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furniture should be so disposed that people are not forced to take
refuge in their bedrooms for lack of fitting arrangements in the

The old French cabinet-makers excelled in the designing and
making of furniture for the salon de famille. The term "French
furniture " suggests to the Anglo-Saxon mind the stiff appoint-
ments 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 success-
fully with the French ; whereas the latter stood alone in the pro-
duction 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 furni-
ture, however beautiful in design and execution, was not com-
fortable 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
petits 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 pro-
duced an infinite variety of small meubles, in which beauty of de-
sign and workmanship were joined to simplicity and convenience.

The old arm-chair, or bergere, is a good example of this com-
bination. The modern upholsterer pads and puffs 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 can-
not 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 gutridon 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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Drawing-Room, Boudoir, and Morning-Room 129

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 seven-
teenth 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

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 in-
dicate 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-

1 30 The Decoration of Houses

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

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. Some-
times, 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 deli-
cate decorations and furniture suggested by its name, such a
room is now generally used for the prosaic purpose of interview-
ing 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 /// 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 XXXVIII). 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 duchesse,
or upholstered bergere with removable foot-rest in the shape of a



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Drawing-Room, Boudoir, and Morning-Room i 3 1

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 spe-
cial 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 con-
tinually 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 grace-
ful 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

1 The orn ate boudoir seen in many XV 1 1 Ith-century prints is that of ihefemmegalante.

132 The Decoration of Houses

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, mar-
quetry, 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 use-
ful room called the "morning-room," which is well defined by
Robert Kerr, in The English Gentleman's House, as "the draw-
ing-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 ne-
cessary 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, comfort-
able, 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





Sa tri/?c amante abaridonnee
Pleure ses maux et ses plai/irs .


Drawing-Room, Boudoir, and Morning-Room 133

good-sized tables with lamps, a comfortable sofa, and chairs
covered with chintz, leather, or one of the bright-colored horse-
hairs now manufactured in France.



EUROPEAN architects have always considered it essential that
those rooms which are used exclusively for entertaining
gala rooms, as they are called should be quite separate from the
family apartments, either occupying an entire floor (the Italian
piano nobile) or being so situated that it is not necessary to open
them except for general entertainments.

In many large houses lately built in America, with ball and
music rooms and a hall simulating the two-storied Italian saloon,
this distinction has been disregarded, and living and gala rooms
have been confounded in an agglomeration of apartments where
the family, for lack of a smaller suite, sit under gilded ceilings and
cut-glass chandeliers, in about as much comfort and privacy as
are afforded by the public "parlors" of one of our new twenty-
story hotels. This confusion of two essentially different types of
room, designed for essentially different phases of life, has been
caused by the fact that the architect, when called upon to build a
grand house, has simply enlarged, instead of altering, the maison
bourgeoi&e that has hitherto been the accepted model of the
American gentleman's house; for it must not be forgotten that
the modern American dwelling descends from the English mid-

Bali-Room, Saloon, Music-Room, Gallery 135

die-class house, not from the aristocratic country-seat or town
residence. The English nobleman's town house was like the
French hdtel, with gates, porter's lodge, and court-yard sur-
rounded by stables and offices; and the planning of the country-
seat was even more elaborate.

A glance at any collection of old English house-plans, such as
Campbell's Vitruvius TSritannicus, will show the purely middle-
class ancestry of the American house, and the consequent futility
of attempting, by the mere enlargement of each room, to turn it
into a gentleman's seat or town residence. The kind of life which
makes gala rooms necessary exacts a different method of planning;
and until this is more generally understood the treatment of such
rooms in American houses will never be altogether satisfactory.

Gala rooms are meant for general entertainments, never for any
assemblage small or informal enough to be conveniently accom-
modated in the ordinary living-rooms of the house; therefore to
fulfil their purpose they must be large, very high-studded, and not
overcrowded with furniture, while the walls and ceiling the
only parts of a crowded room that can be seen must be deco-
rated with greater elaboration than would be pleasing or appro-
priate in other rooms. All these conditions unfit the gala room
for any use save that for which it is designed. Nothing can be
more cheerless than the state of a handful of people sitting after
dinner in an immense ball-room with gilded ceiling, bare floors,
and a few pieces of monumental furniture ranged round the walls;
yet in any house which is simply an enlargement of the ordinary
private dwelling the hostess is often compelled to use the ball-
room or saloon as a drawing-room.

A gala room is never meant to be seen except when crowded :
the crowd takes the place of furniture. Occupied by a small num-

136 The Decoration of Houses

ber of people, such a room looks out of proportion, stiff and
empty. The hostess feels this, and tries, by setting chairs and
tables askew, and introducing palms, screens and knick-knacks,
to produce an effect of informality. As a result the room dwarfs
the furniture, loses the air of state, and gains little in real comfort;
while it becomes necessary, when a party is given, to remove the
furniture and disarrange the house, thus undoing the chief ratson
d'etre of such apartments.

The Italians, inheriting the grandiose traditions of the Augustan
age, have always excelled in the treatment of rooms demanding
the "grand manner." Their unfailing sense that house-decoration
is interior architecture, and must clearly proclaim its architectural
affiliations, has been of special service in this respect. It is rare in
Italy to see a large room inadequately treated. Sometimes the
"grand manner " the mimic terribilita may be carried too far
to suit Anglo-Saxon taste it is hard to say for what form of en-
tertainment such a room as Giulio Romano's Sala dei Giganti in
the Palazzo del T would form a pleasing or appropriate back-
ground but apart from such occasional aberrations, the Italian
decorators showed a wonderful sense of fitness in the treatment of
state apartments. To small dribbles of ornament they preferred
bold forcible mouldings, coarse but clear-cut free-hand orna-
mentation in stucco, and either a classic severity of treatment or
the turbulent bravura style of the saloon of the Villa Rotonda and
of Tiepolo's Cleopatra frescoes in the Palazzo Labia at Venice.

The saloon and gallery are the two gala rooms borrowed
from Italy by northern Europe. The saloon has already been de-
scribed in the chapter on Hall and Stairs. It was a two-storied
apartment, usually with clerestory, domed ceiling, and a gal-
lery to which access was obtained by concealed staircases (see



Bail-Room, Saloon, Music-Room, Gallery 137

Plates XLII and XLI1I). This gallery was often treated as an ar-
cade or loggia, and in many old Italian prints and pictures there
are representations of these saloons, with groups of gaily dressed
people looking down from the gallery upon the throngs crowding
the floor. The saloon was used in Italy as a ball-room or gam-
bling-room gaming being the chief social amusement of the
eighteenth century.

In England and France the saloon was rarely two stories high,
though there are some exceptions, as for example the saloon at
Vaux-le-Vicomte. The cooler climate rendered a clerestory less
necessary, and there was never the same passion for grandiose ef-
fects as in Italy. The saloon in northern Europe was always a
stately and high-studded room, generally vaulted or domed, and
often circular in plan; but it seldom reached such imposing dimen-
sions as its Italian prototype, and when more than one story high
was known by the distinctive designation of un salon a I'italienne.

The gallery was probably the first feature in domestic house-
planning to be borrowed from Italy by northern Europe. It is
seen in almost all the early Renaissance chateaux of France; and
as soon as the influence of such men as John of Padua and John
Shute asserted itself in England, the gallery became one of the
principal apartments of the Elizabethan mansion. There are sev-
eral reasons for the popularity of the gallery. In the cold rainy
autumns and winters north of the Alps it was invaluable as a
sheltered place for exercise and games ; it was well adapted to dis-
play the pictures, statuary and bric-a-brac which, in emulation of
Italian collectors, the Northern nobles were beginning to acquire;
and it showed off to advantage the long line of ancestral portraits
and the tapestries representing a succession of episodes from the
ALneid, the Orlando Innamorato, or some of the interminable

138 The Decoration of Houses

epics that formed the light reading of the sixteenth century.
Then, too, the gallery served for the processions which were a
part of the social ceremonial in great houses: the march to the
chapel or banquet-hall, the escorting of a royal guest to the state
bedroom, and other like pageants.

In France and England the gallery seems for a long time to have
been used as a saloon and ball-room, whereas in Italy it was, as a
rule, reserved for the display of the art-treasures of the house, no
Italian palace worthy of the name being without its gallery of
antiquities or of marbles.

In modern houses the ball-room and music-room are the two
principal gala apartments. A music-room need not be a gala
room in the sense of being used only for large entertainments ;
but since it is outside the circle of every-day use, and more or
less associated with entertaining, it seems best to include it in this

Many houses of average size have a room large enough for
informal entertainments. Such a room, especially in country
houses, should be decorated in a gay simple manner in harmony
with the rest of the house and with the uses to which the room is
to be put. Rooms of this kind may be treated with a white dado,
surmounted by walls painted in a pale tint, with boldly modelled
garlands and attributes in stucco, also painted white (see Plate XIII).
If these stucco decorations are used to frame a series of pictures,
such as fruit and flower-pieces or decorative subjects, the effect
is especially attractive. Large painted panels with eighteenth-
century genre subjects or pastoral scenes, set in simple white-
panelling, are also very decorative. A coved ceiling is best suited
to rooms of this comparatively simple character, while in state
ball-rooms the dome increases the general appearance of splendor.


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Bail-Room, Saloon, Music-Room, Gallery 139

A panelling of mirrors forms a brilliant ball-room decoration, and
charming effects are produced by painting; these mirrors with
birds, butterflies, and garlands of flowers, in the manner of the
famous Italian mirror-painter, Mario dei Fiori "Mario of the
Flowers" as he was called in recognition of his special gift.
There is a beautiful room by this artist in the Borghese Palace in
Rome, and many Italian palaces contain examples of this pecu-
liarly brilliant style of decoration, which might be revived to
advantage by modern painters.

In ball-rooms of great size and importance, where the walls de-
mand a more architectural treatment, the use of an order naturally
suggests itself. Pilasters of marble, separated by marble niches
containing statues, form a severe but splendid decoration ; and if
white and colored marbles are combined, and the whole is sur-
mounted by a domed ceiling frescoed in bright colors, the effect is
extremely brilliant.

In Italy the architectural decoration of large rooms was often
entirely painted (see Plate XLIV), the plaster walls being covered
with a fanciful piling-up' of statues, porticoes and balustrades,
while figures in Oriental costume, or in the masks and parti-
colored dress of the Comgdie Italienne, . leaned from simulated
loggias or wandered through marble colonnades.

The Italian decorator held any audacity permissible in a room
used only by a throng of people, whose mood and dress made
them ready to accept the fairy-tales on the walls as a fitting back-
ground to their own masquerading. Modern travellers, walking
through these old Italian saloons in the harsh light of day, while
cobwebs hang from the audacious architecture, and the cracks in
the plaster look like wounds in the cheeks of simpering nymphs
and shepherdesses, should remember that such apartments were

140 The Decoration of Houses

meant to be seen by the soft light of wax candles in crystal chan-
deliers, with fantastically dressed dancers thronging the marble

Such a ball-room, if reproduced in the present day, would be
far more effective than the conventional white-and-gold room,
which, though unobjectionable when well decorated, lacks the
imaginative charm, the personal note, given by the painter's

Under Louis XIV many French apartments of state were pan-
elled with colored marbles, with an application of attributes or
trophies, and other ornamental motives in fire-gilt bronze: a
sumptuous mode of treatment according well with a domed
and frescoed ceiling. Tapestry was also much used, and forms
an admirable decoration, provided the color-scheme is light and
the design animated. Seventeenth and eighteenth-century tap-
estries are the most suitable, as the scale of color is brighter and
the compositions are gayer than in the earlier hangings.

Modern dancers prefer a polished wooden floor, and it is per-
haps smoother and more elastic than any other surface; but in
beauty and decorative value it cannot be compared with a floor
of inlaid marble, and as all the dancing in Italian palaces is still
done on such floors, the preference for wood is probably the
result of habit. In a ball-room of any importance, especially
where marble is used on the walls, the floor should always be of
the same substance (see floors in Plates XXIX, XXX, and LV).

Gala apartments, as distinguished from living-rooms, should
be lit from the ceiling, never from the walls. No ball-room or
saloon is complete without its chandeliers: they are one of the
characteristic features of a gala room (see Plates V, XIX, XXXIV,
XLIII, XLV, L). For a ball-room, where all should be light and

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Bail-Room, Saloon, Music-Room, Gallery 141

brilliant, rock-crystal or cut-glass chandeliers are most suitable:
reflected in a long line of mirrors, they are an invaluable factor in
any scheme of gala decoration.

The old French decorators relied upon the reflection of mirrors
for producing an effect of distance in the treatment of gala rooms.
Above the mantel, there was always a mirror with another of the
same shape and size directly opposite; and the glittering perspec-
tive thus produced gave to the scene an air of fantastic unreality.

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Online LibraryEdith WhartonThe decoration of houses → online text (page 11 of 16)