Light and Shade
WE all recognize the importance of chiaroscuro in painting, of stage lighting in the drama, and even of lights and shadows in exterior architecture. Strangely enough, however, very few of us realize adequately the importance of light and shade as esthetic factors in the decoration of interiors.
Light is life. It stimulates and excites, while darkness is lethargic and depressing. Our vital energies flow and ebb with alterations in the intensity and the brilliancy of the light. Hence we must expect to find that our esthetic reactions are similarly affected by the same factors. In point of fact, light not only makes the beauty of harmonious coloring possible in our rooms, but by itself, apart from color, it gives them vitality, atmosphere, and emotional significance. Its life-giving, warming qualities make it a factor of tremendous importance in the art of decoration, where it enters into every problem of composition and concurs in the proper expression of every emotional idea.
One who wishes to prove experimentally, and in his own person, the power of light and darkness to affect his emotional states, has only to step out of doors before the dawn of a summer's day, and to remain out until after the fall of night. He will find that in the cold and feeble light which precedes the dawn his spirits fall, his mood becomes depressed. As the sky grows grayer and lighter the mood tends to pass, and with the first direct rays of the rising sun it is instantly succeeded by a feeling of gladness and elation. The flood of physical and psychical energies thus released by the power of the light seems, as the sun rises toward the zenith, to increase with the increasing quantity and brilliancy of the light.
In time, however, a point will be reached where increasing intensity of illumination has no further power to stimulate. Once this point has been passed the light becomes dazzling, fatiguing, finally even painful. When, with the approach of sunset, the brilliant light is softened and reduced, he will feel a sense of quiet well-being, of serenity and poise. After sunset, tired by the activities and excitement of the day, he will welcome the peace and calm of the shadows. But as the early shadows pass into the obscurity of night the peculiar power of the dark will against assert itself. Again his mood will become sober, then somber, and in time depressed.
Brilliant light, like pure color, rapidly exhausts nervous energy. It is fatiguing physically and un- endurable esthetically. The decorator must see to it that his rooms receive plenty of light, but he must also see to it that adequate means are provided to soften and dim this light when necessary, and to alter the amount admitted at each opening easily and at will.
Only in this way can the room be made pleasant under all conditions of natural light, and adjusted perfectly to the changing moods of its occupants, which will demand, both for physical comfort and for esthetic enjoyment, wide and relatively frequent changes in the quantity as well as in the intensity of the light.
In practice this means that the windows of most rooms should be provided with thin undercurtains, which will serve to temper the glare of over-brilliant sunlight by day, and to give to the room so curtained a suggestion of reticence and an esthetic quality of softness and subtlety otherwise absent, while at night they hide the bleak or black rectangles revealed by uncurtained windows, or the no less unpleasant drawn shades. Undercurtains may be made of net, muslin, silk tissue, casement cloth, or any other thin material, and they may be, and very often are, mounted on small brazed or bone rings and a rod, so that they can be easily drawn or pushed back when it is desired to make the most of the morning sun, or to reveal a fine view.
In addition to the undercurtains, which temper the light but are incapable of excluding it altogether, most windows require either shades or hangings made to draw easily across the entire window, in order that the light may be properly within the control of the decorator. In point of beauty and distinction the movable hangings are of course to be preferred. Their cost is, however, very much greater than that of shades, while they do not in fact control the light so perfectly as do properly made shades. In any case, apart from any considerations of color, line or texture, some method of controlling the light is absolutely essential for esthetic no less than for practical reasons, and the decorator must not permit himself to be carried away by the crochetty but rather widespread notion that the light should never be altered, and that there is a peculiar preciousness and virtue in making the inside of one's home as much as possible like the outdoors at all times and seasons.