It can be interesting to imagine what your home interior might have looked like 25, 50, 100 years ago. Thankfully, many design books and catalogs have been digitized and so are available online for anyone curious about the topic.
When you begin searching through digitized resources and archives, make sure to check out your local library or historical society. Online collections can be helpful as well – so check out the Library of Congress, the Internet Archive, and the Hathi Trust Digital Library and others that are available.
The information below comes from materials and booklets printed in the 1900s-1950s. Please keep in mind modern painting procedures and safety regulations that may not have been around when the information below was printed. Check out our Painting Your Old House page for more information about painting your home today.
The following text and images come from Artistic Interiors for Homes produced in 1909 by the National Lead Company.
Color has the power to alter the apparent proportions of a room. Red contracts, blue and yellow expand. Green, unless very dark, has little effect upon the room, keeping the walls, as decorators say, well in place. Tan, gray, blue and pink have the effect of adding space, while brown, unless very light, has the same quality as green.
To the majority of people, green is restful, red stimulating and blue depressing; but under certain conditions, these colors may have quite a different effect. Blue when combined with green or certain tones of yellow is anything but depressing, while red, if placed in a dark room, will so absorb the light as to make a room positively gloomy. Green holds its own, but is warm or cold according to the proportion of blue or yellow of which it is composed.
Pure yellow is the most sunshiny color in existence and is far more satisfactory in a north room than red.
After the color for a room has been decided comes the question of treatment. The beauty of a plain wall needs no emphasis. Highly figured walls are fatiguing and the eye soon wearies of them. In rooms where there are pictures and bric-a-brac a figured wall is often very confusing. It is, therefore, with relief that we turn to the restful, quiet effect of plain walls.
While it must not be thought that the color harmonies suggested in these pages are entirely unsuitable for figured effects in the wall decorations, it will be seen that a variety of charming schemes can be obtained by the use of plain colors and that on the whole they are more desirable in a home than figured effects. The plain colors contribute the restful atmosphere so essential in our homes, particularly in these days of restless activity. Quiet surroundings tend toward the simplifying of life.
Different surfaces require different treatment. Soft woods drink in paint easily; it has to be forced into hard woods. Some turpentine is needed, and less oil, in the latter case. Old wood requires different treatment from new unpainted wood, and brick needs different paint from either. Variations in temperature also call for variations in paint. These are only a few of the differing conditions which a painter meets, and the skilled workman never thinks of mixing his paint until he has examined the surface to be painted.
Plate No. 2, Living-Room