Monday, June 17, 2013

Period Book: The Furnishing of a Modest Home (1908)

It seems like so many blogs and bungalow books feature the "great homes." You know, those homes that cost a staggering amount of money when they were built—like the Gamble house—and have only gotten worse in modern times. I don't have much interest in those homes, except as inspiration. Who has tens of thousands of dollars to furnish one room? Not us. So we have to be more creative.

I am always looking around for inspiration for how to furnish the average middle-class home. So, when I found The Furnishing of a Modest Home by Fred Hamilton Daniels, published in 1908,  available at the Internet Archive (for free), naturally I grabbed it.

Though, Mr. Daniel's comes from a different time. His idea of a modest home still comes with servants quarters. Oh, and one bathroom. But his writing style is enjoyable and he does have some strong opinions.

On painting woodwork, Mr. Daniel's says you should paint the fancy victorian stuff, but the "ordinary woodwork in the modern house cannot afford to have its uninteresting mediocrity or ugliness brought to the front. It should be stained or painted in low-toned colors that it may assume a very subordinate place in the room. In general, grayed, deep browns or greens are restful and unobtrusive, and are colors with which wallpapers will harmonize." He also didn't think the wood should be finished so it would shine because then it would stand out.

Mr. Daniel's seems to have preferred uncovered, wood floors because they are hygenic, but he does discuss floor coverings. "Carpets composed of naturalistic designs of roses are not pleasing, for walking about upon a bed of roses is a thing which we would carefully avoid in the world of nature. The simple, old-fashioned carpets which have little definite design are among the best."

I excerpted the section about portieres in my post in August 2012. You can read it here, if you'd like.

Mr. Daniel's suggests green for wall colors. "In nature we rarely find pure green in all its intensity and harshness. The hue of the color is softened by yellow, orange, or red until we say it is a warm green. This is the green for our walls. Because the human race has for thousands of years been accustomed to seeing so much blue and green, they are the colors which tire our eyes the least."

Mr. Daniel's cautions people to live with a space for a while before rushing into making furniture selections. "It is because we make unwise selections that the constant procession of furniture through the house is noticeable. We buy a chair for the reception room; soon we decide that it is not what we want for the room, and it is moved on into the study, then the bedroom, the attic, the rummage sale. Money wasted!" (However, if you do as we do and buy used furniture for good prices, you quite often don't lose money when you change your mind. We certainly do our share of churning furniture, but now we don't lose much money and we sometimes even come out ahead.)

Mr. Daniel's states art should be hung with two vertical wires.
How Not to Hang Art
The proper way to hang art: two parallel wires and matted to coordinate with wall color.
This is apparently another how not to do it. Too much white art on a low toned wall.
This is a well done den because everything has been carefully placed and is of a good coordinated color scheme. But, LOOK at all that stuff! That's a lot of stuff. It looks crowded to my eye.
And of course one problem we still have now and will surely never be solved, is how we feel obliged to use a decor item simply because it was given to us. "A man was given a vase by a friend. On one side of this vase was painted a picture of a goat—a GOAT! Now, from any standpoint whatever, what possible relation could a picture of a goat have with the purpose or beauty of a vase? If it had been a butter dish—but it wasn't! The friend was a frequent visitor at the house. The man knew that the decoration of the vase was as bad as it could be, but his friend would come and expect to see the goat on the parlor mantel. What was to be done? What would you have done? We all have this problem to settle...." Alas, he doesn't offer a solution.

And to wrap up, one of my favorite quotes: "At the present time most of the house furnishing is left to the mistress. The man has other interests. He is at the service of his wife, chiefly in the capacity of the moving van. Said the guest, "I see that you have moved the piano since I was here." The husband meekly replied, "Yes, we have had it in every place in the house except the coal-bin, and I expect to put it there next."" Apparently some things never change.


  1. This is great! Thanks for sharing. The old books are so specific and unapologetic about what should and shouldn't be done. I do like the idea of hanging art with two parallel wires.

  2. What I wouldn't give to resurrect Mr. Daniels to get his take on modern decor trends like gallery walls.

  3. Thanks for sharing that book. Mr. Daniels was opinionated, that's for sure! I like his idea of the two parallel wires, and agree with Heather that I'd like to hear what he has to say about modern trends.

  4. I'd love to hear his opinion about so many people white-washing all the woodwork in these old houses. Mr. Daniel's would surely not be happy with our house, but given that we've gone to great effort to get rid of the white paint, he might come up with a few nice things to say. But we have gotten quite a few things wrong. =)