The prime desire is to select a wallpaper that shall be in harmony with the main purpose for which the room itself is destined. You would not, for instance, think of mounting the same style of wallpaper on dining, living and bedroom walls alike. Let us take a typical early 1900 house, the original residence of a family belonging to the upper middle class. What rooms will it contain and how shall they be papered?
There will be an entrance hall, of course, dining room, living room, and morning room, master bedroom and two or three other bedrooms, a nursery probably, besides the kitchen and a bathroom. All will require papering, or re-papering at one time or another.
For the main rooms of the 1900 house, there are various alternative decorative methods available. Paint is one; marble-and-varnish another; a plain self-colored wallpaper is a third; whilst a patterned wall covering makes a fourth. All have their good points to recommend them, and each may possess the defects of its good qualities. You can use a virtual room painter to see what looks best beforehan
First we will consider paint. It may be said that if the hall be not a large one, and therefore, not of prime importance in the internal decorative scheme, paint, of some light but pretty tint (pale pink, cream or mustard yellow) will look well, and form a pleasant background to any flower vases, pictures, etc., that may be placed here. But you have always to remember that paint is but a single tint at best, and can suggest nothing at all to its surroundings. So, unless there are many brightly colored rugs to strew about and colorful flowers readily obtainable, plain paint is difficult to recommend.
Next we will consider marble-and-varnish. During the Victorian 1870s, or thereabouts, the marble-and-varnish effect was the one seen in the hall and passages of seven houses out of any ten, and nobody at that time seemed to think anything else was either possible or necessary. It had a neat, if cold, appearance, and that is about all that could be said for it, whilst it certainly made a smallish entrance look smaller still. This style of mural decoration can safely be dismissed from further consideration.
Next to come under discussion is the self-colored wallpaper, and to a certain extent the remarks made in regard to paint apply to this medium also. A wallpaper will always look a shade or two warmer than paint of the same tint, but otherwise there is not much difference between them beyond this -- that paint soils much the more easily of the two. So we may leave the self-toned wallpapers out of count as well.
There remains a "patterned" or printed wallpaper to consider. Now we will postulate in the first place that there are few or no pictures on the walls here, while there is a fairly large surface to be covered. Obviously what is needed is a printed wallpaper having a somewhat bold design in the brightest colors. The hall should, in our opinion, always be a part of the house that can be "sat in" on occasion and it should look comfortable consequently. Bright colors on the wallpaper are quite admissible, therefore, especially if the light be not too good. A handsome frieze looks well, too, though one would avoid a dado. But color, anyhow, and if possible something original in the way of a design, since first impressions count for much with visitors. One of the charming William Morris designs or Walter Crane wallpapers would give an admirable appearance here.
The beautiful "panel" wallpapers of the period are worth a special mention. A set of designs showing peacocks among flower blooms is an example of magnificent color scheme and treatment. Another example used during this time showed storks sailing down a white-grounded paper to alight upon the flowers beneath. Any house owner would have delighted to paper their hall with either.
Quite a different decorative effect is wanted for the dining room walls. Here you have a room set apart for a definite and distinctive purpose -- that of replenishing the inner man. No marked extraneous influence should be present to deflect him from that purpose. So the dining room wallpaper, while warm and cheerful, should contain nothing startling, nothing on the "showy" side, in either in color or design. A pleasant Indian theme relieved by an artistic wainscoting or dado looks as well as anything, especially if there be a few good pictures on the walls. If the room be a large one, a dullish pattern of scroll work in low coloring will look well. But in any case, there should be no outstanding feature in the design to distract attention from the serious business of eating that is the room’s purpose. Naturally, if the home has low walls, no dado will be needed, as this would make them appear lower still. The paintwork about this room should be in clear contrast to the paper.
Next in importance is the drawing or living room. Here the decorator may let himself go to any extent, provided cost is not a particular object to the client. Just as a subdued plain wallpaper is the thing required for the dining room, so for the living room a light, gracefully patterned and tinted wallpaper is the first choice. There are very many well-known and charming styles of living room wall coverings, many of them French in character. The "Empire" is one of the most pleasing, perennially popular alike for the grace of its outlines and the delicacy of its coloring. The pattern is too large, however, for any but a big room.
In a drawing room or living room of small dimensions a "Chintz" printed wallpaper will look extremely pretty, particularly so if the chair and ottoman coverings are of a pretty bright chintz pattern likewise. Pains will of course be taken to see that wallpaper and furniture coverings "tone" one with the other. Again, the invariable artistic rule must be studiously observed of mounting a wallpaper with a smallish pattern in a low-ceilinged room, or if "stripes" are employed these must be vertical and not horizontal. Paneled papers, of whatever kind, are only for very magnificently sized rooms.