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edwardian housekeeping

Edwardian Housekeeping: Choosing a Color Scheme

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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

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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: The Ideal Nursery

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edwardian day nursery

Light for the Nursery

Baby is at last counted worthy to share with its elders the advantages of all the health-giving devices of the twentieth century, and the deplorable remark, ” What a pity to turn this fine room into a nursery! ” is now but rarely heard. This is as it should be, for it is as impossible to rear fine, healthy children in dark, airless rooms as it is to rear healthy plants in out-of-the way corners, inaccessible to sun and air.

No matter whether engaged in the momentous task of preparing the nursery for its first tiny occupant, or whether it is already overflowing with little olive-branches, see, at all events, that the aspect and position of this all-important room is as good as it can be.

The Aspect

Never mind which way the spare room faces, or how many steps lead up to it, but choose a south or south-west aspect for the children; for, no matter how costly and hygienic the fittings, a sunless room facing north will never make a healthy nursery. The excuse is made sometimes that a sunny room is too hot in summer, and makes its youthful inmates pale and listless. This is certainly the case. But our English summers are, alas! too short; and even if the nursery cannot be changed during the heat, at all events some other room can often be temporarily given up, or, best of all, the children kept in shade and shelter out in the open air.

If it can be managed, the nursery ought not to overlook the street – a quiet room is very necessary – and never be persuaded to ” sky the little ones. Have you ever noticed that in hundreds of homes the window-bars that denote the position of the nurseries are often on the highest story, in order to banish childish voices and restless feet as much as possible?

Now, rooms at the top of a house are often less lofty, have smaller windows, gain additional heat and cold from proximity to the roof, and last, but not least, receive all the used-up air from the lower rooms, because heated, impure air rises. Cramped nursery quarters are very undesirable.

The Necessity Of Ventilation

The size of a room for a nurse and one child should not be less than fourteen or fifteen feet square, and eleven or twelve feet high. Where this is quite unattainable, take extra precautions to ensure good ventilation. Pure air, fresh air, is as important for children as food. True, they may live in vitiated air that has been breathed in and out and contaminated by other human beings, but only at the expense of mental and physical health. Well-ventilated rooms are easily secured in quite simple ways.

Firstly, there must be an open chimney in the room, for this acts as a most efficient ventilating shaft. Therefore, the register must never be closed, or the chimney blocked in any way. Secondly, direct that the upper sashes of the windows are left open night and day – and see the order is carried out. If the weather is too inclement or there is any special reason against doing this, have ready for such an emergency a piece of wood the width of the window and about four inches deep.

Open the lower sash, fit in the piece of wood, shut the window down on to it, and a space will be left between the upper and lower sashes in the vicinity of the fasteners through which the outer air will rise without draught. Never imagine that fresh air means draughts through badly-fitting windows and ill-laid floors. If these exist, tack the india rubber tubing made for the purpose, and costing but a few pence per yard, under the doors, etc., and fill cracks in the floor with putty or cement.

Nursery windows should be protected by outside iron bars, for children simply love to look out, and in no other way can their safety be ensured. Supposing bars are not possible for some reason, hammer a strong nail into the window frame above the lower sash, so that it cannot be raised more than about six inches. The most hygienic plan is to have the nursery windows free from blinds, as, with the exception of the Venetian variety, they all exclude air, and the latter, alas! are veritable dust-traps unless constantly washed.

Still, it is convenient to be able to screen the windows at times, in order to soften the light or make the room cosy in winter; so soft casement cloth curtains, in tints to harmonise with the room, are often used, for they wash perfectly, and only need to be plainly ironed.

The Ceilings And Walls

A few years ago whitewashed ceilings were thought good enough for anybody, but baby nowadays has his painted in white or pale cream enamel, washable distemper, or covered with white washable paper. If, however, the old method is preferred, the whitewashing should be done every spring. Ceilings and walls give wide scope for artistic and original ideas, as long as the rule that ideal nurseries must be washable throughout is always remembered. Perhaps the greatest favourite for nursery-wall coverings is some form of washable distemper, or enamelled paint in pale tints, with decorative bands or friezes of paper made in designs of quaint figures, animals, birds, etc., affording the youngsters something bright and entertaining to look at during meals or rainy days.

If liked, washable papers illustrating nursery rhymes, etc., can be used instead of the self-coloured paint or distemper; but they do not make a restful background, and need to be purchased from good firms, or the designs and colourings injure, instead of educate, the children’s perception of colour and form. In some nurseries the dado is made of pretty oilcloth, fastened to the wall with a dado rail above of a darker contrasting colour. This scheme is simple, costs little, is very strong, and easily kept clean.

The Important Question Of Floors

What shall our babies walk and crawl on is another absorbing question. Try a good cork carpet with a pattern (not self-coloured, as these show the dust too much). It is warm, wash-able, strong, and pretty, and affords no resting-place for the dust fiend. A few washable cotton rugs in blue and white or other colourings can be laid down here and there, but care must be taken that children do not trip over them.

Baby’s Furniture

There is still a tendency to relegate large, old, cumbersome pieces of furniture to the nursery, either because it is roomy and comfortable, or because it has become a sort of nursery heir-loom; but it is doubtful if either reason is sufficiently good to justify their presence in valuable space that ought to be occupied by air. So far as comfort goes, nothing can beat the modern nursery furniture now procurable from many good firms. Simplicity is the rule, and furniture of best quality is made in plain oak or stained wood, for painted and highly polished surfaces too soon show the wear and tear of nursery customs.

Rounded corners to everything are necessary for sharp-pointed edges have resulted in many a serious cut and scar. Supposing the furniture now in use is of the latter description, a cabinet-maker will very soon remedy the danger. Miniature nursery tables, chairs, etc., are very popular. They are made in wood or cane, and are more comfortable and safer than high tables and chairs.

A cosy, broad sofa is an invaluable possession in the nursery. An aching head or bruised limb can be petted on it so well without keeping the child in bed, and it provides a too quickly-growing boy or girl with means of obtaining the necessary rest, not to mention its Splendid capacity for acting as a “ship,” “train, “desert island,” etc. A toy cupboard of some description is essential, or the nursery can never be called ideal. The shelves ought to be low enough to be within easy reach of the children. Not only does it help to keep the nursery tidy, but it is also a never-ending source of delight to the chicks; for is it not their very own, in which they can hoard unchecked the hundred and one treasures that unfeeling nurses are apt to catalogue as rubbish?

A toy table is considered a very great treasure. It may easily be fashioned at home. There must be an edge round to prevent marbles, etc., rolling off; it must be low enough for the children to be able to sit at it on the floor with their feet under it. It should have castors, so that it can be easily pushed about, and it must be sufficiently strong to bear the child, who will inevitably use it as a seat.

One of the latest and most successful additions to the nursery is a sort of sheep-fold, in which baby can crawl about without injury to himself or worry to a busy nurse or mother. A crawling-mat made of thick, soft material, on to which are appliqued animals and birds cut out of some bright-hued scraps, is also very useful. Babies simply love to roll and crawl on these mats, and hold contented converse with the zoological specimens adorning their surface.

Nurse, on her part, will demand a big cosy chair, in which she can cuddle and pet her small charges, a lock-up medicine cupboard to fix on the wall, far from the reach of any inquisitive fingers, and a reliable clock, but not one that strikes or has one of those aggravatingly aggressive ticks.

A very high fireguard is an absolute necessity, and one that covers the grate right over is excellent, for children seem to find anything to do with fire irresistibly attractive. If liked, an outside rail may be affixed to the guard, on which a few little garments may be warmed; but on no account allow the nursery to be used as a laundry or drying-room, for this practice, beloved by inexperienced nurses, renders the air steamy and unwholesome. Besides this there is the danger from fire. Food should never be stored in the nursery, but the nurse will want a simple dresser-like cupboard in which to keep a tin of biscuits and a few other items, as well as the children’s own special cups, plates, table-linen, and so forth.

Unless a place is provided for these, it is unreasonable to expect an orderly nursery. A few good pictures on the walls have a real educational value. Crudely-coloured and badly-drawn prints, etc., should never be permitted, for they do untold harm by wrongly forming the child’s idea of art and beauty.

In conclusion, the ideal artificial light for the ideal nursery is electric light; but if this is unattainable, provide wall-lamps with metal reservoirs – not glass or china – and a safety apparatus for extinguishing the flame if the lamp overturns. Use the best oil, and have the lamp fixed in a strong holder on the wall out of the children’s reach. Gas, though clean and most convenient, vitiates the atmosphere, and is therefore most harmful for the children’s room.

Do not allow many plants or flowers in the nursery. Above all, they should not be placed in the window where they obstruct the light and air. A few geranium cuttings or a pot of musk provide interest and amusement, and the unfolding of a new leaf or a blossom gives instruction in simple plant life, but a nursery should never be crowded with growing things. The children’s health is the most important consideration of all, and anything which prevents free circulation of the air is deleterious. Never allow anything in the way of rubbish to accumulate.

Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia v1