Decorating the early 1900’s home (Part One - Living Rooms & Bedrooms)

When it comes to finish materials, where do you go to find out what is truly period-appropriate for your vintage home?

While antique shopping in Oregon last summer, I found a book published in 1917 by an architect named L. Eugene Robinson, titled Domestic Architecture. The book was intended for homeowners who were remodeling or building homes at that time, and much of what was written is relevant for restoration or remodeling turn-of-the-century homes today.

Here are some highlights regarding interior finishes for living rooms and bedrooms:

Living Rooms

  • ..should be above all restful.” 
  • “colors should be dull and neutral” 
  • “Old ivory or cream white enamel of semi-dull finish on thewoodwork, oatmeal paper of light brown on the walls, light buff paper on the ceiling, and any good flooring with, perhaps, Oriental rugs...” 
  • “ is not well to slavishly hold to the color and tones of the scheme. If this is done, the effect will be monotonous, which is not restful. There should be judicious departures in color, chiefly in the furnishings, and especially in certain architectural features such as fireplaces, floors, and ornamental glass windows.” 
  • “As a rule, the gradation of color should be such that the ceiling is light, the frieze less light, the wall and wainscoting darker, and the floor darkest.” 
  • “A floor may be of very light wood, while the gradation of color starts dark at the base of the wall.” 


  • “...should have the quality of freshness regardless of the color scheme...” 
  • “While women usually prefer white, pink, blue or yellow rooms, men generally prefer brown, grey or green.” 
  • “Any color scheme that is not disturbing and that does not take on a dingy air may be satisfactorily developed.” 
  • “Wallpaper... is used almost to the exclusion of other materials...” 
  • “On sanitary grounds the painting of bedroom walls is preferable to papering.” 
  • “Woodwork...white or cream in color, firstly because it is neat, fresh and easily washed, and secondly because any bedroom set of furniture will conform to it.” 
  • “A very handsome treatment for a bedroom is to make the woodwork exactly like the bedroom set, of maple, walnut, mahogany, or any hard wood.” 
  • “Maple flooring is very satisfactory for bedrooms.” 
  • “For inexpensive treatments, white paint may be used on the wood trim, and gray paint on the floor. Sometimes, matting over a common floor proves very satisfactory.” 

(PART TWO  will cover kitchens, bathrooms, and porches.)