Rustic Home Decor & Decorating Ideas

Rustic Home Decor & Decorating, Country Home Goods and Gift Ideas

My Account | Shopping Cart | Checkout
Decoration of Houses - Chapter Guide | [Previous Chapter] | Room Decor in General [Next Chapter]


INTRODUCTION

    ROOMS may be decorated in two ways: by a superficial ap­plication of ornament totally independent of structure, or by means of those architectural features which are part of the organ­ism of every house, inside as well as out.

In the middle ages, when warfare and brigandage shaped the conditions of life, and men camped in their castles much as they did in their tents, it was natural that decorations should be porta­ble, and that the naked walls of the mediaeval chamber should be hung with arras, while a ciel, or ceiling, of cloth stretched across the open timbers of its roof.

When life became more secure, and when the Italian conquests of the Valois had acquainted men north of the Alps with the spirit of classic tradition, proportion and the relation of voids to masses gradually came to be regarded as the chief decorative values of the interior. Portable hangings were in consequence replaced by architectural ornament: in other words, the architecture of the room became its decoration.

This architectural treatment held its own through every change of taste until the second quarter of the present century; but since then various influences have combined to sever the natural con­nection between the outside of the modern house and its interior. In the average house the architect's task seems virtually confined

xx                                  Introduction

to the elevations and floor-plan. The designing of what are to­day regarded as insignificant details, such as mouldings, archi­traves, and cornices, has become a perfunctory work, hurried over and unregarded; and when this work is done, the uphol­sterer is called in to " decorate " and furnish the rooms.

As the result of this division of labor, house-decoration has ceased to be a branch of architecture. The upholsterer cannot be expected to have the preliminary training necessary for architec­tural work, and it is inevitable that in his hands form should be sacrificed to color and composition to detail. In his ignorance of the legitimate means of producing certain effects, he is driven to all manner of expedients, the result of which is a piling up of heterogeneous ornament, a multiplication of incongruous effects; and lacking, as he does, a definite first conception, his work be­comes so involved that it seems impossible for him to make an end.

The confusion resulting from these unscientific methods has reflected itself in the lay mind, and house-decoration has come to be regarded as a black art by those who have seen their rooms subjected to the manipulations of the modern upholsterer. Now, in the hands of decorators who understand the fundamental prin­ciples of their art, the surest effects are produced, not at the ex­pense of simplicity and common sense, but by observing the re­quirements of both. These requirements are identical with those regulating domestic architecture, the chief end in both cases being the suitable accommodation of the inmates of the house.

The fact that this end has in a measure been lost sight of is per­haps sufficient warrant for the publication of this elementary sketch. No study of bouse-decoration as a branch of architecture has for at least fifty years been published in England or America; and though France is always producing admirable monographs


Introduction                                  xxi

on isolated branches of this subject, there is no modern French work corresponding with such comprehensive manuals as d'Avi-ler's Cours d'Architecture or Isaac Ware's Complete Body of Architecture.

The attempt to remedy this deficiency in some slight degree has made it necessary to dwell at length upon the strictly archi­tectural principles which controlled the work of the old decorators. The effects that they aimed at having been based mainly on the due adjustment of parts, it has been impossible to explain their methods without assuming their standpoint — that of architectural proportion—in contradistinction to the modern view of house-decoration as superficial application of ornament When house-decoration was a part of architecture all its values were founded on structural modifications; consequently it may seem that ideas to be derived from a study of such methods suggest changes too radical for those who are not building, but are merely decorating. Such changes, in feet, lie rather in the direction of alteration than of adornment; but it must be remembered that the results attained will be of greater decorative value than were an equal expenditure devoted to surface-ornament. Moreover, the great decorators, if scrupulous in the observance of architectural principles, were ever governed, in the use of ornamental detail, by the tfwty>°*|H the "wise moderation," of the Greeks; and the rooms of the past were both simpler in treatment and freer from mere embellish­ments than those of to-day.

Besides, if it be granted for the sake of argument that a reform in house-decoration, if not necessary, is at least desirable, it must be admitted that such reform can originate only with those whose means permit of any experiments which their taste may suggest When the rich man demands good architecture his neighbors will


xxii                               Introduction

get it too. The vulgarity of current decoration has its source in the indifference of the wealthy to architectural fitness. Every good moulding, every carefully studied detail, exacted by those who can afford to indulge their taste, will in time find its way to the car­penter-built cottage. Once the right precedent is established, it costs less to follow than to oppose it.

In conclusion, it may be well to explain the seeming lack of ac­cord between the arguments used in this book and the illustrations chosen to interpret them. While much is said of simplicity, the illustrations used are chiefly taken from houses of some impor­tance. This has been done in order that only such apartments as are accessible to the traveller might be given as examples. Un­professional readers will probably be more interested in studying rooms that they have seen, or at least heard of, than those in the ordinary private dwelling; and the arguments advanced are indirectly sustained by the most ornate rooms here shown, since their effect is based on such harmony of line that their superficial ornament might be removed without loss to the composition.

Moreover, as some of the illustrations prove, the most magnifi­cent palaces of Europe contain rooms as simple as those in any private house; and to point out that simplicity is at home even in palaces is perhaps not the least service that may be rendered to the modern decorator.
I     THE HISTORICAL TRADITION
    THE last ten years have been marked by a notable develop­
ment in architecture and decoration, and while France will long retain her present superiority in these arts, our own advance is perhaps more significant than that of any other country. When we measure the work recently done in the United States by the accepted architectural standards of ten years ago, the change is certainly striking, especially in view of the fact that our local architects and decorators are without the countless ad­vantages in the way of schools, museums and libraries which are at the command of their European colleagues. In Paris, for in­stance, it is impossible to take even a short walk without finding inspiration in those admirable buildings, public and private, re­ligious and secular, that bear the stamp of the most refined taste the world has known since the decline of the arts in Italy; and probably all American architects will acknowledge that no amount of travel abroad and study at home can compensate for the lack of daily familiarity with such monuments.
    It is therefore all the more encouraging to note the steady ad­
vance in taste and knowledge to which the most recent ar­chitecture in America bears witness. This advance is chiefly due to the fact that American architects are beginning to perceive two things that their French colleagues, among all the modern vagaries of taste, have never quite lost sight of: first that architecture and decoration, having wandered since 1800 in a labyrinth of dubious eclecticism, can be set right only by a close study of the best models; and secondly that, given the re­quirements of modern life, these models are chiefly to be found in buildings erected in Italy after the beginning of the sixteenth century, and in other European countries after the full assimila­tion of the Italian influence.As the latter of these propositions may perhaps be questioned by those who, in admiring the earlier styles, sometimes lose sight of their relative unfitness for modern use, it must be understood at the outset that it implies no disregard for the inherent beauties of these styles. It would be difficult, assuredly, to find buildings better suited to their original purpose than some of the great feudal castles, such as Warwick in England, or Langeais in France; and as much might be said of the grim machicolated palaces of re­publican Florence or Siena; but our whole mode of life has so entirely changed since the days in which these buildings were erected that they no longer answer to our needs. It is only ne­cessary to picture the lives led in those days to see how far re­moved from them our present social conditions are.    Inside and outside the house, all told of the unsettled condition of country or town, the danger of armed attack, the clumsy means of defence, the insecurity of property, the few opportunities of social intercourse as we understand it A man's house was in very truth his castle in the middle ages, and in France and England especially it remained so until the end of the sixteenth century.

               The Historical Tradition                               3

Thus it was that many needs arose: the tall keep of masonry where the inmates, pent up against attack, awaited the signal of the watchman who, from his platform or kbauguette, gave warning of assault; the ponderous doors, oak-ribbed and metal-studded, with doorways often narrowed to prevent entrance of two abreast, and so low that the incomer had to bend his head; the windows that were mere openings or slits, narrow and high, far out of the assailants' reach, and piercing the walls without regard to symmetry — not, as Ruskin would have us believe, be­cause irregularity was thought artistic, but because the medieval architect, trained to the uses of necessity, knew that he must de­sign openings that should afford no passage to the besiegers' arrows, no clue to what was going on inside the keep. But to the reader familiar with Viollet-Ie-Duc, or with any of the many excellent works on English domestic architecture, further details will seem superfluous. It is necessary, however, to point out that long after the conditions of life in Europe had changed, houses retained many features of the feudal period. The survival of obsolete customs which makes the study of sociology so in­teresting, has its parallel in the history of architecture. In the feudal countries especially, where the conflict between the great nobles and the king was of such long duration that civilization spread very slowly, architecture was proportionately slow to give up many of its feudal characteristics. In Italy, on the contrary, where one city after another succumbed to some accomplished condottiere who between his campaigns read Virgil and collected antique marbles, the rugged little republics were soon converted into brilliant courts where, life being relatively secure, social intercourse rapidly developed. This change of conditions brought with it the paved street and square, the large-windowed palaces with their great court-yards and stately open staircases, and the market-place with its loggia adorned with statues and marble seats.

Italy, in short, returned instinctively to the Roman ideal of civic life: the life of the street, the forum and the baths. These very conditions, though approaching so much nearer than feudalism to our modern civilization, in some respects make the Italian architecture of the Renaissance less serviceable as a model than the French and English styles later developed from it. The very dangers and barbarities of feudalism had fostered and pre­served the idea of home as of something private, shut off from intrusion; and while the Roman ideal flowered in the great palace with its galleries, loggias and saloons, itself a kind of roofed-in forum, the French or English feudal keep became, by the same process of growth, the modern private house. The domestic architecture of the Renaissance in Italy offers but two distinctively characteristic styles of building: the palace and the villa or hunt­ing-lodge.1 There is nothing corresponding in interior arrange­ments with the French or English town house, or the manoir where the provincial nobles lived all the year round. The villa was a mere perch used for a few weeks of gaiety in spring or au­tumn ; it was never a home as the French or English country-house was. There were, of course, private houses in Renaissance Italy, but these were occupied rather by shopkeepers, craftsmen, and the bourgeoisie than by the class which in France and England lived

[1] Charming as the Italian villa is, it can hardly be used in our Northern States without certain modifications, unless it is merely occupied for a few weeks in mid­summer; 
whereas the average French or English country house built after 1600 is perfectly suited to our climate and habits. The chief features of the Italian villa are the open central cortiU and the large saloon two stories high. An adaptation of these better suited to a cold climate is to be found in the English country houses built in the Palladian manner after its introduction by Inigo Jones. See Campbell's ViUuvius Britannicus for numerous examples.

The Historical Tradition                               5

in country houses or small private hotels. The elevations of these small Italian houses are often admirable examples of domes­tic architecture, but their planning is rudimentary, and it may be said that the characteristic tendencies of modern house-planning were developed rather in the mezzanin or low-studded interme­diate story of the Italian Renaissance palace than in the small house of the same period.

It is a fact recognized by political economists that changes in manners and customs, no matter under what form of government, usually originate with the wealthy or aristocratic minority, and are thence transmitted to the other classes. Thus the bourgeois of one generation lives more like the aristocrat of a previous generation than like his own predecessors. This rule naturally holds good of house-planning, and it is for this reason that the origin of modern house-planning should be sought rather in the prince's mezzanin than in the small middle-class dwelling. The Italian mezzanin probably originated in the habit of building certain very high-studded saloons and of lowering the ceiling of the adjoining rooms. This created an intermediate story, or rather scattered intermediate rooms, which Bramante was among the first to use in the planning of his palaces; but Bramante did not reveal the existence of the mezzanin in his facades, and it was not until the time of Peruzzi and his contemporaries that it be­came, both in plan and elevation, an accepted part of the Italian palace. It is for this reason that the year 1500 is a convenient point from which to date the beginning of modern house-plan­ning; but it must be borne in mind that this date is purely arbi­trary, and represents merely an imaginary line drawn between mediaeval and modern ways of living and house-planning, as exemplified respectively, for instance, in the ducal palace of Urbino, built by Luciano da Laurano about 1468, and the palace of the Massimi alle Colonne in Rome, built by Baldassare Peruzzi during the first half of the sixteenth century.

The lives of the great Italian nobles were essentially open-air lives: all was organized with a view to public pageants, cere­monies and entertainments. Domestic life was subordinated to this spectacular existence, and instead of building private houses in our sense, they built palaces, of which they set aside a por­tion for the use of the family. Every Italian palace has its mez-zanin or private apartment; but this part of the building is now seldom seen by travellers in Italy. Not only is it usually inhab­ited by the owners of the palace but, its decorations being simpler than those of the piano nobile, or principal story, it is not thought worthy of inspection. As a matter of fact, the treatment of the mezzanin was generally most beautiful, because most suitable ; and while the Italian Renaissance palace can seldom serve as a model for a modern private house, the decoration of the mezzanin rooms is full of appropriate suggestion.

In France and England, on the other hand, private life was gradually, though slowly, developing along the lines it still fol­lows in the present day. It is necessary to bear in mind that what we call modern civilization was a later growth in these two countries than in Italy. If this fact is insisted upon, it is only be­cause it explains the relative unsuitability of French Renaissance or Tudor and Elizabethan architecture to modern life. In France, for instance, it was not until the Fronde was subdued and Louis XIV firmly established on the throne, that the elements which compose what we call modern life really began to combine. In fact, it might be said that the feudalism of which the Fronde was the lingering expression had its counterpart in the architecture of


The Historical Tradition                               7

the period. While long familiarity with Italy was beginning to tell upon the practical side of house-planning, many obsolete details were still preserved. Even the most enthusiastic admirer of the French Renaissance would hardly maintain that the houses of that period are what we should call in the modern sense "convenient." It would be impossible for a modern family to occupy with any degree of comfort the Hdtel Vogue at Dijon, one of the best exam­ples (as originally planned) of sixteenth-century domestic archi­tecture in France.1 The same objection applies to the furniture of the period. This arose from the fact that, owing to the unsettled state of the country, the landed proprietor always carried his furni­ture with him when he travelled from one estate to another. Furniture, in the vocabulary of the middle ages, meant something which may be transported: "Meubles sont apelez qu'on peut transporter"; —hence the lack of variety in furniture before the seventeenth century, and also its unsuitableness to modern life. Chairs and cabinets that had to be carried about on mule-back were necessarily somewhat stiff and angular in design. It is per­haps not too much to say that a comfortable chair, in our self-indulgent modern sense, did not exist before the Louis XIV arm­chair (see Plate IV); and the cushioned bergke, the ancestor of our upholstered easy-chair, cannot be traced back further than the Regency. Prior to the time of Louis XIV, the most luxurious people had to content themselves with hard straight-backed seats. The necessities of transportation permitted little variety of design, and every piece of furniture was constructed with the double purpose of being easily carried about and of being used as a trunk (see Plate I). As Havard says, " Tout meu-ble se traduisait par un coffre." The unvarying design of the iThe plan of the Hdtel Vogue has been greatly modified.

cabinets is explained by the fact that they were made to form two trunks,1 and even the chairs and settles had hollow seats which could be packed with the owners' wardrobe (see Plate 11). The king himself, when he went from one chateau to another, carried all his furniture with him, and it is thus not surprising that lesser people contented themselves with a few substantial chairs and cabinets, and enough arras or cloth of Douai to cover the draughty walls of their country-houses. One of Madame de Sevigng's letters gives an amusing instance of the scarceness of furniture even in the time of Louis XIV. In describing a fire in a house near her own hdtel in Paris, she says that one or two of the persons from the burning house were brought to her for shelter, because it was known in the neighborhood (at that time a rich and fashionable one) that she had an extra bed in the house!

it was not until the social influences of the reign of Louis XIV were fully established that modern domestic life really began. Tradition ascribes to Madame de Rambouillet a leading share in the advance in practical house-planning; but probably what she did is merely typical of the modifications which the new social conditions were everywhere producing. It is certain that at this time houses and rooms first began to be comfortable. The immense cavernous fireplaces originally meant for the roasting of beeves and the warming of a flock of frozen retainers,— " les grandes antiquailles de cheminees," as Madame de SevignS called them,—were replaced by the compact chimney-piece of modern times. Cushioned bergires took the place of the throne-like seats of Louis XIII, screens kept off unwelcome draughts, Savonnerie

[1] Cabinets retained this shape after the transporting of furniture had ceased to be a necessity (see Plate III).

The Historical Tradition                               9

or moquette carpets covered the itone or marble floors, and grandeur gave way to luxury.1

English architecture having followed a line of development so similar that it need not here be traced, it remains only to examine in detail the opening proposition, namely, that modern architec­ture and decoration, having in many ways deviated from the paths which the experience of the past had marked out for them, can be reclaimed only by a study of the best models.

It might of course be said that to attain this end originality is more necessary than imitativeness. To this it may be replied that no lost art can be re-acquired without at least for a time going back to the methods and manner of those who formerly practised it; or the objection may be met by the question, What is origi­nality in art? Perhaps it is easier to define what it is not; and this may be done by saying that it is never a wilful rejection of what have been accepted as the necessary laws of the various forms of art. Thus, in reasoning, originality lies not in discard­ing the necessary laws of thought, but in using them to express new intellectual conceptions; in poetry, originality consists not in discarding the necessary laws of rhythm, but in finding new rhythms within the limits of those laws. Most of the features of architecture that have persisted through various fluctuations of taste owe their preservation to the fact that they have been proved by experience to be necessary; and it will be found that none of them precludes the exercise of individual taste, any more than the acceptance of the syllogism or of the laws of rhythm pre­vents new thinkers and new poets from saying what has never

[1] It must be remembered that in describing the decoration of any given period, we refer to the private houses, not the royal palaces, of that period. Versailles was more splendid than any previous palace; but private houses at that date were less splendid, though far more luxurious, than during the Renaissance.

been said before. Once this is clearly understood, it will be seen that the supposed conflict between originality and tradition is no conflict at all.1

In citing logic and poetry, those arts have been purposely chosen of which the laws will perhaps best help to explain and illustrate the character of architectural limitations. A building, for whatever purpose erected, must be built in strict accordance with the requirements of that purpose; in other words, it must have a reason for being as it is and must be as it is for that reason. Its decoration must harmonize with the structural limitations (which is by no means the same thing as saying that all decora­tion must be structural), and from this harmony of the general scheme of decoration with the building, and of the details of the decoration with each other, springs the rhythm that dis­tinguishes architecture from mere construction. Thus all good architecture and good decoration (which, it must never be for­gotten, is only interior architecture) must be based on rhythm and logic. A house, or room, must be planned as it is because it could not, in reason, be otherwise; must be decorated as it is because no other decoration would harmonize as well with the plan.

Many of the most popular features in modern house-planning and decoration will not be found to stand this double test. Often (as will be shown further on) they are merely survivals of earlier social conditions, and have been preserved in obedience to that instinct  that   makes  people  cling to so  many customs the

[1] "Si l'on dispose un Edifice d'une maniere convenable a l'usage auquel on le destine, ne differera-t-il pas sensiblement d'un autre Edifice destine* a un autre usage? N'aura-t-il pas naturellement un caractere, et, qui plus est, son caractere propre ?" J. L. N. Durand. PrScis des Ltcons d'Architecture donnies 4 Vicole RoyaU Poly* technique.   Paris, 1823.

FRENCH ARMOIRE; XVI CENTURY.


The Historical Tradition                             11

meaning of which is lost In other cases they have been revived by the archaeologizing spirit which is so characteristic of the present time, and which so often leads its possessors to think that a thing must be beautiful because it is old and appropriate because it is beautiful.

But since the beauty of all such features depends on their ap­propriateness, they may in every case be replaced by a more suitable form of treatment without loss to the general effect of house or room. It is this which makes it important that each room (or, better still, all the rooms) in a house should receive the same style of decoration. To some people this may seem as meaningless a piece of archaism as the habit of using obsolete fragments of planning or decoration; but such is not the case. it must not be forgotten, in discussing the question of reproduc­ing certain styles, that the essence of a style lies not in its use of ornament, but in its handling of proportion. Structure conditions ornament, not ornament structure. That is, a room with unsuit­ably proportioned openings, wall-spaces and cornice might re­ceive a surface application of Louis XV or Louis XVI ornament and not represent either of those styles of decoration; whereas a room constructed according to the laws of proportion accepted in one or the other of those periods, in spite of a surface application of decorative detail widely different in character,— say Roman­esque or Gothic,— would yet maintain its distinctive style, be­cause the detail, in conforming with the laws of proportion governing the structure of the room, must necessarily conform with its style. In other words, decoration is always subservient to proportion; and a room, whatever its decoration may be, must represent the style to which its proportions belong. The less cannot include the greater.   Unfortunately it is usually by ornamental

12                    The Decoration of Houses

details, rather than by proportion, that people distinguish one style from another. To many persons, garlands, bow-knots, quivers, and a great deal of gilding represent the Louis XVI style; if they object to these, they condemn the style. To an architect familiar with the subject the same style means some­thing absolutely different He knows that a Louis XVI room may exist without any* of these or similar characteristics; and he often deprecates their use as representing the cheaper and more trivial effects of the period, and those that have most helped to vulgarize it. In fact, in nine cases out of ten his use of them is a concession to the client who, having asked for a Louis XVI room, would not know he had got it were these details left out1

Another thing which has perhaps contributed to make people distrustful of "styles" is the garbled form in which they are presented by some architects. After a period of eclecticism that has lasted long enough to make architects and decorators lose their traditional habits of design, there has arisen a sudden demand for "style." It necessarily follows that only the most competent are ready to respond to this unexpected summons. Much has to be relearned, still more to be unlearned. The essence of the great styles lay in proportion and the science of proportion is not to be acquired in a day. In fact, in such mat­ters the cultivated layman, whether or not he has any special familiarity with the different schools of architecture, is often a better judge than the half-educated architect. It is no wonder that people of taste are disconcerted by the so-called "colonial" houses where stair-rails are used as roof-balustrades and mantel-

[l] It must not be forgotten that the so-called "styles" of Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI were, in fact, only the gradual development of one organic style, and hence differed only in the superficial use of ornament.


PLATE IV.


FRENCH SOFA AND ARMCHAIR, LOUIS XIV PERIOD.

FROM   THK  CHATEAU   DU  MERCY.

The Historical Tradition                             13

friezes as exterior entablatures, or by Louis XV rooms where the wavy movement which, in the best rococo, was always an orna­mental incident and never broke up the main lines of the design, is suffered to run riot through the whole treatment of the walls, so that the bewildered eye seeks in vain for a straight line amid the whirl of incoherent curves.

To conform to a style, then, is to accept those rules of propor­tion which the artistic experience of centuries has established as the best, while within those limits allowing free scope to the individual requirements which must inevitably modify every house or room adapted to the use and convenience of its occu­pants.

There is one thing more to be said in defence of conformity to style; and that is, the difficulty of getting rid of style. Strive as we may for originality, we are hampered at every turn by an artistic tradition of over two thousand years. Does any but the most inexperienced architect really think that he can ever rid himself of such an inheritance ? He may mutilate or misapply the component parts of his design, but he cannot originate a whole new architectural alphabet. The chances are that he will not find it easy to invent one wholly new moulding.

The styles especially suited to modern life have already been roughly indicated as those prevailing in Italy since 1500, in France from the time of Louis XIV, and in England since the introduction of the Italian manner by Inigo Jones; and as the French and English styles are perhaps more familiar to the general reader, the examples given will usually be drawn from these. Supposing the argument in favor of these styles to have been accepted, at least as a working hypothesis, it must be explained why, in each room, the decoration and furniture should harmonize.     Most

14                   The Decoration of Houses

people will admit the necessity of harmonizing the colors in a room, because a feeling for color is more general than a feeling for form; but in reality the latter is the more important in decora­tion, and it is the feeling for form, and not any archaeological affectation, which makes the best decorators insist upon the ne­cessity of keeping to the same style of furniture and decoration. Thus the massive dimensions and heavy panelling of a seven­teenth-century room would dwarf a set of eighteenth-century furniture; and the wavy, capricious movement of Louis XV dec­oration would make the austere yet delicate lines of Adam furni­ture look stiff and mean.

Many persons object not only to any attempt at uniformity of style, but to the use of any recognized style in the decoration of a room. They characterize it, according to their individual views, as "servile," "formal," or "pretentious."

It has already been suggested that to conform within rational limits to a given style is no more servile than to pay one's taxes or to write according to the rules of grammar. As to the accusations of formality and pretentiousness (which are more often made in America than elsewhere), they may probably be explained by the fact that most Americans necessarily form their idea of the great European styles from public buildings and palaces. Certainly, if an architect were to propose to his client to decorate a room in a moderate-sized house in the Louis XIV style, and if the client had formed his idea of that style from the state apartments in the palace at Versailles, he would be justified in rejecting the pro­posed treatment as absolutely unsuitable to modern private life; whereas the architect who had gone somewhat more deeply into the subject might have singled out the style as eminently suita­ble, having in mind one of the simple panelled rooms, with tall


PLATE V


ROOM IN THE GRAND TRIANON, VERSAILLES.

(SAMPLE  OF  SIMPLE  LOUIS  XIV   DECORATlON.)

The Historical Tradition                             15

windows, a dignified fireplace, large tables and comfortable arm-chairs, which were to be found in the private houses of the same period (see Plate V). It is the old story of the two knights fighting about the color of the shield. Both architect and client would be right, but they would be looking at the different sides of the question. As a matter of fact, the bed-rooms, sitting-rooms, libraries and other private apartments in the smaller dwelling-houses built in Europe between 1650 and 1800 were far simpler, less pretentious and more practical in treatment than those in the average modern house.

It is therefore hoped that the antagonists of "style," when they are shown that to follow a certain style is not to sacrifice either convenience or imagination, but to give more latitude to both, will withdraw an opposition which seems to be based on a mis­apprehension of facts.

Hitherto architecture and decoration have been spoken of as one, as in any well-designed house they ought to be. Indeed, it is one of the numerous disadvantages of the present use of styles, that unless the architect who has built the house also decorates it, the most hopeless discord is apt to result. This was otherwise before our present desire for variety had thrown architects, deco­rators, arid workmen out of the regular routine of their business. Before 1800 the decorator called upon to treat the interior of a house invariably found a suitable background prepared for his work, while much in the way of detail was intrusted to the workmen, who were trained in certain traditions instead of being called upon to carry out in each new house the vagaries of a different designer.

But it is with the decorator's work alone that these pages are concerned, and the above digression is intended to explain why

 16                   The Decoration of Houses

his task is now so difficult, and why his results are so often unsatisfactory to himself as well as to his clients. The decorator of the present day may be compared to a person who is called upon to write a letter in the English language, but is ordered, in so doing, to conform to the Chinese or Egyptian rules of grammar, or possibly to both together.

By the use of a little common sense and a reasonable con­formity to those traditions of design which have been tested by generations of architects, it is possible to produce great variety in the decoration of rooms without losing sight of the purpose for which they are intended. Indeed, the more closely this purpose is kept in view, and the more clearly it is expressed in all the details of each room, the more pleasing that room will be, so that it is easy to make a room with tinted walls, deal furniture and dimity curtains more beautiful, because more logical and more harmonious, than a ball-room lined with gold and marbles, in which the laws of rhythm and logic have been ignored.

FRENCH ARMCHAIR, LOUIS XV PERIOD.


Decoration of Houses - Chapter Guide | [Previous Chapter] | Room Decor in General [Next Chapter]