Scribners monthly 4, 1881
Modern fashion is responsible for so many absurdities that it is only fair to expect from it some really sensible innovations. To offset the ridiculous eruptions of meaningless and ugly bric-à-brac, the collections of china dogs and climbing monkeys, the fire-places with their mock logs and senseless gas flames, we have at least one sensible, wholesome fashion. In place of the old-fashioned carpet, serving as a reservoir of dust in the rooms of a careless housekeeper, and as a continual thorn in the flesh to the careful one, we may now have polished floors and moveable rugs, and yet be in the fashion.
The outcry which the devotees of hygiene make against carpets, as affording such admirable hidingplaces for dust and the germs of disease, cannot be urged with equal force against rugs. In the first place, the corners of the room are always open to sun and air, to water and soap, and these, all house keepers know, are the places where dust accumulates; in the second, with very little trouble a rug may be taken up, beaten and sunned; and whenever the floor is washed, dusted, or waxed, it whould be lifted along the edges, and the dust carefully removed. Where the rugs are filled in about the edges with carpeting, they must meet the hygienists in the same rank with carpets, as they have no advantage over them in that case.
I have nothing to say to the people who can afford to have inlaid or even simple natural wood floors; but there is many a careful housewife who is living in a rented house, or who cannot afford either to have her floors relaid or covered with wood carpeting, and yet who would be glad to replace her wornout carpets with rugs. The floors in well-finished Northern houses, having all the modern improvements and conveniences about them, are an astonishment to Southern people, who are used to seeing, in every decent house, good, well-finished floors, with smoothly planed, narrow, clear-grained, close-fitting planks. What to do with the knotty, rough, irregular planks, covered with spots and splashed of paint left by the careless workmen, is a puzzling question to the housekeeper. The painter who is called in to remedy the evil has usually but one suggestion to make - the universal panacea - which is "Paint it," and he goes on to expatiate upon the "elegant floors he has painted for so and so." Do not be beguiled into painting your floor. Every footstep will leave a dusty impression, many repeated footsteps will leave it scratched and ugly beyond redemption by any thing less than radical measures - which will bring you back to the naked planks.
Firsdt, if your floor has been already painted, or is covered with dripplings from the paint-brush, cover the spots and splashes with caustic potash; leave this on till the paint is dissolved. It will take, perhaps, thirty-six hours to do this if the paint is old and hard; then have the floor well scoured, taking care not to let the mixture deface your wash-boards.
Secondly, if you flooring is married by wide , ugly cracs between the planks, have them puttied, as they serve otherwise as a multitude of small dustbins, and show an ugly stripe between your shining boards.
If the planks are narrow andof equal width, you can have them stained alternately light and dak - oak and walnut. In that case, stain the whole floor oak, and then do the alternate stripes dark. The staining micture can be bought at any paint-shop, or can be ordered from any city, and brought by express in sealed cans. In almost every case it is safe to dilute the staining micture with an equal quantity of turpentine. I have never seen or used any which was not far too thick as it is bought. It helps very much, when staining in stripes, to lay two boards carefully on each side of the stripe to be stained, and then draw the brush between. This guards the plank from an accidental false stroke of your brush, and saves time to the aching back. If, however, the dark staining should change to run over on the light plank, before it dries wipe it off with a bit of flannel dipped in turpentine.
When the floor is to be all walnut, the best staining I have ever seen is done without the use of brush. Byt at a grocer's - for a single medium-sized room - a one-pound can of burnt umber, ground in oil. Mix with boiled linseed oil a sufficient amount of this to color properly without perceptibly thickening the oil; by trying the mixture upon a but of wood till the desired color is attained, the quantity can easily be determined. It should be a rich wanut brown. Rub this into the wood thoroughly with a woolen cloth, rubbing it off with another woolen cloth till the stain ceases to "come off." Never be beguiled into using boiled oil to keep the floor in order, for it is more like a varnish than an oil, and after the pores of the wood have once become filled, it lies on the surface, attracting and holding dust till it ruins the wood, and can only be removed by the use of caustic potash, sand-paper, or the plane. But this first, or any subsequent coloring of the floor, must be done as here directed.
If you find, when the coloring matter dries, that it is not dark enough, rub on another coat. Do not be discouraged that your floors look dull and poor, for they only need a few weeks of proper case to be what you want.
When the staining is done, prepare for the next day's waxing. Mix turpentine and yellow bees-waz in the proportion of one gallon of turpentine to one pound of wax, shaved thin. Let the wax soak all night, or longer, in the turpentine before using; then rub it on with a woolen cloth. A few times of using this will make the floor gain a polish like that of an old-fashioned table-top. At first it must be done frequently, but beyond the smell of the turpentine, which soon passes off, and the trouble of applying, it has no disadvantage. When the wood finally becomes well polished, the wax need not be applied oftener than once a week or even once a fortnight. The floor, in the meantime, can be dusted off by passing over it an old broom or hair floor-brush, with a piece of slightly moistened rag tied around it. Everything that falls upon it lies upon the surface as on that of varnished furniture. Nothing ever really soils it. It can, of course, be washed up, but never needs scrubbing.
Now for the rugs. A room, unless it is very full of furniture, never looks well with bits and scraps of rugs about it. The main open space should be covered by a large rug, if possible. The rug need not to be so expensive as a carpet, for it can be made of American Smyrna, velvet, Brussels, or even ingrain carpeting, edged with a border to match. It should cover the open space in the middle of the room, and be held down, if possible, here and there, by the heavier pieces of furniture. If made of carpeting, it is better to have it made by the firm of whom it is bought, as home-made rugs usually bear the impress of domestic manufacture. They need, after being sewed, to be shrunk and pressed, so as to lie flat and smooth and perfectly square.
Of the domestic and imported rugs there is a great variety, with a corresponding range of prices. The Pennsylvania rugs - imitation Smyrna - are exceedingly pretty, and are gotten up in pleasing colors - olives and crimsons and blues; but the occidental appreciation for color is crude and vulgar compared to the oriental; and the domestic rugs, even the prettiest, smack of the designer and the loom, while the oriental ones often show an audacity of color and design in detail which produces a charmingly harmonious result.
The Indian designs are dark and rich and somber, but very beautiful, while the Turkish are bright and vivid, and are far handsomer when toned down by wear than at first. The Persian are scarcely to be distinguished from the Turkish by the uninitiated. The Smyrna or Oushak rugs usually have a vivid cardinal center, broken by set figures and surrounded by a border of deep, rich, harmonious tints, or else they are of the old-fashioned colors, brickdust red with indigo-blue, a somberer combination, but one of which the eye never tires.
Rugs, like wine, grow more valuable as they grow older. Not with out usage, scampered over by children with muddy boots, or trodden by the heeled shoes of adults, but with the eastern usage, they are worn from their original wooliness of surface to an exquisite sheen, almost like that of silk plush, and are sold, half-worn, for prices above what the new ones bring.
S. B. H.