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Decoration of Houses - Chapter Guide | Decorating Hall & Stairs [Previous Chapter] | Decorating Ball Room, Bar, Music Room & Gallery [Next Chapter]



THE " with-drawing-room " of mediaeval England, to which the lady and her maidens retired from the boisterous fes­tivities of the hall, seems at first to have been merely a part of the bedchamber in which the lord and lady slept In time it came to be screened off from the sleeping-room ; then, in the king's palaces, it became a separate room for the use of the queen and her damsels; and so, in due course, reached the nobleman's castle, and established itself as a permanent part of English house-planning.

In France the evolution of the salon seems to have proceeded on somewhat different lines. During the middle ages and the early Renaissance period, the more public part of the nobleman's life was enacted in the hall, or grand'saBe, while the social and domestic side of existence was transferred to the bedroom. This was soon divided into two rooms, as in England. In France, however, both these rooms contained beds; the inner being the real sleeping-chamber, while in the outer room, which was used not only for administering justice and receiving visits of state, but for informal entertainments and the social side of family life, the bedstead represented the lord's lit de parade, traditionally associated with state ceremonial and feudal privileges.




Drawing-Room, Boudoir, and Morning-Room   123

The custom of having a state bedroom in which no one slept (cbambre de parade, as it was called) was so firmly established that even in the engravings of Abraham Bosse, representing French life in the reign of Louis XIII, the fashionable apartments in which card-parties, suppers, and other entertainments are taking place, invariably contain a bed.

In large establishments the cbambre de parade was never used as a sleeping-chamber except by visitors of distinction ; but in small houses the lady slept in the room which served as her boudoir and drawing-room. The Renaissance, it is true, had in­troduced from Italy the cabinet opening off the lady's chamber, as in the palaces of Urbino and Mantua; but these rooms were at first seen only in kings' palaces, and were, moreover, too small to serve any social purpose. The cabinet of Catherine de' Medici at Blois is a characteristic example.

Meanwhile, the gallery had relieved the grand'satte of some of its numerous uses; and these two apartments seem to have satisfied all the requirements of society during the Renaissance in France.

In the seventeenth century the introduction of the two-storied Italian saloon produced a state apartment called a salon ; and this, towards the beginning of the eighteenth century, was divided into two smaller rooms : one, the salon de compagnie, remaining a part of the gala suite used exclusively for entertaining (see Plate XXXIV), while the other—the salon de famiBe—became a family apartment like the English drawing-room.

The distinction between the salon de compagnie and the salon de famiUe had by this time also established itself in England, where the state drawing-room retained its Italian name of salone, or saloon, while the living-apartment preserved, in abbreviated form, the mediaeval designation of the lady's with-drawing-room.


124                 The Decoration of Houses

Pains have been taken to trace as clearly as possible the mixed ancestry of the modern drawing-room, in order to show that it is the result of two distinct influences—that of the gala apartment and that of the family sitting-room. This twofold origin has cu­riously affected the development of the drawing-room. In houses of average size,N where there are but two living-rooms—the mas­ter's library, or "den," and the lady's drawing-room,— it is obvi­ous that the latter ought to be used as a salon defatniBe, or meet­ing-place for the whole family; and it is usually regarded as such in England, where common ^ense generally prevails in matters of material comfort and convenience, and where the drawing-room is often furnished with a simplicity which would astonish those who associate the name with white-and-gold walls and uncom­fortable furniture.

In modern American houses both traditional influences are seen. Sometimes, as in England, the drawing-room is treated as a family apartment, and provided with books, lamps, easy-chairs and writing-tables. In other houses it is still considered sacred to gilding and discomfort, the best room in the house, and the con­venience of all its inmates, being sacrificed to a vague feeling that no drawing-room is worthy of the name unless it is uninhabitable. This is an instance of the salon de compagnie having usurped the rightful place of the salon defatniUe; or rather, if the bourgeois de­scent of the American house be considered, it may be more truly defined as a remnant of the " best parlor" superstition.

Whatever the genealogy of the American drawing-room, it must be owned that it too often fails to fulfil its purpose as a fam­ily apartment. It is curious to note the amount of thought and money frequently spent on the one room in the house used by no one, or occupied at most for an hour after a " company " dinner.

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To this drawing-room, from which the inmates of the house in­stinctively flee as soon as their social duties are discharged, many necessities are often sacrificed. The library, or den, where the members of the family sit, may be furnished with shabby odds and ends; but the drawing-room must have its gilt chairs cov­ered with brocade, its vitrines full of modern Saxe, its guipure curtains and velvet carpet.

The salon de compagnie is out of place in the average house. Such a room is needed only where the dinners or other entertain­ments given are so large as to make it impossible to use the ordi­nary living-rooms of the house. In the grandest houses of Europe the gala-rooms are never thrown open except for general enter­tainments, or to receive guests of exalted rank, and the spectacle of a dozen people languishing after dinner in the gilded wilderness of a state saloon is practically unknown.

The. purpose for which the salon de compagnie is used necessi­tates its being furnished in the same formal manner as other gala apartments. Circulation must not be impeded by a multiplicity of small pieces of furniture holding lamps or other fragile objects, while at least half of the chairs should be so light and easily moved that groups may be formed and broken up at will. The walls should be brilliantly decorated, without needless elaboration of detail, since it is unlikely that the temporary occupants of such a room will have time or inclination to study its treatment closely. The chief requisite is a gay first impression. To produce this, the wall-decoration should be light in color, and the furniture should consist of a few strongly marked pieces, such as hand­some cabinets and consoles, bronze or marble statues, and vases and candelabra of imposing proportions. Almost all modern furniture is too weak in design and too finikin in detail to look

126                 The Decoration of Houses

well in a gala drawing-room.1 (For examples of drawing-room furniture, see Plates VI, IX, XXXIV, and XXXV.)

Beautiful pictures or rare prints produce little effect on the walls of a gala room, just as an accumulation of small objects of art, such as enamels, ivories and miniatures, are wasted upon its tables and cabinets. Such treasures are for rooms in which people spend their days, not for those in which they assemble for an hour's entertainment

But the salon de compagnie, being merely a modified form of the great Italian saloon, is a part of the gala suite, and any detailed discussion of the decorative treatment most suitable to it would result in a repetition of what is said in the chapter on Gala Rooms.

The lighting of the company drawing-room — to borrow its French designation—should be evenly diffused, without the sepa­rate centres of illumination needful in a family living-room. The proper light is that of wax candles. Nothing has done more to vulgarize interior decoration than the general use of gas and of electricity in the living-rooms of modern houses. Electric light especially, with its harsh white glare, which no expedients have as yet overcome, has taken from our drawing-rooms all air of privacy and distinction. In passageways and offices, electricity is of great service; but were it not that all "modern improvements" are thought equally applicable to every condition of life, it would be difficult to account for the adoption of a mode of lighting which makes the salon look like a railway-station, the dining-room like a restaurant. That such light is not needful in a drawing-room is shown by the fact that electric bulbs are usually covered by shades

1 Much of the old furniture which appears to us unnecessarily stiff and monu­mental was expressly designed to be placed against the walls in rooms used for gen­eral entertainments, where smaller and more delicately made pieces would have been easily damaged, and would, moreover, have produced no effect

Drawing-Room, Boudoir, and Morning-Room  127

of some deep color, in order that the glare may be made as in­offensive as possible.

The light in a gala apartment should be neither vivid nor concentrated : the soft, evenly diffused brightness of wax candles is best fitted to bring out those subtle modellings of light and shade to which old furniture and objects of art owe half their expressiveness.

The treatment of the salon de compagnie naturally differs from that of the family drawing-room: the iatter is essentially a room in which people should be made comfortable. There must be a well-appointed writing-table; the chairs must be conveniently grouped about various tables, each with its lamp;—in short, the furniture should be so disposed that people are not forced to take refuge in their bedrooms for lack of fitting arrangements in the drawing-room.

The old French cabinet-makers excelled in the designing and making of furniture for the solan de famine. The term " French furniture" suggests to the Anglo-Saxon mind the stiff appoint­ments of the gala room — heavy gilt consoles, straight-backed arm-chairs covered with tapestry, and monumental marble-topped tables. Admirable furniture of this kind was made in France; but in the grand style the Italian cabinet-makers competed success­fully with the French; whereas the latter stood alone in the pro­duction of the simpler and more comfortable furniture adapted to the family living-room. Among those who have not studied the subject there is a general impression that eighteenth-century furni­ture, however beautiful in design and execution, was not com­fortable in the modern sense. This is owing to the fact that the popular idea of " old furniture " is based on the appointments of gala rooms in palaces: visitors to Versailles or Fontainebleau are

128                  The Decoration of Houses

more likely to notice the massive gilt consoles and benches in the state saloons than the simple easy-chairs and work-tables of the peiits appartements, A visit to the Garde Meuble or to the Mu-see des Arts Decoratifs of Paris, or the inspection of any collection of French eighteenth-century furniture, will show the versatility and common sense of the old French cabinet-makers. They pro­duced an infinite variety of small meublcs, in which beauty of de­sign and workmanship were joined to simplicity and convenience.

The old arm-chair, or bergere, is a good example of this com­bination. The modern upholsterer pads and pufls his seats as though they were to form the furniture of a lunatic's cell; and then, having expanded them to such dimensions that they can­not be moved without effort, perches their dropsical bodies on four little casters. Any one who compares such an arm-chair to the eighteenth-century bergere, with its strong tapering legs, its snugly-fitting back and cushioned seat, must admit that the latter is more convenient and more beautiful (see Plates VIII and XXXVII).

The same may be said of the old French tables—from desks, card and work-tables, to the small guiridon just large enough to hold a book and candlestick. All these tables were simple and practical in design: even in the Louis XV period, when more variety of outline and ornament was permitted, the strong structural lines were carefully maintained, and it is unusual to see an old table that does not stand firmly on its legs and appear capable of supporting as much weight as its size will permit (see Louis XV writing-table in Plate XLVI).

The French tables, cabinets and commodes used in the family apartments were usually of inlaid wood, with little ornamentation save the design of the marquetry—elaborate mounts of chiselled




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bronze being reserved for the furniture of gala rooms (see Plate X). Old French marquetry was exquisitely delicate in color and design, while Italian inlaying of the same period, though coarser, was admirable in composition. Old Italian furniture of the seven­teenth and eighteenth centuries was always either inlaid or carved and painted in gay colors: chiselled mounts are virtually unknown in Italy.

The furniture of the eighteenth century in England, while not comparable in design to the best French models, was well made and dignified; and its angularity of outline is not out of place against the somewhat cold and formal background of an Adam room.

English marquetry suffered from the poverty of ornament marking the wall-decoration of the period. There was a certain timidity about the decorative compositions of the school of Adam and Sheraton, and in their scanty repertoire the laurel-wreath, the velarium and the cornucopia reappear with tiresome frequency.

The use to which the family drawing-room is put should in­dicate the character of its decoration. Since it is a room in which many hours of the day are spent, and in which people are at leisure, it should contain what is best worth looking at in the way of pictures, prints, and other objects of art; while there should be nothing about its decoration so striking or eccentric as to become tiresome when continually seen. A fanciful style may be pleasing in apartments used only for stated purposes, such as the saloon or gallery; but in a living-room, decoration should be subordinate to the individual, forming merely a harmonious but unobtrusive background (see Plates XXXVI and XXXVII). Such a setting also brings out the full decorative value of all the drawing-room accessories—screens, andirons, appliques, and door and win-

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dow-fastenings. A study of any old French interior will show how much these details contributed to the general effect of the room.

Those who really care for books are seldom content to restrict them to the library, for nothing adds more to the charm of a drawing-room than a well-designed bookcase: an expanse of beautiful bindings is as decorative as a fine tapestry.

The boudoir is, properly speaking, a part of the bedroom suite, and as such is described in the chapter on the Bedroom. Some­times, however, a small sitting-room adjoins the family drawing-room, and this, if given up to the mistress of the house, is virtually the boudoir.

The modern boudoir is a very different apartment from its eighteenth-century prototype. Though it may preserve the deli­cate decorations and furniture suggested by its name, such a room is now generally used for the prosaic purpose of interview­ing servants, going over accounts and similar occupations. The appointments should therefore comprise a writing-desk, with pigeon-holes, drawers, and cupboards, and a comfortable lounge, or lit de repos, for resting and reading.

The lit de repos, which, except in France, has been replaced by the clumsy upholstered lounge, was one of the most useful pieces of eighteenth-century furniture (see Plate XXXV11I). As its name implies, it is shaped somewhat like a bed, or rather like a cradle that stands on four legs instead of swinging.* It is made of carved wood, sometimes upholstered, but often seated with cane (see Plate XXXIX). In the latter case it is fitted with a mattress and with a pillow-like cushion covered with some material in keeping with the hangings of the room. Sometimes the ducbesse, or upholstered bergere with removable foot-rest in the shape of a




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square bench, is preferred to the lit de repos; but the latter is the more elegant and graceful, and it is strange that it should have been discarded in favor of the modern lounge, which is not only ugly, but far less comfortable.

As the boudoir is generally a small room, it is peculiarly suited to the more delicate styles of painting or stucco ornamentation described in the third chapter. A study of boudoir-decoration in the last century, especially in France, will show the admirable sense of proportion regulating the treatment of these little rooms (see Plate XL). Their adornment was naturally studied with spe­cial care by the painters and decorators of an age in which women played so important a part.

It is sometimes thought that the eighteenth-century boudoir was always decorated and furnished in a very elaborate manner. This idea originates in the fact, already pointed out, that the rooms usually seen by tourists are those in royal palaces, or in such princely houses as are thrown open to the public on account of their exceptional magnificence. The same type of boudoir is con­tinually reproduced in books on architecture and decoration; and what is really a small private sitting-room for the lady of the house, corresponding with her husband's "den," has thus come to be regarded as one of the luxuries of a great establishment

The prints of Eisen, Marillier, Moreau le Jeune, and other book-illustrators of the eighteenth century, show that the boudoir in the average private house was, in fact, a simple room, gay and grace­ful in decoration, but as a rule neither rich nor elaborate (see Plate XLI). As it usually adjoined the bedroom, it was decorated in the same manner, and even when its appointments were expensive all appearance of costliness was avoided.1

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The boudoir is the room in which small objects of art—prints, mezzotints and gouaches— show to the best advantage. No detail is wasted, and all manner of delicate effects in wood-carving, mar­quetry, and other ornamentation, such as would be lost upon the walls and furniture of a larger room, here acquire their full value. One or two well-chosen prints hung on a background of plain color will give more pleasure than a medley of photographs, colored photogravures, and other decorations of the cotillon-favor type. Not only do mediocre ornaments become tiresome when seen day after day, but the mere crowding of furniture and gimcracks into a small room intended for work and repose will soon be found fatiguing.

Many English houses, especially in the country, contain a use­ful room called the "morning-room," which is well defined by Robert Kerr, in The English Gentleman's House, as "the draw­ing-room in ordinary." It is, in fact, a kind of undress drawing-room, where the family may gather informally at all hours of the day. The out-of-door life led in England makes it specially ne­cessary to provide a sitting-room which people are not afraid to enter in muddy boots and wet clothes. Even if the drawing-room be not, as Mr. Kerr quaintly puts it, " preserved "—that is, used exclusively for company—it is still likely to contain the best furniture in the house; and though that "best" is not too fine for every-day use, yet in a large family an informal, wet-weather room of this kind is almost indispensable.

No matter how elaborately the rest of the house is furnished, the appointments of the morning-room should be plain, comfort­able, and capable of resisting hard usage. It is a good plan to cover the floor with a straw matting, and common sense at once suggests the furniture best suited to such a room: two or three good-sized tables with lamps, a comfortable sofa, and chairs covered with chintz, leather, or one of the bright-colored horse­hairs now manufactured in France.




Decoration of Houses - Chapter Guide | Decorating Hall & Stairs [Previous Chapter] | Decorating Ball Room, Bar, Music Room & Gallery [Next Chapter]