Basic Importance of Structure
It is a weakness of present-day decoration that it so largely fails to recognize the basic importance of structure, and so largely concerns itself with what is applied and incidental, as the builders of forty years ago so largely ignored proportion and structural ephasis and concerned themselves with fussy bays, dormers, brackets, grills, shaped shingles and jig-saw applique, which to the surer taste of to-day seem in the last degree tawdry, trivial and ugly. This failure to recognize the basic importance of structure is peculiarly characteristic of our treatment of the ceiling.
The ceiling is the roof of the room, the sheltering and protecting element. In all the great decorative periods it was given a relatively elaborate treatment. The classic methods of ceiling decoration, besides being quite beyond the means of the average home owner, are for the most part rendered unfitting by the very low ceilings which, in the interests both of economy and of repose, characterize most modern homes. Ceilings treated in plaster relief or with beaming are widely used in rooms having a ceiling height of ten feet or more, and with excellent effect when they are in scale with the room and well executed; but the great number of ceilings in ordinary homes are and will continue to be of plain plaster, tinted or covered with canvas and painted. In their treatment the decorator is concerned with three factors: texture, already discussed; tone; and support.
The ceiling must seem to the mind to have some body and weight, since in the modern house it is to be regarded not as the sky above the room but rather as its roof. The very common practice of making the ceiling perfectly smooth and of doing it in white or pale cream regardless alike of its actual height and of the coloring and tone of the walls often results not only in sharp tone contrasts by which the mind is more or less consciously perturbed, but also in the loss of the sense of sheltered intimacy. Making the ceiling slightly rougher-for example, by covering it with cloth and painting it in oil and stippling-and keeping it a little lower in tone, according to a formula to be stated in the chapter on light and shade, makes it seem heavier and therefore more satisfactory to the mind, while at the same time it prevents an inartistic contact with the walls.
Whatever its tone, the ceiling must seem to be adequately supported. This requires the use of a supporting molding of some kind at the point where the ceiling appears to rest on the sidewall. The position, depth, projection and ornamental character of this member will naturally depend upon the proportions of the room and upon its function and decorative motive, and it ought in every case to be determined by a competent architectural designer. In any case the cornice molding must appear in its turn to be adequately supported. Nothing is more disturbing, and few things more commonly experienced, than the consciousness of a cornice which seems heavy enough amply to support the ceiling, but is itself quite unsupported and apparently suspended in the air.
FIGURE 35.- note the effect of structural adequacy produced by the addition of the cornice (B). The effect would be still more satisfactory as the result of an increase in the height and projection of the base-board.