Decorative Style: The Most Original and Comprehensive SourceBook of Styles, Treatments, Techniques, and Materials


From Spanish baroque to High Victorian to Miami Deco, McCloud describes each style's ambience and presents a range of alternative colors and styling options that can transform the visual impact of a space. Over 1,000 photos.
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From Spanish baroque to High Victorian to Miami Deco, McCloud describes each style's ambience and presents a range of alternative colors and styling options that can transform the visual impact of a space. Over 1,000 photos.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671691424
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 10/1/1990
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 8.74 (w) x 11.30 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Table of Contents


Principles of Decoration

Getting ideas
Historical colors
Dividing wall space
Structural features
Using rhythm
Styles of lighting
Lighting, color & mood
Whole house treatments
Choosing & enjoying decoration

Style Directory

Moorish bedroom
Greco-Roman bathroom
Spanish Baroque bedroom
Byzantine bathroom

Neo-Classical hallway
French Empire study
Biedermeier bathroom
English Baroque parlor
Parisian bedroom
Rococo dining room
Colonial living room
Regency drawing room

Swedish stairway
French kitchen
New England living room
Santa Fe dining room
Farmhouse kitchen
Shaker parlor
Caribbean kitchen

Early English kitchen
Gothic Revival study
Medieval bedroom
Gothick bathroom

Tudor reception room
Florentine hallway
Delft dining room
Venetian studio

Collector's hallway
Scottish sitting room
Tiled bathroom
Adventurer's study
Australian balcony

Art Nouveau dining room
Arts & Crafts parlor
Mackintosh hallway
Italian conservatory

Savoy bedroom
Oriental living room
Miami Deco living room
Bauhaus study

Tools Materials & Techniques


Fitches & lining brushes
Brushes for softening & varnishing
Specialist brushes, rockers & rollers
Scrapers, spoons & other tools
Care of brushes

Pigments & homemade paints
Brand namepaints
Varnishes & glazes
Pastes & powders
Gilding materials

Plaster & stone
Decorating plaster
Natural wood
Decorating wood
Paper & card
Metal & special finishes
Glass & plastic

Simple decorative effects

Three-color colorwashing
Colorwashing wood
Scrubbed limewash
Softened glazework
Patterned glazework
Liming wood
Aging & antiquing
Aging paint on wood
Crackle glaze
Antiquing plasterwork
Aging plaster walls
Faux effects
Pietra serena
Terra cotta, plaster & lead
Iron & rust
Carrara & serpentine marble
Siena marble
Fossilstone marble
Clair bois
Graining with a brush
Graining with a rocker
Gilding -- metal leaf
Gilding -- metallic powder
Patinated gold
Stained glass
Painted pattern
Making stencils
Using stencils
Stencil effects
Using photocopies
Trompe l'oeil

Decorator's Reference

Pigments & colors
Paints, varnishes & solvents
Hints & tips
A list of terms & names
Guide to suppliers

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First Chapter

Chapter 1 Principles of Decoration

Getting Ideas

Since every room is different, each has its own starting point for decorating ideas. The quality of light varies from room to room, for reasons like the ceiling height and the number of windows. Some rooms may contain furnishings that you cannot fit anywhere else.

All these limiting factors are in fact departure points for creating a scheme. In the Style Directory you will see rooms that are in turn cluttered, sparsely furnished and that appear small and large. Each one makes a strong visual statement, which can sometimes mask a problem, or sometimes make a virtue out of necessity.

Transforming a room

I created a new decorative scheme for the sitting room in a late-nineteenth-century house, shown in the snapshot below. In the bottom right-hand corner of the facing page you can see how the style of this room was reinterpreted in the flavor of the Arts and Crafts movement of the time, taking into account some of the inspirational materials that appear on these pages.

Historical Colors When you are choosing a scheme to decorate, you may want to use period colors. Several companies produce special ranges of paints in "historical" colors but these are not always accurate. The manufacturers usually rely on analyses of paint scrapings, which can be misleading because over time pigments can change color. And, until this century, painters had no standard formulations for making up colors, and shades of a color often varied depending on the local materials used. So trying to match the exact subtle shade of what you think is an authentic color might well be a fruitless task! Instead, it is better to think of approximations and, as I often do in choosing paints, of colors that simply suggest a period. Here is some source material for historical colors (clippings, reproduction fabric and wallpaper) along with standard modern paint chips in similar colors.

Dividing Wall Space

Once some of the ideas for decorating your room have come together -- maybe a period atmosphere you want to convey, the level of formality you require, or a completed color scheme -- start thinking about how you are going to articulate the wall Space that you have before you.

A wall is like an empty canvas, which can be treated in any number of ways for different effects. Even though walls are fiat, and the most usual treatment of them is two-dimensional, the overall effect of the wall decoration is much more powerful than that of floors or ceilings. This is because walls wrap around a room, enclosing the space between them. By manipulating the wall space, using division, color and line as your tools, you can alter the character of a room.

Historically, walls have been subject to a number of horizontal divisions such as cornices and dado rails. These can be used separately or together, in similar or complementary colors to the wall, for different effects. The dado (the area between a baseboard and dado rail) is the place to make grand statements by using colors, textures and patterns that are different to the upper wall.

Floors and ceilings

When planning how to decorate the walls, think also about the floor and ceiling. The floor color can work in tandem with the wall color, either complementing or strengthening its effect, or it can be an entirely different color, and act independently in the scheme.

Ceilings can also "float" independently from other structures in a room, although the color of a ceiling can affect both the room's apparent height and lightness.

Structural Features

Period moldings help to structure a wall and enrich the decoration of a room. If you have a home in which cornices, friezes, dado rails or baseboards have been partly ripped out during modernization, then a local lumber mill will often match your existing moldings and make up an exact quantity of "specials" for you.

Starting afresh

If your home has no authentic features left to restore (or they are beyond repair), simply use moldings that are commercially available, where necessary combining them to imitate more complicated period moldings. Not only is this cheaper than having specials run up, it can also be just as effective.

All the room slices in the Style Directory were put together using materials and moldings that were currently available from lumber and building suppliers.

Historically, there has been a finite number of molding patterns used in Western interior decoration. These have changed only in their scale and combination from one period to the next.

Modern manufacturers produce most standard period moldings in many different sizes, which allows you to choose elements to suit your room. Some moldings, with cross-sections, are shown here.

Using Rhythm

The most underrated technical effect available when decorating, is visual rhythm, which can bounce some life into a room. Its use provides a rich vein to be tapped, and one that has been neglected too long, since enriched decoration fell from grace in the early part of the twentieth century.

At its simplest, rhythmic decoration can be two symmetrically placed windows in a room, which you decide to dress up and show off, or it might be two matching mirrors placed in a prominent and symmetrical position. This has a visually satisfying effect because it defines and emphasizes the space between and on either side of the two features.

Repeated images

At its most complicated and diffused, rhythm can be seen in wallpapers and fabrics, sending off little repeats in all directions. Images or motifs, repeated so that they pulse around a room, set up an obvious rhythm and act as a meter by which all the components of the room can be judged. The strength of its impact depends on the scale of the images you use and the number of repeats in relation to the size of the room.

Horizontal rhythms

Sometimes, as in the examples opposite, the most obvious and exciting rhythms are those that run in just one direction, horizontally around the room. Their energies are not dissipated and they follow the architecture of the room. They are also all placed at cornice height so the repeated motifs can be clearly seen and do not become confused with any other decoration in the room. It is important that furniture, wallhangings and people do not get in the way of the flow of the pattern, or the rhythm will cease.

Styles of Lighting

There are two ways in which you can make artificial lighting work for you. The first is to double up on light sources, by fitting, for example, wall lights and table lamps - as many as possible. The second is to fit several separate circuits in a room so that, at the most, only two lamps occupy a single circuit. For simplicity, all the lights should be controllable from a wall-mounted switch and each circuit fitted with a dimmer switch, so you can choose where and exactly by how much to illuminate your room.

You can also experiment with ways of adapting natural light, for example by partially covering a window with muslin or oiled paper to screen bright sunlight, or soften harsh winter light.

Types of artificial light

The range of electric lighting available for the domestic market is enormous. Traditional, incandescent bulbs are now making way for all kinds of new and small fluorescent bulbs and "daylight" quality tubes. Your choice of artificial light can affect the color of your room. Standard tungsten bulbs, for example, cast a warm yellowish light, while "daylight" bulbs cast a harder, colder light.

Lighting, Color & Mood

The most common assumptions made about the colors of rooms are misleading. For example, the most light-reflective and cheerful colors are not just pale peach and apricot, as is popularly believed, but also bright yellow and lavender blue. If you try to modulate the atmosphere of a scheme simply by lightening its color, you run the risk of introducing more light at the expense of the setting's character.

Before choosing a color, consider whether you spend more time in a room by day or in the evenings. Most color schemes look good under artificial lighting. If your problem is a dingy room by day, try adding mirrors and complementary colors (see p.336) before you consider using a pale color scheme.

In the setting shown on these pages, the brown version (below) is most arcane and interesting. By day it is less light-reflective (bottom), but the color responds well to daylight and makes the room seem warm and inviting. The pale scheme (right and far right), on the other hand, is less appealing by day, when it seems relatively cold and lifeless, but at night, by candlelight, it becomes magical.

Whole House Treatments

Decorating should be fun land enjoyable. It does not always involve major restructuring, nor should it, since in every sense of the word it is a superficial activity. All the room sets in this book are broad interpretations of styles from different countries and periods. They are not historical documents, and each one could look at home in half a dozen different types of house of different ages. If you decorate with a sense of fun, you will appreciate this.

Developing a theme

But how can you take an idea that you like for one room, and then decorate the whole house? What will give your home an identity that can assume different guises in different rooms?

The need for this variation is obvious, since we are different people when we are entertaining, to when we are in private rooms such as the bathroom or bedroom, to when we come home from work: and accordingly we make different demands on our environment. But equally, homes are single dwelling units, and far too many people decorate their homes as though the rooms were hermetically sealed and independent of each other.

On these pages are shown the three thematic principles to bear in mind when decorating a whole house, namely color, materials and period. Using just one of them as a criterion will help you formulate a look for the inside of your house that should have some integrity. If you are able to use all three together, and make all the rooms conform by color, materials and period, your home will grow in character even more.

Period homes

Decorating a period house can be fraught with crises of conscience. Is what you are doing right for the period of the building? Are you using the correct materials and colors? Or if what you are doing is not authentic, only interpretive, does it respect the fabric and character of the building?

How to decide

These questions are valid to some extent, particularly in valuable old houses. But decorating is a private activity and its aim is personal enjoyment; it has always reflected the tastes of individuals, not public bodies, and it should remain so. The most important consideration facing anyone decorating a period home is not what should or should not be added, but what should or should not be taken away.

The answer is to remove as little as possible of the original structure because whatever is added to a building in terms of moldings and paint is reversible, but original features, once ripped out, cannot easily be replaced. The domestic vandalism of many nineteenth-century homes during the 1950s and 1960s has meant that what is now being replaced is often inaccurate and out of tune with what was probably there originally.

Choosing & Enjoying Decoration

I hope that you find the Style Directory to be a useful source of inspiration for rich and exciting decorative treatments. All the components of each treatment are analyzed so you can select either the complete scheme or particular features of it for your own room. I suggest various ways to style the look and show how optional colorways will look for walls, floors, furniture and fabrics.

Decorating for yourself

A great deal of satisfaction can be drawn from learning the decorating skills necessary to complete your own scheme. You will find them all in the second half of the book where there is detailed coverage of every technique used as well as the tools and materials you will need.

For quick reference, there are tables on pages 324-31 which show you the composition, properties and uses of the various types of paint, varnish and pigment used in the book. Some techniques require you to mix your own paints (or adapt manufactured ones), and recipes are given on pages 332-3. This is followed by advice on buying and storing materials, and tips on calculating quantities. Terms used in the book are briefly explained on pages 336-9 and finally there is a list of useful suppliers of tools and accessories.

Text copyright © 1990 by Kevin McCloud

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2000

    Outstanding SourceBook

    Great book to use for brainstorming, creating, and completing a home project. The information about painting and guilding techniques is first rate and easy to use.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 1999

    What you need to know is here.

    This book has all the answers,and shows you things that you never thought of asking. You won't believe the difference it makes in your house. Buy it, it's great just to browse through.

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