Fixed Decorations, Furniture & Small Unimportant Pieces
At the outset it is to be noted that the elements which in combination make up the organic whole of a furnished room vary widely in character and function, and that they are, in fact, divisible naturally into three classes: (a) the fixed decorations; (b) the furniture; and (c) the small, unimportant pieces and decorative accessories grouped by the French under the term decoration volante, or flying decoration.
The fixed decorations, which include the trim, fire-place, walls, floor, ceiling, doors, and windows with their hangings, are clearly structural in character. They are not fortuitous but rather integral parts of the frame- work or skeleton of the room. As such they are in their effect upon the mind properly permanent, immovable and obvious, and they ought to be made to reveal these characteristics immediately and unmistakably. Clearly, therefore, the fixed decorations ought to be characterized in a marked degree by formal balance.
The furniture of most rooms is of many kinds and sizes. In the living room, for example, some pieces, like the piano and bookcases, are immovable and semi structural in character; others, like the davenport and reading table, are closely related by their size and importance to the structure of the room, and by their use to the changing moods and needs of the household; still others, like the smaller chairs and tables, which lend themselves to easy grouping and regrouping, are less structural and more intimate and personal. Varying widely in function and significance, these various pieces properly enter the general balance of the room in positions ranging from the symmetrical relationships usually appropriate to the large immovable pieces down to the occult relationships suitable to the arrangement of the small and unimportant pieces.
The flying decoration is made up of small screens, footstools, stands, lamps, pictures, pottery and similar fugitive pieces whose primary function is to contribute the personal touches necessary to individualize the room, to rob it of stiffness or heaviness, give it a note of gayety and animation, and establish among all its elements a sort of air de famille. Accordingly, such elements ought to serve as a tonic or corrective for the room, which would without them seem heavy, over-formal or dead. To serve this end the flying decoration must, as individual pieces and as groups, be distributed in positions of occult balance more or less easily perceptible, according to the size and purpose of the room and the motive of its decorative treatment.
It is clear that the general problem of the decorator is to invest his room, as a unit, with the degree of repose and steadiness essential to comfortable living, while he at the same time invests it with whatever degree of lightness, animation and subtlety best accords with the purpose of the room and with the needs and tastes of its occupants. In other words his problem, here as everywhere, is to create an effect of unity in diversity, since in the absence of such an effect beauty cannot be made to appear in his room. Knowing that bisymmetric balance, being obvious, makes for repose and unity, while occult balance makes for animation and subtlety; and knowing that the fixed decorations, as structural elements, ought to be more obvious and the non-structural more subtle, he will naturally seek to place the walls of his room in a condition approximating rather closely to formal balance. The emphasis properly to be placed upon formal balance in the wall treatment will in general be more marked (a) in a very large room, where emphasis upon structure is necessary in order to prevent the room from appearing weak and amorphous; (b) in any room intended to be markedly restrained and formal in character; (c) in a hall, or room in which people do not linger, since such a room must be made to reveal whatever it possesses of character and interest to the passing glance; and (d) in a room to be furnished with a large number of small and widely-varying elements, since such a room tends naturally to become over-complex and confusing. While no definite formula can be adduced, we may, however, consider that in the ordinary room two walls symmetrically balanced will be too few and four walls too many. Three constitute the ideal toward which to work.
Where a single opening is placed at the center of a wall, or like openings at equal distances from the center, the wall will be in balance. Where a single opening is placed at any point other than the center the wall will be out of balance, and a balance must be created either bisymmetrically or substitutionally. By the latter method a group of any desired composition- say a wall table, a mirror, a bowl of flowers and a small easel picture-will be placed against the wall on the other side of the center at a point where the total group weight seems to the mind to be equal to that of the opening. By the former method a single object-say a bookcase, cabinet, or large mirror with its supporting console bracket-of a shape and size practically identical with that of the opening, is placed against the wall at an equal distance from the center. Here the mind is far less concerned with identity in height than with identity in width. It will, for example, accept a bookcase four feet wide and five feet high as a balancing weight for a window four feet wide and seven feet high; but it will not accept a hall clock seven feet high and two feet wide, or a tapestry seven feet high and five feet wide.
In the case of two unequal openings equally distant from the center the wall will be out of balance. Where the difference in width is slight the hangings of the narrower opening can be placed far enough beyond the casing to make the apparent width of the openings equal. Where this is impracticable a balance must be created substitutionally.