Decorative Weight or Power of Attraction
If the decorative weight, or power of attraction, possessed by the diverse features employed by the decorator varied directly with their area, their mass, or any other measurable factors, every problem in decorative balance would be a mechanical problem, solvable by a simple application of the formula of balance. Unhappily the matter is not so simple. Decorative weight depends upon many factors-upon size, shape, color, tone, texture, and particularly upon contrast-and the interrelations of these several factors make the problems of estimating them difficult and far beyond the possibility of mechanical calculation. They must for the most part be felt, not computed. In this process there is no substitute for a cultivated taste.
The decorative weight of the various objects in a room will vary, other things being equal, directly with their mass; or, rather, with their mass as affected by the laws of linear perspective. Thus two windows three feet by six feet will, if uncurtained, have the same weight; and this weight will be practically equal to that of a bookcase of the same width and height. In judging of the effect of mass or area the mind attaches a superior importance to width as opposed to height. Thus a bookcase four feet wide and five feet high would weigh less, in a decorative sense, than would a case five feet wide and four feet high. The weight of any object is of course increased by sharply defined or eccentric outline, striking ornament, or distinctive coloring.
The importance of color in determining the decorative weight of an object is in part absolute, but chiefly relative. Absolutely, without reference to their background, the several hues vary in their power of attracting attention directly with warmth and purity. Thus red will outweigh any of the other hues, with orange, yellow, green, blue and violet in order; while vermilion will outweigh maroon or any red degraded by the ad- mixture of black or white, as emerald will outweigh myrtle or nile, and ultramarine will outweigh indigo or azure. In practice, however, the weight of a colored surface is very largely relative, and varies directly with its degree of contrast, in hue, tone, and texture, with the background against which it appears. Red hangings against a red wall will have less weight than hangings of old gold; while gold will have less than blue, and blue less than green. A satinwood chair, though brighter than one of mahogany, will weigh less against a champagne ground. Dark tones weigh heavily against a light background, and light tones against dark. Considered alone, a smooth texture having a high power of reflecting light will outweigh one that is loose and rough; but against a lustrous satin or damask wall a lustreless tapestry or rep chair covering will outweigh one of velvet or brocade, as Grueby pottery will outweigh porcelain.
It is evident that the difficulties of weighing the attractive forces which enter into a decorative balance tend to grow less in direct proportion to the likeness of the features, and that they disappear altogether when the balanced objects are exactly alike. To arrange a chair and a cabinet against a given wall space in such a way as to place the wall in balance may easily prove a problem. The problem becomes easier with two chairs of analogous size and shape, and progressively easier as the likenesses of the chairs in proportion, color and ornamental detail are progressively increased until, with two identical chairs, it becomes purely mechanical and could be solved by a child with a tape measure.
In decoration, then, as in mechanics, we have to do with two kinds of balance: that produced by arranging identical or closely analogous elements at equal distances from a real or ideal center; and that produced by arranging elements more or less unlike at unequal distances from the center. The first type, called bisymmetric, or formal, balance, is easy to produce and so easy to see as to be perfectly obvious. The second type, called occult, or substitutional, balance, is more difficult to produce and more or less subtle. Which is to be preferred, and why? For the general answer to these questions we must turn, as in nearly every other question of practice, to considerations of fitness to purpose.