Decorating Traditions Handed Down from the Kings
Decoration is an art that always works downward-from the king, through the aristocracy, to the bourgeoisie; from the rich, through the well-to-do, to the poor. Period decoration in America took the usual course. Those who could afford to buy and transport European interiors did so. Those who could not afford it bought European rugs, furniture and fabrics. Those who couldn't afford these things contented themselves with cheaper reproductions of European originals. Those who couldn't afford reproductions bought cheaper adaptations of reproductions. Once period practice of any historic period is quite as absurd as to copy its clothes, its schools or its methods of transportation.
PLATE XVI.- The fire-screen is a very useful piece of furniture, can be so designed as to reveal any desired combination of outline, texture, hue, tone and texture, and is therefore valuable in creating effects of parallelism in the composition of the fire-place group.
It must be admitted, however, that it is one thing to recognize the absurdity of an action, and another thing to refrain from the action, provided we think it to be the correct or the smart thing to do. Just at present no one thinks it the smart thing to have the floors of his rooms strewn with rushes, though this was the usual method of treating the floors of the great houses of Tudor England, even in the time of Elizabeth. On the other hand, it is now considered by many decorators, both professional and laymen, to be the smart thing to furnish a dining room with a refectory table and benches. Thus we find otherwise sensible people sitting on long, narrow and uncomfortable benches, and crowded at either side of a very narrow table which, as used historically, had diners on one side only-the side very near a wall, which offered protection against a surprise attack or a sudden knife-thrust from behind-while the other side was kept free for the movements of the servitors.
There is one safe way, and one only, to use in the homes of today the rich inheritance of the past. That way is to break things down into their essentials; to look to the meanings of things, and not to the time and place of their origin. What is a Louis XV chair? Essentially, a composition of curved lines of a peculiar type. Will it look well in a given drawing room? Assuredly, if the room contains in its architectural treatment and its other furniture and ornament enough lines of the same characteristic type to ensure an easily perceptible degree of likeness, and if the proportions of the chair accord with those of the room; but not otherwise. What is a miquecento damask? Essentially a composition of outline, color and texture, and as such it is well or ill adapted to our use in the degree that it accords with the other outlines, colors and textures dominant in the room to be decorated. The esthetic significance of a chair, a table or a cabinet depends in part upon its ornament, but chiefly upon its proportions and dominant lines; and whenever the proportions and dominant lines of chairs or tables or cabinets belonging to different historic styles are markedly similar, and their ornamental detail not so dissimilar as to destroy the necessary unity of the treatment, such pieces can be used together in a modern room quite as effectively as if they were the product of the same style.