I like reading contemporary shelter magazines, but they seldom offer any advice for one of my central decorating dilemmas: how to integrate the front Federal part of my home with the rear Victorian addition (never mind the kitchen from the 1920s and other architectural details from that “renovation” scattered around the house). So I thought I’d browse (digitally) through some “house beautiful” books from the later nineteenth century, to see if they could offer any tips or inspiration. There are lots available on the Internet Archive, but (apart from Edith Wharton’s writing style) I didn’t find them very inspiring, or nearly as interesting as the trade catalogs of the same era. It seems like much of the Winterthur Library’s collection of these publications is now available in digital formal. These catalogs range from mere brochures to actual decorating books, published by wallpaper, fabric, paint, carpet, and furniture companies for both wholesale and retail customers, I suppose. I’m sure that I’m far from the first to recognize that they must be an extremely valuable resource for charting changing styles.
Below are a couple of plates from Suggestions for Modern Interior Decoration, published by the Henry Bosch wallpaper company of Chicago and New York in 1906. The entire book consists of plates of interior vignettes, followed by appropriate wallpaper samples; here’s a very Arts & Crafts sitting room with entrance hall in the background.
Next, the cover and “Boston Room” of the 1917 Home Decorations Book published by the Star Peerless Wallpaper Mills, manufacturers of “Black Cat Wallpapers” for the home. The Boston Room is of course in an understated “colonial” style. For a stark contrast, I’ve jumped forward several decades, to the eve of World War II, and a very dynamic bedroom in the 1939 catalog of the Celotex Corporation, Interiors with Beauty, Comfort and Quiet. Quite an interesting combination of colors there; not very quiet.
Paint companies, including Sherwin-Williams and Glidden, really ran with the “decorating catalog” concept before and after World War One. A 1910 billiard room demonstrated “handicrafted effects” from Sherwin-Williams Your Home and its Decoration, and (again for contrast) two decades later a very bright (and much less crafty) living room appears in The Home of To-Day (1930). For a post-war view, I’ve also included a colorful bathroom from Glidden’s 1946 catalog, The Key to Color Harmony in Your Home. This book really recommends the color combination of aqua, pink and brown, and not only for bathrooms.
Back to a browner age. My last two images don’t really fit in with those above–rather than interior vignettes offering decorating advice as well as goods they are examples of more standard advertising–but the lithography is so striking I wanted to include them. Below are two pages from the undated Album of Maine’s Atkinson House Furnishing Company, established in 1884 and “the only in the US doing business under a special contract system and Installment Plan”: the exterior of its main Portland store and the interior sales floor, an actual corporate interior.