Furniture Styles

Furniture > European > English > Decorating > Wall Treatment Ideas, Wallpaper & Panelling

Wall Treatment Ideas, Wallpaper & Panelling

The success of all schemes of decoration depends on knowing how to begin and where to stop, and in treating any room there are several important points that demand thought. The room's aspect, size, and shape, as well as the furniture ultimately to be used, must be considered.

Wall Treatments

In small rooms the walls should be regarded primarily as a background for the furniture, and plain treatments make the most satisfactory settings. Decoration should be broad in effect, not tortured by ornament and design that is extraneous and without bearing on the general scheme. The patterned paper frieze of the eighteen nineties and the ceiling rose of ill-modelled plaster are typical examples of unnecessary ornament.

Wall Design by Philip Webb, 1861
Wall Design by Philip Webb, 1861.
This beautifully coloured design shows the whole treatment of one wall.

There are certain ideas that may be applied to the planning of colour schemes for simple rooms, and there are many conventions imposed by bad taste that require elimination. These can be reviewed before any examples of living-room treatments are discussed.


The custom of painting the dado and the woodwork of a room in contrasting colours to the walls should be discouraged. Generally speaking, woodwork may be painted either dark brown or ivory white.

No ceiling should be dead white in colour, and the blue tone dear to the heart of the ordinary painter and decorator is a depressing hue and one to avoid. A little raw sienna or umber should be mixed with the white distemper, producing in the ceiling a slightly warm shade.

1730 Parlour Interior
1730 Parlour Interior designed by James Gibbs.
Ceiling of moulded plaster, with panels painted in oil on plaster; overmantel, doorcases and doors of painted pine; dado rail, modern skirting and windows.


The actual treatment of walls is seldom difficult, and attractive effects may be attained with distempered papers. A very good method is to use distemper, then size and finish with a coat of varnish, flat or glossy as desired. This produces an easily-cleaned surface, and is far cheaper than having a painted room; but the varnish used must be transparent and of the very best quality. Walls that are at all old should be lined with a plain lining paper before they are painted or distempered.

1910, The Decorative Use of Wallpaper
1910, The Decorative Use of Wallpaper.
A cut-out floral frieze and borders have been applied to a paper described as "a simple diaper in satinette", framing each section of the bedroom wall. The ceiling border is Anaglypta, a popular kind of embossed wall-covering of the period, often used to imitate plaster mouldings, cornices and other features.

If wallpaper is decided on, it is best plain, but jaspe and chintz papers are very pretty in bedrooms. The florid and unrestful patterns that are made in such large quantities threaten to make the selection of a good design increasingly difficult, and as the standard of taste declines in the manufacture of wallpapers the popularity of distemper will increase.

Wall Panelling

Panelling may be simulated by the application of mouldings on the walls ; but it should always be planned with regard to existing pictures and furniture. Many rooms are ruined by the bad proportion of their lines, and dados are often of the wrong height. It is far better for a dado to be too low than too high. In an average room, ten feet in height, the skirting should be about three or four inches, and the dado should not exceed two feet three inches.

Next: Architectural Decoration for Rooms.

Copyright © 2004-12 International Styles
All Rights Reserved