History of Wall Panelling in Interior Design Periods


Early Stuart Interiors c.1603 - 1660

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arm and dignity boasts one upstairs room which still remains in all its original beauty. Another room downstairs has the same type of chimney-piece but it has been painted and has thereby lost its original clarity of design; also the oak panelling has gone.

The room upstairs, shown in the illustration, retains much of the tradition of the Elizabethan interior, in fact the only obvious differences by which it can be dated are the costumes worn by the Puritanical little figures introduced as caryatids in the design on the chimney-piece. These figures show unmistakable evidence that the chimney-piece was carved not earlier than 1630, possibly nearer 1640.

The whole room is oak panelled with small oblong panels set into a delicately moulded frame; the frieze is decorated with a small interlacing pot-hook design. The chimney-piece is obviously the main feature of the room and here the artist-carver has really let himself go, all his collected knowledge from the
antique has been introduced skillfully with his feeling for traditional Stuart interior design and contemporary ornament. The whole is, however, essentially English. The three arcaded wall panelling panels are intricately carved; the two side ones with be-flagged pediments supported on columns make a framework for flowers. The centre panel holds an urn of foliated growth. Each column supporting the egg and dart decorated arch is again carved with a leaf design and capped with Ionic capital. The four figures already described separate the panels. On the outside are two fauns, their arms upraised holding a small ornament, whilst the top is decorated with masks and looped dragons. These dragons appear in several of the houses in Worcestershire and Staffordshire and are considerably later in date than the majority of carved dragons elsewhere. This chimney-piece incorporates practically all the fashionable Stuart interior designs then in use, even to the strapwork panel  beside the fire opening, yet as a whole the pattern is so cleverly diffused by its quality of tone that it is neither too `busy' nor confused .

Contrary to the general belief that all old oak tends to blacken with time, the oak panelling in this little panelled room is still in its original state-a pale honey-grey tone. At no time in its history has it been spoiled by paint or varnish and the glow of three centuries of dusting has given to it a brightness in striking contrast with the majority of dark panelled rooms.
Many of the darker oak panelling rooms that we find now in old houses were, unfortunately, in the last century treated to several coats of stain, in some instances to protect them from rot, but more often than not with the mistaken idea that oak should blacken with time and that artificial darkening was more `romantic' than the rich warm grey of normally well-seasoned oak panelling.

The furnishing of the early Stuart interiors was still mainly oak panelling and furniture and fittings with, of course, such imported pieces as have been already described in the previous chapter. Decoration was lavish; the arcading and large bulbous legs and supports to such things as long tables, sideboards and four-poster beds were even more typical of this period than of the Elizabethan. Chairs were rather square and squat in shape-sometimes with upholstered seats; the first gate-leg table made its appearance about 1640. Carpets were rarely in use on the floor but were still much used as table coverings. Leather was used both for carpets and upholstery. Tapestries and wall coverings were hung in bedrooms and some of the smaller rooms, but oak panelling was by far the most popular type of wall-covering, even in the smaller house.
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