Whitewashed plaster between wooden structural beams was the most common wall finish of Tudor living room designs – or any room for that matter. Timber paneling of oak was also a strongly featured interior design style in the houses of wealthier people. This would have been in a lighter tone of wood than we might expect, the darkening with which we are familiar having occurred through age or staining. Other cheaper woods were also used and these were often painted in colors or finished to imitate finer woods or other rich materials.
The most commonly seen division of panels was in squares or rectangles. Additional decoration might also be applied in the form of painting or carving (especially in the popular linen fold design). Later in the period the joins of panel sections were often concealed behind carved pilasters. Wall-papers, made in panels for adhering to fabric before being attached to walls, were produced during the sixteenth century, but these were only to be seen in a minority of houses.
Ceilings in the larger houses, later on, tended to be highly decorated with plaster-work, the designs for which were often geometric in nature. Heraldic and floral motifs featured and strap-work was often to be seen.
Compacted earth strewn with loose rushes gradually lost out in favor of rush matting. Wooden floor-boards in oak, elm or imported fir and of varying widths – generally of more generous proportions than their present-day equivalents – began to be seen in wealthier households. In the latter part of the period these might be covered with carpets from the Orient, Turkey or continental Europe, or perhaps even home-produced examples. Flagstones were also a widely used floor surface.
The most notable feature of furniture during this period was the number of new items coming into use. The canopied four-poster bed was still the most important piece (mattresses were now filled with feathers instead of straw), but newly introduced were such pieces as chests on stands, presses (tall cupboards for clothing or foodstuffs) and bookcases.
Oak was still the popular choice of wood for those who could afford it. For others, cheaper softwoods might be used and these were usually painted to disguise their humble origins. Furniture was often turned and quite bulbous in nature with a highly carved surface.
Upholstery started to appear and house interiors became altogether more comfortable thanks to the use of cloths such as brocade, silk damask, woolen cloth and velvet. Textile window treatments were rarely seen (where they existed, they would consist of just one curtain, on a pole and swagged to one side), wooden shutters being more usual.
Lighting And Accessories
Interiors were lit by either rush lights or tallow candles plus, of course, the light emanating from an open fire. Unlike our modern, odorless, smooth-burning candles, the tallow variety, being manufactured from animal fats, would have performed erratically and given off smells and smoke. Accessorizing as we know it – employing items purely for their decorative value – was less prevalent. However, pewter serving ware and bold candlesticks, functional as well as attractive, would often be on display.