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ning; but it must be borne in mind that this date is purely arbi-
trary, 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 Ur-

6 The Decoration of Houses

bino, 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, cere-
monies 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 por-
tion 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 inhab-
ited 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 fol-
lows 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 be-
cause 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


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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 H6tel Vogue at Dijon, one of the best exam-
ples (as originally planned) of sixteenth-century domestic archi-
tecture 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 furni-
ture 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 per-
haps not too much to say that a comfortable chair, in our self-
indulgent modern sense, did not exist before the Louis XIV arm-
chair (see Plate IV); and the cushioned bergere, 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.

8 The Decoration of Houses

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 II). 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
Sevigne'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 hotel 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 Sevigne called
them, were replaced by the compact chimney-piece of modern
times. Cushioned bergeres 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 stone 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 architec-
ture 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 origi-
nality 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 discard-
ing 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 pre-
vents 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.

I o The Decoration of Houses

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 decora-
tion 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 dis-
tinguishes architecture from mere construction. Thus all good
architecture and good decoration (which, it must never be for-
gotten, h 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

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 I'on dispose un edifice d'une maniere convenable a 1'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. Precis des Lecons d' Architecture donnees a VEcole Royale Poly-
technique. Paris, 1823.



The Historical Tradition 1 1

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 ap-
propriateness, 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 reproduc-
ing 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 unsuit-
ably proportioned openings, wall-spaces and cornice might re-
ceive 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 Roman-
esque or Gothic, would yet maintain its distinctive style, be-
cause 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 orna-

1 2 The Decoration of Houses

mental 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 some-
thing 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 out. 1

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 mat-
ters 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-

i 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.






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The Historical Tradition 1 3

friezes as exterior entablatures, or by Louis XV rooms where the
wavy movement which, in the best rococo, was always an orna-
mental 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 propor-
tion 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 occu-

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 Eng-
lish 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 decora-
tion, and it is the feeling for form, and not any archaeological
affectation, which makes the best decorators insist upon the ne-
cessity of keeping to the same style of furniture and decoration.
Thus the massive dimensions and heavy panelling of a seven-
teenth-century room would dwarf a set of eighteenth-century
furniture; and the wavy, capricious movement of Louis XV dec-
oration would make the austere yet delicate lines of Adam furni-
ture 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 pro-
posed 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 suita-
ble, having in mind one of the simple panelled rooms, with tall


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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 mis-
apprehension 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, deco-
rators, and 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

1 6 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 con-
formity 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.





BEFORE beginning to decorate a room it is essential to con-
sider for what purpose the room is to be used. It is not
enough to ticket it with some such general designation as "li-
brary," "drawing-room," or "den." The individual tastes and
habits of the people who are to occupy it must be taken into ac-
count; it must be not "a library," or "a drawing-room," but the
library or the drawing-room best suited to the master or mistress
of the house which is being decorated. Individuality in house-
furnishing has seldom been more harped upon than at the present
time. That cheap originality which finds expression in putting
things to uses for which they were not intended is often con-
founded with individuality; whereas the latter consists not in an
attempt to be different from other people at the cost of comfort,
but in the desire to be comfortable in one's own way, even
though it be the way of a monotonously large majority. It
seems easier to most people to arrange a room like some one
else's than to analyze and express their own needs. Men, in
these matters, are less exacting than women, because their de-
mands, besides being simpler, are uncomplicated by the feminine
tendency to want things because other people have them, rather
than to have things because they are wanted.


1 8 The Decoration of Houses

But it must never be forgotten that every one is unconsciously
tyrannized over by the wants of others, the wants of dead and
gone predecessors, who have an inconvenient way of thrusting
their different habits and tastes across the current of later exis-
tences. The unsatisfactory relations of some people with their
rooms are often to be explained in this way. They have still in
their blood the traditional uses to which these rooms were put in
times quite different from the present. It is only an unconscious
extension of the conscious habit which old-fashioned people have
of clinging to their parents' way of living. The difficulty of
reconciling these instincts with our own comfort and convenience,
and the various compromises to which they lead in the arrange-
ment of our rooms, will be more fully dealt with in the following
chapters. To go to the opposite extreme and discard things
because they are old-fashioned is equally unreasonable. The
golden mean lies in trying to arrange our houses with a view to
our own comfort and convenience; and it will be found that the
more closely we follow this rule the easier our rooms will be to
furnish and the pleasanter to live in.

People whose attention has never been specially called to the
raison d'etre of house-furnishing sometimes conclude that because
a thing is unusual it is artistic, or rather that through some occult
process the most ordinary things become artistic by being used in
an unusual manner; while others, warned by the visible results
of this theory of furnishing, infer that everything artistic is un-
practical. In the Anglo-Saxon mind beauty is not spontaneously
born of material wants, as it is with the Latin races. We have to
make things beautiful ; they do not grow so of themselves. The
necessity of making this effort has caused many people to put
aside the whole problem of beauty and fitness in household deco-

Rooms in General 19

ration as something mysterious and incomprehensible to the
uninitiated. The architect and decorator are often aware that
they are regarded by their clients as the possessors of some
strange craft like black magic or astrology.

This fatalistic attitude has complicated the simple and intel-
ligible process of house-furnishing, and has produced much of
the discomfort which causes so many rooms to be shunned by
everybody in the house, in spite (or rather because) of all [the

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