Who is Miss Abigail?

Abigail Grotke
Silver Spring, MD
email: missabigail at missabigail dot com
twitter: @DearMissAbigail

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Miss Abigail has a collection of over 1,000 classic advice books, spanning from 1822 to 1978 and covering a variety of topics, from love and romance to etiquette and charm. The collection sparked the idea for this site, then a book, Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage, which has inspired an Off-Broadway production of the same name!


Posts Tagged ‘decorating’

Deciding on a Color Scheme (1956)

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

We’re about to embark on a bathroom renovation on Monday, so we’ve (well, let me clarify  ~  I’ve  ~  the hubby is tolerating all of this with good nature) have been obsessing about large tubs and tiles and fixtures for quite some time.

I should be cleaning out the old bathroom right now, but instead decided to dig through the books to see if there was any advice that could help me as they start to tear up our bathroom. Didn’t immediately find anything on dealing with the chaos of construction, but I did enjoy this about selecting paint colors from a great book I received from my family at Christmas. The book is called The Complete Book of Absolutely Perfect Housekeeping: An Uproarious Guide for Disorganized Housewives (with Neat Solutions to Sloppy Problems), published in 1956 by Elinor Goulding Smith. Since our house is already filled with a crazy color scheme (selected mostly by yours truly), I really enjoyed the following:

"The very first thing [when decorating your home] is to decide on your color scheme. Now is the time to fling off the yolk of convention, and let yourself go. There is no color scheme that isn’t right if you like it. It would be too bad to finish the whole job and then find that it was really very ordinary, so don’t be afraid to take chances. What you want is something different. something that will make your friends talk. Try doing a room in black and purple, with perhaps puce accent just for laughs. Then invite your friends in for an evening of Russian roulette.

Remember that color, and color alone, will give your home its individual character, and an exciting choice of colors that suit your own personality can give your living room an air of distinguished sophistication and good taste that will endure even after it’s all dingy and shabby again, which will be soon. Very soon. Probably, with a little extra effort on the part of stray children, cats and other extraneous matter that drift into your home, day after tomorrow.

If you follow accurately the following few simple rules, you should have really striking results. So pay close attention, follow the easy steps, and go ahead with confidence:

I. Choose your favorite color and then immediately eliminate that as a possibility. If you go spreading your favorite color all over your walls, you’re going to get awfully sick of it. Choose one you’re not really crazy about, and you’ll find you’re far less likely to tire of it. This is your basic color.

II. Now, for the proper accent, choose carefully a color that is much darker or much lighter than the first, and of a different hue and intensity. Should it happen, by some horrid mischance, that at any time you select Cream, Oatmeal, or Tan, discard them immediately as possibilities. The reason for this is extremely technical, and without professional training you probably wouldn’t understand the reason which is that I can’t stand the sight of them.

III. For the next two colors, to be used in small areas for that exhilarating touch of spice, you can safely let yourself go, even to the wildest flights of lime, avocado, or persimmon. Watermelon and raspberry are nice, too, if in season and thoroughly ripe.

This is now your personal color scheme selected by you, to suit your personality. Only you will have this highly individual color combination, chosen to enhance your complexion, hair-coloring, and your favorite nail polish."

Enjoy TV In Your Bedroom

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

slimline TVs are a good choiceAh, 1971. A fine year for decorating the home, from what I can tell by looking at the really brightly colored rooms in a book recently donated to the collection by my mom.

According to a chapter titled “Television: The Right Type and Size for You, and Where to Place It”:

There is little doubt that television has changed our lives in many ways. As a source of information, education, and entertainment it has developed from a scientific and technological curiousity; as a medium of communication its role is now as important in modern life as that of the telephone and the radio.

That said, I think I’ll go snuggle in bed with the remote. Won’t you join me?

1971: Enjoy TV In Your Bedroom

For some people the idea of perfect relaxation is to lie in bed and watch the late, late show on TV. The problem often is how to include television attractively in a bedroom decorating plan. A simple solution is an adjustable tension pole that goes from floor to ceiling and can hold a portable TV set. This device uses a minimum of floor space, and it eliminates the need for a TV stand. Slimline TVs are a good choice for the bedroom; they are light and easy to store.

Another possibility for reclining television viewers is to build the set into the wall. Remove the framed mirror that hangs over the dresser and build a niche for the television set in its place. Then rehang the mirror, attaching it to the wall with hinges at the side so it can swing away from the TV screen like a door. If another location for a built-in television set is more suitable than over the dresser, it is still possible to conceal the screen when it is not in use. A door that matches those in the room makes an excellent cover-up, and so does a painting on hinges.

Wherever you decide to place your built-in television set in the bedroom, you should bear in mind that your line of vision while reclining is not the same as when you are sitting up. The television set should be placed higher than usual for the most comfortable viewing while in bed. For added convenience, plan to operate your bedroom TV with a remove-control device.

Source: The Practical Encyclopedia of Good Decorating and Home Improvement: Vol. 16, SIL-TEL. New York: Greystone Press, 1971.
~ pp. 3056-57 ~

Basics of a Beautiful Room

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

the wonderful world of colorCouches. You don’t think too much about them until a really gigantic one shows up on your doorstep. This happened to my friend Deborah recently. A birthday present to herself, the new furniture was overwhelming. I suggested that to fully appreciate it she needed to embrace the couch, become one with the couch ~ or in other words, get a blanket, lie down, and take a long nap.

I hear this helped, but to assist her and others faced with the perils of decorating a room here are some words of wisdom from none other than Barbara Taylor Bradford in Easy Steps to Successful Decorating. Now I wonder if Deborah’s couch will match the fabulous orange and yellow color schemes that appear throughout this book?

1971: Basics of a Beautiful Room

I truly believe that you can turn any room in your home into a beautiful setting for relaxation and enjoyment. All it requires on your part is a real desire to do this, plus a little decorating know-how, which I feel sure this book will give you.

When you look at the room about to be born, consider your aims and what you want the finished result to be. In essence, it should be a welcoming room, where your family and friends feel at their best ~ relaxed, stimulated, comfortable and truly at ease among attractive furnishings. The true measure of your success as a decorator will be apparent when you see your family and friends enjoying the room from every level….

[It is] important to consider some basic elements that contribute toward a beautiful room at all times. In combination, they provide the ultimate finished effect. They are:

1. Space. It is important to utilize this to the fullest. Preplanning will enable you to do this and avoid either an empty or a cluttered look.

2. Scale. Every piece of furniture should be related in size to the others and also compatible with the dimensions of the room. This careful balancing of scale ensures a smooth look in the room.

3. Furniture Arrangements. Each grouping must add to the room’s visual beauty and function perfectly for the occupants.

4. Lighting. All fixtures should be carefully distributed to properly highlight furnishings, provide visual comfort and create a pleasing atmosphere.

5. Color. This must be carefully selected and used correctly to create the mood you desire and integrate all the other elements into a cohesive whole.

6. Harmony. Fabrics, floor coverings, wall covering, woods and all other textures should be selectively chosen both to match and to contrast with one another. Proper keying of these materials produces a harmonious look.

This, then, has been your introduction to decorating. In fact, you might think of it as the beginning of your adventure in the wonderful world of color, design and home furnishing. And decorating a home is an adventure, one to be embarked upon with enthusiasm and love. For after all, you are setting out to create beautiful surroundings for those you love.

Source: Bradford, Barbara Taylor. Easy Steps to Successful Decorating. New York: Simon and Schuster,1971.
~ pp. 216-18 ~

Color and Light

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

an illusion of opennessAs I work to make my house mine by painting every wall possible, I figured it would be only be appropriate to post something related to color and light. You can’t imagine how many hours I’ve spent staring at paint chips wondering how they’d look on my walls. So what do you think of a candy lime and mandarin orange kitchen? Wheeee!!!

1955: Color and Light

Color and light can increase or decrease the size of a room and of the objects in it. They can hold a room together or, seemingly, push it apart. In terms of your home, here is what these optical illusions ~ that is what they really are ~ can do.

Warm colors are said to advance, to come closer to you, than cool colors. They seem to pull the walls of a room together, making it look smaller. They unite furniture groups; separate chairs appear to be larger and closer focusing your attention on them. One warm-colored wall almost immediately attracts your eye, becoming a center of interest. High ceilings may be visually lowered and the narrow walls of long rooms brought into scale when a warm color is applied to them.

Cool, or receding, colors make rooms optically larger by pushing out the walls, and low ceilings are raised. Furniture may look smaller and seem farther away from you. An oversize sofa in a soft green, for instance, will not appear to be as big as it actually is.

Oddly enough, the very light tints of all colors ~ warm or cool ~ and most whites impart an illusion of openness and spaciousness.

Source: Commery, E. W. and C. Eugene Stephenson. How to Decorate and Light Your Home. New York: Coward-McCann, Inc., 1955.
~ p. 37-38 ~

Rooms that Reflect Personality

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

her guests are always enchantedAs you can probably imagine, I’ve got a lot of books (and other stuff), and not a lot of space. I’m feeling a bit cramped. But I’m confident that it’s for the best ~ as Elizabeth Ogg says in her book Decorating The Small Apartment (1949), it’s okay to display my treasures in my home. I shouldn’t feel bad about having so many treasures. Treasures are good. Yeah, that’s right. Lots of treasures are really, really, really good.

1949: Rooms that Reflect Personality

Of coure, you may be a collector of fine china or pottery. If so, you certainly ought to display your treasures in your home so that you and your friends can enjoy them. Collections and other hobbies offer wonderful opportunities for decoration with a purely personal touch. One man has mounted his old-coin collection in small glass-fronted cases on his bookshelves. Another has a collection of knives with carved handles, culled from the primitive tribes he studied as an anthropologist. A woman who went to Florida for a holiday came back so enthusiastic about the sea shells she had gathered (and had even learned the names of) that she mounted them most attractively on a sand-colored board fastened to her coffee table, and covered them with a framed glass panel. A girl who makes marionettes has a tiny marionette stage set up in her living room, with footlights and spotlights ready to switch on. Her guests are always enchanted to see the newest of the ‘little people’ she has created. If your hobby is no more than collecting picture postcards, you can still use it decoratively. Mount four or six of them at a time on a canvas bulletin board or on a sheet of cardboard which you can cover with glass and hang in a braquette. Change the cards on display as often as you like.

No matter what the things which have personal meaning for you may be ~ a picture or two, your favorite books, some small pieces of sculpture, a bit of lovely old silver or china, your international-doll collection ~ they deserve a place of honor in your home. More than anything else, they make your home a reflection of you.

Source: Ogg, Elizabeth. Decorating the Small Apartment. New York: Woman’s Press, 1949.
~ p. 127 ~

A Bath-Room

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

any one can make a bath-tubMom and I spent some time perusing some of my books while she was here over Thanksgiving, including a one appropriately titled Mother’s Guide and Daughter’s Friend, which was written by “an old practitioner” in 1890. This bit about building a tub was one that mom insists you read. She is a mother, after all. She knows best.

1890: A Bath-Room

Not an essential room, as a bath may be taken anywhere, but a convenient one. It need not be larger than six by eight feet square. Any one can make a bath-tub. Make a strong box of one and a half inch plank, about four feet long, two feet wide and two feet deep, and get a tinsmith to line it with zinc or galvanized iron. Make a hole at one end and put in a spout to extend outside of the house, to carry away the waste water. The bath-room may be warmed by having the pipe from the kitchen stove or a stove in some adjoining room pass through a drum in the bathroom A small sheet iron stove which will get hot quickly will perhaps be more satisfactory.

Source: “An Old Practitioner.” The Mother’s Guide and Daughter’s Friend. Indianapolis, Ind.: Normal Publishing House, 1890.
~ pp. 460-61 ~

The Fireplace

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

give it expressionFall has finally arrived in the greater Washington, D.C., area, and as the rooms get chillier there is a pressing need to have the fireplace and heating system checked out in the new house. Fireplace is done as of this week, heating still to come.

As I sit and enjoy the burning logs tonight, read a little about the benefits of a fireplace from a A Home of Your Own, written about the time that my house was built. I imagine the builders were thinking of my future enjoyment when deciding its location in my living room ~ with bookshelves on both sides, and small high windows. Ah, simple pleasures in life.

1925: The Fireplace

The living-room must have a fireplace, because a living-room without a fireplace is like a face without eyes ~ nothing to light it up, to give it expression.

Whether the fireplace shall be at the side of the room or at the end is purely a matter of choice and of convenience to your other plans. . . .

There are advantages to be considered in placing the fireplace at either the side or at the end of the room. At the side it greets you pleasantly as you enter. Also, if you should want to open the chimney on the porch or sun-parlor side of the wall and have a fireplace there, you can do so. On the other hand, bookcases seem so completely to finish the architecture of the fireplace that it is a pity not to have them, and you can’t have them and have doors opening on to your sun-parlor too. And I certainly should have the sun-parlor off the living-room. So there you are.

If the fireplace is at the end of the room you can have bookcases at either side with small high windows above them, and you can also have your doors on to the sun-parlor so that the two rooms open together giving still more effect of space.

Source: Della Thompson Lutes. A Home of Your Own. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1925.
~ pp. 197-98 ~

How Do I Keep Sex in the Bedroom?

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

his male conservatism and your frivilous femininityQ Dear Miss Abigail:

How do I keep sex in the bedroom?

Tucked In

A Dear Tucked:

Hmm . . . I’m not sure why you would want that, but you must have your reasons. The books don’t quite address this particular problem, so instead I suggest you take the following advice, originally given to young brides decorating a new home, and get to work sprucing up your bedroom! Make it a fun, relaxing place that everyone will want to spend time in, including your special someone.

1965: Decorating Your Bedroom

As refreshing as a good night’s sleep is the sight of a cheerful, colorful bedroom that offers convenience without clutter. To achieve this result, consider first the practical and then the decorative aspects of what you are trying to accomplish.

The Practical Aspects. First and foremost, this is a room for sleeping, so be sure to buy a good mattress set in the size necessary to allow ample room. Then you are ready to think about storage.

Bedroom storage furniture comes in all shapes and sizes and answers every need for keeping one’s clothes in order. . . . If bedroom closet space is limited, or there is no linen closet in the apartment, an extra piece of furniture may be necessary. Be on the lookout for “bonus” storage ~ night tables with roomy cabinets, seating benches that are also blanket chests, and bookcase headboards with sliding door compartments.

Decorative Aspects. While the cliché of the bed, dresser, chest and twin night tables may have sufficed some years ago, today’s generation is intent on avoiding such a stereotyped background. Naturally, you still need a bed, some lamps and lots of drawer space ~ but no longer need all of these be from the same matched bedroom suite. Look for furniture collections that include surprising innovations, or make up your own. You can vary textures, for example, by including one or two pieces in material other than wood ~ a cane headboard, rattan blanket chest or wrought iron desk chair. A change of pace in wood finishes also makes for interest ~ one painted and decorated accent piece, perhaps.

Bedroom lighting should be free from glare, colors interesting but restful, and accessories used in moderation to avoid the “busy” feeling that may jangle the nerves. For inspiration, think of what represents a peaceful setting in your own mind, and try to capture this feeling though the medium of interior decorating. Is is a favorite lakeside retreat in spring or summer? Then a blue or green color scheme may be your choice. Do the tensions of daily living fade away from you amid Early American surroundings? Perhaps you should turn your bedroom into a bit of Americana. Do you relax best when you feel pampered and luxurious? French Provincial furniture and lush fabrics are one solution.

Dual-Purpose Aspects. If you take the trouble to set the mood for relaxation, why waste it by not using this room when you’re awake? Properly equipped with a few extras, a bedroom is ideal as a second living room.

By working out a floor plan that makes economical use of square footage, you can find the right spot for one or two comfortable reading chairs, or perhaps a small table for playing cards or serving midnight snacks. A desk can be incorporated easily, either as a separate piece of furniture or part of a wall of stacking units, thereby providing a quiet corner for studying or paper work.

Even in small rooms where extra furniture is out of the question, the bedroom can be made more versatile simply by installing adequate lights over the headboard for reading in bed, and choosing night tables with slideout shelves for snacks. Add a small portable television set and you have an added attraction.

Advice to Wives. In your approach to decorating, certain compromises may be necessary so the result will be his private world as well as yours. There are men who are indulgent about the feminine yen for frills in the bedroom and others who rebel. If your husband is in the latter category, don’t be insulted when he refuses to use the desk you put there just for him. If it faces those frilly pink ruffled curtains, who can blame him?

Somewhere between the pastel ruffles that make men feel silly and the austere “bachelor browns” that women find depressing lies the perfect decorating scheme. With his male conservatism and your frivilous femininity to balance each other, you can achieve better, more professional results than either of you might have done on your own, so be sure to make this a joint project.

Source: Enright, Evelyn and Ann Seranne. Happy Living! A Guidebook for Brides. Los Angeles: American Bride Publications, 1965.
~ pp. 109-12 ~