Copyright
Francis Hall.

The Century, Volume 11 online

. (page 143 of 163)
Online LibraryFrancis HallThe Century, Volume 11 → online text (page 143 of 163)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


money than he could get in any other style
of furniture. Perhaps in another shop he
would have to pay as much for the same
piece of furniture without the so-called orna-
ment — as much, or more than he was asked
to pay for the showy piece. And in nine
cases out of ten the showy piece carried the
day. The reason of the difference in cost
would be found in the fact that the plain
piece was well designed in the first place by
an educated architect, — a man with notions
of utility and with good taste, — and then was
well made out of good material by a trained
workman. The cost of the piece represented
good stuff and skill in designer and in maker,
but it did not represent sham of any kind.
The piece would last a life-time, would al-
ways be a good servant or firiend, and would
improve in looks with time and use. The
showy piece would be designed, not for use,
but to make a display, and all the ornament
was contrived, like a player-queen's regaUa,
to get as much glitter and look of cost as
tinsel and fiippery can give. Now, in the
writer's experience, it is the people who are
taken in by this sort of thing, and who, to
tell truth, like to be taken in by it, who
complain of the cost of many of the things
shown in the illustrations to these articles.
They will have show and display if they can
possibly get them, and if they cannot have
real elegance, they will take sham elegance,
and thank the gods there are places where
people are not too nice to give it to them.



But, granted that many of the things pkt-
lu-ed in these articles are costly, die r»kr
is begged to notice that it is not thdr cosdi-
ness that is brought to the fore by the writet,
but the beauty of the design, or the utflity
of the things themselves. Their costliness is
always kept out of sight, not " toituou^," as
has been politely said, but really because the
cost of these particular pieces was not osr
concern. The design is our conceni, tike
usefulness of the object portrayed, its suita-
bility to our needs. Take the table and
chair figiured in the article for January (Na
5), which one person singles out as bemg
doubtless more expensive dian they looL
Why were these objects chosen as illustn-
tions ? Was it because they were oostiy ?
Most certainly not The writer never asdDcd
what they cost, and does not know. But be
does think them both extremely pretty, and
he chose them to show his readers because
he thought them so, and for no odier reascm.
The chair cannot be more expensive than
others of its now common fiimiily, and the
table no more expensive than tables osnally
found in drawing-rooms. But, supposing
them both to be as cosdy as the critic
suggests, this consideration does not affect
us, because their cosdiness is in dieir vsor
terial, — ^in the wood the table is made oC
in the stuff the chair is covered widi
And it was not their material, but their
forms, that was the subject of praise. If
a person should take a fancy to either
chair or table, and if he should find op
inquiry that the cost, as the piece stands in
the shop, was beyond his means, let hioi
have the table made out of pine, and the
chair covered with chintz ; they wiU give a
different pleasure from that diey would have
given in their original garment, but it wil
be a new pleasure as good as the old The
book-case which led off the ittttstnuioo in
the February Scribner (No. i) would be
very litde handsomer than it is if, instead cf
being made of plain pine, it were made cf
black walnut, or mahogany, or ebooy. Its
owner thinks it a very agr^^le piece o^ fiv-
niture to look at, and finds it very ooaTCoi-
ent, both as a case for books and as a Adf
But he could only afford to have it madc^
pine, and he gets as much pleasure out of ^
he thinks, as if, instead of costing fifty del-
lars, it had cost five hundred dollars^ as t
might easily have been made to. So, if he
were bent on having the chair and taUt
(No. 5 January Scribner), and could ax
afford ebonized walnut, with mahocanj tsf
and sides, for the table, he would hivr r



Digitized by



Google



BEDS AND TABLES, STOOLS AND CANDLESTICKS,



8ii



made of pine, and have the chair covered
with some one of the pretty chintzes or
Alg^riennes that nowadays make us quite
independent of stamped velvets and gilt
leather.

It seems to me that by showing many
handsome things more may be done to edu-
cate people's taste than by deforming our
page with ugly things. People are taught
very little by warnings, either in morals or
in art. Good example goes farther, and
Mr. Ruskin has so much show of reason
when he refuses to let his pupil see ugly



should not be in haste to furnish all the
rooms at once, but that they should take the
matter easily, furnishing only the rooms they
actually need. I cannot in conscience
recommend the example of a couple I once
heard of, who found themselves in Paris in
possession of a pretty but unfurnished flat
Intending to remain in the city several
years, tlfey concluded to get only things
that pleased them; and as there was not
money enough to do this all at once, they
secured the few absolutely essential pieces,
and then looked for the rest. But the wife.



KO. a. ANOTUfiK WAY OF DRAUKG WITH COMMONPLACB.



things or read ugly books. It is wasted
time, and only negative results can come
from the contemplation of negation. The
objects figured in these articles are, in the
writer's esteem, beautiful, or handsome, or
useful, and as such he shows them. The
reader is asked to accept them as standards,
and to use them as such in fitting up his
own house, or in judging the way in which
other people have fitted up theirs.

A suggestion may be offered to young
married people who find themselves in " a
whole house," as the saying is, that they



who lived to laugh at this afterward, always
declared that for six months they sat on
their two trunks, ))ecause her fastidious bet-
ter-half couldn't find chairs he thought " the
thing," while, as they had only a cup and
saucer apiece, waiting till the right thing in
ceramics turned up, they were obliged, hav-
ing in an impulsive moment asked fHends to
tea, to go out and ransack thebric-k-brac shop
for the old blue for that particular evening.
I believe they enjoyed this way of getting
to rights mudi more than if they had been
what is called " better off," and could have



Digitized by



Google



8l2



BEDS AND TABLES, STOOLS AND CANDLESTICKS,



gone to a fashionable shop, and ordered
their whole flat furnished at once.

A young couple may get a great deal of
innocent recreation by keeping one of the
parlors of an ordinary New York house, and
one or two of the bedrooms, empty for a year



was taken by his wife into the parlor to sec
her new chairs and sofas that had been
brought in only that afternoon, delighted as
she was with her achievement, she did not
relish seeing the weary man good-naturedly
sit down on the floor, saying that white



No. 3. MUCH IN UTTLB SPACB.



or so, and visiting them often in company to
discuss how they shall be fitted up when
times are a little easier. Besides the pleas-
ure of anticipation, there's the consideration
that, with experience, our tastes change, and
probably improve; and we may reflect that
it is much easier to change pieces of fumi-
niture that we never had, and have outgrown,
for others that we like better, and mean to
have some day, than it is to change or
modify the real things that have been bought
and paid for and brought home. When
Udolpho came home tired one night, and



satin embroidered with gold butterflies was
too fine for him to sit on. Adelaide wished
at that moment that she had not believed
everything the upholsterer told her, but had
used her own sense and judgment And if
ever she should read this, which isn't likely,
she will perhaps agree that it would have
been as well to let her ideas of what is suit-
able to a parlor ripen a year or so before
giving them shape.

Then there's the pleasure of "picking up"
things. In my humble opinion, this is the
only way to fiirnish a house ; produces the



Digitized by



Google



BEDS AND TABLES, STOOLS AND CANDLESTICKS.



813



prettiest result and is cheapest in the end.
I shouldn't like, for my own part, to be able
to go into Maherter*s or Hercott's, or
Milord's, and order suits of furniture ad Ubi-
turn. That might do for some people, and,
I dare say, when one considers the awful
waste of precious time implied in the way I
am recommending, it is much to be prefer-
red by serious persons who don't like that
particular way of wasting thne. But it has
Its disadvantages, neverdieless. The main
things must be searched for first, and it
wouldn't be a bad notion to try the Paris
plan of hiring furniture (you can hire it there
of any quality for a month, or a year, or a
life-rime), and clear it out by degrees. But,
in default of such a provision so suited
to our human needs, let the young folks try
getting the cheapest things that will hold,
and using them till they can be one by one
replaced, the new installed for a long voy-
age and the old ones going to some poor
neighbor. This suggestion is not whimsi-
cal : it has been tried and found very satis-
factory. "Picking up" is an easy art in
Europe, where, after all that has been car-
ried off as spoils, there is still an immense
deal of old furniture to be bought : some of
it splendid, some handsome, and some only
curious, but all of it useful. The getting it
home is the difficulty, and unless one is well
prepared to submit to all the petty vexations
and small swindles of oiw Custom- House,
and to bear the expense cheerfully, it is sel-
dom worth while — never, perhaps, except in
the case of some very lucky find.

" Picking up" at home is a much pleas-
anter, if it be a more difficult task, and a
lady the other day hit, with a woman's tact,
upon the reason. She was talking, to be sure,
of china, and not of fiuniture ; but the argu-
ment applies as well to one as the other.
She said the things we come upon in our
own country are soon at home in our houses,
because they were used by our own ances-
tors or our own people. They were to the
manor bom. They neither look affected,
nor strange, nor prctenrious, but native and
natural. And one reason why it is not so
easy to pick up the furniture of by-gone
times in America is, that those who have
inherited it are learning to value it, and are
less and less willing to part with it. As our
readers know, old furniture is " the fashion "
in some parts of our country. In Boston a
polite internecine warfare has for some time
raged between rival searchers after "old
pieces," and the back cotmtry is scoured by
young couples in chaises on the trail of old



sideboards and brass andirons. It is a pur-
suit highly to be conmiended, but it is apt
to become fanatically fascinating, and in
their blind admiration the young things buy
many articles that even Mr. Toodles would
have had the judgment to resist It is sur-
prising to learn to what strange uses things
may come at last ! In the suburbs of Bos-
ton, the best places in which to look for
Jacobean sideboards and cupboards that
came Over in the " Mayflower" are found to
be the hen-yard, the closets and drawers
having been for years given over in fee-sim-
ple to the fowl. Several handsome oak
cupboards that now adorn pretty Boston
dining-rooms had to be feathered and singed
before they could be made presentable. The
way in which they have stood this usage is
creditable to their makers ; so far fi*om being
hurt by it, they are really improved by their
adventures. Experience of the mutabilities
of fortune has been good for them, as it is
good for everybody. They are well sea-
soned ; they have a good healthy color, and
their angles are enough rubbed down to
take away the disagreeable look of newness
which troubles us in things just out of the
shop. Besides, in most cases this newness
has to be rubbed off by human beings, and
its loss represents just so much wear and
tear of our muscle and heart-strings; but
with these latest treasure-troves of Boston,
all this has been done for them by proxy —
by the hens.

In the new rage that has sprung up of
late for " grandfathers " and " grandmothers,"
— a kind of thing till very lately ignored, if
not despised, in the bumptious arrogance of
our social youthfiilness, — it adds inestimably
to the value of sideboards, andirons, and
old china, if they have come to us by de-
scent and haven't had to be hunted up in a
chaise. But everybody can't have a grand-
father, nor things that came over in the
" Mayflower," and those of us who have
not drawn these prizes in life's lottery must
do the best we can under the circumstances.
We must go to Hawkins's, or Sypher's, or
Drake's, or scour our own back coimtry,
where, perhaps, we. may light upon a mine
of unexpected richness, with owners who
cannot conceal their wonder at people who
are willing to pay hard cash for chairs, and
tables, and sideboards, and china, that
seem to them not worth taking as a gifl. I
have lately known of some very handsome
things, such as would cost a great deal of
money to make in these days, which were
found in a house lived in by people who



Digitized by



Google



8i4



BEDS AND TABLES, STOOLS AND CANDLESTICKS,



were in squalid poverty, but who had seen
better days, and were glad to sell their birth-
right for a little more Aan a mess of pottage.
This mania, as it is called by the scoffers,
for old furniture, is one of the best signs of
returning good taste in a community that
has long been the victim to the whims and
impositions of foreign fashions. The furni-
ture which was in use in this country in the
time of our grandfathers (of the great-grand-
fathers of the girls who, I please myself with
thinking, sometimes look over these papers
for the sake of the pictures), was almost
always well designed and perfectiy fitted for
the uses it was to be put to. The ward-
robes, or clothes-presses, as they were called,
the dressing-tables, the tea-tables, and the
chairs were often extremely handsome —
the hard wood — on which labor had not
been spared to work moldings on the solid,
or to carve the drawers with rounded panels
— ^lighted up with brass handles and key-
plates serviceably designed. I have before
me now, as I write, two chairs, both be-
longing to the time of our Revolution. They
are both hinted at in cut No. 8, but the
detail is not dwelt upon, as Mr. Lathrop
wanted us to look rather at the shelves on
the table between the chairs. The one at
the right is backed and seated with cane ;
the other has the back and seat stuffed.
The cane-seated chair is more delicately
made and designed than the stuffed one;
the carving upon it is as well done as need
be, and the proportions are so good, it takes
the eye of almost everybody. This was no
doubt a city-made chair, and out of some
stylish shop. The other chair came with three
others from up coimtry somewhere; when
they were bought it was said they had been
given by the Indians to a certain famous
New Yorker who made his millions in trad-
ing in many things, — among others, in furs.
As the Indians were never, so far as I know,
manufacturers nor designers of furniture, this
story of their origin has always thrown
about these chairs a littie flavor of massacre
and scalp. They are every bit as well de-
signed as the finer chairs, but they have
been made with the rudest tools, and all the
apparent turned-work upon them has been
done with the knife. Yet, notwithstanding
all their rudeness, they are much more
artistic and effective than the chairs covered
with carving which we were all admiring as
antique a few years ago. It is to be hoped
that no one will let himself be laughed out
of his fisuicy for a good piece of " old furni-
ture," to the extent of letting it slip out of



his hands when once he has the opportunity
of buying it If it be even an ordinarily good
piece, it will be money well invested to buy
it ; for, besides its usefulness and the pleas-
lure of looking at it, — elements of " interest"
not often enough computed, — ^it will any day
sell for more than it cost if it were " picked
up," but not, perhaps, if it were bought from
a dealer.

To the eye of one whose liking for our
Revolutionary furniture is not a new thing,
the charm of it consists, apart fi*om its use-
fulness, which is evident to everybody, in
the color given to it by age, and in the sim-
plicity with which all its ornament is ob-
tained. Its moldings are always good and
quiet; just what is needed, and no more,
to round an angle with elegance, and to
catch the light agreeably, and whenever any
carving is attempted, or paneling, there is a
certain moderation in it that is very refiresh-
ing in these loud times. Yet they are not
too tame either, but their spirit is the spirit
of high-bred people, and not of folks who
like to be conspicuous. Even the archi-
tectural details in biureaus and clothes-
presses that these old people were so fond
of, a little too fond, perhaps, — were often
very delicately and adroitly managed, and
we find ourselves easily forgiving them, see-
ing how well in keepmg they are with the
effect of any piece as a whole. Yet, much
as these articles of fumitm-e deserve to be
praised, I would not counsel that they
should be copied. In fact, I do not believe
in copies, whether of furniture, of pictures,
or of men and women. Nothing ever can be
copied exacdy, and we ought never to try
to do it, unless it be for purposes of instruc-
tion, and even then its desirableness may be
disputed. The least thing fi*om a master's
hand is pretty sure to be better worth study-
ing, if we would know something about the
master's method of working, or his way of
thinking, than the best copy. And it may be
said that the better artist the copjrist is, the
less his copy is apt to resemble his original
The French have carried the copying of old
work — ^in furniture, in jewelry, in pottery, to
great perfection ; but an artist would rather
have a square foot of genuine medieval or
Renaissance carving than the best copy of a
whole piece that even the skill of Rdcappe
produced. So with old American or Eng-
lish furniture (for how much was made here,
or how much imported, we do not know) ;
no matter how superficially resembling the
copies may be, they will always be wanting
in something ; in proportion, in deHcacy, or



Digitized by



Google



BEDS AND TABLES, STOOLS AND CANDLESTICKS.



S'S



NO. 4. HANGING 8HXLP AND CABINET.



in spirit And even if copies could be cast
in a mold, it is not good to wish for them,
for we can put all their merits into original
pieces made for ourselves to-day, that may
not only give us pleasure, but may show our
children that we know how to profit by what
our fathers taught us.

In the January number of Scribner some
designs for mantel-pieces were given which
were intended as hints for people who might
be fitting up new houses of their own, or
who might wish to get something better in
the place of the mantel-pieces imposed upon
them in houses taken on a comfortably long
lease. The writer knows of one case at least
where a tenant renting a house removed the
mantel-piece that was in the principal room
to the cellar and put up in its place a well-
designed wooden one. This would certainly
be worth doing under some circumstances ;
but, as a rule, we, New Yorkers, live in any



one house too short a time to make any con-
siderable improvement, the cost of which
comes out of our own pockets, seem worth
while. The best is to try what can be done
with the mantel-pieces we have, and the
two designs (Nos. i and 2) that lead oflf as
illustrations of our present article are intended
to give some help in this direction. No. i
is much the simpler of the two, and, in spite
of doubting Thomases, shows an inexpensive
way of treating an ordinary fire-place, one
no uglier than is to be found in almost every
respectable dwelling-house in our city. These
two cuts are engraved by Mr. Marsh after
drawings on the block by Miss Oakey, and
they are both taken fi*om actual objects. In
No. I we have a fi-ame of walnut, stained
black, resting directly on the mantel-shelf,
but secured to the wall in some easily de-
tachable way. This frame incloses three
mirrors, a large one (but not large) in the



Digitized by



Google



8i6



BEDS AND TABLES, STOOLS AND CANDLESTICKS.



middle, and a smaller one on each side.
Above the mirror is a projecting shelf with
a railing, supported on brackets. This shelf
is to hold a few pretty plates, bits of glass,
or table trinkets of any kind which the own-
ers of the mantel may happen to be possessed
of and which are worth putting where they
can be seen and not meddled with. On the
marble shelf of the mantel-piece is laid a
board, covered with velvet or plush, and hav-
ing a narrow valance of the same material over
the edge. This valance should not be more
than six inches deep, and it ought to avoid
any very pronounced ornaments — one of the
beautiful new English gimps, or " laces," as
they are called, makes the best decoration.
The effect of these laces depends on the
color partly, and partly on the pattern, which
is always one of the elementary patterns,
alternate squares of dark and light, or round
spots of gold on a ground of black or dull
red. Of course the woman's deft fingers
and quick eye can weave or embroider these
for herself; but if she will buy them, the
English maJce them more beautifully, as well



No. 5. GRANDMOTHER S CUPBOARD.

as more substantially, than any one else.
The owners of this mantel-piece have sub-
stituted a brass fender for the foolish black
dust-pan that comes with our common grates.
It is much easier to take up the ashes from
the actual hearth than to try to keep the



grate-pan clean, which plays the paxt of
make-believe hearth. Besides, a brass grate
is forever a handsome addition to the belong-
ings of the fire-place.

The other mantel-piece. No. 2, is more
expensive than No. i ; it is handsome and
different ; but No. i is handsome too. This
mantel ornament serves as fi*ame to one of
the circular mirrors, which, a kvi years ago^
were reckoned common, and were on their
desponding way to the garret, or the auction-
room, when the new fashion set in, and
some one with an eye pulled them by the
sleeve and encouraged them to come back
again. They are now much sought for, and
fetch high prices ; large ones, with all their
ornaments of spread eagles, chains, and
candle-branches, have sold for two and
three hundred dollars. But they may be
picked up now and then, and, as they are
easily made, we already begin to see the
manufacture reviving. As mirrors, they are
not of any use, their only object being to
give pleasure by the queer distorted reflec-
tions they make, and by the clever way in
which they give back a view of
the whole room. A very pretty
mantel wainscot, of the kind
shown in No. 2, has been made
by a person who found himself in
possession of an old-fashioned
cabinet, or chest of drawers, the
most of which was past revamp-
ing. The pediment at the top,
the pretty cornice beneath it, the
handsome paneled doois, — in
short, the whole front of the upper
part of the bureau set against the
wall made, in hands skillful at
adaptation, a combination and a
form indeed.

I said a few words in the Feb-
ruary number about getting rid of
as many as possible of the pieces
of furniture that now stand upon
the floor. Even when we happen
to find ourselves in a house with
large rooms, I, for one, should
prefer to keep as much space as
possible to move about in; but
the rule is, for us in New York
at least, small rooms, and gen-
erally of an inconvenient shape,
long and narrow. I gave a few lines
to describing a Turkish shelf with a gun-
rack below it, and should have explained
myself further if the cuts Nos. 3 and 4
in the present article could have been
ready in time for that part of my discourse*



Digitized by



Google



BEDS AND TABLES, STOOLS AND CANDLESTICKS.



817



In Nos. 3 and 4 are shown more shelves,
not Turkish this time, but our own, and of
our own time. The hanging shelf in No. 3
makes one point only in Mr. Sandier's inter-
esting drawmg, in which he has ingeniously
contrived to group no less than four objects.



No. 6. A CUPBOARD OF TO-DAY.

But the shelf which, with all the other pieces,
the sofa, the writing-table, and the pedestal,



Online LibraryFrancis HallThe Century, Volume 11 → online text (page 143 of 163)