worth while to devote an entire chapter to such information and instruction as we are able to give concerning some of our native woods that we consider most desirable for this purpose. We are taking up only the woods that are native to this country, for the reason that they are nearest at hand and because, when finished by our method, they reveal the beauty of color and grain that forms the basis of the whole Craftsman idea of interior decoration. These vary widely, as each wood possesses strongly marked characteristics as to color, texture and grain; but all the woods we mention here are desirable for interior trim and the use of them is much more in accordance with the Craftsman scheme of decoration than are the elaborate and more or less exotic effects obtained by the use of expensive foreign woods. This does not mean that we claim greater beauty for the native woods, but merely that, when properly treated, they are quite as interesting as any of the more costly woods imported from other countries and have the great advantage of being easily obtainable at moderate cost.

¶ We need not dwell upon the importance of using a generous amount of woodwork to give an effect of permanence, homelikeness and rich warm color in a room. Anyone who has ever entered a house in which the friendly natural wood is used in the form of wainscoting, beams and structural features of all kinds, has only to contrast the impression given by such an interior with that which we receive when we go into the average house, where the plain walls are covered with plaster and paper and the conventional door and window frames are of painted or varnished wood, in order to realize the difference made by giving to the woodwork its full value in the decorative scheme. No care bestowed on decoration, or expense lavished on draperies or furniture, can make up for the absence of wood in the interior of a house. This is a truth that has long been understood and applied in the older countries, especially in England, whose mellow friendly old houses are the delight and despair of Americans; but it is only a few years since we began to apply it to the building and furnishing of our own homes. With us the realization of the possibilities of natural wood when used as a basis for interior decoration first took root in the West, particularly on the Pacific Coast, where the delightful atmosphere of rooms that were wainscoted, ceiled and beamed with California redwood gave rise to a new departure in the finishing and decoration of our homes, and stirred the East to follow suit.

¶ In recommending the generous use of woodwork, however, we would have it clearly understood that we mean the use of wood so finished that its individual qualities of grain, texture and color are preserved so far as possible, and such treatment of wall spaces and structural features that they are not made unduly prominent, but rather sink quietly into the background and become a part of the room itself, forming a friendly unobtrusive setting for the furniture, draperies and ornaments, instead of coming into competition with them. To this end the woodwork should be so finished that its inherent color quality is deepened and mellowed as if by time and its surface made pleasantly smooth without sacrificing the woody quality that comes from frankly revealing its natural texture. When this is done, the little sparkling irregularity of the grain allows a play of light over the surface that seems to give it almost a soft radiance, quality that we lose entirely in woodwork that is filled, stained to a solid color, varnished and polished so that the light is reflected from a hard unsympathetic surface.

¶ It is interesting also to note how much the character of a room depends upon the kind of wood we use in it. For example, the impression given by oak is strong, austere and dignified, suggesting stability and permanence such as would naturally belong to a house built to last for generations. It is a robust, manly sort of wood and is most at home in large rooms which are meant for constant use, such as the living room, reception hall, library or dining room. Chestnut, ash and elm, although each one has an individual quality of color and grain that differentiates it from all the others, all come into the same class as oak, in that they are strong fibered, open textured woods that find their best use in the rooms in which the general life of the household is carried on. The finer textured woods, such as maple, beech, birch and gumwood, are more suitable for the woodwork in smaller and more daintily furnished rooms that are not so roughly used, such as bedrooms or small private sitting rooms. Aside from this general classification, the choice of wood for interior woodwork naturally must depend upon the taste of the home builder, the requirements of the decorative scheme planned for the house as a whole, and the ease with which a particular kind of wood may be obtained.

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