Lucy Abbot Throop.

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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The English developed the dining-room in our modern sense of the word,
while the French used small ante-chambers, or rooms that were used for
other purposes between meals, and I suppose this is partly the reason we
so often turn to an English ideal for one. There are many beautiful
dining-rooms done in the styles of Louis XV and XVI, but they seem more
like gala rooms and are usually distinctly formal in treatment. Georgian
furniture, or as we so often say, Colonial, is especially well suited to
our American life, as one can have a very simple room, or one carried
out in the most delightful detail. In either case the true feeling must
be kept and no startling anachronisms should be allowed; radiators, for
instance, should be hidden in window-seats. This same style may be used
for any room in the house, and there are beautiful reproductions of
Chippendale, Adam, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton furniture that are
appropriate for any need.

In choosing new "old" furniture, do not buy any that has a bright and
hideous finish. The great cabinet-makers and their followers used wax,
or oil, and rubbed, rubbed, rubbed. This dull finish is imitated, but
not equaled, by all good furniture makers, and the bright finish simply
proclaims the cheap department store.

In parts of the country Georgian furniture has been used and served as a
standard from the first, and it is a happy thing for the beauty of our
homes that once more it has come into its own. It is the high grade of
reproduction which has made it possible.

The mahogany used by Chippendale, and in fact by all the eighteenth
century cabinet-makers, was much more beautiful than is possible to get
to-day, for the logs were old and well seasoned wood, allowed to dry by
the true process of time, which leaves a wonderful depth of color quite
impossible to find in young kiln-dried wood. The best furniture makers
nowadays, those who have a high standard and pride in their work, have
by careful and artistic staining and beautiful finish, achieved very
fine results, but the factory article with its dreadful "mahogany"
stain, its coarse carving, and its brilliant finish, shows a sad
difference in ideal. The best reproductions are well worth buying, and,
as they are made with regard to the laws of construction, they stand a
very good chance of becoming valued heirlooms. There are certain
characteristics of all the eighteenth century cabinet-makers, both
English and French, which are picked out and overdone by ill-informed
manufacturers. The rococo of Chippendale is coarsened, his Chinese style
loses its fine, if eccentric, distinction, and the inlay of Hepplewhite
and Sheraton is another example of spoiling a beautiful thing.
Thickening a line here and there, or curving a curve a bit more or less,
or enlarging the amount of inlay, achieves a vulgarity of appearance
quite different from the beautiful proportions of the originals, and it
is this which one must guard against in buying reproductions. The lack
of knowledge of correct proportion is not confined to the cheaper
grades, where necessary simplicity is often a protection, but is apt to
be found in all. The best makers, as I have said, take a pride in their
work and one can rely on them for fine workmanship and being true to the
spirit of the originals.

There is one matter of great importance to be kept in mind and practiced
with the sternest self-control, and that is, to eliminate, eliminate,
eliminate. Walk into the center of a room and look about with seeing,
but impersonal eyes, and you will be astonished to find how many things
there are which are unnecessary, in fact, how much the room would be
improved without them. In every house the useless things which go under
the generic name of "trash" accumulate with alarming swiftness, and one
must be up with the lark to keep ahead of the supply. If something is
ugly and spoils a room, and there is no hope of bringing it into
harmony, discard it; turn your eyes aside if you must while the deed is
being done, but screw your courage to the sticking point, and do it. She
is, indeed, a lucky woman who can start from the beginning or has only
beautiful heritages from the past, for the majority of people have some
distressingly strong pieces of ugly furniture which, for one reason or
another, must be kept. One sensible woman furnished a room with all her
pieces of this kind, called it the Chamber of Horrors, and used it only
under great stress and strain, which was much better than letting her
house be spoiled.

A home should not be a museum, where one grows exhausted going from one
room to another looking at wonderful things. Rather should it have as
many beautiful things in it as can be done full justice to, where the
feeling of simplicity and restfulness and charm adds to their beauty,
and the whole is convincingly right. The fussy house is, luckily, a
thing of the past, or fast getting to be so, but we should all help the
good cause of true simplicity. It does not debar one from the most
beautiful things in the world, but adds dignity and worth to them. It
does not make rooms stiff and solemn, but makes it possible to have the
true gayety and joy of life expressed in the best periods.

_Georgian Furniture_

A delightful renaissance of the Georgian period in house decoration is
being felt more and more, and every day we see new evidence that people
are turning with thanksgiving to the light and graceful designs of the
eighteenth century English cabinet-makers. There is a charm and
distinction about their work which appeals very strongly to us, and its
beauty and simplicity of line makes delightful schemes possible.

The Georgian period seems especially fitted for use in our homes, for it
was the inspiration of our Colonial houses and furniture, which we
adapted and made our own in many ways. The best examples of Colonial
architecture are found in the thirteen original states. In many of these
houses we find an almost perfect sense of proportion, of harmony and
balance, of dignity, and a spaciousness and sense of hospitality, which
few of our modern houses achieve. The halls were broad and often went
directly through the house, giving a glimpse of the garden beyond; the
stairs with their carefully thought-out curve and sweep and well placed
landings, gave at once an air of importance to the house, while the
large rooms opening from the hall, with their white woodwork, their
large fireplaces, and comfortable window-seats, confirmed the

It is to this ideal of simple and beautiful elegance that many people
are turning. By simplicity I do not mean poverty of line and decoration,
but the simplicity given by the fundamental lines being simple and
beautiful with decoration which enhances their charms, but does not
overload them. Even the most elaborate Adam room with its exquisite
painted furniture, its beautifully designed mantel and ceiling and
paneled walls, gave the feeling of delightful and beautiful simplicity.
This same feeling is expressed in the furniture of Louis XVI, for no
matter how elaborate it may be, it is fundamentally simple, but with a
warmer touch than is found in the English furniture of the same time.

The question of period furnishing has two sides, and by far the more
delightful side is the one of having originals. There is a glamor about
old furniture, a certain air of fragility, although in reality it is
usually much stronger than most of our modern factory output, which adds
to the charm. With furniture, as with people, breeding will out. When
one has inherited the furniture, the charm is still greater, for it is
pleasant to think of one's own ancestors as having used the chairs and
tables, and danced the stately minuet, with soft candle-light falling
from the candelabra, and the great logs burning on the old brass
andirons. But if one cannot have one's own family traditions, the next
best thing is to have furniture with some other family's traditions,
and the third choice is to have the best modern reproductions, and build
up one's own traditions oneself.

The feeling which many people have that Georgian furniture was stiff and
uncomfortable is not borne out by the facts. The sofas were large and
roomy, the settees delightful, the arm-chairs and wing chairs regular
havens of rest, and when one adds the comfort which modern upholstery
gives, there is little left to desire. Even the regulation side-chair of
the period, which some think was the only chair in very common use, is
absolutely comfortable for its purpose. Lounging was much less in vogue
then than nowadays and the old cabinet-makers realized that one must be
comfortable when sitting up as well as when taking one's ease. One must
not be deterred by this unfounded bugaboo of discomfort if one wishes a
room or house done after the great period styles of the eighteenth
century. With care and knowledge, the result is sure to be delightful
and beautiful.

This little book, as I have said before, is not intended to be a guide
for collectors, for that is a very big subject in itself, but is meant
to try to help a little about the modern side of the question. There are
many grades of furniture made, and one should buy with circumspection,
and the best grade which is possible for one to afford. The very best
reproductions are made with as much care and knowledge and skill as the
originals, and will last as long, and become treasured heirlooms like
those handed down to us. They are works of art like their eighteenth
century models. The wood is chosen with regard to its beauty of grain,
and is treated and finished so the beauty and depth of color is brought
out, and the surface is rubbed until there is a soft glow to it. If one
could have the ages-old mahogany which Chippendale and his
contemporaries used, there would be little to choose between the
originals and our best reproductions, so far as soundness of
construction and beauty of detail go. But the fact that they were the
originals of a great style, that no one since then has been able to
design any furniture of greater beauty than that of England and France
in the eighteenth century, and that we are still copying it, gives an
added charm to a rare old chair or sideboard or mirror. The modern
workman in the best workshops is obliged to know the different styles so
well that he cannot make mistakes, and if he ventures to take a little
flight of fancy on his own account, it will be done with such
correctness of feeling that one is glad he flew; but few attempt it. In
the lower grade of reproductions one must have an eagle eye when buying.
I saw a rather astounding looking Chippendale chair in a shop one day,
with a touch of Gothic - a suspicion of his early Dutch manner - and, to
give a final touch, tapering legs with carved bellflowers! "What
authority have you for that chair?" I asked, for I really wanted to know
what they would call the wonder.

"That," the shopman answered, the pride of knowledge shining in his
eyes, "is Chinese Chippendale."

Another anachronism which has appeared lately, and sad to say in some of
the shops that should know better, is painted Adam furniture with
pictures on it of the famous actresses of the eighteenth century. The
painting of Angelica Kauffman, Cipriani, Pergolesi and the others, was
charming and delightful. Nymphs and cupids, flowers, wreaths, musical
instruments, and poetical little scenes, but never the head of a living
woman! The bad taste of it would have been as apparent to them as
putting the picture of Miss Marlowe, or Lillian Russell on a chair back
would be to us.

The finish is another matter to bear in mind. There is a thick red
stain, which for some mysterious reason is called mahogany, which is put
on cheaper grades of furniture and finished with a high polish.
Fortunately, it is chiefly used on furniture of vulgar design, but it
sometimes creeps in on better models. Shun it whenever seen. The handles
must be correct also, and a glance at the different illustrations will
be of help in this matter.

The pieces of furniture used throughout a house, no matter what the
period may be, are more or less the same, so many chairs, tables, beds,
mirrors, etc., and when one has decided what one's needs are, the matter
of selection is much simplified. Of course one's needs are influenced by
the size of the house, one's circumstances, and one's manner of life.
To be successful, a house must be furnished in absolute harmony with the
life within its walls. A small house does not need an elaborate
drawing-room, which could only be had at the expense of family comfort;
a simple drawing-room would be far better, really more of a living-room.
In a large house one may have as many as one wishes.

A house could be furnished throughout with Chippendale furniture and
show no sign of monotony of treatment. The walls could be paneled in
some rooms, wainscoted in others, and papered in others. This question
of paper is one we have taken in our own hands nowadays, and although it
was not used much before the late eighteenth and early nineteenth
centuries, there are so many lovely designs copied from old-time stuffs
and landscape papers, which are in harmony with the furniture, that they
are used with perfect propriety. One must be careful not to choose
anything with a too modern air, and a plain wall is always safe.

The average hall will probably need a pair of console tables and
mirrors, some chairs, Oriental rugs, a tall clock if one wishes, and, if
the hall is very large and calls for more furniture, there are many
other interesting pieces to choose from. A hall should be treated with a
certain amount of formality, and the greater the house, the greater the
amount; but it also should have an air of hospitality, of impersonal
welcome, which makes one wish to enter the rooms beyond where the real
welcome waits.

The window frames of Colonial and Georgian houses were often of such
good design that no curtains were used, and the wooden inside shutters
were shut at night. Nowadays the average house has what might be called
utility woodwork at its windows and so we cover them with curtains.
These curtains may be of linen, cretonne, damask, or brocade, according
to the house, and may either fall straight at the side with a slight
drapery or shaped or plain valance at the top, or be drawn back from the
center. A carved cornice or the regular box frame may be used.

The stairs were often of beautifully polished hardwood, and they were
sometimes covered with rugs. Large Chinese porcelain jars on the console
tables are suitable, and other beautiful ornaments.

As the drawing-room usually opens from the hall, it is better to keep
both rooms in the same general scale of furnishing. The average sized
drawing-room will need sofas, a small settee, two or three tables, one
of them a gallery table if desired, chairs of different shapes and size,
mirrors, a cabinet if one has rare pieces of old porcelain, and
candelabra. Oriental rugs, a fire screen, ornaments, and pictures, but
these last should not be of the modern impressionistic school. The
woodwork should be white, or light, and the furniture covered with
damask, needlework, brocade or tapestry.

The dining-room can be made most charming with corner cupboards and
cabinet, a large mahogany table and side table and beautiful morocco
covered chairs. Chippendale did not make sideboards in our sense of the
word, but used large side tables. One of the modern designs which many
like to use, for to them it seems a necessity, is a sideboard made in
the style of Chippendale. The screen may be leather painted after "the
Chinese taste," or it may be damask. The chairs may be covered with
tapestry or damask if one does not care for morocco. Portraits are
interesting in a dining-room, or old prints, or paintings, and if you
can get the old dull gold carved frames, so much the better. They may
also be set in panels.

The bedrooms may have either four-post canopy beds or low-posts beds.
Chippendale's canopy beds had usually a carved cornice with the curtains
hung from the inside. The other furniture should consist of a
dressing-table, a chest of drawers to correspond with a chiffonier, a
highboy, a sewing table, a bedside table, a comfortable sofa, a fireside
or wing chair and other chairs according to one's need. The walls may be
covered with either an old-fashioned or plain paper, - or paneled, with
hangings and chair coverings of chintz or cretonne. The bed hangings may
be of cretonne also, for it makes a very charming room, but if one
objects to colored bed hangings, white dimity, or muslin or linen may be

It is the art of keeping the correct feeling which makes or mars a room
of this kind, and no pieces of markedly modern and inharmonious
furniture should be used. In furnishing a house in Georgian or Colonial
manner one need not keep all the rooms in the same division of the
period, for there is a certain general air of harmony and relationship
about them all, and the common bond of mahogany makes it possible to
have a Chippendale library, an Adam drawing-room, a Hepplewhite
dining-room and a Sheraton hall, or any other combination desired. The
spirit of all the eighteenth century cabinet-makers was one of honest
construction and beauty of line and workmanship. When they took ideas
from other sources they made them so distinctly their own, so
essentially English that there is a family resemblance through all their

Adam decoration and furniture makes most delightful rooms. The painted
satinwood furniture for dining-room, drawing-room and bedrooms, lends
itself to lovely schemes with its soft golden tones, its delightfully
woven cane chair backs and panels. A room on the sunny side of the
house, with a soft old ivory colored wall, dull blue silk curtains, and
a yellow and blue Chinese rug, would be most charming with this
satinwood furniture.

Then, as I have said before, there are the many different shades of
enameled and carved furniture and also beautiful natural wood. One can
have more of a sideboard in an Adam than in a Chippendale room, as he
used two pedestals, one at each end of a large serving-table. He often
made tables to fit in niches, which is a charming idea.

An Adam mantel is very distinctive and one should be careful in having
it correct. There are beautiful reproductions made. The lamp and candle
shades should also be designed in the spirit of the time. There are
lovely Adam designs in nearly all materials suitable for hangings and
chair coverings. Oriental rugs or plain colored carpets appeal to us
more than large-figured rugs. Adam sometimes had special rugs made
exactly reproducing the design of the ceiling, but it is an idea that is
better forgotten.

With Hepplewhite and Sheraton the same general ideas hold; keep to the
spirit of the furniture, try to have a central idea in the house
furnishing, so that the restful effect of harmony may be given.

[Illustration: Pembroke tables were made by Hepplewhite. This is a fine
example and shows characteristic inlay and the legs sloping on the
inside edge only. The flaps fold down and make a small oblong table.]

[Illustration: This fine Sheraton sideboard shows curved doors, and
knife boxes with oval inlay of satinwood. The center cupboard is
straight. The legs are reeded.]

The rugs which harmonize best with Georgian furniture are Orientals of
different weaves and colors, or plain domestic carpet rugs. The floor
should be the darkest of the three divisions of a room - the floor, the
walls, the ceiling, but it should be an even gradation of color value,
the walls half-way in tone between the other two. This is a safe general
plan, to be varied when necessity demands. In drawing-rooms light and
soft colors are usually in better harmony than dark ones, and a wide and
beautiful choice can be made among Kermanshah, Kirman, Khorasan, Tabriz,
Chinese, Oman rugs, and many others. It is more restful in effect if the
greater part of the floor is covered with a large rug, but if one has
beautiful small rugs they may be used if they are enough alike in
general tone to escape the appearance of being spotty. One should try
them in different positions until the best arrangement is found.

[Illustration: A pleasing design of the old field bed. The chairs here
are samples of some eighteenth century manufacture that are to-day
reproduced in admirable consistency. The patch work quilt is interesting
and the bed hanging are exceptionally good.]

Living-rooms and libraries are usually more solid in color than
drawing-rooms and so need deeper tones in the rugs. The choice is wide,
and the color scheme can be the deciding note if one is buying new rugs.
If one already has rugs they must be the foundation for the color scheme
of the room.

_Furnishing With French Furniture_

"This is my Louis XVI drawing-room," said a lady, proudly displaying her

"What makes you think so?" asked her well informed friend.

To guard against the possibility of such biting humor one must be ever
on the alert in furnishing a period room. It is not a bow-knot and a
rococo curve or two that will turn a modern room, fresh from the
builder's hands, into a Louis XV drawing-room.

French furniture is not appropriate to all kinds of houses, and it is
often difficult to adapt it to circumstances over which one has no
control. The leisurely and pleasant custom of our ancestors of building
a house as they wished it, and what is more, living in it for
generations, is more or less a thing of the past. Nowadays a house is
built, and is complete and beautiful in every way, but almost before the
house-warming is over, business is sitting on the doorstep, and so the
family moves on. We, as a nation, have not the comfortable point of view
of the English who consider their home, their home, no matter how the
outside world may be behaving. Their front doors are the protection
which insures their cherished privacy, and the feeling that they are as
settled as the everlasting hills gives a calmness to their attitude
toward life which is often missing from ours. How many times have we
heard people say when talking over plans - "Have it thus and so, for it
would be much better in case we ever care to sell." This attitude, to
which of course there are hundreds of exceptions, is an outgrowth of our
busy life and our tremendous country. The larger part of the home ideal
is the one which Americans so firmly believe in and act upon - that it is
the spirit and atmosphere which makes a home, and not only the bricks
and mortar.

It is this point of view which makes it possible for many of us to live
happily in rented houses whose architecture and arrangement often give
us cold shivers. We are not to blame if all the proportions are wrong;
and there is a certain pleasure in getting the better of difficulties.

If one is building a house, or is living in one planned with a due
regard to some special period, and has a well thought out scheme of
decoration, the work is much simplified; but if one has to live in the
average nondescript house and wishes to use French furniture, the
problem will take time and thought to solve. In this kind of house, if
one cannot change it at all, it is better to keep as simple and
unobtrusive a background as possible, to have the color scheme and
hangings and furniture so beautiful that they are a convincing reason
themselves of the need of their being there, but one should not try to
turn the room itself into a period room, for it would mean failure. The
walls may be covered with a light plain paper, or silk, the woodwork
enameled white or cream or ivory, and then with one's mirrors and
furnishings, the best thing possible has been done, and it ought to be a
charming room, if not a perfect one. If one can make a few changes I
advise new lighting fixtures and a new mantel, for these two important
objects in the room are conspicuous and nearly always wrong.

It is almost impossible to give a list of furniture for each room in a
house, as each house is a law unto itself, but the fundamental
principles of beauty and utility and appropriateness apply to all.

The furniture of the time of Louis XIV, having so much that is
magnificent about it, is especially well suited to large rooms for state
occasions, great ballrooms and state drawing-rooms. These rooms not
being destined for everyday use should be treated as a brilliant
background; paneling, painting, tapestry, and gilding should decorate
the walls, and beautiful lights and mirrors should aid in the effect of

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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 7 of 12)