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Interior Design

Edwardian Housekeeping: Choosing a Color Scheme


Highclere Castle drawing room

The aristocracy changed the color schemes and furnishings in their homes much less than the upper and middle-classes, but the brushing away of Victorian fustiness and fussiness to welcome the elegant, cleaner lines of the Arts and Crafts movement and Art Nouveau was infectious (led, of course, by the King). The building boom of the early 1900s coupled with new thoughts on hygiene and harmony encouraged home buyers and renters to experiment with color and new modes of decor, and a bevy of books and articles appeared in bookstores, magazines, and newspapers to advise the Edwardians on the best way of decorating every inch of their homes.

Drawing-room Colour Scheme: —By far the most important room from a decorative point of view is the drawing-room. Assuming it to be of fair size, and dealing with the walls chiefly, as the largest area to be considered, it is necessary to determine, firstly, whether they are to be painted or papered, or both combined; secondly, whether they are to be decorated in one prevailing colour of different tones, or in various colours in harmony; and thirdly, what particular colour or colours are to be adopted.

The first two points are entirely matter of opinion; to some the onecolour scheme would be monotonous. As regards the third point, the yellower grays or greens are suitable, especially yellow if the room is not well lighted. The carpet should be either a low-toned red or green; and the floorspace between carpet and skirting might be painted a darker tone of the dado, if the carpet is to be green, but greenish-gray as in the frieze, if the carpet is red. All other furnishings of the room should repeat the colourings used in the wall. Should the room be low in ceiling, the moulding might be dispensed with, the wall being the same colour throughout. If the room is very high, a simply-panelled ceiling of some suitable paper is advisable. All horizontal lines suggest width, and a reference to the dining-room scheme will show that the upright lines of panelling suggest height.

Dining-room Colour Scheme:—A warm scheme of colour is chosen for the dining-room. Wooden panelling is used for the dado, or this may be dispensed with. Instead of painted walls, a low-toned red paper may be used, and instead of a dado, a projecting moulding is advisable to keep the furniture clear of the wall. Parquetry is suitable for the borders round the carpet, or the flooring may be stained. For the carpet itself, a low-toned olive-green is suitable.

Library Colour Scheme:—In the library the walls are painted in oil or distemper, and kept rather low-toned in order to suggest the repose necessary for quiet study. A little brightness, however, is introduced in the wooden moulding at the base of the frieze and in the cornice. Instead of distempering, a Japanese or other paper may be used, though, of course, it is more expensive.

Hall and Staircase Colour Scheme:—The walls in the hall and on the staircases should not be dark in colour, especially if the entrance is narrow. Terra-cotta, slightly darker than the dado in the drawing room scheme, looks well in either distemper or paper; or, the ground colour of the frieze in the dining-room scheme may be adopted. Simple wooden panelling carried up a few feet, and stained or painted to suit the colour of the wall, can be recommended. The ceiling should be creamy-white.

Bedroom Colour Scheme:—The following three schemes are all suitable for bedrooms:—

1. Large design of purple irises for the paper, ivory-white paint for the wood-work, picked out with gold; pale golden-brown carpet, and curtains striped gold and white. Colouring: gold, purple, white.

2. Best room. For the paper, a large design of two shades of yellow poppies, dark and light, on white ground. Ivory paint; gray-green carpet; green and white chintz curtains. Colouring: yellow, green, white.

3. Walls panelled, oak furniture, yellow silk brocade curtains for bed and windows, brown and yellow carpet. Colouring: brown and yellow.

Nursery Colour Schemes:—The day nursery should have brightness, warmth of tones, and light. Too much red is to be avoided, as it is trying to the eyes. There are many very pretty light nursery papers illustrating nursery rhymes. These, if chosen in light tones, could then be varnished over, which would keep the paper clean, and it could be carefully wiped with a damp cloth when dirty. Instead of nursery rhymes some coloured prints in the illustrated papers are excellent. If they are carefully pasted on the wall, with panels of a buff or straw-coloured paper 3 feet wide between the pictures, and then varnished all over, they give the nursery a cheerful appearance. The wood-work might be dark olive-green or pitch pine, which would be clean and fresh looking. A warm carpet in the centre of the room, in reddish tones, the boards all round being polished, would give a general fresh appearance.

On the walls of the night nursery there should be a paper of a white ground, with sprays of pink rosebuds trailing all over it, and green leaves. The curtains to the windows should either be white dimity or chintz, the design rosebuds on white ground. Ivory-white paint, and a floor of polished wood, with large warm rugs in tones of pink and green at each side of the cots, and a very large hearth-rug in tones of pink and green in front, will combine well with the rest. The valances to the cots should be of the dimity or chintz. On each little bed should be laid an eider-down quilt of pink silk in centre, with border of apple-green. The furniture should be ivory-white.

General Advice on Colouring:—Light papers do not show dust so much as the darker kinds. In selecting papers, it is well to remember that they are to serve as backgrounds, and should not in themselves attract much attention.

The Book of the Home: An Encyclopaedia of All Matters Relating to the House and Household Management, Volume 1 by H. C. Davidson

Edwardian Housekeeping: Furnishing the Shooting-Box


Shooting party including King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra

The Edwardians had clothing for every hour of the day and every activity, and they also had houses suited for individual activities as well! Shooting-boxes were residences either owned or rented for the sole purpose of housing a party of people gathered for the shooting season. Some were small estates, and others–typically in Scotland–were of a more utilitarian style: merely a few bedrooms for guests and a sitting room. The following describes the suggested furnishing of a shooting box of the cottage variety.

I am going to devote this paper to the requisites of a country home such as a shooting-box or a quiet cottage. Messrs. Hampton have just completed an ideal fitment for a sitting-room of the kind, which is herewith illustrated; it is a most comfortable, liveable room, artistic and pretty withal. Note the fireplace and its inglenook. In the far north, even in September, there will be a competition for those benches, especially by the sportsmen back from their day’s work, and I am afraid a good many of them will fall comfortably asleep there. The beam forms a shelf where old pewter jugs and brass candlesticks and any old pottery handy might find an appropriate place. Modern oak or old oak could be displayed to advantage above the corner couch, a most comfortable resting-place with a novel, when the sun is too hot or the day’s labour completed.

A corner of a sitting room in a shooting-box

You can step out of the window in a moment, into the garden, and however much writing you may happen to have to do, you can enjoy the air and the sunshine at the practical bureau by the window. It has comfortable drawers for tho disposal of papers, and the feet sink into the Turkish carpet placed in front of it. The gate-table holds papers, books, and maybe a pipe or two that are wanted ready to hand, to say nothing of the flowers, without which no living-room can be perfect. The shape of the flower receptacles here set forth can be hardly too highly commended, for they hold plenty of water and keep the flowers fresh: a few go a long way. There is an ample bookcase at the side and a dresser for old or modern china; a cupboard below for stowing away anything that is needed. This would not be at all expensive to arrange. The floor might be covered with felt or even Indian matting. It is both excellent to look at and a thoroughly comfortable apartment, the rafter roof being not the least of its many charms.

At this well-known firm you may set yourself up with all kinds of treasures in the way of Nankeen porcelain, Sheffield plate, antique silver, old embroideries, laces, brocades, vestments, old Spanish embroidered pictures, French furniture of antique date covered with embroidery, ancient tapestries, and a wealth of old furniture of all periods. You may pay for them as liberally as such irreplaceable articles demand, but you may also find the requirements for a modest country home at very reasonable prices. I have been choosing there a number of odds and ends lately for such a purpose: a little corner table of carved oak with a flat top, twenty-one inches square when opened out, and twenty-eight inches high ; it costs under £1, but it is quite the joy of my life for the time being, and so is, a little round inlaid table, reproduction from an old model with a sixteen inch top, twenty-two inches high, which holds my flowers or a little bit of needlework.

It can be set by an easy-chair, with a wealth of books to select from in the lazy hours in which we all indulge at this time of the year. Their revolving bookcases, of all heights and all sizes, appeal to me especially. One, which revolves and has a sort of small round table rising out of the centre at the top, is set on four legs, which support a shelf at the bottom, most convenient for newspapers. Its total height is over forty-three inches, and it can be obtained for under a five-pound note. Some of them have two, some three, tiers of bookshelves, and they range from thirteen inches to four feet high, and the number of books they can stow away is simply marvellous; you can- have them circular, oblong, square, anything you like, and one thirty-four inches high has a nest of three drawers combined in it. I find it a perfectly delightful addition to a little country home.

Bedroom in a shooting-box

Throughout, the quality and artistic merit of their productions are unassailable, notwithstanding the really moderate prices. Cheap rubbish is dear at any price. Anyone wishing to furnish for a certain sum can do so, the estimates covering linen, china, cutlery, ironmongery, and kitchen requisites; and the firm forwards not only copious coloured illustrations, but a list of what they supply for each room. In furnishing for the country let me suggest a spinning-wheel chair and a grandfather clock as most desirable adjuncts.

I have in my mind’s eye a very comfortable dining-room, furnished by them, with a good Turkey carpet and oak furniture. The oak sideboard was particularly charming with a copper frieze let in at the back, cellarettes on either side surmounted by a drawer, a couple of drawers in the middle, with the knee-hole below, for bestowing bottles, the front being five-sided. The pretty oriel window of the room had a comfortable cushioned seat, covered with tapestry; the colouring throughout was most reposeful.

I am so glad to find that the canopy beds, which used to be purely French, have once more come into favour. They are very graceful, and they make it much easier to place a bed in the corner of the room. For the country, wicker-work chairs and ash-stained furniture are all that is needed. I am not thinking so much of a permanent residence as a home to which we flit when we can get away from town.

In sitting-rooms the chimneypiece is generally the chief structural feature, which consequently demands much attention; and it is astonishing how we have improved in their design of late years, while we are able to have what is beautiful without spending overmuch “siller.” For bedrooms there is nothing so cheap as the painted iron chimneypieces, for they are to be had as low as a guinea; but of course, if you are prepared to pay more money you may have pine with black grates, and tiles for the side, and black and brass grates and glass let in for the overmantels, or the overmantel may include pretty woodwork with receptacles for china. Old Adam’s patterns have been revived, and comfortable old hobs of long ago in cast iron.

— Ardern Holt, “The Home Beautiful”

Edwardian Housekeeping: Furnishing the Home


Methods of Furnishing

The Hire-Purchasing System, wherein the buyer paid for their furnishings on an installment plan (rather like Rent-a-Center).

The Stock Furnishing System, wherein the buyer took a list of what they wanted for each room, and purchased it all at once at a discounted rate.

The Craftsman’s System, wherein the buyer commissioned artist-craftsmen like C.R. Ashbee, C.F.A. Voysey, and others who owned their own workshops (typically aligned with the Arts and Crafts or Art Nouveau movements).

The Reproduction Method, wherein the buyer purchased inexpensive furnishings in popular styles and modes (Sheraton, Chippendale, etc)


A range and sink for preparing vegetables and washing-up purposes; the floor and walls are tiled where all the necessary part of the work is done. Dressers should be provided of ample size with good drawers and pot-board accommodation. There should, as well, be cupboards. Sinks must be of good size, preferably white coralled porcelain. Draining boards should be of a hard wood like teak…fitted with gun-metal pad plate bosses, screwed to plugs in the wall. The range should be so placed that it is lighted from the left-hand side.

Library Suite

“Most families would do well if they made this room [morning room] into a lounge where children could enjoy their hobbies…line the walls with bookcases, and put writing-tables in the bay-windows; you have then a library and a sitting room.”

Drawing Room

“Let it have a polished floor covered only with rugs; let the furniture be light and easy to move; and then, if friends come in after dinner, a little dance can be arranged in a few minutes. For this room [drawing room], surely, is for dancing, music, and happy talk–the joys of family life.”


The main necessaries in a modern bedroom: thorough ventilation at all hours of the day and night; fitments to do away with wardrobes and chests of drawers, so that room-space and air-space may not be wasted; a good position for the bed, not only away from the draught passing between window, door, and fireplace, but free from the early morning light. The foot of a bed should not face a window.

Hints on House Furnishings by Walter Shaw Sparrow

Illustrations from The Army & Navy Stores catalog. This co-operative society was founded in 1871 by a group of naval and army officers who decided wine was too expensive and posited that costs would decrease if they ordered it by the case at wholesale prices. The Army & Navy Co-operative Society restricted its membership to officers and non-commissioned officers, their families, and friends introduced by them, as well as officials of various service organizations and clubs. By the Edwardian era, the Army & Navy store was the place to be outfitted for journeys to Britain’s far-flung colonies–and it was the primary method for those living in colonial outposts to obtain foodstuffs, furniture, books, etc from “Home.” In Britain, the Army & Navy Stores made itself indispensable to its members, from assisting in moving to a new home to renting silverware and china for parties, and even to arranging funerals. They also had a very brisk trade in providing the houses and flats of the upper middle and upper classes (and some aristocrats too) with quality furnishing that looked as though it had been handed down from generation to generation.