Proper Use of Decorative Materials - 2nd & 3rd Tests of Excellence
Care and common sense will also enable us to apply the second test of fitness. "Never forget the material you are working with, and try always to make it do what it can do best," cautioned William Morris. Manifestly sensible as is this advice, it has been and is today widely ignored, with a marked resulting loss in the beauty or fitness of many decorative materials. Thus the base of a floor lamp may safely be made of wood and carved into an elaborate Renaissance design; but the same design, cast in compo, is almost certain to be chipped and broken within a short period of time. Delicately colored naturalistic flowers are unpleasant either in woolen floor coverings or in wrought iron table bases; yet we find them in both situations. Many of the designs found in self-toned damasks are fitting and effective when reproduced in inexpensive papers; but the involved and multi-colored patterns of good brocades are dauby and ineffective when copied, as they frequently are, in wallpapers. Even so great an artist as Chippendale frequently carved the backs of his chairs into delicate interlacing ribbon forms wholly unsuitable to a rendering in wood.
What the decorator must be most carefully on guard against, however, is the effect of pretentiousness and tawdriness that results from the use of things made from inexpensive materials and by cheap processes in imitation of costly things. When the design of a Savonnerie or Persian rug costing one hundred dollars a square yard is imitated in a machine axminster fabric costing five dollars a square yard no part of the excellence of the original can be made to appear in the copy, in spite of the fact that the axminster designer has practically an unlimited palette at his command; while the real excellence of the axminster fabric itself, which would be perfectly apparent in a simple design, is also lost. Unhappily there is a constant demand from the purchasing public for things which are at once cheap and showy, and the manufacturer is forced-sometimes much against his will-to bring out in cheap materials and by purely mechanical processes crude copies of designs by nature restricted to costly materials and slow and expensive hand processes. Thus our shops and our homes are filled with dreary imitations of filet or point de Vemse lace curtains, furniture machine-carved and ornamented with jigsaw or compo applique, and printed velveteen upholstery fabrics that look as little like the sumptuous old velvets from which their designs were taken as a chromo looks like a Turner canvas.
It is unnecessary to discuss at length the third test of excellence in design, since the whole course of our study has tended to emphasize its importance. Because unity and beauty in decoration largely depend upon sound proportion and upon recurring forms and colors the designs of single objects to be used in a given room must harmonize, both in structural lines and ornamental details, with the predominant lines and forms of the room regarded as a unit; except, as noted in earlier chapters, where differences are introduced for the sake of contrast. Failure to appreciate the fundamental importance of this requirement is responsible for much bad decoration. There are for example many persons who, seeing the manifest beauty of some Oriental rugs and their incomparable fitness and excellence in certain situations, act upon the assumption that all Oriental rugs are beautiful and excellent in any situation; just as there are other people who, seeing the manifest ugliness of some Oriental rugs and their incomparable unfitness in certain situations, act upon the assumption that all Oriental rugs are unfitting in any situation. Of course, some of these rugs are intrinsically beautiful and some are not; but the point to be pressed here is that no rug, whatever its intrinsic merits, can be regarded as excellent in a particular room unless it is harmonious with the lines and coloring dominant in the room, and accordingly capable of concurring in the proper expression of the decorative motive. Thus the soft curves and delicate coloring of most Kashan and Kermanshah rugs make these weaves admirable for use in a drawing room filled with light, graceful furniture in which curves are more or less strongly emphasized, as in the styles of Hepplewhite or Louis XVI, and quite unfit for use in a living room furnished with Craftsman furniture, or with the heavy straight-lined types of the Renaissance; while the straighter lines, more angular forms, and darker and purer colors of a Bijar rug make it excellent in the latter situation and quite unfitting in the former.