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reason why the design of curtains and chair-coverings should
consist of long straight rows of buttercups or crocuses, endlessly
repeated.

It must not be thought that the old designs were unconven-
tional. Nature, in passing through the medium of the imagina-
tion, is necessarily transposed and in a manner conventionalized;
and it is this transposition, this deliberate selection of certain



PLATE LV.




BATH-ROOM, PITTI PALACE, FLORENCE.

LATE XVIII CENTURY. DECORATED BY CACIALLI.



Bedrooms 1 69

characteristics to the exclusion of others, that distinguishes the
work of art from a cast or a photograph. But the reduction of
natural objects to geometrical forms is only one of the results
of artistic selection. The Italian fresco-painters the recognized
masters of wall-decoration in the flat always used the natu-
ralistic method, but subject to certain restrictions in composition
or color. This applies also to the Chinese designers, and to the
humbler European pattern-makers who on more modest lines
followed the same sound artistic traditions. In studying the
toiles peintes manufactured in Europe previous to the present
century, it will be seen that where the design included the
human figure or landscape naturalistically treated (as in the
fables of ./Esop and La Fontaine, or the history of Don Quixote),
the pattern was either printed entirely in one color, or so fantas-
tically colored that by no possibility could it pass for an attempt
at a literal rendering of nature. Besides, in all such compositions
(and here the Chinese influence is seen) perspective was stu-
diously avoided, and the little superimposed groups or scenes
were either connected by some decorative arabesque, or so
designed that by their outline they formed a recurring pattern.
On the other hand, when the design was obviously conventional
a variety of colors was freely used. The introduction of the
human figure, animals, architecture and landscape into stuff-pat-
terns undoubtedly gave to the old designs an animation lacking
in those of the present day ; and a return to the pays bleu of the
Chinese artist would be a gain to modern decoration.

Of the various ways in which a bedroom may be planned, none
is so luxurious and practical as the French method of subdividing
it into a suite composed of two or more small rooms. Where
space is not restricted there should in fact be four rooms, preceded



i jo The Decoration of Houses

by an antechamber separating the suite from the main corridor of
the house. The small sitting-room or boudoir opens into this an-
techamber; and next comes the bedroom, beyond which are the
dressing and bath rooms. In French suites of this kind there are
usually but two means of entrance from the main corridor: one
for the use of the occupant, leading into the antechamber, the
other opening into the bath-room, to give access to the servants.
This arrangement, besides giving greater privacy, preserves much
valuable wall-space, which would be sacrificed in America to the
supposed necessity of making every room in a house open upon
one of the main passageways.

The plan of the bedroom suite can of course be carried out only
in large houses; but even where there is no lack of space, such an
arrangement is seldom adopted by American architects, and most
of the more important houses recently built contain immense bed-
rooms, instead of a series of suites. To enumerate the practical
advantages of the suite over the single large room hardly comes
within the scope of this book ; but as the uses to which a bed-
room is put fall into certain natural subdivisions, it will be more
convenient to consider it as a suite.

Since bedrooms are no longer used as salons, there is no reason
for decorating them in an elaborate manner; and, however mag-
nificent the other apartments, it is evident that in this part of the
house simplicity is most fitting. Now that people have been taught
the unhealthiness of sleeping in a room with stuff hangings, heavy
window-draperies and tufted furniture, the old fashion of painted
walls and bare floors naturally commends itself; and as the bed-
room suite is but the subdivision of one large room, it is obviously
better that the same style of decoration should be used throughout.

For this reason, plain panelled walls and chintz or cotton hang-



Bedrooms 171

ings are more appropriate to the boudoir than silk and gilding.
If the walls are without pattern, a figured chintz may be chosen
for curtains and furniture ; while those who prefer plain tints
should use unbleached cotton, trimmed with bands of color, or
some colored linen with applications of gimp or embroidery. It
is a good plan to cover all the chairs and sofas in the bedroom
suite with slips matching the window-curtains; but where this is
done, the furniture should, if possible, be designed for the pur-
pose, since the lines of modern upholstered chairs are not suited
to slips. The habit of designing furniture for slip-covers origi-
nated in the middle ages. At a time when the necessity of trans-
porting furniture was added to the other difficulties of travel, it
was usual to have common carpenter-built benches and tables,
that might be left behind without risk, and to cover these with
richly embroidered slips. The custom persisted long after fur-
niture had ceased to be a part of luggage, and the benches and
tabourets now seen in many European palaces are covered merely
with embroidered slips. Even when a set of furniture was up-
holstered with silk, it was usual, in the eighteenth century, to
provide embroidered cotton covers for use in summer, while cur-
tains of the same stuff were substituted for the heavier hangings
used in winter. Old inventories frequently mention these ten-
tures d'tte 1 , which are well adapted to our hot summer climate.

The boudoir should contain a writing-table, a lounge or lit de
repos, and one or two comfortable arm-chairs, while in a bedroom
forming part of a suite only the bedstead and its accessories
should be placed.

The pieces of furniture needed in a well-appointed dressing-
room are the toilet-table, wash-stand, clothes-press and cheval-
glass, with the addition, if space permits, of one or two commodes



172 The Decoration of Houses

or chiffonniers. The designing of modern furniture of this kind is
seldom satisfactory; yet many who are careful to choose simple,
substantial pieces for the other rooms of the house, submit to
the pretentious "bedroom suit" of bird's-eye maple or mahogany,
with its wearisome irrelevance of line and its excess of cheap
ornament. Any study of old bedroom furniture will make clear
the inferiority of the modern manufacturer's designs. Nowhere
is the old sense of proportion and fitness seen to better advantage
than in the simple, admirably composed commodes and clothes-
presses of the eighteenth-century bedroom (see Plate LVII).

The bath-room walls and floor should, of course, be water-proof.
In the average bath-room, a tiled floor and a high wainscoting
of tiles are now usually seen ; and the detached enamel or porce-
lain bath has in most cases replaced the built-in metal tub. The
bath-rooms in the larger houses recently built are, in general, lined
with marble; but though the use of this substance gives oppor-
tunity for fine architectural effects, few modern bath-rooms can in
this respect be compared with those seen in the great houses of
Europe. The chief fault of the American bath-room is that, how-
ever splendid the materials used, the treatment is seldom archi-
tectural. A glance at the beautiful bath-room in the Pitti Palace at
Florence (see Plate LV) will show how much effect may be pro-
duced in a small space by carefully studied composition. A mere
closet is here transformed into a stately room, by that regard for
harmony of parts which distinguishes interior architecture from
mere decoration. A bath-room lined with precious marbles, with
bath and wash-stand ranged along the wall, regardless of their re-
lation to the composition of the whole, is no better architecturally
than the tiled bath-room seen in ordinary houses: design, not
substance, is needed to make the one superior to the other.



XV
THE SCHOOL-ROOM AND NURSERIES

ONE of the most important and interesting problems in the
planning and decoration of a house is that which has to do
with the arrangement of the children's rooms.

There is, of course, little opportunity for actual decoration in
school-room or nursery; and it is only by stretching a point that
a book dealing merely with the practical application of aesthetics
may be made to include a chapter bordering on pedagogy. It
must be remembered, however, that any application of principles
presupposes some acquaintance with the principles themselves;
and from this standpoint there is a certain relevance in studying
the means by which the child's surroundings may be made to
develop his sense of beauty.

The room where the child's lessons are studied is, in more
senses than one, that in which he receives his education. His
whole view of what he is set to learn, and of the necessity and
advantage of learning anything at all, is tinged, more often than
people think, by the appearance of the room in which his study-
ing is done. The aesthetic sensibilities wake early in some chil-
dren, and these, if able to analyze their emotions, could testify to
what suffering they have been subjected by the habit of sending
to school-room and nurseries whatever furniture is too ugly or
threadbare to be used in any other part of the house.

173



174 The Decoration of Houses

In the minds of such children, curious and lasting associations
are early established between the appearance of certain rooms and
the daily occupations connected with them; and the aspect of the
school-room too often aggravates instead of mitigating the weari-
ness of lesson-learning.

There are, of course, many children not naturally sensitive to
artistic influences, and the parents of such children often think
that no special care need be spent on their surroundings a curi-
ous misconception of the purpose of all aesthetic training. To
teach a child to appreciate any form of beauty is to develop his
intelligence, and thereby to enlarge his capacity for wholesome
enjoyment. It is, therefore, never idle to cultivate a child's taste ;
and those who have no pronounced natural bent toward the
beautiful in any form need more guidance and encouragement
than the child born with a sense of beauty. The latter will at
most be momentarily offended by the sight of ugly objects;
while they may forever blunt the taste and narrow the views of
the child whose sluggish imagination needs the constant stimulus
of beautiful surroundings.

If art is really a factor in civilization, it seems obvious that the
feeling for beauty needs as careful cultivation as the other civic
virtues. To teach a child to distinguish between a good and a
bad painting, a well or an ill-modelled statue, need not hinder
his growth in other directions, and will at least develop those
habits of observation and comparison that are the base of all sound
judgments. It is in this sense that the study of art is of service
to those who have no special aptitude for any of its forms: its
indirect action in shaping aesthetic criteria constitutes its chief
value as an element of culture.

The habit of regarding "art" as a thing apart from life is fatal



The School-Room and Nurseries



'75



to the development of taste. Parents may conscientiously send
their children to galleries and museums, but unless the child can
find some point of contact between its own surroundings and the
contents of the galleries, the interest excited by the pictures and
statues will be short-lived and ineffectual. Children are not
reached by abstract ideas, and a picture hanging on a museum
wall is little better than an abstraction to the child's vivid but
restricted imagination. Besides, if the home surroundings are
tasteless, the unawakened sense of form will not be roused
by a hurried walk through a museum. The child's mind must
be prepared by daily 'lessons in beauty to understand the master-
pieces of art. A child brought up on foolish story-books could
hardly be expected to enjoy The Knight's Tale or the Morte
d' Arthur without some slight initiation into the nature and
meaning of good literature; and to pass from a house full of
ugly furniture, badly designed wall-papers and worthless knick-
knacks to a hurried contemplation of the Venus of Milo or of
a model of the Parthenon is not likely to produce the desired
results.

The daily intercourse with poor pictures, trashy "ornaments,"
and badly designed furniture may, indeed, be fittingly compared
with a mental diet of silly and ungrammatical story-books. Most
parents nowadays recognize the harmfulness of such a regime,
and are careful to feed their children on more stimulating fare.
Skilful compilers have placed Mallory and Chaucer, Cervantes
and Froissart, within reach of the childish understanding, thus
laying the foundations for a lasting appreciation of good literature.
No greater service can be rendered to children than in teaching
them to know the best and to want it; but while this is now
generally conceded with regard to books, the child's eager eyes



176 The Decoration of Houses

are left to fare as best they may on chromos from the illustrated
papers and on carefully hoarded rubbish from the Christmas tree.

The mention of the Christmas tree suggests another obstacle to
the early development of taste. Many children, besides being
surrounded by ugly furniture and bad pictures, are overwhelmed
at Christmas, and on every other anniversary, by presents not al-
ways selected with a view to the formation of taste. The ques-
tion of presents is one of the most embarrassing problems in the
artistic education of children. As long as they are in the toy age
no great harm is done: it is when they are considered old enough
to appreciate "something pretty for their rooms " that the season
of danger begins. Parents themselves are often the worst offen-
ders in this respect, and the sooner they begin to give their chil-
dren presents which, if not beautiful, are at least useful, the sooner
will the example be followed by relatives and friends. The se-
lection of such presents, while it might necessitate a little more
trouble, need not lead to greater expense. Good things do not
always cost more than bad. A good print may often be bought
for the same price as a poor one, and the money spent on a china
"ornament," in the shape of a yellow Leghorn hat with a kitten
climbing out of it, would probably purchase a good reproduction
of one of the Tanagra statuettes, a plaster cast of some French or
Italian bust, or one of Cantagalli's copies of the Robbia bas-reliefs
any of which would reveal a world of unsuspected beauty to
many a child imprisoned in a circle of articles de Paris.

The children of the rich are usually the worst sufferers in
such cases, since the presents received by those whose parents
and relations are not "well off" have the saving merit of useful-
ness. It is the superfluous gimcrack the "ornament" which
is most objectionable, and the more expensive such articles are



The School-Room and Nurseries 177

the more likely are they to do harm. Rich children suffer from
the quantity as well as the quality of the presents they receive.
Appetite is surfeited, curiosity blunted, by the mass of offerings
poured in with every anniversary. It would be better if, in such
cases, friends and family could unite in giving to each child one
thing worth having a good edition, a first-state etching or en-
graving, or some like object fitted to give pleasure at the time and
lasting enjoyment through life. Parents often make the mistake
of thinking that such presents are too "serious" that children
do not care for good bindings, fine engravings, or reproductions
of sculpture. As a matter of fact, children are quick to appreciate
beauty when pointed out and explained to them, and an intelli-
gent child feels peculiar pride in being the owner of some object
which grown-up people would be glad to possess. If the selec-
tion of such presents is made with a reasonable regard for the
child's tastes and understanding if the book chosen is a good
edition, well bound, of the Morte d' Arthur or of Chaucer if the
print represents some Tuscan Nativity, with a joyous dance of
angels on the thatched roof, or a group of splendid horsemen and
strange animals from the wondrous fairy-tale of the Riccardi
chapel the present will give as much immediate pleasure as a
"juvenile" book or picture, while its intrinsic beauty and signifi-
cance may become important factors in the child's aesthetic de-
velopment. The possession of something valuable, that may not
be knocked about, but must be handled with care and restored to
its place after being looked at, will also cultivate in the child that
habit of carefulness and order which may be defined as good
manners toward inanimate objects.

Children suffer not only from the number of presents they
receive, but from that over-crowding of modern rooms that so



178 The Decoration of Houses

often makes it necessary to use the school-room and nurseries
as an outlet for the overflow of the house. To the children's
quarters come one by one the countless objects " too good to
throw away" but too ugly to be tolerated by grown-up eyes
the bead-work cushions that have "associations," the mildewed
Landseer prints of foaming, dying animals, the sheep-faced Ma-
donna and Apostles in bituminous draperies, commemorating a
paternal visit to Rome in the days when people bought copies of
the "Old Masters."

Those who wish to train their children's taste must resolutely
clear the school-room of all such stumbling-blocks. Ugly fur-
niture cannot always be replaced; but it is at least possible to
remove unsuitable pictures and knick-knacks.

It is essential that the school-room should be cheerful. Dark
colors, besides necessitating the use of much artificial light, are
depressing to children and consequently out of place in the
school-room: white woodwork, and walls tinted in some bright
color, form the best background for both work and play.

Perhaps the most interesting way of decorating the school-room
is that which might be described as the rotation system. To
carry out this plan which requires the cooperation of the chil-
dren's teacher the walls must be tinted in some light color, such
as turquoise-blue or pale green, and cleared of all miscellaneous
adornments. These should then be replaced by a few carefully-
chosen prints, photographs and plaster casts, representing objects
connected with the children's studies. Let it, for instance, be
supposed that the studies in hand include natural history, botany,
and the history of France and England during the sixteenth cen-
tury. These subjects might be respectively illustrated by some of
the clever Japanese outline drawings of plants and animals, by



The School-Room and Nurseries 179

Holbein's portrait of Henry VIII, Clouet's of Charles IX and of
Elizabeth of Austria, Durer's etchings of Luther and Erasmus, and
views of some of the principal buildings erected in France and
England during the sixteenth century.

The prints and casts shown at one time should be sufficiently
inexpensive and few in number to be changed as the child's les-
sons proceed, thus forming a kind of continuous commentary
upon the various branches of study.

This plan of course necessitates more trouble and expense than
the ordinary one of giving to the walls of the school-room a per-
manent decoration: an arrangement which may also be made
interesting and suggestive, if the child's requirements are con-
sidered. When casts and pictures are intended to remain in place,
it is a good idea to choose them at the outset with a view to the
course of studies likely to be followed. In this way, each object
may serve in turn to illustrate some phase of history or art: even
this plan will be found to have a vivifying effect upon the dry
bones of "lessons."

In a room decorated in this fashion, the prints or photographs
selected might represent the foremost examples of Greek, Gothic,
Renaissance and eighteenth-century architecture, together with
several famous paintings of different periods and schools ; sculp-
ture being illustrated by casts of the Disk-thrower, of one of
Robbia's friezes of child-musicians, of Donatello's Saint George,
and Pigalle's "Child with the Bird.

Parents who do not care to plan the adornment of the school-
room on such definite lines should at least be careful to choose
appropriate casts and pictures. It is generally conceded that
nothing painful should be put before a child's eyes; but the dele-
terious effects of namby-pamby prettiness are too often disre-



180 The Decoration of Houses

garded. Anything "sweet" is considered appropriate for the
school-room or nursery; whereas it is essential to the child's
artistic training that only the sweetness which proceeds de forte
should be held up for admiration. It is easy to find among the
world's masterpieces many pictures interesting to children. Van-
dyck's "Children of Charles I"; Bronzino's solemn portraits of
Medici babies; Drouais' picture of the Comte d'Artois holding his
little sister on the back of a goat; the wan little princes of Velas-
quez; the ruddy beggar-boys of Murillo these are but a few of
the subjects that at once suggest themselves. Then, again, there
are the wonder-books of those greatest of all story-tellers, the
Italian fresco-painters Benozzo Gozzoli, Pinturicchio, Carpaccio
incorrigible gossips every one, lingering over the minor epi-
sodes and trivial details of their stories with the desultory slow-
ness dear to childish listeners. In sculpture, the range of choice is
no less extended. The choristers of Robbia, the lean little St.
Johns of Donatello and his school Verrocchio's fierce young
David, and the Capitol "Boy with the Goose" these may alter-
nate with fragments of the Parthenon frieze, busts of great men,
and studies of animals, from the Assyrian lions to those of Canova
and Barye.

Above all, the walls should not be overcrowded. The impor-
tance of preserving in the school-room bare wall-spaces of uniform
tint has hitherto been little considered; but teachers are beginning
to understand the value of these spaces in communicating to the
child's brain a sense of repose which diminishes mental and physi-
cal restlessness.

The furniture of the school-room should of course be plain and
substantial. Well-designed furniture of this kind is seldom made
by modern manufacturers, and those who can afford the slight



The School-Room and Nurseries 181

extra expense should commission a good cabinet-maker to repro-
duce some of the simple models which may be found in the
manuals of old French and English designers. It is of special im-
portance to provide a large, solid writing-table: children are too
often subjected to the needless constraint and fatigue of writing at
narrow unsteady desks, too small to hold even the books in use
during the lesson.

A well-designed bookcase with glass doors is a valuable factor
in the training of children. It teaches a respect for books by show-
ing that they are thought worthy of care; and a child is less likely
to knock about and damage a book which must be taken from
and restored to such a bookcase, than one which, after being
used, is thrust back on an open shelf. Children's books, if they
have any literary value, should be bound in some bright-colored
morocco: dingy backs of calf or black cloth are not likely to at-
tract the youthful eye, and the better a book is bound the more
carefully it will be handled. Even lesson-books, when they be-
come shabby, should have a covering of some bright-colored cloth
stitched over the boards.

The general rules laid down for the decoration of the school-
room may, with some obvious modifications, be applied to the
treatment of nursery and of children's rooms. These, like the
school-room, should have painted walls and a floor of hard wood
with a removable rug or a square of matting. In a house contain-
ing both school-room and nursery, the decoration of the latter
room will of course be adapted to the tastes of the younger chil-
dren. Mothers often say, in answer to suggestions as to the
decoration of the nursery, that little children "like something
bright" as though this precluded every form of art above the
newspaper chromo and the Christmas card! It is easy to pro-


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Online LibraryEdith WhartonThe decoration of houses → online text (page 14 of 16)