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Walls and their Coverings

Taken from Scribner's Monthly May 1872
In the old days of wainscots, when every room of any pretensions to elegance was banded with light or dark wood to height of three or four feet from the base, it was far easier to effectively ornament the portion of wall left uncovered, than it is when an unbroken surface sweeps, as now, from floor to ceiling.
If the pattern which covers this surface be large and positive, the effect is to lessen the apparent size of the room, and confuse with vulgar repetition. If, on the contrary, it is small and inconspicuous, there is a wearisome effect of monotony displeasing to a trained eye. Even if the paper be of plain tint, and intended merely as a background for pictures, ect., the effect is enhanced by contrast and breaks in surface. There are various methods to produce this result as for instance:-
A space corresponding to the ancient wainscot is left to the height of three or four feet above the floor, and filled in with paint or paper of solid color, harmonizing or contrasting with that which is used on the upper part of the wall. This is usually topped with a wooden moulding to serve as a "chairing," above which the lower tint of plain gray, pearl, green, is repeated in subdued patter, the surface being broken at top and bottom by a narrow band of contrasting color.
Or again: the paper, which is of any quiet shade is relieved above and below by a broad band of velvet paper in rich, deep color, which, running also up the corners of the room, frames the paler tint, as it were, into a number of large panels. This is sometimes carried out very effectively.
Another way is to paper in three horizontal bands the lower being of dark brown, simulating wainscot, the next of plain green or fawn, as background for a line of pictures, and the upper of delicate, fanciful pattern, finished at the cornice by these soft fresco tints.
Of these three plans we should recommend the first to people of moderate means and tastes. It costs no more to paper the lower part of the wall with plain paper than with figured, the strip of moulding at top adds little to the expense, and the prettiness and effect of the whole is infinitely enhanced by the use of a cheap and simple method.
Paint versus Paper is a point on which rival housekeepers disagree. Very beautiful results can be attained by paint, but the really beautiful ones are laborious and usually expensive. Kalsomine, which is a process of water-coloring, gives extremely pretty effects, and for ceilings, corniced, or any place not exposed to much rubbing and scraping, is sufficiently permanent. The process of sanding paint and painting over the sand produces a depth and richness of color only equaled by velvet paper, and far superior to that in durability.
Stenciling on wood, on rough plaster, and on paint is so cheap and excellent a method of decoration that we wonder it is not more often resorted to. A row of encaustic tiles are often set, in England, as a finish at top of wainscoting. These tiles, which are but little used among us, are susceptible of many graceful applications to the ornamentation of houses and we hope the time will come for their fuller introduction on this side of the ocean.
The tone of the ceiling should be lighter than that of the wall, and the tone of the wall lighted than that of the floor. Attention to this simple law would obviate the distressing effect occasionally produced in modern houses, when, by reason of the lightness of the carpet and the heaviness of the fresco, the room seems in danger of falling in upon itself and its inhabitants.

Meaning of Words
Obviate-to prevent by intervention, avoid
Wainscot-wood paneling on walls
Velvet paper-this was made by taking cloth dust and gluing onto a paper.


Examples & Further Explanations
Kalsomine also called distemper, is a dried calcium carbonate that when mixed with water and other pigments produces a pastel colored and fast drying coating for the walls and ceilings. In the 19th century when people used coal for heating and cooking Kalsomine was an inexpensive way to freshen up walls and ceilings that were stained by the soot.
Encaustic tiles- This type of tile was stamped to leave an impression then filled with a contrasting colored liquid clay. When dry the excess was scraped off leaving the design. Then it was covered in a glaze then fired.
Encaustic tile

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