Art and Decoration for Town and Country Homes
Remodelling An Old House
DOROTHY G. BELL
STYLES in architecture, like our ideals, are transient— they come and go.
The dream house of the bride erected in accordance with her most exacting desires fifteen, or even ten, years ago will not fill the requirements of the bride of to-day. Not infrequently the bride finds herself heir to an old home, a gift, perhaps, from her husband’s relatives or her own. It may be far from her ideal. And perhaps those first happy hours after the honeymoon, the happiest probably of a lifetime, may be somewhat darkened by the thought of this unfriendly home with its narrow windows and its small, dark rooms.
Such a house has unexpected possibilities. And it may well be that, after certain changes and renovations have been made, this old home may come very close to the dream house of earlier years.
Of course, remodelling a house entails much labor and a good deal of expense, but if the young couple have not to make the large initial outlay involved in the purchase of a home, they will have something to spend on this work. More than that, these suggested changes need not all be done at the one time, but may be made from time to time and so form an ever interesting development in the home, and in due course give fashion to the oldhouse that is without it.
Most old houses, whether they are ten, twenty, or thirty years old, have more or less the same faults. They are dark, the rooms are small, the ceilings are high, there are too few open fireplaces, the floors are not of hard wood, the doors and windows are narrow and badly placed and the kitchen is probably the largest room in the house—much too large for the modern house-wife who finds it annoying and a waste of time to have to walk across a broad space to touch an electric button or to turn a gas tap. So the rules that will apply for the remodeling of one old house will apply to most others.
The remodelling is comparatively easy and inexpensive, providing of course that the workman has had definite instructions, and knows just what is required of him, and that rests with those who are to occupy the house upon its completion Let us then consider the matter carefully, weigh the possibilities of changes accurately, and decide and improve chiefly by course of elimination.
Windows Enhance Landscape
PERHAPS the first idea to be formulated with the old house is that of securing a vista. Few old houses have anything of the kind and it is one of the greatest influences for happiness in the lives of a newly-married couple.
Regardless of the view outside, the longshaped, spacious windows will lend to it a greater charm, just as does the frame to any picture.
Plan your windows then as you would frame your picture—one to fit the other.
A long, low window, artistically cut and sashed, will enhance the charms of the city or country landscape perhaps more completely than any other means. Take
out then the long narrow windows from the old-fashioned house that makes the world and all without seem small and meagre, and add the picturesque frame to lend beauty to nature’s endowments.
Perhaps the next most important things
of which to take account are the doors. If the doors are out of scale interior decoration is materially handicapped. Doors between important rooms, such as the dining and living room, should always be big and more or less im-
posing. In most old houses will be found panel-doors. To increase light and cheerfulness a change is advised from the panel to glass doors, so that they may be hung with suitable materials on both sides. Then let the doors from the vestibule to the main rooms be made with wide jambs. They will lend an air of solidity to a house that can not be accomplished to so great a degree by any other method. If plants are to be placed on the sills of the doors and windows it is an excellent idea to varnish the wood thoroughly so that no damage will result from watering the flowers.
It may seem, perhaps, that the doors and windows of a house are but details and that .consequently they are not worthy of the time, money and considera-
This combination livingroom, once a diningroom and parlor, shows a comfortable and artistic corner where the stairs and fireplace have been added. The ceiling of this old house has also been lowered and beamed.
tion sometimes spent on them, but architects assure us that getting a proper sequence, scale and placement of doors and wTindowTs is one of the most important steps towards home happiness and comfort.
Modernism Requires Spaciousness
\ rHEN this has been looked into, the V V next thing to do is to consider the actual reconstruction of the rooms. In most old houses it will be found that the dining-room and living-room adjoin one another with a small door between them. The development of modern life seems to demand more light, air, and space. People no longer find it possible to be happy in a small, stuffy room. The effect of a small, square box of a room is to engender depression, and discontent. It is an easy matter to knock down the partition between these rooms, thus making small, cramped rooms comparatively large and palatial.
There are two difficulties to be overcome here, that may not appear notice-
able before the change is made. One is the necessary rafter or beam that will be left in plain view in the middle of the room after the wall has been removed, and the other is the height of the ceiling.
Both are easily remedied. The rafter will, in all probability, have to remain in the middle of the room for the purpose of support. Its unsightliness may be overcome in any one of three ways. It may be decorated in the scheme of the rest of the room or it may be bevelled into a pretty shape so that it becomes an outstanding, interesting feature. Sometimes a chandelier is hung from this rafter and the effect is good. Then there is the idea of the entire beamed ceiling, which may be obtained by adding as many other beams of the same shape and color, as may be necessary.
Another excellent way of hiding this unsightly beam is to add a short piece from the ends and bring it part way down the wall, on both sides, giving the effect of an archway.
A high ceiling in a large room which has I been built from two would give it a barnlike and empty effect. This may be overcome entirely by the dropping of the ceiling perhaps a foot or two, or whatever, the distance required to give the desired perspective.
The Dining Room Problem
THERE is the possibility of turning the kitchen, which is usually a large, airy, and well-lighted room, into the dining room and building on a small, modern, and well-equipped kitchenette. If this is not done and the one big room is to serve the double purpose of a dining and sitting room, then a small alcove at one side will add a certain amount of charm to the room and allow for the setting and clearing away of the table without the disagreeable feeling of being overlooked from other parts of the room. A screen could be set around it during the course of these operations and if a side entrance is provided to lead off from behind it to the kitchen it would contain the chief advantages of an entire dining room. If the house contains a vestibule, it is a very easy matter to arrange this alcove by simply utilizing a part of it. The rest of it may be either entirely eliminated or left to screen the stairs, and perhaps to form a part of the kitchenette at the other end.
The chief charm of the living room, the key-note of the whole house, should be the fireplace. It may be placed either at the end or in the centre of the room, according to the choice of the occupants.
But discretion should be used or the whole effect may be spoiled by its location. It will be the largest mass of color in the room and the importance of its location should not be underestimated.
In the event of the fireplace being in the side of the room, both ends of the room should not be treated in the same manner. If it is, the result will be a stiff and unhomelike appearance and atmosphere.
Floors are another serious consideration, and are often in such bad condition that the only remedy is to rebuild them. Where they are retrievable, the only course is to paint them with light paint and then varnish them. It is not a tremendously expensive piece of work to have new floors laid down. The hardwood flooring averages not more than sixty cents per foot, even for the best grades of flooring.
Turn Kitchen Into Sunroom
IF THE kitchen has not been utilized as a dining room, part of it at least may be used as a sun-room, either complete in itself or to be added to later. The part of it which is to be kept for its original use as a kitchen should be carefully considered with a view to the proper intake and outlet of air, so that the smell of cooking will not permeate the whole house.
A most artistic effect in the interior decoration scheme may be obtained by the use of battens. They are inexpensive and if properly applied will lend graceful lines to any room. This will give the effect of a highly-finished and expensive wood interior.
The upstairs rooms of old houses as a rule need only renovating, and re-decorating. They are usually large enough for the tastes of most persons. If anything is to be done the partition might be taken from between two rooms and they may be
treated in the same way as the rooms downstairs. A fire-place added will give additional charm and comfort.
Consider Lighting Effects
ANOTHER item to consider, and not - an unimportant one, is the lighting. Everything can be done to make the room attractive and pretty, yet if the lights are not carefully distributed and set with the proper shading, the room will lack a sense of charm. The old idea of lighting a room was to have one bright and direct light. The effect was hard, cold, and glaring. To give brilliance, together with warmth and softness, lights should never be concentrated.
There are few rules for acquiring illumination which beautifies, just as there are few for painting a beautiful portrait. It is a matter of talent and taste. But one rule is this: never should the direct rays from an excessively bright light source be visible to the eye. Good lighting should be such that one is as unconscious of it as of daylight. The light should be diffused softly, it should appear to come from no particular source, yet be all-pervading, leaving no corner of the room in gloom. Lighting fixtures should be harmonious with their surroundings, no more conspicuous for their beauty or lack of it than the other furnishings of the room.
The lighting of the living room more than any room in the house should be definitely and carefully considered. No laws concerning the physical demands of the eye, either too strong, or too little light, should be violated, nor should it be necessary to forego any activity which may take place during the day, such as writing at a certain desk or reading in a particular chair merely because of the inconvenience of the light. One should not be required to move a light to a chair or desk or the desk or chair to the lamp.
IF A central fixture for general lighting is desired, it should be semi-direct, that is, the shade should so hang below the lamp that its light is thrown towards the ceiling and is reflected into the room with an agreeably softened effect.
Central lighting, however, need not always be necessary. A living-room rich in color and artistic merit can easily be spoiled by a central fixture, especially when it does not harmonize with the other appointments of the room. Adequate illumination does not depend upon a central fixture, whose light is often too harsh, and when expense need not be kept at a minimum, a' most delightful and restful effect may be obtained by the use of side-wall brackets and portable lamps of which there are many attractive and even lovely varieties.
A fixture resembling two tall thick candles with the lamp set in place of the flame, has much to recommend it. Tall floor lamps at the left of easy chairs may be used in any part of a room since, if baseboard outlets are numerous, the small necessary wires may run into the centre of the room along the floor, a careful adjustment of rugs hiding them from view. This arrangement will facilitate any desired change in the position of the furniture on which the placing of lamps depends.
Lamp shades are an art in themselves, and may be of many attractive shapes and sizes, and of any color that the room suggests. It might be remembered, however, that light filtered through certain colors is unsatisfactory—through blue, it is cold, through blue or purple, highly absorbed. For a shade which entirely encloses the light, yellow or orange is the most expedient.
A tall, portable lamp furnished with a purple umbrella-shaped shade decorated with clusters of grapes makes a glorious spot of color in a room where silver and blue, olive, bronze, yellow, and purple, are superbly blended.
At the head of the divan there may be a small table upon which is placed a portable lamp with a flexible arm for reading, so arranged that it throws its light onto the book of the one who reads beneath it. The lamp is fitted with a silk diffusing shade of soft, yellow, and in the daylight the lamp, though simple, is an addition to the room rather than an eyesore.
Beside the table at the farther end of
the room there may be another, portable lamp placed in such a relation to the first two that no objectionable pools of light are formed, but instead, a blended mellow illumination is sent forth.
Dining Room Effects
IF THE dining room is for two, the conventional dome which now after a period of exile seems to be returning to favor, will shed enough light over a small table and may be supplemented by side-wall brackets on either side of the buffet. Electric candelabra on the table are effective and pleasing, and if used the dome may be dispensed with and the side-wall brackets made more numerous.
One delightful dining room in a country home was made even more delightful by its unique method of illumination. The walls were of a sky blue, the windows, curtained in soft orange, held along their sills flower-boxes, from which English ivy trailed abundantly along the woodwork. Over the quaint round table swung a basket of hanging vines, from inside which, by means of a silver mirrored reflector, the light was directed to the ceiling and thence softly back into the room. Electric candelabra on the buffet with round shades of orange completed the color effect.
No room has as many uses as a bedroom, since at one time or another it combines those of nearly every other room in the house. The lighting facilities, therefore, should be abundant enough to satisfy all its needs. There should be a portable lamp on the table beside the bed and a reading lamp beside the easychair and with the addition of one or two side-wall fixtures there will be no actual need for a central light which, while it has a general use, cannot supply any one of the individual needs of light throughout the room. The adjoining bath-room should be supplied with two lights, one on either side of the mirror and of course should be placed so that no shadows will fall on the window shade.
Consider the Kitchen
THE kitchen lighting is often worse than any other. The combination gas and electric stem luminaire places the lamp so low that it usually casts the shadow of the worker on the work and what direct light there is is thrown in the middle of the room rather than on the stove or over the sink. If more satisfactory lighting is required, this light arrangement should be replaced by a luminaire that carries the light closer to the ceiling. Then furnish it with a glass reflector that will throw the light further around the room. If that is not sufficient, the ceiling light will have to be aided with wall brackets in the darker corners.
When the ceiling is painted with a light colored paint a semi-indirect system of lighting is effective.
While rearranging the lighting system of the kitchen it is advisable and important that outlets for the iron, percolater or fan be provided.
Attractive lighting throughout the house does not necessarily mean expensive lighting, but if extra portable lamps increase the electricity bills to a slight degree, at least there are enormous returns in convenience and in beautiful effects.
Soft mellow illumination which, like the touch of Midas, turns to gold everything it falls upon, conceals, rather than reveals, defects to such an extent that, there is a new interest and a new atmosphere created even in any room whose familiar furnishings may never before have seemed appealing.
If a house has been wired with the facilities for numerous accessories, any desired atmosphere depending upon lighting effects is within reach. Artistic lighting is as important in a home as artistic furnishings, since it is the fairy godmother which modifies and softens beyond recognition unpleasant surroundings and raises to the r?.th power the possibilities of an already beautiful room.
In the re-vamping or building anew, let the ambition be to have a house that others will enjoy and that the occupants themselves will love. If it is made different and interesting from every angle in a quiet, artistic and tasteful way a satisfactory result will be assured.