Proportion-Individual Decorative Units
While we are here concerned with the individual decorative units only as they help to form an organic whole, it must be noted that the same general principles of proportion apply to their design. The legs of a table, for example, or of a chair or sofa, must be of a size that seems to the mind such as would naturally have grown on a piece of its dimensions and weight. Undoubtedly short straight legs two inches in diameter would be sufficient to support the largest davenport; yet such legs would appear grotesquely inadequate and ugly. When we see such a piece supported by bun legs four or five inches in diameter, however, we are satisfied. A small light-toned picture in a very heavy frame is as unsatisfactory as a large dark-toned picture in a very light frame. A nine by twelve rug with a border twenty-seven inches wide lacks beauty of proportion, as does a rug of the same size with a nine-inch border.
FIGURE 29.- The legs of this sofa are in fact quite strong enough to support its weight; yet they appear to the mind to be inadequate and even grotesque.
Figure 30, taken, with its accompanying comment, from Mayeux's "La composition decorative," page 153, perfectly illustrates the principle involved. The panel A, one of the fanciful decorative subjects much employed during the Renaissance and later, shows a figure resting upon a bracket supported by two foliated consoles. These consoles also support two little columns which serve to hold up the canopy. Although the design is a work of pure fancy, and the actual strength of the scaffolding is of no importance, nevertheless the mind is perturbed and dissatisfied if any element of the composition appears to be too light or too heavy, too narrow or too wide, for the whole, as in B.
Thus if the bracket is too narrow (a) the figure appears uncomfortable and constrained in its attitude; while if it is too wide the figure appears (b) to have too much room and thus to lose its fixed place in the composition. The consoles, designed too thin (c) in connection with columns too thick, seem to bend under the burden they bear; inversely, at (d) they appear clumsy and of an exaggerated weight and strength in connection with the load they bear. Similarly, the relationships between the columns and the canopy must be congruous; so that the latter will be neither too heavy (e) nor too light and narrow (f).
Not only the size but also the structural emphasis of all important forms is in general increased directly with the scale of the room. The contrast in tone between trim and the wall is slightly intensified; textile patterns are made slightly bolder; moldings, picture frames and table tops are given more projection; and the weight-bearing and strength-revealing lines of the furniture are accentuated. Moreover, since the mind associates dark colors with the ideas of bulk, heaviness and strength, the tonality of the room is progressively lowered.
It is manifest that no formulas can be deduced sufficiently specific to be of value in this matter; nor are any necessary. Careful and continued observation and analysis of good and bad examples of furniture, rugs, picture frames, lamps and other objects, and of their employment in particular rooms, together with the study of buildings and of architectural drawings and photographs and of the human body in painting and sculpture, will be enough to train the eye to perceive niceties of proportion. For the decorator there is no escape from these slow processes of growth. Here, as elsewhere in the art, there is no substitute for a sure taste.