The Method of Interior Decoration
Interior decoration is a part of the whole body of architecture, and art which differs from painting, sculpture, music and poetry in that it has a practical aim. While the other arts have always served primarily to give expression to man’s artistic impulses and to satisfy his esthetic needs, architecture, at first devoted to the erection of his tombs and temples, was soon made to minister directly to his comfort by providing him with habitations. And since it is the first business of a habitation to be habitable, architecture has always had to take due account not only of the esthetic factors which are the sole concern of the other arts, but also of the constantly varying factors of individual needs and preferences. For this reason, while sculpture has changed but little since the time of Greece, and painting has not changes greatly since the Renaissance, architecture has changed continually, both in methods and ideals, in the effort to adapt itself measurably to varying climatic conditions and building materials, and to changing social organisation and racial, family and individual needs.
Herein lies the justification and the point of departure for the separate study of the art of decoration, which is concerned, far more intimately than is architecture proper, with the satisfaction of special needs and the expression of personal tastes and aspirations. In construction a house must conform, in a considerably measure at least, to the prevailing taste and to available building materials. In the choice and arrangement of its furniture and applied decoration no such necessity exists, and individual needs and preferences are rightly to be regarded as matters of primary importance. This interior decoration is peculiarly a practical art. Its actual problems are all individual problems, since each involves the adaptation of decorative objects, materials, processes and ideals to particular needs, and to the requirements of a particular house.
The extraordinary interests in house furnishing everywhere manifest to-day is a phenomenon of recent and rapid growth. Forty years ago the American people had slight conception of the cultural importance of the home environment, and cared relatively little about the way in which their houses were furnished. Public taste, which became debased here as in Europe after the close of the Napoleonic wars, was still at the ebb. Beauty itself, in any form, was regarded with suspicion, as submersive of morality, by a considerable number of our people, and with indifference by a vastly larger number. Even among the wealthy and travelled classes there were few well-furnished houses. In fact, it was an acquaintance with the homes of our wealthy and travelled classes that moved Oscar Wilde, who visited New York at about that time, to characterise American houses-with more truth than tact-as “illy designed, decorated shabbily and in bad taste, and filled with furniture not honestly made and out of character.”
While it is possible that we could hardly expect to escape a trial if the same indictment were brought against us to-day, we could certainly make out a far better case for the defence. During the last three decades American life has been dominated by a deep-rooted universal determination to make that life more worth the living. This purpose has inspired and vivified every phase of national thought and activity, advancing education, altering old ideals in business and in society, shortening the hours and improving the conditions of labour, driving the boss and the machine out of the business of government, softening harsh creeds and emphasising the ideals of brotherhood and service.
In nothing has the effect of this determination to make life saner and richer been more marked than in our changing attitude toward our homes and toward the home-making processes. And this growing desire for fitting and beautiful homes for their own sake has been intensified by modern science, which has taught us to see that our own well-being of the flowers in our gardens is conditioned by the physical factors of sun and soil and rain.
For these reasons the past fifteen years have witnessed what we may well call a revolutionary change. No woman of intelligence is now indifferent to the beauty or the ugliness of her home. The economic, cultural and social importance of the art of interior decoration is widely and clearly recognised. And while it is unhappily true that multitudes of houses still exist which no sane man could call either beautiful or comfortable, their existence is for the most part due to ignorance or lack of skill rather than to indifference. Whatever we actually have, we all want attractive homes, and we therefore want to know how to create them.