Three Dimensions within Interior Decorating
The three dimensions, height, width and depth, respectively suggest the ideas of spiritual elevation, stability and mystery. When the dimensions of a composition are normal they tend to neutralize each other, and the mind is conscious of no emotional significance. When any one is over-emphasized the value of the other two is diminished accordingly. It is almost never desirable to over-emphasize and dimension of a room; the more nearly its proportions approximate those that the eye regards as normal the more satisfactory the room will be. In the choice of individual units, however, the principle is constantly employed. Thus it is impossible to produce through the use of short, high tables, chairs and cabinets the impression of stability produced by long low ones; impossible to create by means of mantel clock the sense of elevation-of calm indifference to the hurries and anxieties of life-created by a hall clock; impossible to effect in any room
PLATE IV.- Greek vases which illustrate the differences in emotional effect between the circle and the oval employed in decorative composition.
without draperies the slight but intriguing sense of mystery and charm possessed by a room with deep and carefully arranged hangings.
Shapes, whether they appear as simple geometrical forms, or as compositions based upon or roughly defined or outlined by such forms, possess emotional significances which depend in part upon the character of their bounding lines and in part upon their proportions. Thus the square suggests strength and solidity because it combines equally the firmness and support of vertical lines and the repose of horizontals. The straight lines which define it make it obvious, however, while the equality of its dimensions deprives it of subtlety and tends to make it monotonous and therefore of limited value in decorative design. Square rooms are for this reason relatively uninteresting, and so are square wall spaces, windows, and fireplaces, and square rugs, tables, chair backs, bookcases and pictures. What is true of the square is of course equally true of the cube. Cabinets, stools, seas or stands cubical in shape are rarely good-looking, unless, as sometimes happens, their beauty of carving or surface ornament obscures their tedious forms; while the big cubical chairs so often seen are esthetically tiresome and physically uncomfortable as well.
The oblong is the commonest form in decorative are, where it appears in floors, ceilings, walls, doors, and windows, in rugs, chairs, tables, bookcases and books, and in fact in nearly every object of use or ornament. Like the square, the oblong combines straight vertical and horizontal lines, which tend to make it obvious, but its extensions are never in equilibrium and the form therefore possesses an interest lacking in the simpler form. The beauty and decorative value of oblong shapes depends chiefly upon the subtlety of their proportions, and will be discussed in the chapter dealing with that subject, as will the use of vertical or horizontal oblongs in the convergent expression of emotional ideas.
The triangle appears in decoration both as a motive and as a principle of composition. When resting upon its base it expresses a subtle quality of animation or movement in repose-the two diagonal lines contributing the idea of movement and its broad base, as contrasted with its pointed apex, the idea of repose. In the isosceles triangle the two lines of movement are equal, and the figure accordingly suggests a symmetrical or balanced activity. It appears in lamp-shades, mantel clocks, the pediments of bookcases and highboys, and the supports of benches and tables; and as a principle of composition it is constantly employed by the decorator to give an effect of unity and balanced activity in the arrangement of mirror and console table, chair or other small objects upon or above cabinets, mantels or bookcases. The isosceles triangle resting upon its point is occasionally employed in the design of fabrics and wall papers, where it yields an elusive effect of flame-like motion. The same motive is frequently found in Turcoman rugs, where it symbolises the altars of an earlier faith, and the flame that anciently burned upon them.
Curved forms are easier to see than those of rectangular outline, and are therefore in general more agreeable. They vary in subtlety and in esthetic interest according to their outline. The circle, whose bounding line forever returns upon itself, suggests the ideas of completeness and finality. This quality renders it somewhat monotonous when used as a decorative unit, though it is of great value when used as the basis of repeating pattern. In the decoration of the dining room the table is of course the focal point-the motive to whose proper setting-out all other decorative elements are subordinated. And since a dining table is sufficiently large and massive to dominate the room it often happens that this very effect of completeness makes a round table more valuable decoratively, not only by reason of the lack of subtlety in their proportions, but also because they are out of harmony with the prevailing oblongs, being unlike them both in outline and in proportions. For the same reason circular mirrors, pictures and other wall ornaments do not compose well with the wall spaces. This objection does not apply, of course, to small occasional tables and other little circular forms which make themselves felt only as piquant accents in the general composition of the room; but in the design of larger units the circle is normally employed only as a device for securing emphasis through contrast.
The ellipse and the oval have a longer and shorter axis, and therefore bear the same relation to the circle that the oblong bears to the square. They are more agreeable than the circle physiologically because, owing to the peculiar construction of the eyes, they are physically easier to see. They are far more agreeable emotionally, in part because of the subtlety inherent in the constant change of direction of their bounding lines, and in part because there is in the rhythmic alteration of these changes, and in the symmetrical swell and subsidence of the forms themselves, a hint of the mysterious dualism of life-of the flow and ebb, systole and diastole, inspiration and aspiration whence arises that sense of harmonious completeness which is the basic esthetic condition.