The decorator must, however, never forget that he who chooses to disregard the personal factor, or even to make it of subordinate importance, must pay in loss of comfort and of beauty. One whose chief concern is to work in the craze of the hour may experience an hourís satisfaction; but he will assuredly fail in achieving the dignity, the individuality and the fine flavour of distinction to be found only in homes whose decorative treatments are based throughout upon the studied needs and tastes of their occupants.
Making the furnishings fit the house is second in importance only to making them fit the people who live in it, and the decorator must in every instance consider the house to be done quite as carefully as he considers its occupants. He will, first of all, study the house as a whole- its general plan, its details, its style. Later he will take up in turn each individual room, observing its size and proportions, its woodwork, and floor, the number, shape and location of its openings, its relation to connecting rooms, to the view outside, and to the morning and afternoon sun. Only when he is in possession of complete and accurate information can he undertake the business of choosing and combining furnishings with any assurance of success.
The bearing of these personal and architectural considerations upon the actual process of decorative composition will be developed in later chapters. They are mentioned here simply to drive home the fact from every point of view fitness to purpose is a principle of dominant importance in the art. Good decoration is not absolute, but relative, being essentially a matter of correct relationships. A house can be considered to be properly furnished only when it meets all the real needs, both practical and esthetic, of all its occupants. A decorative idea or material or process or object is god only when, in a given situation, it fits its purpose. Otherwise it is bad. Fitness to purpose, as a principle of selection, is at the beginning of interior decoration, and is in fact as fundamental to the processes of that art as the proposition that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points in fundamental to the process of geometry.
Any creative work must start with an idea. Before we can do anything we must clearly understand what we desire to do. This fact must be accepted unreservedly by the decorator. He must not be so naÔve as to suppose that vague ideals and hazy, undefined enthusiasms for beauty, fitness and distinction will get him anywhere in his art. Its effects are not produced by magic or incantation, but by definite relationships of form and color, no more mysterious than the relationships of words in sentences, and equally dependent for expression upon definite ideas. Rooms do not grow in repose or beauty or dignity. They must be invested with these attributes by studied creative processes. These processes, as we shall see, are not difficult to understand; but they can be successfully employed only by one who knows precisely what he is trying to do.
The first thing to be definitely determined is the purpose of each room-not the name by which it is to be designed, but the actual function it is to perform in the life of the household. It is reasonable to assume that the rooms of any house will be devoted to such special purposes as best satisfy the real needs and tastes of its occupants, and that accordingly the choice between a library, drawing room or music room, for example, or between a sewing room, den or additional guest room will be determined by considerations of fitness. Yet while this sounds too elementary to need reciting, it is a matter of common observation that many women are more strongly influenced in this matter by the conventions of their neighbourhood, coterie or class than by real needs or aspirations. Thus homes are equipped with libraries in which no one ever reads, with drawing rooms used but once in a blue moon, with breakfast rooms that never get the morning sun; and thus time and money are squandered, and precious space is worse than wasted.
Once the real purpose of a room has been determined, everything used in furnishing it should be chosen and arranged to concur in expressing that purpose. Thus the hall, which in the modern house is primarily a means of access to the other rooms, should have an atmosphere of welcome and good cheer, tempered, however, by dignity and restraint. We receive the stranger at our door with cordiality, but do not immediately admit him to the intimacies of family life, and the hall should be made to express this distinction. Its atmosphere of cheer and welcome can be insured by warm and cheerful coloring; its effect of dignity and restraint by the employment of few pieces of furniture, and these of a somewhat formal type, placed in are fully balanced relation to the room. Tall chairs and cabinets and long, narrow wall tables ordinarily best accord with the proportions of the hall, while richly colored textiles relieve and set off by contrast its bare spaces. Pictures, marquetry, and small objects which require, for clear perception and full enjoyment, wide spaces or a definite effort of attention, have as a rule no place in the hall, since the room is one in which but little time is spent.
Similarly, the living room, as the room in which all the members of the family meet for rest, reading or conversation, and in which they spend a great part of their time, must have as its first and absolutely essential quality an atmosphere of spaciousness and repose. This can be ensured through the use of a relatively low-toned and neutral coloring, background surfaces free from any hint of garnishes, substantial and inviting chairs, long and low sofas, cabinets and tables, and adequate but properly shaded lights, and by limiting the very small or trivial and fussy accessories to a number incapable of destroying the serenity of the room. Such a room should never be overcrowded; nor can small, bright-colored rugs, delicate upholstery fabrics or fragile-looking furniture have any place in it, because these things cannot be made to concur in an effect of spaciousness and repose.
Like considerations of fitness to situation and use apply of course to the decoration of every other room. The things which enter into the treatment of a dining room should concur in making it a comfortable, restful, and yet a stimulating place in which to eat. Nothing can fitly find a place in a bedroom which tends to destroy its essential function as a place in which to rest and sleep.
Obviously these vague generalities are of slight value to the student. They will be restated more definitely and more scientifically in subsequent chapters. They are introduced here by way of re-emphasising the fact that fitness to purpose conditions the choice of all the furnishings of the room, as it conditions the choice of purpose of the room, and that comfort and beauty will remain forever strangers to a room in which this basic principle of all good work has failed of application.