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Furniture








Although the forms and varieties of furniture are infinite, they can
easily be classified first into the two great divisions of good and bad,
and after that into kinds and styles; but no matter how good the
different specimens may be, or to what style they may belong, each one
is subject again to the ruling of fitness. Detached things may be both
thoroughly pleasing and thoroughly good in themselves, but unless they
are appropriate to the place where, and purpose for which they are used,
they will not be beautiful.

It is well to reiterate that the use to which a room is put must always
govern its furnishing and in a measure its colour, and that whatever we
put in it must be placed there because it is appropriate to that use,
and because it is needed for completeness. It is misapplication which
makes much of what is called "artistic furnishing" ridiculous. An
old-fashioned brass preserving-kettle and a linen or wool spinning-wheel
are in place and appropriate pieces of furnishing for a studio; the one
for colour, and the other for form, and because also they may serve as
models; but they are sadly out of place in a modern city house, or even
in the parlour of a country cottage.

We all recognise the fact that a room carefully furnished in one style
makes a oneness of impression; whereas if things are brought together
heterogeneously, even if each separate thing is selected for its own
special virtue and beauty, the feeling of enjoyment will be far less
complete.

There is a certain kinship in pieces of furniture made or originated at
the same period and fashioned by a prevailing sentiment of beauty, which
makes them harmonious when brought together; and if our minds are in
sympathy with that period and style of expression, it becomes a great
pleasure to use it as a means of expression for ourselves. Whatever
appeals to us as the best or most beautiful thought in manufacture we
have a right to adopt, but we should study to understand the
circumstances of its production, in order to do justice to it and
ourselves, since style is evolved from surrounding influences. It would
seem also that its periods and origin should not be too far removed from
the interests and ways of our own time, and incongruous with it, because
it would be impossible to carry an utterly foreign period or method of
thought into all the intimacies of domestic life. The fad of furnishing
different rooms in different periods of art, and in the fashion of
nations and peoples whose lives are totally dissimilar, may easily be
carried too far, and the spirit of home, and even of beauty, be lost. Of
course this applies to small, and not to grand houses, which are always
exceptions to the purely domestic idea.

There are many reasons why one should be in sympathy with what is called
the "colonial craze"; not only because colonial days are a part of our
history, but because colonial furniture and decorations were derived
directly from the best period of English art. Its original designers
were masters who made standards in architectural and pictorial as well
as household art. The Adams brothers, to whom many of the best forms of
the period are referable, were great architects as well as great
designers. Even so distinguished a painter as Hogarth delighted in
composing symmetrical forms for furniture, and preached persistently the
beauty of curved instead of rectangular lines. It was, in fact, a period
in which superior minds expressed themselves in material forms, when
Flaxman, Wedgwood, Chippendale and many others of their day, true
artists in form, wrote their thoughts in wood, stone, and pottery, and
bequeathed them to future ages. Certainly the work of such minds in such
company must outlast mere mechanical efforts. It is interesting to note,
that many of the Chippendale chairs keep in their under construction the
square and simple forms of a much earlier period, while the upper part,
the back, and seats are carved into curves and floriated designs. One
cannot help wondering whether this square solidity was simply a
reminiscence or persistence of earlier forms, or a conscious return to
the most direct principles of weight-bearing constructions.

All furniture made under primitive conditions naturally depends upon
perpendicular and horizontal forms, because uninfluenced construction
considers first of all the principle of strength; but under the varied
influences of the Georgian period one hardly expects fidelity to first
principles. New England carpenters and cabinet-makers who had wrought
under the masters of carpentry and cabinet-work in England brought with
them not only skill to fashion, but the very patterns and drawings from
which Chippendale and Sheraton furniture had been made in England. Our
English forefathers were very fond of the St. Domingo mahogany, brought
back in the ship-bottoms of English traders, but the English workmen
who made furniture in the new world, while they adopted this foreign
wood, were not slow to appreciate the wild cherry, and the different
maples and oak and nut woods which they found in America. They were
woods easy to work, and apt to take on polish and shining surface. The
cabinet-makers liked also the abnormal specimens of maple where the
fibre grew in close waves, called curled maple, as well as the great
roots flecked and spotted with minute knots, known as dotted maple.

All these things went into colonial furniture, so beautifully cut, so
carefully dowelled and put together, so well made, that many of the
things have become heirlooms in the families for which they were
constructed. I remember admiring a fine old cherry book-case in Mr.
Lowell's library at Cambridge, and being told by the poet that it had
belonged to his grandfather. When I spoke of the comparative rarity of
such possessions he answered: "Oh, anyone can have his grandfather's
furniture if he will wait a hundred years!"

Nevertheless, with modern methods of manufacture it is by no means
certain that a hundred years will secure possession of the furniture we
buy to-day to our grandchildren. In those early days it was not
uncommon, it was indeed the custom, for some one of the men who were
called "journeymen cabinet-makers"--that is, men who had served their
time and learned their trade, but had not yet settled down to a fixed
place and shop of their own--to take up an abode in the house with the
family which had built it, for a year, or even two or three years,
carrying on the work in some out-house or dependence, choosing and
seasoning the wood, and measuring the furniture for the spaces where it
was to stand.

There was a fine fitness in such furnishing; it was as if the different
pieces actually grew where they were placed, and it is small wonder that
so built and fashioned they should possess almost a human interest.
Direct and special thought and effort were incorporated with the
furniture from the very first, and it easily explains the excellences
and finenesses of its fashioning.

There is an interesting house in Flushing, Long Island, where such
furniture still stands in the rooms where it was put together in 1664,
and where it is so fitted to spaces it has filled during the passing
centuries, that it would be impossible to carry it through the narrow
doors and passages, which, unlike our present halls, were made for the
passing to and fro of human beings, and not of furniture.

It is this kind of interest which attaches us to colonial furniture and
adds to the value of its beauty and careful adaptation to human
convenience. In the roomy "high boys" which we find in old houses there
are places for everything. They were made for the orderly packing and
keeping of valuable things, in closetless rooms, and they were made
without projecting corners and cornices, because life was lived in
smaller spaces than at present. They were the best product of a
thoughtful time--where if manufacture lacked some of the machinery and
appliances of to-day, it was at least not rushed by breathless
competition, but could progress slowly in careful leisure. Of course we
cannot all have colonial furniture, and indeed it would not be according
to the spirit of our time, for the arts of our own day are to be
encouraged and fostered--but we can buy the best of the things which
are made in our time, the best in style, in intention, in fittingness,
and above all in carefulness and honesty of construction.

For some reason the quality of durability seems to be wanting in modern
furniture. Our things are fashioned of the same woods, but something in
the curing or preparation of them has weakened the fibre and made it
brittle. Probably the gradual evaporation of the tree-juices which
old-time cabinet-makers were willing to wait for, left the shrunken
sinews of the wood in better condition than is possible with our hurried
and violent kiln-dried methods. What is gained in time in the one place
is lost in another. Nature refuses to enter into our race for speedy
completion, and if we hurry her natural processes we shorten our lease
of ownership.

As a very apt illustration of this fact, I remember coming into
possession some twenty years ago of an oak chair which had stood,
perhaps, for more than two hundred years in a Long Island farm-house.
When I found it, it had been long relegated to kitchen use and was
covered with a crust of variously coloured paints which had accumulated
during the two centuries of its existence. The fashion of it was rare,
and had probably been evolved by some early American cabinet-maker, for
while it had all and even more than the grace of the high-backed
Chippendale patterns, it was better fitted to the rounded surfaces of
the human body. It was a spindle chair with a slightly hollowed seat,
the rim of the back rounded to a loop which was continued into
arm-rests, which spread into thickened blades for hand-rests. Being very
much in love with the grace and ease of it, I took it to a manufacturer
to be reproduced in mahogany, who, with a far-sighted sagacity, flooded
the market with that particular pattern.

We are used--and with good reason--to consider mahogany as a durable
wood, but of the half-dozen of mahogany copies of the old oak chair,
each one has suffered some break of legs or arms or spindles, while the
original remains as firm in its withered old age as it was the day I
rescued it from the "out-kitchen" of the Long Island farm-house.

For the next fifty years after the close of our colonial history, the
colonial cabinet-makers in New England and the northern Middle States
continued to flourish, evolving an occasional good variation from what
may be called colonial forms. Rush-and flag-bottomed chairs and chairs
with seats of twisted rawhide--the frames often gilded and painted--
sometimes took the place of wrought mahogany, except in the best rooms
of great houses. Many of these are of excellent shape and construction,
and specially interesting as an adaptation of natural products of the
country. Undoubtedly, with our ingenious modern appliances, we could
make as good furniture as was made in Chippendale and Sheraton's day,
with far less expenditure of effort; but the demon of competition in
trade will not allow it. We must use all material, perfect or imperfect;
we cannot afford to select. We must cover knots and imperfections with
composition and pass them on. We must use the cheapest glue, and save an
infinitesimal sum in the length of our dowels; we must varnish instead
of polishing, or "the other man" will get the better of us. If we did
not do these things our furniture would be better, but "the other man"
would sell more, because he could sell more cheaply.

Since the revived interest in the making of furniture, we find an
occasional and marked recurrence to primitive form--on each occasion the
apparently new style taking on the name of the man who produced it.

In our own day we have seen the "Eastlake furniture" appear and
disappear, succeeded by the "Morris furniture," which is undoubtedly
better adapted to our varied wants. At present, mortising and dowelling
have come to the front as proper processes, especially for
table-building; and this time the style appears under the name of
"Mission furniture." Much of this is extremely well suited for cottage
furnishing, but the occasional exaggeration of the style takes one back
not only to early, but the earliest, English art, when chairs were
immovable seats or blocks, and tables absolute fixtures on account of
the weighty legs upon which they were built. In short, the careful and
cultivated decorator finds it as imperative to guard against exaggerated
simplicity as unsupported prettiness.

Fortunately there has been a great deal of attention paid to good
cabinet work within the last few years, and although the method of its
making lacks the human motive and the human interest of former days--it
is still a good expression of the art of to-day, and at its best, worthy
to be carried down with the generations as one of the steps in the
evolutions of time. What we have to do, is to learn to discriminate
between good and bad, to appreciate the best in design and workmanship,
even although we cannot afford to buy it. In this case we should learn
to do with less. As a rule our houses are crowded. If we are able to
buy a few good things, we are apt instead to buy many only moderately
good, for lavish possession seems to be a sort of passion, or
birthright, of Americans. It follows that we fill our houses with
heterogeneous collections of furniture, new and old, good and bad,
appropriate or inappropriate, as the case may be, with a result of
living in seeming luxury, but a luxury without proper selection or true
value. To have less would in many cases be to have more--more
tranquillity of life, more ease of mind, more knowledge and more real
enjoyment.

There is another principle which can be brought into play in this case,
and that is the one of buying--not a costly kind of thing, but the best
of its kind. If it is a choice in chairs, for instance, let it be the
best cane-seated, or rush-bottomed chair that is made, instead of the
second or third best upholstered or leather-covered one. If it is a
question of tables, buy the simplest form made of flawless wood and with
best finish, instead of a bargain in elaborately turned or scantily
carved material. If it is in bedsteads, a plain brass, or good enamelled
iron or a simple form in black walnut, instead of a cheap inlaid
wood--and so on through the whole category. A good chintz or cotton is
better for draperies, than flimsy silk or brocade; and when all is done
the very spirit of truth will sit enthroned in the household, and we
shall find that all things have been brought into harmony by her laws.

Although the furnishing of a house should be one of the most painstaking
and studied of pursuits, there is certainly nothing which is at the same
time so fascinating and so flattering in its promise of future
enjoyment. It is like the making of a picture as far as possibility of
beauty is concerned, but a picture within and against which one's life,
and the life of the family, is to be lived. It is a bit of creative art
in itself, and one which concerns us so closely as to be a very part of
us. We enjoy every separate thing we may find or select or procure--not
only for the beauty and goodness which is in it, but for its
contribution to the general whole. And in knowledge of applied and
manufactured art, the furnishing of a house is truly "the beginning of
wisdom." One learns to appreciate what is excellent in the new, from
study and appreciation of quality in the old.

It is the fascination of this study which has made a multiplication of
shops and collections of "antiques" in every quarter of the city. Many a
woman begins from the shop-keeper's point of view of the value of mere
age, and learns by experience that age, considered by itself, is a
disqualification, and that it gives value only when the art which
created the antique has been lost or greatly deteriorated. If one can
find as good, or a better thing in art and quality, made to-day--by all
means buy the thing of to-day, and let yourself and your children be
credited with the hundred or two years of wear which is in it. We can
easily see that it is wiser to buy modern iridescent glass, fitted to
our use, and yet carrying all the fascinating lustre of ancient glass,
than to sigh for the possession of some unbuyable thing belonging to
dead and gone Caesars. And the case is as true of other modern art and
modern inventions, if the art is good, and the inventions suitable to
our wants and needs.

Yet in spite of the goodness of much that is new, there is a subtle
pleasure in turning over, and even in appropriating, the things that are
old. There are certain fenced-in-blocks on the east side of New York
City where for many years the choice parts of old houses have been
deposited. As fashion and wealth have changed their locality--treading
slowly up from the Battery to Central Park--many beautiful bits of
construction have been left behind in the abandoned houses--either
disregarded on account of change in popular taste, or unappreciated by
reason of want of knowledge. For the few whose knowledge was competent,
there were things to be found in the second-hand yards, precious beyond
comparison with anything of contemporaneous manufacture.

There were panelled front doors with beautifully fluted columns and
carved capitals, surmounted by half-ovals of curiously designed sashes;
there were beautifully wrought iron railings, and elaborate newel-posts
of mahogany, brass door-knobs and hinges, and English hob-grates, and
crystal chandeliers of cost and brilliance, and panelled wainscots of
oak and mahogany; chimney-pieces in marble and wood of an excellence
which we are almost vainly trying to compass, and all of them to be
bought at the price of lumber.

These are the things to make one who remembers them critical about the
collections to be found in the antique shops of to-day, and yet such
shops are enticing and fashionable, and the quest of antiques will go on
until we become convinced of the art-value and the equal merit of the
new--which period many things seem to indicate is not far off. In those
days there was but one antique shop in all New York which was devoted to
the sale of old things, to furniture, pictures, statuary, and what
Ruskin calls "portable art" of all kinds. It was a place where one might
go, crying "new lamps for old ones" with a certainty of profit in the
transaction. In later years it has been known as Sypher's, and
although one of many, instead of a single one, is still a place of
fascinating possibilities.

To sum up the gospel of furnishing, we need only fall back upon the
principles of absolute fitness, actual goodness, and real beauty. If the
furniture of a well-coloured room possesses these three qualities, the
room as a whole can hardly fail to be lastingly satisfactory. It must be
remembered, however, that it is a trinity of virtues. No piece of
furniture should be chosen because it is intrinsically good or
genuinely beautiful, if it has not also its use--and this rule applies
to all rooms, with the one exception of the drawing-room.

The necessity of use, governing the style of furnishing in a room, is
very well understood. Thus, while both drawing-room and dining-room must
express hospitality, it is of a different kind or degree. That of the
drawing-room is ceremonious and punctilious, and represents the family
in its relation to society, while the dining-room is far more intimate,
and belongs to the family in its relation to friends. In fact, as the
dining-room is the heart of the house, its furnishing would naturally be
quite different in feeling and character from the drawing-room, although
it might be fully as lavish in cost. It would be stronger, less
conservative, and altogether more personal in its expression. Family
portraits and family silver give the personal note which we like to
recognise in our friends' dining-rooms, because the intimacy of the room
makes even family history in place.

In moderate houses, even the drawing-room is too much a family room to
allow it to be entirely emancipated from the law of use, but in houses
which are not circumscribed in space, and where one or more rooms are
set apart to social rather than domestic life, it is natural and proper
to gather in them things which stand, primarily, for art and
beauty--which satisfy the needs of the mind as distinct from those of
bodily comfort. Things which belong in the category of "unrelated
beauty" may be appropriately gathered in such a room, because the use of
it is to please the eye and excite the interest of our social world;
therefore a table which is a marvel of art, but not of convenience, or
a casket which is beautiful to look at, but of no practical use, are in
accordance with the idea of the room. They help compose a picture, not
only for the eyes of friends and acquaintances, but for the education of
the family.

It follows that an artistic and luxurious drawing-room may be a true
family expression; it may speak of travel and interest in the artistic
development of mankind; but even where the experiences of the family
have been wide and liberal, if the house and circumstances are narrow, a
luxurious interior is by no means a happiness.

It may seem quite superfluous to give advice against luxury in
furnishing except where it is warranted by exceptional means, because
each family naturally adjusts its furnishing to its own needs and
circumstances; but the influence of mere beauty is very powerful, and
many a costly toy drifts into homes where it does not rightly belong and
where, instead of being an educational or elevating influence, it is a
source of mental deterioration, from its conflict with unsympathetic
circumstances. A long and useful chapter might be written upon "art out
of place," but nothing which could be said upon the subject would apply
to that incorporation of art and beauty with furniture and interior
surrounding, which is the effort and object of every true artist and
art-lover.

The fact to be emphasised is, that objects d'art--beautiful in
themselves and costly because of the superior knowledge, artistic
feeling, and patient labour which have produced them--demand care and
reserve for their preservation, which is not available in a household
where the first motive of everything must be ministry to comfort. Art
in the shape of pictures is fortunately exempt from this rule, and may
dignify and beautify every room in the house without being imperilled by
contact in the exigencies of use.

Following out this idea, a house where circumstances demand that there
shall be no drawing-room, and where the family sitting-room must also
answer for the reception of guests, a perfect beauty and dignity may be
achieved by harmony of colour, beauty of form, and appropriateness to
purpose, and this may be carried to almost any degree of perfection by
the introduction and accompaniment of pictures. In this case art is a
part of the room, as well as an adornment of it. It is kneaded into
every article of furniture. It is the daily bread of art to which we are
all entitled, and which can make a small country home, or a smaller
city apartment, as enjoyable and elevating as if it were filled with the
luxuries of art.

But one may say, "It requires knowledge to do this; much knowledge in
the selection of the comparatively few things which are to make up such
an interior," and that is true--and the knowledge is to be proved every
time we come to the test of buying. Yet it is a curious fact that the
really good thing, the thing which is good in art as well as
construction, will inevitably be chosen by an intelligent buyer, instead
of the thing which is bad in art and in construction. Fortunately, one
can see good examples in the shops of to-day, where twenty years ago at
best only honest and respectable furniture was on exhibition. One must
rely somewhat on the character of the places from which one buys, and
not expect good styles and reliable manufacture where commercial
success is the dominant note of the business. In truth the careful buyer
is not so apt to fail in quality as in harmony, because grade as well as
style in different articles and manufactures is to be considered. What
is perfectly good in one grade of manufacture will not be in harmony
with a higher or lower grade in another. Just as we choose our grade of
floor-covering from ingrain to Aubusson, we must choose the grade of
other furnishings. Even an inexperienced buyer would be apt to feel
this, and would know that if she found a simple ingrain-filling
appropriate to a bed-chamber, maple or enamelled furniture would belong
to it, instead of more costly inlaid or carved pieces.

It may be well to reiterate the fact that the predominant use of each
room in a house gives the clew to the best rules of treatment in
decoration and furniture. For instance, the hall, being an intermediate
space between in and out of doors, should be coloured and furnished in
direct reference to this, and to its common use as a thoroughfare by all
members of the family. It is not a place of prolonged occupation, and
may therefore properly be without the luxury and ease of lounges and
lounging-chairs. But as long as it serves both as entrance-room to the
house and for carrying the stairways to the upper floors, it should be
treated in such a way as to lead up to and prepare the mind for whatever
of inner luxury there may be in the house. At the same time it should
preserve something of the simplicity and freedom from all attempt at
effect which belong to out-of-door life. The difference between its
decoration and furniture and that of other divisions of the house
should be principally in surface, and not in colour. Difference of
surface is secured by the use of materials which are permanent and
durable in effect, such as wood, plaster, and leather. These may all be
coloured without injury to their impression of permanency, although it
is generally preferable to take advantage of indigenous or "inherent
colour" like the natural yellows and russets of wood and leather. When
these are used for both walls and ceiling, it will be found that, to
give the necessary variation, and prevent an impression of monotony and
dulness, some tint must be added in the ornament of the surface, which
could be gained by a forcible deepening or variation of the general
tone, like a deep golden brown, which is the lowest tone of the scale of
yellow, or a red which would be only a variant of the prevailing tint.
The introduction of an opposing or contrasting tint, like pale blue in
small masses as compared with the general tint, even if it is in so
small a space as that of a water-colour on the wall, adds the necessary
contrast, and enlivens and invigorates a harmony.

No colour carries with it a more appropriate influence at the entrance
of a house than red in its different values. Certain tints of it which
are known both as Pompeiian and Damascus red have sufficient yellow in
their composition to fall in with the yellows of oiled wood, and give
the charm of a variant but related colour. In its stronger and deeper
tones it is in direct contrast to the green of abundant foliage, and
therefore a good colour for the entrance-hall or vestibule of a
country-house; while the paler tones, which run into pinks, hold the
same opposing relation to the gray and blue of the sea-shore. If walls
and ceiling are of wood, a rug of which the prevailing colour is red
will often give the exact note which is needed to preserve the room from
monotony and insipidity. A stair-carpet is a valuable point to make in a
hall, and it is well to reserve all opposing colour for this one place,
which, as it rises, meets all sight on a level, and makes its contrast
directly and unmistakably. A stair-carpet has other reasons for use in a
country-house than aesthetic ones, as the stairs are conductors of sound
to all parts of the house, and should therefore be muffled, and because
a carpeted stair furnishes much safer footing for the two family
extremes of childhood and age.

The furniture of the hall should not be fantastic, as some
cabinet-makers seem to imagine. Impossible twists in the supports of
tables and chairs are perhaps more objectionable in this first
vestibule or entrance to the house than elsewhere, because the mind is
not quite free from out-of-door influences, or ready to take pleasure in
the vagaries of the human fancy. Simple chairs, settles, and tables,
more solid perhaps than is desirable in other parts of the house, are
what the best natural, as well as the best cultivated, taste demands. If
there is one place more than another where a picture performs its full
work of suggestion and decoration, it is in a hall which is otherwise
bare of ornament. Pictures in dining-rooms make very little impression
as pictures, because the mind is engrossed with the first and natural
purpose of the room, and consequently not in a waiting and easily
impressible mood; but in a hall, if one stops for even a moment, the
thoughts are at leisure, and waiting to be interested. Aside from the
colour effect, which may be so managed as to be very valuable, pictures
hung in a hall are full of suggestion of wider mental and physical life,
and, like books, are indications of the tastes and experiences of the
family. Of course there are country-houses where the halls are built
with fireplaces, and windows commanding favourite views, and are really
intended for family sitting-rooms and gathering-places; in this case it
is generally preceded by a vestibule which carries the character of an
entrance-hall, leaving the large room to be furnished more luxuriously,
as is proper to a sitting-room.

The dining-room shares with the hall a purpose common to the life of the
family, and, while it admits of much more variety and elaboration, that
which is true of the hall is equally true of the dining-room, that it
should be treated with materials which are durable and have surface
quality, although its decoration should be preferably with china rather
than with pictures. It is important that the colour of a dining-room
should be pervading colour--that is, that walls and ceiling should be
kept together by the use of one colour only, in different degrees of
strength.

For many reasons, but principally because it is the best material to use

in a dining-room, the rich yellows of oiled wood make the most desirable
colour and surface. The rug, the curtains, the portieres and screen, can
then be of any good tint which the exposure of the room and the
decoration of the china seem to indicate. If it has a cold, northern
exposure, reds or gold browns are indicated; but if it is a sunny and
warm-looking room, green or strong India blue will be found more
satisfactory in simple houses. The materials used in curtains,
portieres, and screens should be of cotton or linen, or some plain
woollen goods which are as easily washable. A one-coloured,
heavy-threaded cotton canvas, a linen in solid colour, or even
indigo-blue domestic, all make extremely effective and appropriate
furnishings. The variety of blue domestic which is called denim is the
best of all fabrics for this kind of furnishing, if the colour is not
too dark.

The prettiest country house dining-room I know is ceiled and wainscoted
with wood, the walls above the wainscoting carrying an ingrain paper of
the same tone; the line of division between the wainscot and wall being
broken by a row of old blue India china plates, arranged in groups of
different sizes and running entirely around the room. There is one small
mirror set in a broad carved frame of yellow wood hung in the centre of
a rather large wall-space, its angles marked by small Dutch plaques; but
the whole decoration of the room outside of these pieces consists of
draperies of blue denim in which there is a design, in narrow white
outline, of leaping fish, and the widening water-circles and showery
drops made by their play. The white lines in the design answer to the
white spaces in the decorated china, and the two used together in
profusion have an unexpectedly decorative effect. The table and chairs
are, of course, of the same coloured wood used in the ceiling and
wainscot, and the rug is an India cotton of dark and light blues and
white. The sideboard is an arrangement of fixed shelves, but covered
with a beautiful collection of blue china, which serves to furnish the
table as well. If the dining-room had a northern exposure, and it was
desirable to use red instead of blue for colouring, as good an effect
could be secured by depending for ornament upon the red Kaga porcelain
so common at present in Japanese and Chinese shops, and using with it
the Eastern cotton known as bez. This is dyed with madder, and exactly
repeats the red of the porcelain, while it is extremely durable both in
colour and texture. Borders of yellow stitchery, or straggling fringes
of silk and beads, add very much to the effect of the drapery and to the
character of the room.

A library in ordinary family life has two parts to play. It is not only
to hold books, but to make the family at home in a literary atmosphere.
Such a room is apt to be a fascinating one by reason of this very
variety of use and purpose, and because it is a centre for all the
family treasures. Books, pictures, papers, photographs, bits of
decorative needlework, all centre here, and all are on most orderly
behaviour, like children at a company dinner. The colour of such a room
may, and should, be much warmer and stronger than that of a parlour pure
and simple, the very constancy and hardness of its use indicating tints
of strength and resistance; but, keeping that in mind, the rules for
general use of colour and harmony of tints will apply as well to a room
used for a double purpose as for a single. Of course the furniture
should be more solid and darker, as would be necessary for constant use,
but the deepening of tones in general colour provides for that, and for
the use of rugs of a different character. In a room of this kind perhaps
the best possible effect is produced by the use of some textile as a
wall-covering, as in that case the same material with a contrasted
colour in the lining can be used for curtains, and to some extent in the
furniture. This use of one material has not only an effect of richness
which is due to the library of the house, but it softens and brings
together all the heterogeneous things which different members of a large
family are apt to require in a sitting-room.

To those who prefer to work out and adapt their own surroundings, it is
well to illustrate the advice given for colour in different exposures by
selecting particular rooms, with their various relations to light, use,
and circumstances, and seeing how colour-principles can be applied to
them.

We may choose a reception-hall, in either a city or country house, since
the treatment would in both cases be guided by the same rules. If in a
city house, it may be on the shady or the sunny side of the street, and
this at once would differentiate, perhaps the colour, and certainly the
depth of colour to be used. If it is the hall of a country house the
difference between north or south light will not be as great, since a
room opening on the north in a house standing alone, in unobstructed
space, would have an effect of coldness, but not necessarily of shadow
or darkness. The first condition, then, of coldness of light would have
to be considered in both cases, but less positively in the country, than
in the city house. If the room is actually dark, a warm or orange tone
of yellow will both modify and lighten it.

Gold-coloured or yellow canvas with oak mouldings lighten and warm the
walls; and rugs with a preponderance of white and yellow transform a
dark hall into a light and cheerful one. It must be remembered that few
dark colours can assert themselves in the absolute shadow of a north
light. Green and blue become black. Gold, orange, and red alone have
sufficient power to hold their own, and make us conscious of them in
darkness.

In a hall which has plenty of light, but no sun, red is an effective and
natural colour, copper-coloured leather paper, cushions and rugs or
carpets of varying shades of red, and transparent curtains of the same
tint give an effect of warmth and vitality. Red is truly a delightful
colour to deal with in shadowed interiors, its sensitiveness to light,
changing from colour-tinted darkness to palpitating ruby, and even to
flame colour, on the slightest invitation of day-or lamp-light, makes it
like a living presence. It is especially valuable at the entrance of the
home, where it seems to meet one with almost a human welcome.

If we can succeed in making what would be a cold and unattractive
entrance hospitable and cordial by liberal use of warm and strong
colour, by reversing the effort we can just as easily modify the effect
of glaring, or overpowering, sunlight.

Suppose the entrance-hall of the house to be upon the sunny side of the
street, where in addition to the natural effect of full rays of the sun
there are also the reflections from innumerable other house-fronts and
house-windows.

In this case we must simulate shadow and mystery, and this can be done
by the colour-tones of blues and greens. I use these in the plural
because the shadows of both are innumerable, and because all, except
perhaps turquoise and apple-green, are natural shadow-tints. Green and
blue can be used together or separately, according to the skill and
what is called the "colour-sense" with which they are applied.

To use them together requires not only observation of colour-occurrences
in nature but sensitiveness to the more subtle out-of-door effects,
resulting from intermingling of shadows and reflection of lights. Well
done, it is one of the most beautiful and satisfactory of achievements,
but it may easily be bad by reason of sharp contrasts, or unmodified
juxtaposition.

But a room where blue in all its shades from dark to light alone
predominates, or a room where only green is used, bright and gray tones
in contrast and variation is within the reach of most colour-loving
mortals, and as both of these tints are companionable with oak and gold,
and to be found in nearly all decoration materials, it is easy to
arrange a refined and beautiful effect in either colour.

It will require little reflection to show that a hall skilfully treated
with green or blue tints would modify the colour of sunlight, without
giving a sense of discord. It would be like passing only from sunlight
to grateful shadow, and this because in all art the actual
representation shadow-colour would be blue or green. The shadow of a
tree falling upon snow on a sunny winter day is blue. The shadow of a
sunheated rock in summer is green, and the success of either of these
schemes of decoration would be because of adherence to an actual
principle of colour, or a knowledge of the peculiar qualities of certain
colours and their proper use. It would be an intelligent application of
the medicinal or healing qualities of colour to the constitution of the
house, as skilful physicians use medicines to overcome constitutional
defects or difficulties in man.

This may be called corrective treatment of a room, and may, of
course, include all the decorative devices of ornament, design and
furniture, and although it is not, strictly speaking, decoration, it
should certainly and always precede decoration.

It is sad to see an elaborate scheme of ornament based upon bad
colour-treatment, and unfortunately this not infrequently happens.

It is difficult to give a formula for the decoration of any room in
relation to its colour-treatment, except by a careful description of
certain successful examples, each one of which illustrates principles
that may be of use to the amateur or student of the art.

One which occurs to me in this immediate connection is a dining-room in
an apartment house, where this room alone is absolutely without what may
be called exterior light. Its two windows open upon a well, the brick
wall of which is scarcely ten feet away. Fortunately, it makes a part of
the home of a much travelled and exceedingly cultivated pair of beings,
the business of one being to create beauty in the way of pictures and
the other of statues, so perhaps it is less than a wonder that this
square, unattractive well-room should have blossomed under their hands
into a dining-room perfect in colour, style, and fittings. I shall give
only the result, the process being capable of infinite small variations.

At present it is a room sixteen feet square, one side of which is
occupied by two nearly square windows. The wood-work, including a
five-foot wainscot of small square panels, is painted a glittering
varnished white which is warm in tone, but not creamy. The upper halves
of the square windows are of semi-opaque yellow glass, veined and
variable, but clear enough everywhere to admit a stained yellow light.
Below these, thin yellow silk curtains cross each other, so that the
whole window-space radiates yellow light. If we reflect that the colour
of sunlight is yellow, we shall be able to see both the philosophy and
the result of this treatment.

The wall above the wainscot is covered with a plain unbleached muslin,
stencilled at the top in a repeating design of faint yellow tile-like
squares which fade gradually into white at a foot below the ceiling. At
intervals along the wall are water-colours of flat Holland meadows, or
blue canals, balanced on either side by a blue delft plate, and in a
corner near the window is a veritable blue porcelain stove, which once
faintly warmed some far-off German interior. The floor is polished oak,
as are the table and chairs. I purposely leave out all the accessories
and devices of brass and silver, the quaint brass-framed mirrors, the
ivy-encircled windows, the one or two great ferns, the choice blue
table-furniture:--because these are personal and should neither be
imitated or reduced to rules.

The lesson is in the use of yellow and white, accented with touches of
blue, which converts a dark and perfectly cheerless room into a glitter
of light and warmth.

The third example I shall give is of a dining-room which may be called
palatial in size and effect, occupying the whole square wing of a
well-known New York house. There are many things in this house in the
way of furniture, pictures, historic bits of art in different lines,
which would distinguish it among fine houses, but one particular room
is, perhaps, as perfectly successful in richness of detail,
picturesqueness of effect, and at the same time perfect appropriateness
to time, place, and circumstances as is possible for any achievement of
its kind. The dining-room, and its art, taken in detail, belongs to the
Venetian school, but if its colour-effect were concentrated upon canvas,
it would be known as a Rembrandt. There is the same rich shadow,
covering a thousand gradations,--the same concentration of light, and
the same liberal diffusion of warm and rich tones of colour. It is a
grand room in space, as New York interiors go, being perhaps forty to
fifty feet in breadth and length, with a height exactly proportioned to
the space. It has had the advantage of separate creation--being "thought
out" years after the early period of the house, and is, consequently, a
concrete result of study, travel, and opportunities, such as few
families are privileged to experience. Aside from the perfect
proportions of the room, it is not difficult to analyse the art which
makes it so distinguished an example of decoration of space, and decide
wherein lies its especial charm. It is undoubtedly that of colour,
although this is based upon a detail so perfect, that one hesitates to
give it predominant credit. The whole, or nearly the whole west end of
the room is thrown into one vast, slightly projecting window of clear
leaded glass, the lines of which stand against the light like a weaving
of spiders' webs. There is a border of various tints at its edge, which
softens it into the brown shadow of the room, and the centre of each
large sash is marked by a shield-like ornament glowing with colour like
a jewel. The long ceiling and high wainscoting melt away from this
leaded window in a perspective of wonderfully carved planes of antique
oak, catching the light on lines and points of projection and quenching
it in hollows of relief.

These perpendicular wall panels were scaled from a room in a Venetian
palace, carved when the art and the fortunes of that sea-city were at
their best, and the alternately repeating squares of the ceiling were
fashioned to carry out and supplement the ancient carvings. If this were
a small room, there would be a sense of unrest in so lavish a use of
broken surface, but in one large enough to have it felt as a whole, and
not in detail, it simply gives a quality of preciousness. The soft
browns of the wood spread a mystery of surface, from the edge of the
polished floor until it meets a frieze of painted canvas filled with
large reclining figures clad in draperies of red, and blue, and
yellow--separating the walls from the ceiling by an illumination of
colour. This colour-decoration belongs to the past, and it is a question
if any modern painting could have adapted itself so perfectly to the
spirit of the room, although in itself it might be far more beautiful.
It is a bit of antique imagination, its cherub-borne plates of fruit,
and golden flagons, and brown-green of foliage and turquoise of sky, and
crimson and gold of garments, all softened to meet the shadows of the
room. The door-spaces in the wainscot are hung with draperies of crimson
velvet, the surface frayed and flattened by time into variations of red,
impossible to newer weavings, while the great floor-space is spread with
an enormous rug of the same colour--the gift of a Sultan. A carved table
stands in the centre, surrounded with high-backed carved chairs, the
seats covered with the same antique velvet which shows in the
portieres. A fall of thin crimson silk tints the sides of the
window-frame, and on the two ends of the broad step or platform which
leads to the window stand two tall pedestals and globe-shaped jars of
red and blue-green pottery. The deep, ruby-like red of the one and the
mixed indefinite tint of the other seem to have curdled into the exact
shade for each particular spot, their fitness is so perfect.

The very sufficient knowledge which has gone to the making of this
superb room has kept the draperies unbroken by design or device, giving
colour only and leaving to the carved walls the privilege of ornament.

It will be seen that there are but two noticeable colour-tones in the
room--brown with infinite variations, and red in rugs and draperies.

There is no real affinity between these two tints, but they are here so
well balanced in mass, that the two form a complete harmony, like the
brown waves of a landscape at evening tipped with the fire of a sunset
sky.

Much is to be learned from a room like this, in the lesson of unity and
concentration of effect. The strongest, and in fact the only, mass of
vital colour is in the carpet, which is allowed to play upwards, as it
were, into draperies, and furniture, and frieze, none of which show the
same depth and intensity. To the concentration of light in the one great
window we must give the credit of the Rembrandt-like effect of the whole
interior. If the walls were less rich, this single flood of light would
be a defect, because it would be difficult to treat a plain surface with
colour alone, which should be equally good in strong light and deep
shadow.

Then, again, the amount of living and brilliant colour is exactly
proportioned to that of sombre brown, the red holding its value by
strength, as against the greatly preponderating mass of dark. On the
whole this may be called a "picture-room," and yet it is distinctly
liveable, lending itself not only to hospitality and ceremonious
function but also to real domesticity. It is true that there is a
certain obligation in its style of beauty which calls for fine manners
and fine behaviour, possibly even, behaviour in kind; for it is in the
nature of all fine and exceptional things to demand a corresponding
fineness from those who enjoy them.

I will give still another dining-room as an example of colour, which,
unlike the others, is not modern, but a sort of falling in of old
gentility and costliness into lines of modern art--one might almost say
it happened to be beautiful, and yet the happening is only an
adjustment of fine old conditions to modern ideas. Yet I have known many
as fine a room torn out and refitted, losing thereby all the inherent
dignity of age and superior associations.

A beautiful city home of seventy years ago is not very like a beautiful
city home of to-day; perhaps less so in this than in any other country.
The character of its fineness is curiously changed; the modern house is
fitted to its inmates, while the old-fashioned house, modelled upon the
early eighteenth century art of England, obliged the inmates to fit
themselves as best they might to a given standard.

The dining-room I speak of belongs to the period when Washington Square,
New York, was still surrounded by noble homes, and almost the limit of
luxurious city life was Union Square. The house fronts to the north,
consequently the dining-room, which is at the back, is flooded with
sunshine. The ceiling is higher than it would be in a modern house, and
the windows extend to the floor, and rise nearly to the ceiling, far
indeed above the flat arches of the doorways with their rococo
flourishes. This extension of window-frame, and the heavy and elaborate
plaster cornice so deep as to be almost a frieze, and the equally
elaborate centre-piece, are the features which must have made it a room
difficult to ameliorate.

I could fancy it must have been an ugly room in the old days when its
walls were probably white, and the great mahogany doors were spots of
colour in prevailing spaces of blankness. Now, however, any one at all
learned in art, or sensitive to beauty, would pronounce it a beautiful
room. The way in which the ceiling with its heavy centre-piece and
plaster cornice is treated is especially interesting. The whole of this
is covered with an ochre-coloured bronze, while the walls and
door-casings are painted a dark indigo, which includes a faint trace of
green. Over this wall-colour, and joining the cornice, is carried a
stencil design in two coloured bronzes which seem to repeat the light
and shadow of the cornice mouldings, and this apparently extends the
cornice into a frieze which ends faintly at a picture-moulding some
three feet below. This treatment not only lowers the ceiling, which is
in construction too high for the area of the room, but blends it with
the wall in a way which imparts a certain richness of effect to all the
lower space.

The upper part of the windows, to the level of the picture-moulding, is
covered with green silk, overlaid with an applique of the same in a
design somewhat like the frieze, so that it seems to carry the frieze
across the space of light in a green tracery of shadow. The same green
extends from curtain-rods at the height of the picture-moulding into
long under-curtains of silk, while the over-curtains are of indigo
coloured silk-canvas which matches the walls.

The portieres separating the dining-room from the drawing-room are of a
wonderfully rich green brocade--the colour of which answers to the green
of the silk under-curtains across the room, while the design ranges
itself indisputably with the period of the plaster work. The blue and
green of the curtains and portiere each seem to claim their own in the
mixed and softened background of the wall.

The colour of the room would hardly be complete without the three
beautiful portraits which hang upon the walls, and suggest their part of
the life and conversation of to-day so that it stands on a proper plane
with the dignity of three generations. The beautiful mahogany doors and
elaboration of cornice and central ornament belong to them, but the
harmony and beauty of colour are of our own time and tell of the general
knowledge and feeling for art which belongs to it.

I have given the colour-treatment only of this room, leaving out the
effect of carved teak-wood furniture and subtleties of china and
glass--not alone as an instance of colour in a sunny exposure, but as an
example of fitting new styles to old, of keeping what is valuable and
beautiful in itself and making it a part of the comparatively new art of
decoration.

There is a dining-room in one of the many delightful houses in
Lakewood, N.J., which owes its unique charm to a combination of
position, light, colour, and perhaps more than all, to the clever
decoration of its upper walls, which is a fine and broad composition of
swans and many-coloured clusters of grapes and vine-foliage placed above
the softly tinted copper-coloured wall. The same design is carried in
silvery and gold-coloured leaded-glass across the top of the wide west
window, as shown in illustration opposite page 222, and reappears with a
shield-shaped arrangement of wings in a beautiful four-leaved screen.

The notable and enjoyable colour of the room is seen from the very
entrance of the house, the broad main hall making a carpeted highway to
the wide opening of the room, where a sheaf of tinted sunset light seems
to spread itself like a many-doubled fan against the shadows of the
hall.

All the ranges and intervals, the lights, reflections, and darks
possible to that most beautiful of metals--copper--seem to be gathered
into the frieze and screen, and melt softly into the greens of the
foliage, or tint the plumage of the swans. It is an instance of the kind
of decoration which is both classic and domestic, and being warmed and
vivified by beautiful colour, appeals both to the senses and the
imagination.

It would be easy to multiply instances of beautiful rooms, and each one
might be helpful for mere imitation, but those I have given have each
one illustrated--more or less distinctly--the principle of colour as
affecting or being affected by light.

I have not thought it necessary to give examples of rooms with eastern
or western exposures, because in such rooms one is free to consult
one's own personal preferences as to colour, being limited only by the
general rules which govern all colour decoration.

I have not spoken of pictures or paintings as accessories of interior
decoration, because while their influence upon the character and degree
of beauty in the house is greater than all other things put together,
their selection and use are so purely personal as not to call for remark
or advice. Any one who loves pictures well enough to buy them, can
hardly help placing them where they not only are at their best, but
where they will also have the greatest influence.

A house where pictures predominate will need little else that comes
under the head of decoration. It is a pity that few houses have this
advantage, but fortunately it is quite possible to give a picture
quality to every interior. This can often be done by following the lead
of some accidental effect which is in itself picturesque. The placing a
jar of pottery or metal near or against a piece of drapery which repeats
its colour and heightens the lustre of its substance is a small detail,
but one which gives pleasure out of all proportion to its importance.
The half accidental draping of a curtain, the bringing together of
shapes and colours in insignificant things, may give a character which
is lastingly pleasing both to inmates and casual visitors.

Of course this is largely a matter of personal gift. One person may make
a picturesque use of colour and material, which in the hands of another
will be perhaps without fault, but equally without charm. Instances of
this kind come constantly within our notice, although we are not always
able to give the exact reasons for success or failure. We only know that
we feel the charm of one instance and are indifferent to, or totally
unimpressed by, the other.

It is by no means an unimportant thing to create a beautiful and
picturesque interior. There is no influence so potent upon life as
harmonious surroundings, and to create and possess a home which is
harmonious in a simple and inexpensive way is the privilege of all but
the wretchedly poor. In proportion also as these surroundings become
more perfect in their art and meaning, there is a corresponding
elevation in the dweller among them--since the best decoration must
include many spiritual lessons. It may indeed be used to further vulgar
ambitions, or pamper bodily weaknesses, but truth and beauty are its
essentials, and these will have their utterance.






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