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Furnishing the Home of Good Taste A Brief Sketch of the Period Styles in Interior Decoration with Suggestions as to Their Employment in the Homes of Today online

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swags of fruit, arabesques, and the entwined human figures, were painted
in natural colors, or some of the important lines of the furniture were
picked out with color or gold, or both. As the influence of the
Renaissance spread to France and England, changed by the national
temperament of the different countries, we find their furniture often
blossoming into color - not covered by a solid coat of paint but picked
out here and there by lines and accenting points. During the time of
Louis XIV everything was ablaze with gold and glory, but later, during
the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI, a gentler, more refined love of
color came uppermost, and the lovely painted furniture was made which
has given so much inspiration to our modern work. The simpler forms of
the Louis XV period, and the beautiful furniture of the Louis XVI
period, were often painted soft tones of ivory, blue, green, or yellow,
and decorated with lovely branches of flowers, birds, and scenery where
groups of people by Fragonard and other great painters disported with
all their eighteenth century charm. These decorations were usually
painted on reserves of old ivory with the ground color outside of some
soft tone. Martin, the inventor of famous "vernis Martin," flourished at
this time, and the glow of his beautiful amber-colored finish decorated
many a piece of furniture from sewing boxes to sedan chairs. In England
the vogue of painted furniture was given impetus by the genius of the
Adam Brothers and the beautiful work of Angelica Kaufmann, Cipriani, and
Pergolesi. In both France and England there was at this time the
comprehension and appreciation of beauty and good taste combined with a
carefree gaiety which made the ineffable charm of the eighteenth century
a living thing. There are some of our modern workmen and painters of
furniture who feel this so thoroughly that their work is very fine, but
the majority have no knowledge or understanding of the period, and,
although they may copy the lovely things of that time, the essence, the
true spirit, is lacking. Cabinet making and painting in those days was a
beloved and honored craft; to-day, alas, it is too often a matter of
union rules.

Chinese lacquer, while not strictly coming under the head of painted
furniture, was another branch of decorated furniture which was in great
demand at this time. The design in gold was done on a black or red or
green ground and was beautiful in effect.

[Illustration: The delicacy of the painting and the graceful proportions
of these reproductions are in the true spirit of Adam.]

[Illustration: A three-chair settee of the Sheraton period, lacquered,
and with cane seat. It would be appropriate for a living-room or hall.]

[Illustration: A wing-chair with a painted frame is comfortable and
harmonizes with painted furniture.]

[Illustration: This simple slat-backed chair can be made most attractive
at small expense with paint and a motif from the chintz for decoration.]

While the upper classes were having this beautiful furniture made for
their use, the peasant class was serenely going on its way decorating
its furniture according to its own ideas and getting charming results.
The designs were usually conventionalized field flowers done with great
spirit and charm. From the peasants of Brittany and Flanders and Holland
have come down to us many beautiful marriage chests and other pieces of
furniture which are simple and straightforward and a bit crude in their
design and color, but which have done much to serve as a help and guide
in our modern work.

The supply of painted furniture to-day is inspired by these different
kinds of the great periods of decoration. There are many grades and
kinds in the market, some very fine, keeping up the old traditions of
beauty, some charming and effective in style and color, but with a
modern touch, and some very very bad indeed; "and when they are bad they
are horrid." I have said a great deal in other chapters on this subject,
but I cannot too often urge those of my readers who have the good
fortune to live near one of our great art museums to study for
themselves the precious specimens of the great days of genius. It will
give a standard by which to judge modern work, and it is only by keeping
our ideals and demands high that we can save a very beautiful art from
deteriorating into a commercial affair.

When selecting painted furniture, one can often have some special color
scheme or decoration carried out at a little extra expense; and this is
well worth while, for it takes away the "ready made" feeling and gives
the touch of personality which adds so much to a home. One must see that
the furniture is well made, that the painting and finishing are properly
done, and that the decoration is appropriate. If the furniture is of one
of the French periods, it should be one of the simpler styles and should
be painted one of the soft ground colors used at the time, and the
decoration should have the correct feeling - flowers and birds like those
on old French brocade or _toile de Jouy_ or old prints. The striping
should be done in some contrasting color or in the wonderful brownish
black which they used. The design may be taken from the chintz or
brocade chosen for the room, but the painting must be done in the manner
of the period. This holds true of any English period chosen, such as
Adam furniture or the painted furniture of Sheraton. There are several
firms who make a specialty of this fine grade of furniture, but it is
not made by the car load; in fact it is usually special order work. The
kind one finds most often in the shops is furniture copied from the
simpler Georgian styles or simple modern pieces slightly reminiscent of
Craftsmen furniture, but not heavy or awkward in build. This furniture
is painted in different stock colors and designs, or can be painted
according to the purchaser's wishes as a special order. These "stock"
designs are often stenciled, but some of them have an effective charm
and are suitable to country houses, and also many city ones. When there
is much chintz used, the furniture will often be more attractive if it
is only striped with the chief color used in the room. The designs which
are to be avoided are of the Art Nouveau and Cubist variety, roses that
look like cabbages gone crazy, badly conventionalized flowers, and crude
and revolting color schemes. It sounds as if it should not be necessary
to warn people against these monstrosities, and I have never heard of
any one who buys them, but some one must do so or they would not be in
the shops.

Attractive and inexpensive painted furniture can be made to be used in
simple surroundings by buying slat-backed chairs with splint seats and a
drop-leaf pine table and having them painted the desired ground color
and then striped and decorated with a motif from the chintz to be used
in the room. A country house dining-room or bedroom could be most
charmingly fitted up in this way, chintz cushions could be used on the
chairs, and candle shades could be made to match. One can sometimes find
a bed or chest of drawers or other piece of furniture which is a bit
shopworn and can be had for a bargain. Old bureaus can be made to serve
as chests of drawers by taking the mirror off and using it as a wall
mirror. In many houses there are old sets of ugly furniture which can be
made useful and often attractive by having the jigsaw carving removed
and painting them. In a set of this kind, which I was doing over for a
client, there happened to be two beds with towering headboards, quite
impossible to use, but I combined the two footboards, thus making one
attractive bed. The furniture was painted a soft pumpkin yellow, striped
with blue and with little, old-fashioned nosegays, and a lovely linen
with yellow and cream stripes and baskets of flowers was used and turned
a dark and dreary room into a cheerful and pretty one.

One can find some kind of suitable painted furniture for nearly every
room in the average modern house. People everywhere are turning away
more and more from the heavy, depressing effects of a few years ago; but
unless they know the ground they are walking on they must tread with
care. The style chosen must be appropriate and in scale with the style
of house. The fine examples would look quite out of place in a bungalow
or very simple house, and the simple kind founded on peasant designs
would not be suitable in rooms with paneled walls and lovely taffeta
curtains. In Georgian and simple French designs there are fascinating
examples of chairs, settees and tables, corner cupboards and sideboards,
beds and dressing-tables and chests of drawers, mirrors and footstools
and candlesticks, everything both big and little which can be used in
almost any of our charming rooms in the average house, with their fresh
chintz and taffeta and well planned color schemes.

Lacquered furniture is more formal than the average painted furniture,
and often one or two pieces are sufficient for a room. A beautiful
lacquered cabinet with its fascinating mounts and its soft, wonderful
red or black and gold tones is a thing to conjure with. Lacquered
furniture is lovely for some dining-rooms and morning-rooms. The tables
should always be protected with glass tops, which also applies to other
painted furniture.

One or two pieces of painted furniture may be used in a room with other
furniture if they happen to be just the thing needed to complete the
scheme. A console table, for instance, with a mirror over it and
sidelights, might be just the touch needed between two windows hung with
plain taffeta curtains. Like all good things there must be restraint in
using it, but there are few things that have greater possibilities than
painted furniture when properly used.

_Synopsis of Period Styles as an Aid in Buying Furniture._

When trying to select furniture for the home, people often become
bewildered by the amount and variety to be found in the shops, and, not
knowing exactly what to look for in the different styles, make an
inappropriate or bad selection. One does not have to be so very learned
to have things right, but there are certain anachronisms which cry to
heaven and a little knowledge in advance goes a long way. A purchaser
should also know something about the construction and grade of the
furniture he wishes to buy. There are good designs in all the grades,
which, for the sake of convenience, may be divided into the expensive,
the medium in price, and the cheap. The amount one wishes to spend will
decide the grade, and one naturally must not expect to find all the
beauties and virtues of the first in the last. The differences in these
grades lie chiefly in the matters of the fit and balance of doors and
drawers; the joining of corners where, in the better grade, the interior
blocks used to keep the sides from spreading are screwed as well as
glued; the selection of well seasoned wood of fine grain; careful
matching of figures made by the grain of the wood in veneer; panels
properly made and fitted so they will not shrink or split; careful
finish both inside and out, and the correct color of the stain used;
appropriate hardware; hand or machine or "applied" carving. In the cheap
grades it is best to leave carving out of the question entirely, for it
is sure to be bad. Then there are the matters of the correctness of
design and detail, in which all the knowledge one has collected of
period furniture will be called upon; and in painted furniture the color
of the background and the charm and execution of the design must be
taken into account, whether it is done by hand or stenciled. Nearly all
kinds of woods are used, the difference in cost being caused by the
grade and amount of labor needed, the kind of wood chosen and its
abundance and the fineness of grain and the seasoning. Mahogany costs
more than stained birch, and walnut than gum wood, but there are certain
people who for some strange reason feel that they are getting something
a little smarter and better if it is tagged "birch mahogany" than if it
were simply called birch. Some of the furniture is well stained and some
shockingly done, the would-be mahogany being either a dead and dreary
brown or a most hideous shade of red, a very Bolshevik among woods. One
must remember that the mahogany of the 18th century, the best that there
has ever been, was a beautiful glowing golden brown, and when a red
stain was used it was only a little to enhance the richness of the
natural color of the wood, more of a suggestion than a blazing fact.
The wood was carefully rubbed with oil and pumice, and the shellac
finish was rubbed to a soft glow. Modern furniture, especially in the
medium and cheap grades, is apt to look as if it were encased in a hard
and shining armor of varnish.

[Illustration: This chair with its silk damask covering edged with gimp,
the shape of the underframing and arms, and the dull gold carved
ornaments, shows many characteristics of the Italian Renaissance.]

[Illustration: An elaborately carved Chippendale chair, with late Queen
Anne influence in the shape of the back. Petit point covering which was
so popular in her day is now wonderfully reproduced.]

[Illustration: This Chippendale pie crust tip table shows the tripod
base with claw feet and the carved edge which gives it its name, and
which was carved down to the level, never applied. A genuine antique pie
crust table is very valuable.]

[Illustration: This fine example of a Queen Anne lacquered chair shows
the characteristic splat and top curve, the slip seat narrower at the
back than front with rounded corners, and cabriole legs.]

Beside this practical knowledge one should have a general idea of the
artistic side or the appearance of the different period styles and the
manner in which they were used. To achieve this, one must study the best
examples it is possible to find in originals, pictures, and properly
made reproductions. Many of the plates in this book are from extremely
valuable originals and should be studied carefully as they give a fine
idea of some of the chief points in the different styles. One should
also go to libraries and Art Museums whenever possible and study their
collections. The more knowledge gained the more ease one will have in
furnishing one's home whether there is everything to buy, or one is
planning to add a few articles to complete a charming interior, or, with
an eye to a future plan, is buying good things piece by piece and slowly
eliminating the bad. It is this knowledge which will help you to study
your own possessions and decide what is needed and what will be correct
to buy. That, is one of the most important points, to have a well
thought out plan, and never to be haphazard in your purchases. Very few
of us have houses completely furnished in one period, but we do try to
have a certain unity of spirit kept throughout the whole, whether it be
French, Italian, English, or our own charming Colonial. There can be a
great variety in any one of these divisions, and suitable furniture can
be found for all rooms, from the simplest kind to the most elaborate. It
is easier to find good reproductions in the English periods of Jacobean,
Charles II, William and Mary, Queen Anne, and the Georgian time, and the
French periods of Louis XV and Louis XVI.

[Illustration: The upholstery of this Sheraton chair is fastened on with
brass-headed tacks placed in festoons.]

[Illustration: Notice the curved seat of this Hepplewhite chair.]

[Illustration: The wheel back design was often used by Adam. The arms,
the curve of the seat and carving, the tapering reeded legs, and the
angle of the back legs should all be noticed.]

[Illustration: As Chippendale did not use this style of leg they show
that the chair was probably reconstructed from two old chairs.]

If one wishes a house furnished in the Gothic period it will be
necessary to have nearly all the different pieces made to order, as
there are few reproductions made. As our modern necessities of furniture
were not known in those days, the designs would have to be carried out
more in the spirit of the style than the letter, and one must be certain
to have advice and designs from some person who thoroughly understands
the period and who will see that the whole is properly carried out.
Gothic days were rough and strenuous, and the furniture was strong and
heavy and was made chiefly of oak with no varnish of any kind. The
characteristic lines of the furniture and the designs for carving were
architectural, and a careful study of the Gothic cathedrals of France,
Belgium, and England will give a very satisfactory idea of this
wonderful time. The idea of the pointed arch, rose window, trefoil,
quatrefoil, animal grotesques, and geometric designs, as well as the
beautiful linen-fold design, were all adapted for use as carving in the
panels of the furniture of the day, which consisted of chests that
served as seats, buffets, armoires, screens, trestle tables, as well as
the choir stalls of churches.

This style is appropriate to large and dignified country houses. The
architect must see that the background is correct.

The Renaissance period should not be attempted as a style to furnish
one's house unless it can be carried out properly. The house should be
large and architecturally correct, and there should be at least a near
relation of a Fortunatus purse to draw upon. It is one of the
magnificent and dignified periods, and makeshifts and poor copies have a
pitiful appearance and are really time and money wasted.

Much of the furniture of the Renaissance was architectural in design,
many chests and cupboards and cabinets having the appearance of temple
fa√Іades. The carving was in both low and high relief and was extremely
beautiful, but in the later part of the period became too ornate. Walnut
and chestnut were the chief woods used, and there was much inlay of
tortoise shell, ivory, brass, mother-of-pearl, lapis-lazuli, and fine
woods. There was much gilding, and paint was also used, and the metal
mounts were of the finest workmanship. The bronze andirons, knockers,
candlesticks, of this time have never been equalled. There was a strong
feeling of balance in the decorations, and the chief motifs were the
acanthus beautifully carved, conventionalized flowers and fruit, horns
of plenty, swags and wreaths of fruit and flowers, the scroll, dolphin,
human figure, and half figure ending in fanciful designs of foliage.
Beautiful and fascinating arabesques were carved and painted on the
walls and pilasters. The chief pieces of furniture were magnificently
carved chests and coffers which were also sometimes gilded and painted,
oblong tables with elaborately carved supports at each end, usually with
a connecting shelf on which were smaller carved supports. The chairs
were high backed with much carving and gilding, and there were others of
simpler form with leather or tapestry or damask seats and backs. The
Savanarola chair was in the form of a curved X with seat and back of
velvet or leather or sometimes wood on which a cushion was used. Mirror
frames were magnificently carved and gilded and picked out with color.
The rooms were a fitting background for all this splendor, for the
woodwork and walls were paneled and carved and painted, the work often
being done by the greatest painters of the day.

The French Renaissance followed the general line of the Italian but was
lighter and less architectural in its furniture designs and ornament.
Chairs were slowly becoming more common, and rooms began to be more

[Illustration: This Jacobean buffet is finely reproduced with the
exception of the spiral carving of the legs, which is too sharp and
thin, and gives the appearance of inadequate support. The split spindle
ornament was much used on furniture of the period.]

The English Renaissance was of slow growth and was always marked by a
certain English sturdiness, which is one of the reasons why it is more
easily used in our modern houses. It began in the time of Henry VIII
and lasted through the Tudor and Jacobean periods.

[Illustration: A style that harmonizes with Chippendale furniture.]

[Illustration: This style of mirror was popular in the early nineteenth

[Illustration: The painted scene is often an important feature.]

[Illustration: The Empire style has columns at the sides and gilt

The best modern copies of Renaissance furniture are not to be found in
every shop and are usually in the special order class. There are some
makers in America, however, who make extraordinarily fine copies, and
there is the supply from Europe of fine copies and "faked" originals - a
guaranteed original is a very rare and expensive thing.

The period of Louis XIV in France was another "magnificent" period and
should not be used in small or simple houses. Louis XIV furniture was
large and massive, lavish in gilding and carving and ornament, but had
dignity as well as splendor. The Gobelin and Beauvais Tapestry Works
produced their wonderful series of tapestries, and Boulle inlay of brass
and tortoise shell was lavished on furniture, and the ormolu mounts were
beautiful and elaborate. All workmanship was of the highest. During the
early part of the period the legs of chairs and tables were straight and
square in shape, sometimes tapering, and much carved, and had
underframing. Later they were curved and carved, a kind of elaborate
cabriole leg, and had carved underframing. Toward the end of the period
the curved leg and underframing became much simpler, some of the
furniture having no underframing, and slowly the style merged into that
of the Regency and Louis XV. The illustrations for the long chapter on
Louis XIV show some very fine examples of both the grand and simple
form of chair, and also show that comfort was becoming more of a fact.
The materials used for upholstery were brocades of large pattern,
tapestries, and splendid velvets. Tables, chests, armoires, desks,
console tables, mirrors, screens, all were carved or painted or inlaid,
gilded and mounted with wonderful metal mounts.

There is great danger, in buying furniture for both this period and the
Renaissance, that the reproductions chosen may be too florid, the
gilding too bright, the carving too ornate, with an indescribable
vulgarity of line in place of the beauty of line which the best
originals have. Some of the best makers are, however, making some very
fine reproductions of the simpler forms of this time which are beautiful
to use in houses of fair size and importance.

If one wishes to use Louis XV furniture it is better to choose the
simpler and more beautiful designs rather than the over-elaborate
rococo. The period was a long one, sixty-nine years, and began with a
reminiscence of the grandeur and dignity of the time of Louis XIV, which
was soon lost in the orgy of curves and excessive ornament of the rococo
portion; and toward the end came the reaction to simpler and finer taste
which reached its perfection in the next reign of Louis XVI. The legs of
the furniture of Louis XV time were curved and carved, light and
slender, and had no underframes or stretchers. The frames which showed
around the upholstery or cane were carved elaborately and later more
simply (see illustration at end of chapter on Louis XV). Walnut,
chestnut, ebony, and some mahogany were used. Some of the furniture was
veneered, and there was a great deal of gilding used and also much
painted furniture. The ormolu mounts were most elaborate, curved and
ornate like the carving, and were used wherever possible. The brocades
used for furniture coverings were lovely in color and design. Garlands,
flowers, lace and ribbon effects, baskets of flowers, shells, curled
endive, feathers, scrolls, all were used, as well as pastoral scenes by
Boucher and Watteau for tapestry and paintings. Comfort had made a long
step forward.

The period of Louis XVI was much more beautiful in style than the
preceding one, as it was more restrained and exquisite because of the
use of the straight line or a gracious, simple curve. This comparative
simplicity does not come from lack of true feeling for beauty but rather
because of it. The sense of proper proportion was shown in both the
furniture and the room decoration. The backs of chairs and settees were
round or rectangular, and the legs were square, round, or fluted, and
were tapering in all cases. The fluting was sometimes filled with metal
husks at top and bottom, leaving a plain stretch between. Walnut and
mahogany were much used and were beautifully polished, but had no vulgar

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Online LibraryLucy Abbot ThroopFurnishing the Home of Good Taste A Brief Sketch of the Period Styles in Interior Decoration with Suggestions as to Their Employment in the Homes of Today → online text (page 11 of 12)