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of a room, the floor is a background : it should not furnish pat-
tern, but set off whatever is placed upon it. The perspective
effects dear to the modern floor-designer are the climax of ex-
travagance. A floor should not only be, but appear to be, a per-
fectly level surface, without simulated bosses or concavities.

In choosing rugs and carpets the subject of design should be
carefully studied. The Oriental carpet-designers have always
surpassed their European rivals. The patterns of Eastern rugs are
invariably well composed, with skilfully conventionalized figures
in flat unshaded colors. Even the Oriental rug of the present
day is well drawn; but the colors used by Eastern manufacturers
since the introduction of aniline dyes are so discordant that these
rugs are inferior to most modern European carpets.

In houses with deal floors, nailed-down carpets are usually con-
sidered a necessity, and the designing of such carpets has im-
proved so much in the last ten or fifteen years that a sufficient
choice of unobtrusive geometrical patterns may now be found.
The composition of European carpets woven in one piece, like
rugs, has never been satisfactory. Even the splendid tapis de
Savonnerie made in France at the royal manufactory during the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were not so true to the best
principles of design as the old Oriental rugs. In Europe there







Ceilings and Floors 101

was always a tendency to transfer wall or ceiling-decoration to
floor-coverings. Such incongruities as architectural mouldings,
highly modelled trophies and human masks appear in most of
the European carpets from the time of Louis XIV to the present
day; and except when copying Eastern models the European de-
signers were subject to strange lapses from taste. There is no
reason why a painter should not simulate loggia and sky on a flat
plaster ceiling, since no one will try to use this sham opening as
a means of exit; but the carpet-designer who puts picture-frames
and human faces under foot, though he does not actually deceive,
produces on the eye a momentary startling sense of obstruction.
Any trompe-l ceil is permissible in decorative art if it gives an im-
pression of pleasure ; but the inherent sense of fitness is shocked
by the act of walking upon upturned faces.

Recent carpet-designs, though usually free from such obvious
incongruities, have seldom more than a negative merit. The un-
conventionalized flower still shows itself, and even when banished
from the centre of the carpet lingers in the border which accom-
panies it. The vulgarity of these borders is the chief objection to
using carpets of European manufacture as rugs, instead of nailing
them to the floor. It is difficult to find a border that is not too
wide, and of which the design is a simple conventional figure in
flat unshaded colors. If used at all, a carpet with a border should
always be in the form of a rug, laid in the middle of the room,
and not cut to follow all the ins and outs of the floor, as such
adaptation not only narrows the room but emphasizes any ir-
regularity in its plan.

In houses with deal floors, where nailed-down carpets are used
in all the rooms, a restful effect is produced by covering the whole
of each story with the same carpet, the door-sills being removed

IO2 The Decoration of Houses

so that the carpet may extend from one room to another. In
small town houses, especially, this will be found much less fatigu-
ing to the eye than the usual manner of covering the floor of each
room with carpets differing in color and design.

Where several rooms are carpeted alike, the floor-covering
chosen should be quite plain, or patterned with some small geo-
metrical figure in a darker shade of the foundation color; and
green, dark blue or red will be found most easy to combine with
the different color-schemes of the rooms.

Pale tints should be avoided in the selection of carpets. It is
better that the color-scale should ascend gradually from the dark
tone of floor or carpet to the faint half-tints of the ceiling. The
opposite combination that of a pale carpet with a dark ceiling
lowers the stud and produces an impression of top-heaviness and
gloom; indeed, in a room where the ceiling is overladen, a dark
rich-toned carpet will do much to lighten it, whereas a pale floor-
covering will bring it down, as it were, on the inmates' heads.

Stair-carpets should be of a strong full color and, if possible,
without pattern. It is fatiguing to see a design meant for a hori-
zontal surface constrained to follow the ins and outs of a flight
of steps; and the use of pattern where not needed is always
meaningless, and interferes with a decided color-effect where the
latter might have been of special advantage to the general scheme
of decoration.





THE decoration of the entrance necessarily depends on the
nature of the house and its situation. A country house,
where visitors are few and life is simple, demands a less formal
treatment than a house in a city or town ; while a villa in a water-
ing-place where there is much in common with town life has
necessarily many points of resemblance to a town house.
/ It should be borne in mind of entrances in general that, while
the main purpose of a door is to admit, its secondary purpose is
to exclude. The outer door, which separates the hall or vestibule
from the street, should clearly proclaim itself an effectual barrier.
It should look strong enough to give a sense of security, and be
so plain in design as to offer no chance of injury by weather and
give no suggestion of interior decoration.

The best ornamentation for an entrance-door is simple panel-
ling, with bold architectural mouldings and as little decorative
detail as possible. The necessary ornament should be contributed
by the design of locks, hinges and handles. These, like the door
itself, should be strong and serviceable, with nothing finikin in
their treatment, and made of a substance which does not require
cleaning. For the latter reason, bronze and iron are more fitting
than brass or steel.


104 The Decoration of Houses

In treating the vestibule, careful study is required to establish a
harmony between the decorative elements inside and outside the
house. The vestibule should form a natural and easy transition
from the plain architecture of the street to the privacy of the in-
terior (see Plate XXVIII).

No portion of the inside of the house being more exposed to
the weather, great pains should be taken to avoid using in its
decoration materials easily damaged by rain or dust, such as
carpets or wall-paper. The decoration should at once produce
the impression of being weather-proof.

Marble, stone, scagliola, or painted stucco are for this reason
the best materials. If wood is used, it should be painted, as dust
and dirt soon soil it, and unless its finish be water-proof it
will require continual varnishing. The decorations of the vesti-
bule should be as permanent as possible in character, in order to
avoid incessant small repairs.

The floor should be of stone, marble, or tiles; even a linoleum
or oil-cloth of sober pattern is preferable to a hard-wood floor in
so exposed a situation. For the same reason, it is best to treat the
walls with a decoration of stone or marble. In simpler houses
the same effect may be produced at much less cost by dividing
the wall-spaces into panels, with wooden mouldings applied di-
rectly to the plaster, the whole being painted in oil, either in one
uniform tint or in varying shades of some cold sober color. This
subdued color-scheme will produce an agreeable contrast with the
hall or staircase, which, being a degree nearer the centre of the
house, should receive a gayer and more informal treatment than
the vestibule.

The vestibule usually has two doors: an outer one opening to-
ward the street and an inner one giving into the hall; but when




Entrance and Vestibule 105

the outer is entirely of wood, without glass, and must therefore
be left open during the day, the vestibule is usually subdivided by
an inner glass door placed a few feet from the entrance. This ar-
rangement has the merit o( keeping the house warm and of af-
fording a shelter to the servants who, during an entertainment,
are usually compelled to wait outside. The French architect
always provides an antechamber for this purpose.

No furniture which is easily soiled or damaged, or difficult to
keep clean, is appropriate in a vestibule. In large and imposing
houses marble or stone benches and tables should be used, and
the ornamentation may consist of statues, vases, or busts on
pedestals (see Plate XXIX). When the decoration is simpler and
wooden benches are used, they should resemble those made for
French gardens, with seats of one piece of wood, or of broad
thick slats; while in small vestibules, benches and chairs with
cane seats are appropriate.

The excellent reproductions of Robbia ware made by Cantagalli
of Florence look well against painted walls ; while plaster or terra-
cotta bas-reliefs are less expensive and equally decorative, especially
against a pale-blue or green background.

The lantern, the traditional form of fixture for lighting vesti-
bules, is certainly the best in so exposed a situation ; and though
where electric light is used draughts need not be considered, the
sense of fitness requires that a light in such a position should
always have the semblance of being protected.


WHAT is technically known as the staircase (in German
the Treppenbaus) has, in our lax modern speech, come to
be designated as the hall.

In Gwilt's Encyclopedia of Architecture the staircase is defined
as "that part or subdivision of a building containing the stairs
which enable people to ascend or descend from one floor to an-
other"; while the hall is described as follows: "The first large
apartment on entering a house. ... In magnificent edifices,
where the hall is larger and loftier than usual, and is placed in the
middle of the house, it is called a saloon; and a royal apartment
consists of a hall, or chamber of guards, etc."

It is clear that, in the technical acceptance of the term, a hall is
something quite different from a staircase; yet the two words
were used interchangeably by so early a writer as Isaac Ware,
who, in his Complete Body of Architecture, published in 1756,
continually speaks of the staircase as the hall. This confusion of
terms is difficult to explain, for in early times the staircase was as
distinct from the hall as it continued to be in France and Italy, and,
with rare exceptions, in England also, until the present century.

In glancing over the plans of the feudal dwellings of northern
Europe it will be seen that, far from being based on any definite





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Hall and Stairs 107

conception, they were made up of successive accretions about the
nobleman's keep. The first room to attach itself to the keep was
the " hall," a kind of microcosm in which sleeping, eating, enter-
taining guests and administering justice succeeded each other or
went on simultaneously. In the course of time various rooms,
such as the parlor, the kitchen, the offices, the muniment-room
and the lady's bower, were added to the primitive hall; but these
were rather, incidental necessities than parts of an organized
scheme of planning. 1 In this agglomeration of apartments the
stairs found a place where they could. Space being valuable,
they were generally carried up spirally in the thickness of the wall,
or in an angle-turret. Owing to enforced irregularity of plan, and
perhaps to the desire to provide numerous separate means of ac-
cess to the different parts of the dwejling, each castle usually con-
tained several staircases, no one of which was more important
than the others.

It was in Italy that stairs first received attention as a feature in
the general composition of the house. There, from the outset, all
the conditions had been different. The domestic life of the upper
classes having developed from the eleventh century onward in
the comparative security of the walled town, it was natural that
house-planning should be less irregular, 2 and that more regard
should be given to considerations of comfort and dignity. In early
Italian palaces the stairs either ascended through the open cen-

1 Burckhardt, in his Gescbicbte der Renaissance in Italien, justly points out
that the seeming inconsequence of mediaeval house-planning in northern Europe was
probably due in part to the fact that the feudal castle, for purposes of defence, was
generally built on an irregular site. See also Viollet-le-Duc.

2 " Der gothische Profanbau in Italien . . . steht im vollen Gegensatz zum
Norden durch die rationelle Anlage." Burckhardt, Gescbicbte der Renaissance in
Italien, p. 28.

io8 The Decoration of Houses

tral cortile to an arcaded gallery on the first floor, as in the Gondi
palace and the Bargello at Florence, or were carried up in straight
flights between walls. 1 This was, in fact, the usual way of build-
ing stairs in Italy until the end of the fifteenth century. These
enclosed stairs usually started near the vaulted entranceway lead-
ing from the street to the cortile. Gradually the space at the foot
of the stairs, which at first was small, increased in size and in im-
portance of decorative treatment; while the upper landing opened
into an antechamber which became the centre of the principal
suite of apartments. With the development of the Palladian
style, the whole staircase (provided the state apartments were not
situated on the ground floor) assumed more imposing dimensions;
though it was not until a much later date that the monumental
staircase so often regarded as one of the chief features of the Ital-
ian Renaissance began to be built. Indeed, a detailed examination
of the Italian palaces shows that even in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries such staircases as were built by Fontana in
the royal palace at Naples, by Juvara in the Palazzo Madama at
Turin and by Vanvitelli at Caserta, were seen only in royal pal-
aces. Even Morelli's staircase in the Braschi palace in Rome,
magnificent as it is, hardly reaches the popular conception of
the Italian state staircase a conception probably based rather
upon the great open stairs of the Genoese cortili than upon any
actually existing staircases. It is certain that until late in the
seventeenth century (as Bernini's Vatican staircase shows) inter-
mural stairs were thought grand enough for the most splendid
palaces of Italy (see Plate XXX).
The spiral staircase, soon discarded by Italian architects save as a

1 See the stairs of the Riccardi palace in Florence, of the Piccolomini palace at
Pienza and of the ducal palace at Urbino.




Hall and Stairs 109

means of secret communication or for the use of servants, held its
own in France throughout the Renaissance. Its structural difficul-
ties afforded scope for the exercise of that marvellous, if sometimes
superfluous, ingenuity which distinguished the Gothic builders.
The spiral staircase in the court-yard at Blois is an example of this
kind of skilful engineering and of the somewhat fatiguing use of
ornament not infrequently accompanying it; while such anomalies
as the elaborate out-of-door spiral staircase enclosed within the
building at Chambord are still more in the nature of a tour de
force, something perfect in itself, but not essential to the organ-
ism of the whole.

Viollet-le-Duc, in his dictionary of architecture, under the head-
ing Chateau, has given a sympathetic and ingenious explanation
of the tenacity with which the French aristocracy clung to the
obsolete complications of Gothic house-planning and structure
long after frequent expeditions across the Alps had made them
familiar with the simpler and more rational method of the Italian
architects. It may be, as he suggests, that centuries of feudal life,
with its surface of savagery and violence and its undercurrent
treachery, had fostered in the nobles of northern Europe a desire
for security and isolation that found expression in the intricate
planning of their castles long after the advance of civilization had
made these precautions unnecessary. It seems more probable,
however, that the French architects of the Renaissance made the
mistake of thinking that the essence of the classic styles lay in the
choice and application of ornamental details. This exaggerated
estimate of the importance of detail is very characteristic of an im-
perfect culture; and the French architects who in the fifteenth
century were eagerly taking their first lessons from their contem-
poraries south of the Alps, had behind them nothing like the great

1 1 o The Decoration of Houses

synthetic tradition of the Italian masters. Certainly it was not
until the Northern builders learned that the beauty of the old build-
ings was, above all, a matter of proportion, that their own style,
freed from its earlier incoherencies, set out on the line of unbroken
national development which it followed with such harmonious
results until the end of the eighteenth century.

In Italy the staircase often gave directly upon the entranceway;
in France it was always preceded by a vestibule, and the upper
landing invariably led into an antechamber.

In England the relation between vestibule, hall and staircase
was never so clearly established as on the Continent. The old
English hall, so long the centre of feudal life, preserved its some-
what composite character after the grand'salle of France and
Italy had been broken up into the vestibule, the guard-room and
the saloon. In the grandest Tudor houses the entrance-door usu-
ally opened directly into this hall. To obtain in some measure the
privacy which a vestibule would have given, the end of the hall
nearest the entrance-door was often cut off by a screen that sup-
ported the musicians' gallery. The corridor formed by this screen
led to the staircase, usually placed behind the hall, and the gallery
opened on the first landing of the stairs. This use of the screen
at one end of the hall had so strong a hold upon English habits
that it was never quite abandoned. Even after French architec-
ture and house-planning had come into fashion in the eighteenth
century, a house with a vestibule remained the rarest of excep-
tions in England ; and the relative privacy afforded by the Gothic
screen was then lost by substituting for the latter an open arcade,
of great decorative effect, but ineffectual in shutting off the hall
from the front door.

The introduction of the Palladian style by Inigo Jones trans-

Hall and Stairs 1 1 1

formed the long and often narrow Tudor hall into the many-storied
central saloon of the Italian villa, with galleries reached by con-
cealed staircases, and lofty domed ceiling; but it was still called the
hall, it still served as a vestibule, or means of access to the rest
of the house, and, curiously enough, it usually adjoined another
apartment, often of the same dimensions, called a saloon. Per-
haps the best way of defining the English hall of this period is to
say that it was really an Italian saloon, but that it was used as a
vestibule and called a hall.

Through all these changes the staircase remained shut off from
the hall, upon which it usually opened. It was very unusual,
except in small middle-class houses or suburban villas, to put the
stairs in the hall, or, more correctly speaking, to make the front
door open into the staircase. There are, however, several larger
houses in which the stairs are built in the hall. Inigo Jones, in
remodelling Castle Ashby for the Earl of Northampton, followed
this plan ; though this is perhaps not a good instance to cite, as it
may have been difficult to find place for a separate staircase. At
Chevening, in Kent, built by Inigo Jones for the Earl of Sussex,
the stairs are also in the hall; and the same arrangement is seen at
Shobden Court, at West Wycombe, built by J. Donowell for Lord
le Despencer (where the stairs are shut off by a screen) and at
Hurlingham, built late in the eighteenth century by G. Byfield.

This digression has been made in order to show the origin of
the modern English and American practice of placing the stairs in
the hall and doing away with the vestibule. The vestibule never
formed part of the English house, but the stairs were usually
divided from the hall in houses of any importance; and it is difficult
to see whence the modern architect has derived his idea of the
combined hall and staircase. The tendency to merge into one any

U2 The Decoration of Houses

two apartments designed for different uses shows a retrogression
in house-planning; and while it is fitting that the vestibule or hall
should adjoin the staircase, there is no good reason for uniting
them and there are many for keeping them apart.

The staircase in a private house is for the use of those who in-
habit it; the vestibule or hall is necessarily used by persons in no
way concerned with the private life of the inmates. If the stairs,
the main artery of the house, be carried up through the vestibule,
there is no security from intrusion. Even the plan of making the
vestibule precede the staircase, though better, is not the best. In
a properly planned house the vestibule should open on a hall or
antechamber of moderate size, giving access to the rooms on the
ground floor, and this antechamber should lead into the staircase.
It is only in houses where all the living-rooms are up-stairs that the
vestibule may open directly into the staircase without lessening
the privacy of the house.

In Italy, where wood was little employed in domestic architec-
ture, stairs were usually of stone. Marble came into general use
in the grander houses when, in the seventeenth century, the
stairs, instead of being carried up between walls, were often
placed in an open staircase. The balustrade was usually of stone
or marble, iron being much less used than in France.

In the latter country the mediaeval stairs, especially in the
houses of the middle class, were often built of wood; but this
material was soon abandoned, and from the time of Louis XIV
stairs of stone with wrought-iron rails are a distinctive feature of
French domestic architecture. The use of wrought-iron in French
decoration received a strong impulse from the genius of Jean
Lamour, who, when King Stanislas of Poland remodelled the
town of Nancy early in the reign of Louis XV, adorned its




Hall and Stairs 113

streets and public buildings with specimens of iron-work un-
matched in any other part of the world. Since then French dec-
orators have expended infinite talent in devising the beautiful
stair-rails and balconies which are the chief ornament of innumer-
able houses throughout France (see Plates XXXI and XXXII).

Stair-rails of course followed the various modifications of taste
which marked the architecture of the day. In the seventeenth
and early eighteenth centuries they were noted for severe richness
of design. With the development of the rocaille manner their lines
grew lighter and more fanciful, while the influence of Gabriel,
which, toward the end of the reign of Louis XV, brought about
a return to classic models, manifested itself in a simplified mode
of treatment. At this period the outline of a classic baluster
formed a favorite motive for the iron rail. Toward the close of
the eighteenth century the designs for these rails grew thin and
poor, with a predominance of upright iron bars divided at long
intervals by some meagre medallion or geometrical figure. The
exuberant sprays and volutes of the rococo period and the archi-
tectural lines of the Louis XVI style were alike absent from these
later designs, which are chiefly marked by the negative merit of

In the old French stair-rails steel was sometimes combined with
gilded iron. The famous stair-rail of the Palais Royal, designed

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Online LibraryEdith WhartonThe decoration of houses → online text (page 9 of 16)