The complete guide to a decorative scheme for a Goan home

The complete furnishing of the rooms of a Goan house is partially a practical and partly a decorative matter. This should be kept in mind, because so many schemes are marred by colours, materials or furniture which do not suit the purpose of the room. If the strings are not right from a functional point of view they will not look right.
A room with inappropriate decorations and furniture will not only look wrong, it will be uncomfortable and often the cause of much waste time and work in cleaning it. So before planning schemes of decoration and furnishing, the room should be studied in the light of its use to ensure that what is proposed to do will be functionally satisfactory.
Each room should form a complete decorative scheme so that furniture and decorations are not in disagreement. It is not always possible to have a free hand in building, decorating and furnishing a house, but at least the best can be made of the rooms and furniture we have.


A new house obviously gives the widest scope for schemes of decoration and furnishing, assuming that new furniture is to be bought to suit the rooms and the requirements of the occupier.
Consideration should be given to the general style of the house. If it is in a traditional style of a definite period, such as the popular Portuguese style that has prevailed for a long time in Goa, the same style of furnishing and decoration may be the most satisfactory. But contemporary methods and designs are not necessarily inappropriate in a traditional house as long as there is no marked discord between the house and its interior treatment.
A house which is contemporary and purely functional in style calls for furniture and interior decoration in the contemporary manner. A few period touches can be introduced, but period schemes do not look well in a purely contemporary setting. This applies especially when the furniture is merely old-fashioned. In the fresh, plain and strongly lit rooms of a contemporary house, furniture which is fussy and heavy and schemes of decoration which are too ornamental, look very much out of place. But this is not to say that a few carefully chosen period pieces of furniture ornament are wrong in such a setting. Indeed, they may look very well against a plain background of a contemporary room.


Old Goan houses can be divided into two types: interesting architectural character and those which are mainly rather old and have no character in the best sense. In the case of the period house the character is often worth preserving and restoring and may be enhanced by appropriate decoration and furniture. A typical Tudor cottage seen in many parts of Goa needs very different treatment from a old Portuguese home which is either an eyesoar or merely characterless. Many old houses are dark with smaller window area than is acceptable today. The aim should be to decorate these houses mainly in light colours so that what daylight there is can be reflected from walls and ceilings and even from the floors.
The furniture, too, should be rather light in colour. Dark colours absorb light and proportion to their relative darkness, and light absorbed is lost. White surfaces reflect about 84% of the available light, dark brown only 16%. The difference between an old room with dark wallpaper and floor covering and the same room with light toned decorations and floor covering is very striking and it is a mistake to condemn an old house as being hopelessly dark because the walls and floor are of dark colours.
An old house can be transformed by new decorations, but as the walls, ceilings and floors are often in poor condition the problem of sound surfaces should be tackled first. It is a waste of money to apply new paint or wallpaper to damp walls on decayed plaster. The surfaces need not be perfectly smooth and regular but they must be sound and dry. Never try to cover defective services with paint or paper; if this is done the trouble will soon appear again and costly decorations will be ruined. An old house without any architectural character gives scope for imaginative treatment. Generally it is better to treat the interior in an frankly contemporary manner, without going to startling extremes to which the windows doors and other features would not lend themselves.
If old rooms are to be decorated and furnished in the style of a traditional period, the shape and features of the rooms should lend themselves fairly easily to the selected style. The characteristic features of the traditional styles are described later in this article and when these are understood it will be seen that a room with a high ceiling and symmetrical features lends itself well to treatment in the typical Goan style. A low ceiling room with irregular features is difficult to treat in that style but it lends itself well to the Tudor, Elizabethan or Jacobean styles popularly seen across Goa.
It is a mistake to overload a room with traditional detail and ornament. The effect is fussy and restless. With ordinary small rooms the effect will be much better if the traditional treatment is that you would find in a genuine room of the period.
Imitation must be good if it is to look convincing. The use of thin planed boards to represent oak beams is poor imitation which arouses very different feelings from those given by the adzed oak beams of the past. If you want to show the timber, one beam of real oak, adzed in the old way, will look better than a dozen stained deal boards nailed to the ceiling.


The use of the word contemporary as a name for the purely modern, non-traditional, style of architecture, furniture and decoration is fairly well understood. It may not be the best name for such a style, since it merely means the style of today. The important thing is to understand the main aims and features of the style or manner of design.


Functional is a word often used in describing one aspect of contemporary design. It has been in use longer in this connection than the word contemporary and it is intended to describe the severely practical basis which underlies design today. Function, however, is not the whole of contemporary design and there is an increasing tendency to relieve the drab unimaginative effect of the merely practical room with colour, new imaginative shapes and even with hand-wrought ornament.
Our attitude to truly contemporary design must be ultrammelled by tradition, though it must be remembered that every traditional style was once new, daring and imaginative, and reveals general principles which are inherent in all design. A good knowledge of traditional design is very useful to the modern designer and decorator, even if he entirely rejects it in contemporary work.
Functional design is based firstly on the practical purpose of the object, building or room. Obviously this has always been important if just as important people in the Tudor age and the Georgian age as it is to us in this new modern era of decor. But until the latter half of the 19th century almost everything in and about a house or the building was handmade. Today almost everything is machine made. The difference is sure to be very great.
The decline in taste and practical convenience which marked the Victorian house was due to a failure to take advantage of the new machine methods and also to the production by hasty hands of furniture and the use of architectural detail based on the traditional styles of architecture and ornament. As a result, houses became more and more inconvenient, labour wasting and pretentious, for most of them were based on the old Gothic styles, or even on styles derived from Gothic church architecture, rather than from the domestic architecture appropriate to that period. There are a few exceptions. Here and there houses were designed with some regard to convenience and comeliness but everywhere machine methods were ignored, while the standard of hand craftsmanship steadily declined.
It was not until the second quarter of the present century that architects, interior decorators and furniture designers as a whole turned to modern materials and machine methods of production and gave them characteristic expression in design.


The contemporary attitude to design releases the designer from the narrow groove of traditional limitation followed by his predecessors. Where modern materials such as aluminium and plywood used to be disguised or hidden, because there was no traditional precedent for the use, they are now gladly revealed and their nature is expressed in design.
The functional basis of house design and interior decoration calls for a frank acceptance of two things: the practical purpose or use of the room and its furniture, and the use of the most appropriate materials. In modern schemes nothing is hidden because it is practical and nothing is disguised because it is modern. Everything from a screw-head to a sheet of asbestos is revealed and used as a part of the design. Even if you prefer traditional materials and patterns you should appreciate the fact that good contemporary interiors contains no shams. In imitation traditional interiors it is very difficult, indeed impossible to avoid shams entirely.
The design of the contemporary interior, therefore, starts with the consideration of the use of the room. The equipment and furniture is then selected or designed to suit this use, and the decorations are designed as a background.
The two rooms which give the designer the best opportunities from a purely functional viewpoint are the kitchen and the bathroom. It is not surprising that rooms are often the most successful as modern interiors, and they offer a striking contrast to the kitchens and bathrooms of the earlier years of the 20th century. There is a general agreement that in these rooms at least the purely functional approach to design is by far the best, so that even in houses carefully designed on traditional period lines the kitchens and bathrooms are purely functional and contemporary.
The success of these rooms in most modern houses and re-equipped old houses is largely due to the excellent standard kitchen cupboards and sink units, and the equally good sanitary equipment which is now available at reasonable prices.


The functional interior treatment of walls, ceilings and floors demands plain, smooth easily cleaned surfaces. These are provided in modern buildings by definition of walls and ceilings with gypsum-type plasters, which are rather dense and easily brought to a smooth, even finish; also by the use of sheet material of many kinds, including sheet plastics; and by a range of paints, applied finishes and wallpapers, which are suitable for varying conditions and have a wide variety of colours and shades. For floors there are many new materials which are offered in new colours and patterns, in addition to the traditional boarded floors and clay quarry tiling.
Paints and other decorative finishes are dealt with a little later, but we can usually describe here the opportunities which various materials offer in decorative schemes. From the functional viewpoint it should be noted that materials and finishes are either matte or glossy finish, and they are either exorbitant or impervious. There are intermediate characteristics, such as the semi-gloss finish, and the dense but not quite impervious material. A practical point arising from this is the effect of the surface on condensation. Where moisture is present in the atmosphere, and it is desired to avoid condensation of this moisture on wall or ceiling surfaces, an absorbent surface backed by material of low or medium density should be used. As such a surface that is warmer than a dense one it will reduce condensation and as it is absorbent a certain amount of moisture will be taken up without showing surface droplets. But there is always a saturation point beyond which an absorbent material will hold no more, so in a bathroom you must accept a certain amount of condensation with an absorbent wall lining. A dense, glossy surface encourages condensation, as it tends to be colder and is impervious, so that condense atmospheric moisture cannot be absorbed. But where heavy condensation is inevitable there is much to be said in favour of such a surface because the water can be wiped off, and it cannot damage a surface such as glazed tiles, plastics or glass.
Glossy surfaces are generally easier to keep clean; they absorb less light than matte surfaces, but they have a colder look. They are appropriate in kitchens and bathrooms and lavatories but matt surfaces look warmer and more attractive in living rooms generally. The combination of matt wall surfaces with glossy or semi-glossy doors and other wood work is, however, satisfactory, one acting as a contrast to the other.
Matt, semi-loss and eggshell surfaces can be cleaned provided that the surface is stable and does not rub off. Emulsion paints and washable distempers can be cleaned with a damp cloth, which should be frequently dipped in clean water and wrung out, to avoid smearing marks over the surface. Wallpapers can be cleaned by gentle rubbing with stale bread. The surfaces are not as easily cleaned as gloss or eggshell paint and other hard materials, but with periodic cleaning they can be kept in fresh condition for several years. Chemicals and abrasive powders should not be used as they tend to damage the surfaces.


The use of sheet metals for interior surfacing has grown very much in the recent years. These materials include hardboard both plain and embossed, asbestos wood– which is rigid but not so brittle and cold as asbestos-cement– laminated plastic sheets, aluminium alloy sheets, and several flexible decorative materials. These sheetings are often used for facing wood-framed partitions, but they can be also used for facing walls and provide an easy means of giving and uneven wall a smooth, a regular surface.
From the decorators viewpoint, sheet materials can be divided into two types: sheets with surfaces that need decoration and sheets with self-finishes. The sheets which need decoration after fixing include medium-density fibreboard, hardboard, asbestos wood, asbestos cement, plasterboard, chipboard and ordinary plywood.

Sheets with self-finishes include hardboards with enamelled plastic finishes, asbestos cement with enamelled and multicolour decorative finishes, chipboard with enamelled and wood-veneered finishes, plastic sheets with a wide variety of single colour and multicolour finishes and patterns, and veneered plywood. There are advantages and disadvantages in both types. Sheets which need decorating after fixing have the advantages that they can be finished in the same way as on other materials, and that any slight marks made in the handling and fixing the sheets can be covered by the applied finish of the completing fixing. Redecorating is simple, though self finish dates do not need redecorating, which may be counted to their advantage. A disadvantage of sheets which are decorated after fixing is the extra time taken in decorating.
The self finish sheets have the advantage of providing a durable decorative finish which can be maintained in good condition by wiping with a damp cloth. Another advantage is that the effect of the colour of pattern can be seen at a glance when selecting the sheets– an advantage which they share with wallpaper. The chief disadvantage is that great care is needed at all stages in handling and fixing sheets with a self finish, as any marks or surface damage are difficult to touch up. In this connection the sheets should be carefully examined on delivery and any scratched or marked sheets should be returned at once.
In handling the sheets care should be taken to have clean hands and tools and to avoid placing the decorated surface on the floor or bench without protection such as clean sacking or felt. In fixing, care is needed to avoid damage by tools or scratches. After fixing, care is needed to avoid damage by tradesmen who follow, such as the plumbers. In fact, if other tradesmen are working in the building after the sheets are fixed it is advisable to provide temporary protection by placing sheets of the brown paper over the decorative surface of wall-sheets.
Sheets which are damaged after fixing, whether of the self finish type or sheets needing decoration, should be carefully touched-up. Any frayed or upstanding surface should be rubbed down or gently scraped, taking care to avoid further damage by scratching the surrounding surface. Holes or cuts should be stopped, using plastic wood, fine gypsum plaster stopping (there are several propriety brands which are much finer than ordinary gypsum plaster), or putty. Rub down the dry stopping and coat it with shellac or aluminium sealer paint, then touch-up with paint selected for colour and type to match the finish of the sheets. In difficult cases it is advisable to experiment with an odd piece of sheet before starting work on the actual job. Retouching carelessly done can look worse than the untouched damage!


In designing an interior in which sheets are to be used, consideration should be given to the decorative effects. Even with sheets which are to be decorated after fixing, the method of joint treatment and texture of the sheets will have a marked effect on the appearance.The joints can be concealed– or nearly so– in many cases, and the manufacturers issue directions for doing this. Fibreboard can be jointed with gypsum plaster or, more recently by covering with gummed strip.
Plasterboard can be jointed by recessing the edges, over which is fabric strip bedded in gypsum plaster, and then finishing flush and plaster. Plastics sheets with accurately finished edges can be butted together. Methods of covering the joints with decorative strip materials include wood strips, aluminium alloy mouldings, plastics moulding etc. The edges of fibreboard can be treated decoratively by bevelling, grooving or moulding with a special plane, and no cover strip is then needed.
The decorative effect of wall sheeting depends not only on the treatment of the joint but also on the direction in which they run. Most sheets are made in the standard size of 8 x 4’ though some are made 6 x 3’ and some in lengths longer than 8 feet. They can be fixed either vertically or horizontally and if the joints are emphasised with cover strips or moulded edges, the effect of vertical fixing will be quite different from that of horizontal fixing. Vertical fixing, emphasises the height of the room; horizontal fixing emphasises the length.
In houses the floor-to-ceiling height varies from 7 feet in old cottages to 9 feet in many homes across Goa, though 7’6” to 8 feet is the usual range in modern houses found in cities such as Panjim,Margao, Vasco and Mapusa. With vertical fixing, 8 feet sheets cover the wall height in most cases and with horizontal fixing– using 4 feet wide sheets– two sheets with one intermediate joint cover the height. But a single horizontal joint halfway up the wall does not look well, as it divides wall into two parts which compete for attention. A better way in the ordinary house room where horizontal fixing is used to cut a 4 feet wide sheet in two lengths 2 feet wide, then fix a 2 feet wide sheet above the skirting, or 4 feet wide sheet above that, and the other 2 feet wide sheet at the top of the wall. This treatment has the advantage of suiting either contemporary or even a traditional scheme. In the former case the joints can be covered with narrow aluminium or plastics moulding and as a traditional scheme, wood mouldings can be used so that the lower one is a dado rail and the upper one a picture rail. With vertical fixing we also have the choice of contemporary treatment, by covering the joints and narrow metal plastics moulding or of a traditional treatment by panelling with stills and rails.
Another method of fixing has a different effect. This is to overlap the edges of the sheets so that the upper sheet stands forward of the lower. A variation of this method is to fix the sheets to a ground of wide strips of wood, or of the sheet metal, so that the edges of the sheet are about 4 inches apart. This gives a sunk margin around the sheets.
The decorative effect of wall sheets and also of the ceiling, can thus be widely varied. But they offer particularly wide possibilities in contemporary interiors.


With plain surfaces such as ordinary walls and ceilings we are free to adopt any decorative treatment. But there are many details even in a small room which give a lead to the character of the room. In existing houses especially older ones, these details may be bad and we are then faced with the problem of discarding them if possible, giving them a new look if they cannot be discarded.

The shape of the room, the type of windows and doors, the fireplace, the skirting, picture rail and in some cases the cornice and even smaller details such as locks and door furniture all have an effect in establishing the character of the room, for good or ill. Lighting fittings curtains and blinds also have an effect. Finally, there is the furniture which must be integrated into the general scheme.

These details should be considered together with the decorations when a new house is in the design stage. By doing so the whole scheme will be more satisfactory, and unsuitable or incongruous details which mar the general scheme will be avoided.

Fortunately, even contemporary design is now permeated the whole field of architecture, interior decoration, equipment and furniture. Several ranges of standard products are available– some from the standard mass produce a range of the individual manufacturer and others are made by number of firms to confirm to a general specification type,size, general shape and construction. We will discuss furniture and built-in equipment a little later, but we can call attention here to the excellent contemporary ranges of standard windows, French casements, flush doors, joinery items such as skirtings, architraves and mouldings, as well as to standard unit furniture and equipment.


Contemporary walls are usually treated as undivided planes, in contrast to the traditional division of wall into base or dado, main wall and frieze. But this does not mean that every wall is necessary a single and relieved surface. If built-in furniture is fixed to the wall a division is created which is usually treated in a contrasting colour.

In a contemporary house, designed as such, the skirting may only be about 3 inches deep with a plain bevelled edge. Usually there is no picture rail, though if this is required it is fixed within an inch of the ceiling. This lack of division gives the interior decorator a free hand in his treatment of the walls and enables him to carry the same treatment from floor to ceiling. By freeing him from the limits imposed by the older picture-rail-and-frieze treatment it enables him to emphasise either the height or the length of the walls. That is, he can adopt a vertical or horizontal treatment. If for example, a striped wallpaper is used the designer can have the stripes placed vertically from the skirting to the ceiling or horizontally, thus giving uninterrupted emphasis either to the height or the length of the wall. There is no reason why a contemporary room should not have 4 walls of one colour, but the different treatment of one or two walls allows what might be a dull room to be bright and attractive, especially if walls which do not receive much daylight are finished with the lightest colour.

There are several ways of designing such decorations;  Two or more plain colors can be used or one or two plain colours and a pattern. Using two colours or one colour and a pattern, opposite walls can be similar; or the colour can be continuous walls meeting at a corner.

White or light green can be used on two opposite walls– preferably where a fireplace wall is opposite a wall with a window– and a warm colour on the two sidewalls. A colour paper with a pattern can be used on the main wall areas with a plain, light colour on recessed surfaces.

The brighter the colour, the more compelling is the wall to the eye, but large areas of bright colour look oppressive at close quarters. A bright colour can be successfully used on a small wall area, as around a fireplace with a pale colour on the main wall areas.


Most modern ceilings are plain surfaces without decoration but in some modern houses beams are used. The traditional white for a ceiling can be used in a contemporary room, and it has the advantage of maximum light reflection. But if the room has a large window area light colour can be used on the ceiling with advantage. Where there are exposed beams a brighter colour can be successfully used on the beams.
The flow colour and pattern is an essential part of the interior decoration. Plain colours or small patterns are suitable for fitted carpets and they can be of deeper colours than the walls. Some floor materials are decorative and need no covering. Excellent patterns can be designed in plastic floor tiles which now have a range of bright colours. Blogs, hardwood strip and plywood squares have the beauty and grain of natural wood and can be laid in patterns– the square patterns look more suitable for a contemporary room then do the older herring-bone.


Doors can be treated to make them obtrusive by painting them the colour similar as the walls. Or they can be given prominence by painting them a different colour, and this can be emphasised by using a rather bright colour. And old panel too can be given a fresh look by painting it in a bright colour and picking out the mouldings with a pale colour of white. The architrave surrounding the door frame can sometimes be used to give variety of colour, using either a darker or lighter colour than the door.

The decorative treatment should suit the style of the door. And oak-boarded and ledged door looks well treated with linseed oil and wax polish. A door with large panels can be painted with margins a medium shade and the panel a lighter shade of the same colour. A modern flush door can be painted a pastel colour with a white architrave.

When an old room is to be decorated and furnished in a contemporary style, the heavily moulded panelled doors and architraves may not accord with the plain surfaces of today. The possibility of modernising the door by removing the mouldings and covering it with hardboard to give flush surfaces is worth considering. But the opposite method of using the door as a means of bright decoration is often effective. Two or more different colours can be used as already described.

Contemporary windows of metal or wood have narrower frames than traditional windows and in most cases have large panes of glass undivided by bars. As the sides and head of a window frame are usually covered by curtains and a pelmet it is not possible to reveal the whole frame. A colour paler than the curtains and pelmet is usually desirable as this catches the light from the window, whereas a dark colour would make a darker line between the curtains. The window board can be of a different colour– and offers a chance to use bright colour, as the area is not too great.

The tendency is to use the wide windows in contemporary architecture, though this is by no means a strict rule. At one time the so-called glass wall was favoured by modernists, but the need for extra heating, the inconvenience of excessive direct sunlight and the lack of privacy which may result in an urban area has checked its development.

When there is a large window almost filling one side of the room we have an opportunity to extend the decoration of the room by taking-in part of the garden, and this possibility is well worth considering. Part of the garden window can be raised so that the plants are easily visible from the room; or a plant trough can be placed inside the room.

Traditional windows do not greatly obstruct a contemporary scheme provided that they are not glazed with leaded lights. Glazing bars should be painted white for a very pale colour to reduce their prominence and in some cases it may be worth while removing them and re-glazing with large panes. This however, is not usually advisable in the case of sash windows, which look much better with their bars than without.


There are two tendencies in contemporary fireplace design. One is to have a small one of obtrusive fireplace neatly framed in a tiled or bricks surround. The other is to build up a fireplace breast of rough brickwork or random stone rubble to provide contrast to the smooth surfaces of normal walls and ceiling. The second method is rather overpowering in a small room. Probably nothing in an old house is more incongruous, if a contemporary interior is required, then a large marble mantelpiece of the Victorian period. The detail is usually ugly and the surface discoloured and shabby. The only thing to do is to take it out and to replace it with a neat contemporary fireplace and surround; this will do more than anything to modernise the room.

The fireplace surround in a contemporary scheme can well be of contrasting colour to the wall. Where a pale colour is used on the bright wall for the surround is often attractive. Coloured or patterned tiles should be used and they can be fixed direct to the wall if a slabbed surround of suitable design cannot be found.


A contemporary room is enhanced in effect by a few good contemporary pictures and ornaments, but it is a mistake to assume that these must be of the most “advanced” type. Nor it is out of place to have traditional pictures and ornaments in a contemporary room. But overcrowding and poor quality should both be avoided.

Built-in shelves provide a good means of displaying a small collection of good china, silver or glass. In an existing room the shelves maybe built into recess or alcove, using wall board on a frame to create a false wall into which the shelves can be recessed.

If the collection to be placed on the shelves consists of silver, glass or china is of very light colour, the background to the shelves should be painted a medium-to-strong colour, depending on the colour strength of the surrounding wall. With walls of very light tone the back of the recess could be painted a fairly strong red so that the light-toned objects on the shelves stand out clearly; but if the objects are dark a brightly coloured background of light-to-medium colour, provided that it contrasts with the main wall colour, will have the effect of making the objects stand out.


Many people still prefer the traditional styles of architecture, interior decoration and furniture to the contemporary style; and of course, there are many fine houses and cottages built across Goa in this style still in use. Even during the 20th century’s most houses of any architectural worth built before the 1970s were traditional in style. These were necessarily imitations and not all are through to the style or period.

In decorating and furnishing period houses it is important to understand the style and to know what type of decoration, what colours and details belong to each period; but such a wide-ranging and complex subject can be mastered only after a thorough study of many books and buildings. For our purposes it is sufficient to know the characteristics of the chief periods so that we do not spoil fine rooms of any age by unsympathetic treatment. The decorator must know why it is disastrous to decorate a Georgian room in the way which would be appropriate to a Tudor room and vice versa.


The styles of architecture and decoration are sometimes called after the names of reigning monarchs, sometimes after the century and sometimes after the age– which may include several subtitles and range over several centuries.

The two main periods of development were: the Gothic, which developed during the middle ages and reached its climax during the 15th and 16th centuries; the Renaissance, which reached its climax during the 18th and 19th centuries. Between the two there was a period of transition covering roughly 100 years from 1550 to 1650. During this transitional period many fine houses were built which combined Gothic and Renaissance elements.

Although many great mansions across Goa survive from the Gothic period, most small houses and cottages which belong to this period and are still standing belong to the 18th century and many have transitional elements.


Until recent years the average person’s approach to colour in interior and exterior house decoration was timid and conventional. The dark colours and heavy patterns of Portuguese times gave way to white and cream for interiors and a green, brown and white for exteriors. Variations were few and usually unenterprising. It is sometimes thought that colour does not suit our local climate, but bright colours were widely used during the Portuguese era.

Contemporary designers are now exploiting colour in a new and more adventurous manner. Perhaps the chief justification for plenty of colour in a contemporary building is the relief it gives to the plain surfaces and general lack of ornament. Colours warmup what would otherwise be a cold-looking interior elevation. Good taste is essential if a colour scheme or any scheme of decoration is to be successful. But taste can be trained by the examination of good examples and by studying the elementary facts and theories about colour.

A pure colour in pigment is one which has not been mixed with any other colour. There can be a variety of tones or shades in any colour but only one can be selected as the pure colour. For example, a pure green is not light or dark, nor blue-green or any other combination and so it looks greener than all other greens and the same applies to every pure colour. Any colour can be made lighter by mixing white with it and darker by mixing black with it, but in either case it will lose its brilliance.

For illustration we considered 12 colours arranged in tone value starting with the lightest, yellow, and going around to the darkest, violet. If white or black were added to any of these colours it would change its tone value and therefore its tone order in the sequence of the colour wheel.

Red, blue and yellow are the three primary colours, and by mixing red and blue to produce purple, red and yellow to produce orange and blue and yellow to produce green we have the secondary colours. But this mixing of colours is not always successful, as the resultant colours is not so pure as a pure pigment.


In the colour wheel demonstrated here, opposite colours are in contrast. The six pairs of colours in this wheel which are contrasted colours are:
Orange– blue violet
Scarlet– blue green
Purple– yellow green
Contrast may be defined as maximum difference of colour. It is a valuable factor in decoration, but it needs using with discretion.
The 12 colours in the colour wheel form a representative range, but there is nothing significant in selecting these 12 colours. The principles of colour could be demonstrated with more or fewer, but 12 enables these colours to be illustrated. It should be realised that reproduced in the printer’s ink colours are not all pure.


When colours are mixed they tend to neutralise one another. When two contrasted colours are mixed they produce neutral grey. This is shown in the colour-wheel illustration by the very centre circle. In practice, mixing two contrasted colours will not produce exactly the same grey. The degree of grey depends on the proportion of the two colours.

The range of greys produced by mixing varying proportions of contrasted colours can be extended by adding white or black or both white and black. Adding white and black produces soft, attractive colours which are called pastel shades, and these are very popular in modern decoration for contemporary and traditional schemes.

Any two adjacent colours in the colour wheel are in harmony but any two adjacent colours, a colour between the two will be obtained. More than two adjacent colours which may be fixed to produce another colour will be in harmony with the ingredient colours, and usually a group of three or four is used as two closely related ones do not make enough difference.


If you examine a plain yellow wall or a wall of any colour containing yellow you will notice that the tone is different between the parts receiving most and least daylight. Strong light increases and poor light diminishes the brilliance and tone. Mixing white or black with the pigment introduces a similar effect and these tonal differences of one colour are used in monochrome decoration.

Monochrome decoration may consist of the use of two tones of one colour– for example, a door painted a light tone of green (green mixed with white) and the architrave or mouldings surround and the doorframe may be painted plain green(or green darkened by adding black). Similarly slight colour differences may be accentuated by tonal differences


Paint manufacturers make a wide colour of ready mixed range of several kinds. Across any counter there would be hundreds of choices for building and decorative paints with the colours reproduced on ten separate cards numbered 0 to 9. Card zero contains strong colours and card 9 greys. The eight intermediate cards show greyish colours towards the left and fairly strong colours on the right. The colours represented are numbers in sequence from 001 to 101(white 102 and black 103 are not reproduced).


A scheme of decoration should be designed to suit the purpose of the room and the size of the furniture. The area and the relative lightness and darkness of the room should be considered. Bright colours should be used with caution. They are usually too overpowering on large wall surfaces but have a very cheerful effect when used on small surfaces such as door or panels skirtings, the walls being decorated in the light pastel shades.

A rather dark room (one facing north with no more than ordinary window area) calls for a warm, colour scheme but the colours must be light. In a small room an effect of space is needed and here again light tones and colours are best.

It is a mistake to assume that light colours are not serviceable– that they soon show marks and become very shabby. Ordinary use slowly tones down the whole of the decorations. In time there is a loss of brilliance and this applies to strong colours as well as to light ones. Strong, bright colours tend to become shabby in time– even more than light pastel colours.

The main living room of the house should obviously look attractive and cheerful. The appearance will depend about equally on decorations and furniture and the two should, in the case of new home, be considered together. But in an ordinary decorations scheme the existing furniture should be considered.

As a general rule, if the furniture is colourful and decorative– and especially if it tends to crowd the room– the decorations should be unobtrusive, using one or two very light colours. A scheme of plain pale cream walls and woodwork is rather unenterprising but it is a good background for a small room with rather strongly coloured or ornamental furniture of the traditional kind.

Pale cream reflects most of the light and absorbs little, so it is very useful if the room is rather poorly lit. But it is a rather cold colour and a full cream or a yellow can be used to give it a warmer effect.

With more light a north-facing room looks warmer if a more colourful scheme is adopted, keeping the walls fairly light in tone and painting the doors a rather bright colour, which can be in lively contrast to the walls. Such a scheme is enhanced if the skirtings, architraves, picture rail and windows are painted white or pale cream. The walls and brightly painted door both gain by this means.

Greens and blues tend to look cold in a dark, north facing room, but are very pleasant in a south-facing room, especially if the windows are large and flood the room with strong light. In such a room bright colours should be used with restraint as they tend to dazzle and to compel attention.


For a contemporary lounge or living room one or two walls can be of different colours from the others and this will make a colourful background to contemporary furniture of self-finish hardwoods such as oak, which are not in themselves colourful. Such a scheme adds interest to a simply furnished room, and it enables a rather strong colour to be used on one wall only with a striking effect which would be rather heavy or overpowering if used on all four walls.

For example, a bright or strong colour may be used on the fireplace wall while the other three walls are of a pale colour; let us say red of medium brilliance on the fireplace wall and mist grey on the other walls, with the door and window frame in pastel blue and the skirting in white. Instead of red for the fireplace wall we could use any colour of medium or even strong brilliance, but it is worth noting that red harmonises with a brick fireplace and so the one colour dominates the wall. Another way of using two colours for walls is to have opposite walls of one colour and the other two of another, as already mentioned. They can be in harmony; for example, pale yellow and medium terracotta or yellow-orange mixture. Or two walls can be decorated with a fairly bright colour such as a porcelain blue and a light contrasting colour such as a pale beige. It is desirable that there shall be a contrast in tone (colour depth) as well as colour, especially where the colours are in close harmony.

The same effect can be obtained by using wallpapers of a different colour and pattern. A plain paper can be used on two walls with one brightly coloured pattern on the other two. Or three walls can be treated with emulsion paint or distemper and one with a wallpaper of pronounced colour and pattern (in most cases the fireplace wall should be covered with the wallpaper).

The ceiling should be off-white or very light tone in the average room, but if there is an ample amount of daylight a colour of medium strength can be selected. Most pastel colours are suitable and they usually should be in moderate harmony with the walls and either decidedly lighter or darker in tone. The effect of the decorations related to fireplaces should be considered.


The use of built-in furniture fitments in contemporary interiors enables the decorator to introduce interesting colour effects. Built-in whitewood bookshelves, for example, may be painted a bright colour at the back, the shelves themselves being white or light contrasting colour.

Recesses at the side of projecting chimney breast are often rather dark and the wall around the window is dark too as the light does not fall directly on it unless there are windows in other walls. The relative darkness can be corrected decoratively by treating these walls with a very light colour– pale lemon for instance.

The house designed in the style of definite period such as the Portuguese era should have appropriate decorations. In a Georgian room, for example a green of medium-tone would be suitable, with white work. Most medium colours are suitable for Georgian walls, though cream with a deeper colour tone for the woodwork can be used effectively enough. Brighter colours can be added by painting the backs of wall recesses.


In a small house the dining room is sometimes a small separate room, but in many modern houses it takes the form of a recess partly screened from the living room.

A small dining room should be decorated in a restful style. Walls of one colour– a light pastel shade– are suitable with, perhaps, a brighter colour or a strong paper pattern on one wall. Where the dining space is recessed from the main living room, the difference of function may be emphasised by varying the colour scheme. In some cases the dining space is separated by a built-in fitment in the form of a sideboard, bookcase or so-called room divider.

If it is desired to segregate the dining space from that of the main living room, the decorations of the two parts should be in rather strong contrast; for example, a pastel shade of green in the living space and a green medium terracotta in the dining space. But where the dining space is considered as the part of the general living space, less contrast is desirable. The pastel green of the living space might then have a more harmonious colour, such as yellow, set against it in the dining space. Where it is desired to unite dining space and living space, a pattern or strong colour can be used on the corner wall.


Many halls in all kinds of houses are either dark or merely unattractive. A hall, staircase and landing provide an opportunity for light, gay colour. The effect should not be garnish but it should attract the eye quite boldly. You do not have to sit in a hall or landing so the scheme may not be designed merely for restfulness or a restraint.

In the hall that is dark it is obvious that the light colours should be selected, but there may be at least one wall which receives direct sunlight and this can be decorated in a strong colour or with a strong patterned paper, the other wall being in light pastel shades. This is a good treatment for a long narrow hall, as strong contrast in tone between one long wall and the other reduces the monotonous ‘passage’ appearance of the hall.

Contrast, either in tone colour, can be introduced on the staircase walls and this can be carried up the main staircase to the landing wall above, the other landing walls being of a different tone colour.

Although the treatments just suggested are essentially contemporary in conception they may well be applied to old halls, stairs and landings where the interior is of a non-discreet kind lacking the distinction of a true period style. This will help in giving a shabby, dark house a much lighter and more cheerful atmosphere.


The kitchen should be light, bright and clean looking. Many kitchens have the walls covered with glazed clay where plastic tiles to a height of 3’6” or so. The tiles may be cream or of any light colour with, perhaps, a deep colour or black for the skirting and capping. Above the tiling, the walls can be painted with a steam-resisting gloss or semi-gloss paint; a lighter shade of the same colour as the tiles would be suitable, or one of a light contrasting colour.

Two more colours can be used in a contemporary kitchen, with the lightest on the window wall, as this is the wall that does not receive direct daylight. Broken white would be suitable for this wall, with cream or lemon for the others. The kitchen with plenty of window area and light walls may perhaps look too light, so a ceiling painted a medium-strength green or blue would have a restful effect by toning down bright sunlight.

Touches of bright colour can be added by fitting a coloured sink unit and cupboards and in this connection good use can be made of coloured sheet plastics. Those can be painted a medium-strength colour, such as sky blue or red, with the mouldings in white.


The bathroom is usually decorated in a pale cream, sometimes relieved by black tiles; but other colours can make it look much more attractive. Primrose walls, for example, can be very effective if the ceiling and skirting are in medium blue, with a sea-green door. The bath panels can match the primrose walls, the blue of the ceiling, or the green of the door. This is just one example, but the object should be to produce a clean but colourful scheme, using pure colours or clean-looking mixtures.


The colour scheme of a bedroom should be both restful and cheerful. Both dark and very bright colours are out of place, except where they are used on smaller areas to provide contrast.

The pale colours such as broken white, pale cream, parchment, pale rose, mushroom, mist green and pastel blue are suitable for the main areas of wall and ceiling. The skirtings, architraves and picture rails can be painted white to enhance the lightness and delicacy of the general scheme or a medium colour to add brightness. The ceiling can be of colour such as cream or whatever colour will provide either contrast or harmony with the walls.

If the general scheme is very light, a note of moderate brightness can be introduced by painting the door of fairly bright colour such as delphinium blue or terracotta. This will be enhanced by painting the door architrave and the skirting white or broken white.


Many houses have playrooms of the rooms built in the roof or attic. Here we can properly use colour in a daring fashion. Indeed, if you are accustomed only to rather timid colour schemes this room is the right place to try out bolder ideas.

Each of the four walls may be of a different colour. The four colours can be in harmony, such as terracotta, cinnamon, orange and lemon. On lighter contrasting colours such as pastels shades of eau-de-nil, page, rose and pale blue can be used. A dark recess can be lightened by using the lightest shade, or white. Bright colour can be added by painting the door red or sky blue. A decorator with a flair for freehand painting could use one wall for simple line mural work on a broken-white ground. Or one of the more boldly patterned contemporary projects could be used on the principal wall.


There are many rooms of unusual and awkward shape which look unsatisfactory with conventional a colour or one-patterned schemes of decoration. There are two ways by which decorations can be made to give such a room or new look. First, by dividing the room into separate sections with contrasting decorations; and second, by adopting a unified scheme to bind a separate parts together.

The first method suits contemporary treatment better and this may well be the best treatment for an older room of awkward shape and no real architectural character. Such a room may have a wide recess on one side or even an L-shaped plan. The recessed part can be decorated in colours and tones which contrast with the remainder.

The apparent shape of an awkward room can be altered by the decorations. As already mentioned, horizontal lines tend to emphasise the length of a wall, while vertical lines emphasise the height. A frieze formed by placing a picture rail about 18 inches below the ceiling also tends to break the height and emphasise the length. But if the picture rail is placed close to the ceiling, so that no frieze is formed, the apparent height of the room is increased.

In traditional type of decoration, panelling a long wall with wallpaper breaks up the surface and with panels of greater height than length the apparent length of the wall is reduced and the height increased. A projecting chimney breast and fireplace also break up a wall in a similar manner, and this effect can be emphasised reduced by the decorations. A single colour treatment of the whole wall and chimney breast reduces the vertical breakup, but by using a different colour or pattern for the recess the breakup is emphasised.

If the room is not rectangular, so that it is narrower at one end than then the other, it is better to use at least two different colours or patterns on the wall, with the strongest on the fireplace wall; mist-green or mist-grey, for example can be used on three walls, with the fairly strong red on the fireplace wall, a broken white for the ceiling and yellow for the door.

If there is plenty of daylight, the ceiling can be painted a medium colour to contrast with the lighter walls. With any daylight and neutral colour on the walls a medium red or green can be used on the ceiling. Where the ceiling has exposed beams, these can be painted in different strong colours, such as green, red, blue and yellow with the ceiling panels in white. If the existing window is small and inadequate, a great improvement can be made by replacing it with a larger window.


Some rooms look very attractive when the decorations are finished, but the effect is then spoiled by adding the furniture! The decorations should of course be designed to suit the furniture.

If the furniture has plenty of bright colour it will look best against light or neutral coloured walls. If it has a little colour, more can safely be added to the decorations, using bright colours on the door and in small recesses. If there is rather too much furniture for the room it tends to look overcrowded and fussy, so the decoration should be light and unobtrusive. With little furniture in a large room, rather warm colours are called for to reduce the bare effect.

The floor covering and curtains are essentially part of the decorative scheme. A strongly coloured and patterned carpet will look well in a room not overcrowded with furniture and with a light colour scheme in pastel shades, but it will look heavy and fussy in a room with much furniture and with walls of bright colours. If you want a brightly patterned area, the carpet may or may not be the best place for it, but if a bright carpet is already laid in the room, it is better to restrain the colour scheme.

Much the same applies to curtains. You can select curtains to add colour and patterns to a rather neutral colour scheme, but if you already have enough colour and pattern on the walls, a plain neutral colour will be the best for curtains.


Daylight and artificial light have different effects on colour. Daylight adds blue and most forms of artificial light add yellow. A pale-cream wall in daylight becomes a yellow-cream in ordinary electric light. A clear blue colour in daylight takes on a greenish hue when the yellow of the electric light is added. Another alteration takes place owing to different concentrations of daylight and artificial light. The window wall is usually the darkest by daylight and it does not receive direct light and stands in contrast to the high light intensity seen through the window. But when the curtains are drawn and the lamp switched on, this wall may receive as much elimination as the others from a centrally placed ceiling light. With two or more lamps and suitable shades it is possible to direct strong light where it best suits the decorations; on a strongly coloured or patterned fireplace wall, for example.

Light and shade play an important part in the appearance of a room and the strength of the colour. Fluorescent lighting gives a more even distribution of artificial light then that given by ordinary electric lamps but it tends to make colour look cold and to reduce shadows so that the room lacks the play of light-and-shade which normally gives relief and interest. A combination of fluorescent and normal electric lighting is better and the normal electric lamps can be fitted to walls or floor standards.

Lampshades affect lighting and if coloured shades are used, the colour should be suitable so that it does not contrast with or neutralise the main colours of the room. Opaque shades absorb a considerable amount of light though they soften it.

Shades which reflect light to the ceiling give good light distribution provided that they are adjusted so that most of the ceiling is directly illuminated.

The lighting fittings should, of course, be selected to suit the decorative scheme. In ordinary small rooms simple shades are better than large ornate fittings. There is a wide range of well designed fittings both in contemporary and traditional styles, and the effect of the fitting shade on the light should always be considered.