Art and Decoration for Town and Country Homes

Consider Your Woodwork

DOROTHY BELL February 15 1924

Art and Decoration for Town and Country Homes

Consider Your Woodwork

DOROTHY BELL February 15 1924

Art and Decoration for Town and Country Homes

Consider Your Woodwork


A MAN applying for a position was asked: “What is your religion?” “A pine tree!” he answered. “No, no, you don’t understand me. I mean your creed,” insisted the other. “Yes, I know what you mean. It is a pine tree.” “But I don’t understand,” still insisted the questioner.

And then the applicant—a westerner, who had spent much of his time in the Canadian forests—explained. “A pine tree.” he said, “is the most beautiful thing in life. It is straight and clean and great. I am never as near being straight and clean and great as when I am surrounded by pine trees. They hold inspiration for me and bring me closer to my Creator than anything else could.”

Nature is an artist. In her own environment she brings those who appreciate her works to their knees with the realization of their own unworthiness. Yet when the great pine trees and other beautiful woods are cut and brought to the homes of these same worshippers they require the skill, the craftsmanship and the trained eye of human artists to bring out the hidden beauties that lie buried deep in the hearts of their trunks. The beautiful and irregular markings, sometimes so faint as to be lost altogether to the naked eye, must be developed and preserved; the rough, open grain of the wood itself must be filled and polished, the tight, close grain brought out and emphasized; both the hard and soft textures must be stained, colored and polished in order to obtain the beautiful effects in woodwork that we have to-day.

House-owners may have their ideal home planned; they may know exactly how it is to be built; they may, perhaps, vision it fully furnished. Yet when _ it comes to the interior finishing there arise many technical problems that are difficult and beyond their power to solve. And woodwork is something that must be

decided upon once and for all, for it is not only an expensive proposition to do again but it is, in many cases, impossible to change. It is important, then, that those who are about to build and live in a house should have a fundamental knowledge of the finishing of interior woodwork, the value, the characteristics, the color schemes of the different woods. After the selections are made it is interesting and essential to know something of the development, treatment and uses of the various types of woodwork. Woodwork is continually changing; many new and beautiful effects have been developed recently in hard woods like oak, mahogany, birch and gum, and there are many finishes in the softer woods, such as pine, cypress and fir that offer a large variety. It is as necessary to watch the styles in woodwork as in anything else and what may have been “good style” in finishing twenty years ago is not necessarily good to-day.

The present tendency to-day seems to be towards the soft-toned, flat effects. The loud-grain, shiny, varnished _ finishes of a few years ago are rapidly diminishing.

The most important thing in deciding the interior finish is to select a wood that will not swell when it rains and that will not shrink during a dry spell. After that has been done all open grained woods such as oak, ash, chestnut and mahogany must be “filled,” that is, the pores of the wood

must be closed with what is known as a wood filler, a paste about the consistency of thick cream. This is rubbed into the grain which gives it a smooth transparent surface, before the application of the varnish or stain. It prevents the varnish, shellac, wax and stain from soaking into the grain too deeply. The filler is rubbed on the wood across the grains and then with the grains. It will be suggested sometimes that floor wax be put right on top of the paste filler. This will occasion dark spots to appear in the light wood where the greatest amount of wear comes, due to the fact that the wax wears through to the filler.

Birch is a popular wood for furniture and interior decoration too. It is very heavy and strong. The natural color is a light, red-brown and is commonly stained with walnut, cherry or mahogany. As the foundation for a white enamel it is unsurpassed, as its light color and delicate, close grain make it more beautiful for this purpose than any other wood. It is less expensive than oak, but superior to it for many purposes.

Birch has been so frequently used and finished in imitation mahogany that many users often think of it in this respect. However, it may be finished in a large variety of tones ranging from a rich brown to a delicate grey, and then it is that birch has an individuality all its own.

Maple flooring and bird’s eye maple

furniture are known to everyone. The wood itself is strong, tough, closegrained and its different varieties take stains and varnishes well.

Maple is one of the finest grained woods that can be obtained. Its natural finish is beautiful, but when given a mahogany, cherry or silver-gray treatment the effect is even more striking than the natural. The white tones of maple do not effect the light grey shades which are so often changed by the yellow tones of other woods. The bird’s eye maple makes a beautiful wall finish, but is used only on special occasions, because of its great expense.

Cottonwood resembles bird’s eye maple in that it has the distinct round markings of the buds. It is one of the woods that has recently become popular for wall and door panels. It takes stains readily and a quiet subdued grain makes possible a large range of rich effects.

Cyprus wood furnishes a valuable outside finish. It is used very frequently because of its durability, which is claimed to be far superior to that of other woods, after it has been stained.

Cypress has proved very serviceable in kitchens where it is subjected to severe dampness and heat. Because of the fact that it shrinks and swells very little, it has proved particularly satisfactory in kitchens and is used a great deal for sinks, drainboards, pantry shelves, cupboards, kitchen cabinets, floors and porches. Carefully selected cypress has a distinct natural grain that may be used often without stain, though seldom as an interior finish. Paint does not peel from cypress as readily as it does from other woods.

Gum wood is perhaps the most popular wood in use at the present time for interior finishing. There are several varieties of gum wood, but it divides itself into two classes—expensive and cheap. The expensive or red gumwood is the one that is used most effectively in interior work. When quarter cut it resembles walnut so closely that the two woods are frequently used together. For this reason it is some times known as "satin walnut." Finished in the natural, it is particularly attractive and is perhaps more easily kept clean than any other hardwood. Oak has been used from time im memorial and has been regarded as the king of the forest since earliest days. Nearly all the baronial castles and ances tral seats in Europe are finished in oak and after many centuries of supremacy it remains to-day the world's premier hard wood. At the present time it is largely and cleverly imitated by staining other woods. The colors of the real product, however, vary from light to dark brown and the wood is heavy, tough, strong, durable and beautiful. Until about 1880 it was perhaps the most popular wood for interior decoration. ` Because of its great durability and

distinction of being one of the aris tocratic woods. Its decorative values have long been known and its history is linked with all the early furniture styles and periods. It comes from the West Indies and Central America. A great num ber of people believe that mahogany is red. It is not red, by nature. With age it develops a deep, rich, golden brown, but the characteristic reddish-brown seen on mahogany is the result of staining. The natural color is perhaps more beautiful than that of the stain, but the fashion of reddening mahogany is so long established that for practical purposes it is evident that the habit must continue. It has probably a more beautiful grain than any other wood and after the open grain is filled with a paste filler it is susceptible to a very high polish. Another attractive finish is a dull one made by rubbing the last varnish coat with pumicestone and water. Spruce is white, even grained, dark and

beautiful grain, oak is a popular wood, too, for all kinds of interior trim. It seems to gain a more handsome effect by staining than any other wood and lends itself to many styles of finishing. It is open grained, and when a varnished and polished finish is desired the pores of the wood must be filled and covered with various coats of varnish. A mission or wax finish is obtained when the filler is left out. There are several shades which are popu lar in stained oak:-Fumed oak, old English oak, Cathedral oak, and Silver Gray oak.

C'hestnut is much less expensive than oak, and for this reason frequently dis places it for interior woodwork. It is an open-grained wood, and consequently the pores require filling before the varnished and rubbed effect can be ob tained. This can be treated practically with the same methods as oak and is often used in imitation, although it is wholly different when finished naturally.

It is a plain but rather attractive wood and its pronounced figure makes it adapt able for large, plain surfaces. It is often used for "futned mission" furniture. Ash is somewhat similar to oak, too-in fact, it is a distant relative and its treat ment is much the same. It is coarser and lighter than oak and, although it is not as striking and attractive a wood, a great many beautiful stained effects may be obtained. It is more often used for the cheaper grades of cabinet work than for wall finishing.

Ualifornia redwood is grown to a Large extent on the Pacific Coast and though it has been used there extensively it has only recently come into vogue in the East. It possesses an even figure and color. Its rich, reddish tone makes possible many attractive effects in stain or natural finish and its close grain and freedom from pitch makes it an excellent base for enamel. The trees grow to a great size and thus it is possible to obtain panels as wide some times as five feet. The heart of the wood ranges in color from a light cherry to a clark mahogany. Mahogany shares with walnut the

light, and is no~ often used for indoo work, because on account of its man: knots it is rather difficult to handle. It chief use is for flooring. It takes stai rather well though and is often used wher more costly woods are to be imitated. I is absolutely free from pitch and is quit hard in texture.

Hemlock is divided into two classifies tions, eastern and western. The wester hemlock is regarded as the better of th two. It is free from pitch and will cons quently take a high polish. When saw slush grain it shows a beautiful grain th~ makes an excellent wainscoting or pane It is low priced and yet durable. As y~ western hemlock is comparatively ut known in Eastern Canada but is rapidl gaining a foothold there as an interi( finish.

vv ainuu is regaraea as one OL iie lilt) expensive and consequently one of ti most desirable woods for interior decor tion. Unquestionably it is one of ti richest and most luxuriant woods tb can be used for interior trim and it w always be in demand where cost need n be considered. It lends itself particular well to intricate carving and ornate effect if they are of delicate design. It has be' the favorite wood of cabinet makE for generations, owing to its beauty appearance, grain and texture. Walnut used a great deal as a veneer with a Ii expensive wood as a core. American bla walnut up to a period ending about eighties was greatly wasted and ti created a fear at one time that it wou become extinct, but owing to the ra~ growth of the trees a great quantity lumber has been grown since then. Am' ican black walnut is a heavy tough wo with a very open grain which requii filling. Its dark natural color requires pigment.

Primitive Cedar R ED CEDAR is more or less associat with Canada's primitive days wh the Pacific Coast Indian hollowed out trunks for war canoes, split the planks his lodges and carved his totem-po from it. Weather conditions have absolutely no effect on red cedar and consequently it is a very useful outside wood. It is not used to a very large extent for interior finish, though it has a distinct silky finish. It is used a great deal at the present time for beamed ceiling work. In its natural color it resembles mahogany, though it is much lighter and softer. Its greatest use is for shingles. Cedar wood is supposed to contain some quality that will keep moths away from it. Consequently it is used a great deal for cupboards.

Elm, too, is more of an outside wood, though it is used occasionally for interior work. In its plain white state elm possesses no particularly attractive marking, yet, in common with many other woods, it is transformed into a thing of beauty with proper finishing and treatment.

Yellow poplar is considered one of the best possible woods for enameling purposes. It is used sometimes, too, to imitate more expensive woods. It is never used, however, in the natural, but is always stained.

White pine is a popular wood for a white or light grey enamel finish. It is soft, easily worked, and does not split when nailed. Western soft pine is so similar to white pine that even expert graders are often unable to tell them apart. North Carolina pine has a beautiful natural grain varying from a straight to curly design. It, too, takes a white enamel perhaps better than any other stain and it forms a good basis for paint.

Southern pine has a varied grain that often makes it desirable to finish it in the natural color where its light color will be in harmony with the decorative scheme of the house. Carved pine is being used to a great extent now in homes where expense is not spared.

Cherry is ranked with walnut and mahogany as an aristocrat of woods and is frequently substituted for the former. It has a peculiarly rich color and will take a very fine finish.

Western larch by the time it is converted into lumber is practically all heart-wood because the sap-wood is so thin that it is generally cut off with the slab in sawing the logs. It has a great reputation for durability and has a great variety of uses, ranging from heavy wharf construction to the finest interior decoration. It has a distinct and striking grain, fine texture and a finishing quality which take a high satin-like polish.

Douglas fir is used perhaps more than any other wood that grows on this continent, especially in the West, where it grows in great quantities on the Pacific Coast.

It is one of the few woods that has the combined qualities of strength and fineness. The greatest value, perhaps, of fir lies in its grain, which is different from that of any other wood and different too, in each individual board. It will take any shade or color in stain and though light brown is its original hue, it takes soft shades of grey beautifully. It is a soft wood,but the beauty of its markings has caused it to replace the harder woods very often.

•Just how and when to use these different woods depends almost entirely upon the personal taste and the money at the disposal of the house owner. This, together with the fact that there are so many different types of rooms, all capable of taking many designs, colors and woods, makes it almost impossible to offer any definite advice. The woods naturally divide themselves into two classifications, open and closed grain woods, and consequently there is this general guide: Opengrained wood such as oak, pine, chestnut ought only to be used in rooms of a rather rustic type with a heavy stone or brick fireplace, beamed ceilings, deep colors. The grain is big and open, giving the wood a heavy sturdy appearance that is not appropriate with a dainty, light colored -oom.

The heavy Gothic style of architecture always calls for the broad-grained woods, for the beauty of the style lies in the heaviness and this is naturally lost unless the wood is in keeping with it.

Beamed ceilings are occasionally done in mahogany, but the same thing applies there and much of the effect is lost or perhaps contradicted in the fine wood-. Oak and other woods of a similar heavy appearance are entirely out of place, too, in a bedroom, in a small daintily furnished sitting room or sewing room. For a man’s den, smoking room, billiard room it is much the best material to use.

Mahogany in White

MAHOGANY, birch, walnut, and other close grained woods, on the other hand, are the woods tto be used in a more delicate environment, where dainty and artistic furniture is. used, where finely woven and expensive rugs lie on hard and highly-polished floors, where a small white or colored tile fireplace requires an aristocratic mantle above it. Sometimes oak is seen used in a white enamelled room, but in nearly every case it is overpowering, ungainly. Mahogany, walnut and their substitutes are really the only woods that can be used successfully in combination with a white room. The contrast is so great that it requires the refinement and high polish possible only in the fine grained material to carry it off without incongruity. A hall or bedroom finished in white enamel with the deep rich color note created by mahogany doors is particularly effective. A hall finished in white, too, with a white staircase and a mahogany handrail and steps lends a striking, yet refined, appearance. This combination is used to such an extent now in colonial houses that it does not strike one as unusual, but when it first came into vogue, it must have startled the architects, builders and home owners to a considerable degree. Since then it has caused a certain amount of speculation regarding its origin. White doors, white handrails, white steps, as any one knows who keeps house, are very difficult to keep clean, and because of this fact the theory has developed that this is the reason for the style of mahogany fixtures in white setting.

The most helpful advice regarding interior finishings in wood then is simply this—use the woods that are in keeping with the room which is being treated. Use the heavy open-grained woods in the every day, livable living rooms, halls, dining rooms, billiard rooms and dens. Use the finer and more closely grained woods in the smaller, more dainty, refined and aristocratic rooms such as the library, the reception room, drawing room, bedrooms. This will guide one in the ways of good taste, though it is merely a general rule that cannot be laid down hard and fast nor can it be strictly adhered to. The purse, the house and house-owner’s personal likes and dislikes may prompt him to vary it very often with success. Old woodwork is particularly difficult to deal with and it is seldom that it can be made to look worth while. Color scheme, however, is the most valuable aid in bringing back walls and woodwork of an old house. And almost any effect can be obtained by first applying a coat of covering or “flat” paint, and then running a grain brush over it and finally varnishing over the top of that.

A floor of the home should always be a little lighter than the woodwork. Another difficult problem, and one of the most important to be considered is the color to be adopted for the several rooms of the house. Under all consideration the color scheme must be considered as a whole in order that perfect harmony or a correct contrast may prevail. There are very few conditions under which walls should not harmonize both in tone and color with the woodwork. The one exception to this rule perhaps is the colonial style of mahogany and white.