1890's wall treatments

i'm dramaturging for the show gold in the hills, which is set in the 1890's, and i'm unsure as to how wall treatments would have been done in america during the turn of the century. there are scenes in a beer hall in the bowery and an old homestead, and i have no idea what to tell my set crew chief. help would be appreciated.
screamingpretzel said:
i'm dramaturging for the show gold in the hills, which is set in the 1890's, and i'm unsure as to how wall treatments would have been done in america during the turn of the century. there are scenes in a beer hall in the bowery and an old homestead, and i have no idea what to tell my set crew chief. help would be appreciated.

Hiya and welcome to controlbooth!

To sorta answer your question...I'm not the best at scenic design, but it may help ya to go research some of the old photo's of that period. Even old movies, westerns etc around that era--look at some of the set decor on the flicks for some ideas even if you are only close it should be fine. As I recall, that type of setting for that period of history was plain wooden posts, slats and walls, and in some of the fancier places were plain beige /off-white white-wash style walls (no real vivid colors--lots of earthy blah tones) and some even had cloth wall treatments--cloth that pulled tightly or wrapped around wood and made up decor on the walls (wall paper and paperhangers were not popular yet I believe). But I would check some of the older westerns and movies depicting that time period for some ideas. Most movies were fairly close to accurrate for set dressings....

Hope that helps...someone else may have further ideas for ya....
What type of architecture are we talking about? Is it Colonial, Gothic, Queen Ann, Craftsman, Victorian, Empire, Federal, etc? In the houses’ style. This would play a role in how it was furnished and decorated. Say if the house was Empire in style, it was no doubt out of style during the period and as with the 1950s to 1970s craze of painting all the woodwork - especially green, perhaps during the period the woodwork will have been white washed over to make it go away a little more. If Victorian, is it normal or painted lady? That would be a question of the matron of the house with the public rooms, cash flow though a dime can be stretched and no proper lady would not have wall paper of a style - it’s her honor, than the study - man’s room etc. Is the guy a general, an adventurer, interested in bugs, Egypt, Darkest Africa etc. What is the geographical location of the locations? If out west it could be furnished as per westerns would show but remember everything they have will have had to cross the country by railroad or by sea by boat. If by boat, what’s the influence of the Orient? Certainly it might be more popular out west than in the East.

What is the economic and psychological nature of the inhabitants both of the bar and especially of the house? For instance, if the people were once normal but went crazy than the place might have been kept up but now years later everything will be dirty, falling apart etc. Otherwise if kept up you could assume it’s clean but if the people don’t have money the paint might be faded, wall paper might be showing more obvious seams to it with wear etc. But the black soot from the lamps would at least be cleaned up some.

The bar probably has it’s first coat of paint on it unless it’s kind of upscale high profile, how old is it? Not only what style of architecture is it in general but what part of town is the place in? Meaning who is going to waste money on a commercial building especially a beer hall out west much less in a slum? They are there to drink not admire the atmosphere. Bars I would expect would be about much similar except perhaps the ones in the east might have more dark wood due to age and anything out west might be lighter because it’s younger wood. Figure on when the house was built and say divide various darkness in wood by 100 to get an appropriate wood color. In the house if kept up, it will have had waxing and scalic thus have more of an amber semi-gloss hue to it. In the west, perhaps for the bar, it will be a little more ruff and grainy. Not knotty pine, but less sanded and planed wood than in the East. In the East at this time for the bar given a bad neighborhood by the sea it might be dark and bleached, if away from it, perhaps flat in color and more red to Raw Umber and having little grain showing except black grain lines. One thing that would set it off is a few large dim light bulbs hanging it off. This is status and something that would be in a bar if there is electricity. Otherwise is it tallow candles, gas lanterns etc. providing the bulk of the lighting? Checkered curtains probably will not have been used much especially in the East. Mirrors help to reflect light that’s a good thing given the lighting of the day. Knick nacks as per a good Irish pub make it a home but I would not think most in the West could afford to import such things much less much of any real decoration. Perhaps there was an election in the last 20 years they decorated the bar for, or St.Patrics day etc. Banners and ribbons of the local sports team or election might still be up but really dirty. Depends upon the owner and his or her style.

Lots of books, movies, paintings to resource after you and the director hone in a little more on the location, period, economics and tenants of the space etc. It’s where they live not the local museum or mansion unless it is a mansion. Does your parent’s house look like out of house and gardens, or have some elements of it but base in style overall.

By the way, the Midwest has more of craftsman homes and Victorians verses down south and south west more ranch.

What location and type of architecture would have a large effect on what you have. For instance, those in the Midwest might be expected to be about 10 years behind fashion in the East, than even have a few select large pieces of furniture or settings shipped over from the East beyond what was about this time mass produced in the Chicago area. To the West, again fashion might fall a bit behind schedule and more local pieces with more limited craftsmanship might be around as filler between more expensive pieces. Same for the wall paper. Perhaps a wall - the main wall with paper and a pierglass, than the rest painted. Wainscoting

Really hard to say yet however.
If you can better describe the following questions from above it might be far easier to hone in on what might be an expected decoration. And this is all given a actual depiction of the times. Remember theater is larger than life and a depiction of the characters. How you decorate not just puts the set into a period, it also makes a statement about the inhabitants of the script. In some ways, you also have to link it to the audience however. If they grew up watching The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie, than they will know some period things, they will also note the difference between styles East verses West, Industrialized verses homesteader. In both places there is a proper place for everything. The hall tree for instance is a must, but is that hall tree in a Mud room/entry hall or just by the front door in the hallway. Molding and cornices are a major take off point for your design and that’s architecture dependant. After that, if wall paper and plastered cornice coves, than the rest of the molding will have been painted or plaster. Question is was it white as we would associate it to be or was it like Greek statues, actually painted briliantly? At some point also you have to leave realism and give the audience what they expect even if counter productive. Would there be a pot bellied stove in the living room? Out west we might expect one, yet a fire place, even well decorated one might be more reality. Wood covering most everything on the other hand might not be accurate for the West, yet we as the audience tie wood slat wainscoting with the West verses paneled ones with the East. In the Midwest, we expect a chair rail and that’s about it. I used to live in a 1880s brownstone and remember visiting my great grandma’s house of about the same period made of wood - both in the city. They were much different than a house in the suburbs will have been. Amongst other things, the ceilings really were not that high, but the rooms were small. Windows were huge and walls were thick, molding was huge also.

So first I would narrow down the location, who lives there and describe them their economic status and their mental state. This is something you can do for a start. Than narrow down what form of architecture these people might inhabit and get that approved by the director and designer, plus props person. If you are dramaturg, yes you provide the wealth of information for them to choose and refine from, but given the wide girth of the information available it needs to be narrowed down some. Exactly what is the director and designer envisioning will put you on the right track for the research. This above will both give you a style of molding and decoration used and to look into, and make it clear how it’s furnished, unless it’s of a different style than the current inhabitants would like, than how did they mask the old and make the new? What cross style elements remain? Next refine what rooms are shown. Is it the kitchen, living room, hall or more and less? Too broad a question so far. Beige might not have been all anyone used, it’s what we and the audience assume and that could make it proper to represent, but what about peach and pale rose hue? Lots of stuff you can do and the women of the day had little but the house to stake their claim on. As with Isben, debt was also normal than as now.

Perhaps get out a re-print of the Sears 1902 catalog and other reprinted catalogs especially from Dover - stuff like The Victorian House Builder’s Catalog. In fact, buy into them so your library starts to build. Than go to antique and used bookstores and look up interior design and art books for paintings and pictures of the period and location. Stuff like Roberts’ Illustrated Millwork Catalog or the famous book Painted Ladies. If a proper family, and out East you might even look into English period design because if the Midwest was a few years behind the East, the East was a few years behind and following Europe and especially England. For old books look for stuff like Furnature of Olden Time - itself an old book, or lots more. Stuff from History, a book on Teddy Roosevelt will have some kind of photos of when he grew up, look at the decoration of him and others from before and after the period to get reality to base studies out of. Lots of books on turn of the century interior design and the times. Photos and paintings from inside houses and bars in and out of the city. Close enough in period. If you traveled to Disney Land and rode the Century of improvement - or something like that (my favorite exhibit and I don’t know why) what stood out for you in it’s turn of the century representation? What stands out should be primary to research, than the character that lives there who you now are taking on the role of decorating for. Or at least helping the designer do so, given this, what do they want you to look into?

P.S. Have fun with it. Dramaturgs are extremely valuable but little respected for a actual role in the show. You are not a book worm, you are the person taking the time out to do the research so others can concentrate on other things. This will make for a better show if they know how to use you as not only a liberian but an expert on the subject. But first you need to become an expert on the subject or the period. If you were producing Trojan Women, you would have to spend weeks in Greek history and times. Should be no different. If they ask you what type of door hardware might have been used much less if there was a runner on the stairs, you need to be ready to say yes and know the types styles and textures of them all. Asked or not you are the expert historian they rely upon. Really good thing to attempt even if you don’t intend to become one. Research is key.

P.S.S. Find out what a pier glass is. You find that and you have some period books.
Hopefully i'm not too late to help you with this topic... As wolf and ship said, research is key. Seeing you are in northern virginia, at least according to your profile, you have a few amazing resources available to you. First and formost, the Library of Congress... they have more books than you can shake a stick at... besides, its main reading room is absolutly gorgeous. Second, are the huge Art musems on the mall... especially since you are looking for american style. Finally, is the University of Maryland, College Park. They have really really good libraries, including one devoted to Architecture and one devoted to Art.

Hopefully these resources will be of some use.
One of my pet peeves is people that ask a question other's take their time out to answer as best they can to. Granted more people should have chimed in but at least some of us did. Than those same people that asked can't be bothered responding at least thanks - even if the answer was not good enough, much less they can't be bothered answering questions we ask in responding or refining their origional question. I have a 3' wide section of books just on 19th century design, just needed a bit more info before I could answer instead of ask more questions. Much less if the answers were sufficient, than even posting how it worked out or what you did find, so others can benefit from the answer.

I remember a similar posting about Sweeney Todd about interior design also, much less the absolutely interesting Black and White lighting design we did not really hear the end or synopsis of how each idea worked in testing.

That in addition to people posting questions but not feeling compelled to help if not at least offer their opinion expert or not, to others as payback. Heck, the winner of the swag contest never even said I got it, thanks!

I get lots of help from others - that's how I at least seem to know stuff I post. I also always say thanks or respond, much less in payback I try to help others. 567 members and more visitors. So far the visitors post more than most of the members.

Linking where this person lives with the resources availble to them was a good idea by the way. Never too late to add advice others can use.

Off my soap box now. I'm not grumpy just trying to convey what does peeve me. Want me to be much more quiet? Other people should post more. You busy, perhaps add a short post once a month if you have a thought. The conversation does not even have to be current to be kept alive for the next person wondering about such a topic.

When the answer is sufficient even a group of them adds up to good advice, I don't add to it.
Well, to try to answer without writing a book on scene design as Ship has done. :wink:

Walls back then were plaster. Scim coated with white in more prosperous buildings, rougher textured and often combined with horsehair in poorer ones. These would be a warm gray. Walls could be left natural or plaster.

Painting was done with very muted casein-type milk paints. Light greens, light blues, dark yellows and in Victorian times, reds. Check out historic colors from the paint store.

Wallpaper was very popular. It had dense floral patterns.

Woodwork was oak or chestnut-often painted.

Urban buildings were often brick and the interior walls might be brick.

Old homestead could of course have been log, seeing alternating stripes of sawn logs and off-white plaster chinking is very dramatic.

Just so happens that I designed set for GITH as my school's spring show roughly six months ago. And I'm in Northern Virginia too. We just sort of halfassed it though - our construction guy showed up, ahh, not always in the best capacities as it were - and it became one of those 'it's a miracle it even got done' things pretty quickly. We used a system of flats with luaun facing hung over the Bowery set... that would have worked well (painted to look like wallpaper) except that none of the flats matched, so every four feet there was a vertical crack in the wall.

Definitely do use chair rails, though, and avoid any overly-interesting colors (no, it's a melodrama, there simply is no way a Pepto-Bismol-pink bar found it's way into a bar such as Big Mike's). Ship really covered most of it in far more detail than I'd ever be able to.

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