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Small Furniture, Its Past And Future
It may be that the home of tomorrow will be fitted with miracle gadgets whereby the sweeping, dusting, cooking, dishwashing and air-conditioning will be done in a couple of minutes by pressing this or that button. Indeed, it is said that every one of these machines has been invented already and needs only To be put into mass production to bring the price down to the moderate pocketbook. Perhaps even the whole inside architecture of the home will be altered to permit of sliding walls, vanishing beds and sundry changes of effects. In any event, whatever the future holds for us, one thing seems probable: the great big house and the huge apartment with endless rooms is going out of fashion.
Already the size of the average house in America is smaller than a generation ago. This tendency is likely to become quite marked when the war is over and thousands of old residences are torn down to make way for modern dwellings. The demand for small furniture is another clear indication of the way householders are thinking and what they are planning. To be sure, since the day our factories went on war production, furniture has become so scarce that there has been a rush for acceptable pieces of almost any size and every description. Yet a trend toward the smaller pieces, especially in the field of antiques, is evident. Whatever the articles-chairs, sofas, tables, desks, bureaus, chests of drawers, cupboards, mirrors-the small rather than the larger sizes are most popular.
Some people are surprised to find that so much small furniture was produced in olden times. They appear to be under the impression that the furniture of the past was generally as expansive as the mansions in which it was used. There was, of course, a good bit of heavy furniturA in the noble old show places. However, the larger the house and more surely the owners wanted a number of small-scale rooms to which they could retire for family informality and everyday comfort. What's more, there were many cultured householders who couldn't afford, or just plain didn't like, big houses stuffed with massive furniture.
A certain amount of small furniture was made in times as far back as the Renaissance. But not until the 18th century did it begin to be popular enough to become a fashion. A glance at history helps explain how a taste for it happened to develop. Glance first toward Holland. In the 17th century Holland became wealthy as a result of her world shipping trade known as the Dutch East India Company. Having only recently gained their independence, the Dutch were a thrifty, democratic people who were disinclined to put their newly gained wealth into pretentious homes and ostentatious furnishings. They preferred something modest. They asked their designers and cabinetmakers for furniture that would be as good as the best yet comfortably small.
This style was taken to England when Dutch Prince William in 1689 married Mary of England and with her ascended the British throne for the joint reign of William and Mary. After them in Britain came, in 1702, Queen Anne, who loved their small-type furniture but wanted hers more elegant.She ushered in those small, beautiful pieces made of walnut and other dark woods with arabesque grainings that take on such a handsome glow when properly waxed. The Queen Anne style immediately became a vogue.
Then in France which at that time set the fashions for the Continent-there suddenly arrived the end of an era. Louis XIV, "Louis the Magnificent," died in 1715. He had been king for 72 years, an absolute monarch, an arbiter of every aspect of French culture. Overnight, so to speak, his splendorous style died with him. A change was overdue and it was only natural that the pendulum should swing away from the monumental furniture of his choice to the lighter, lovelier and more decorative furniture that followed for the next 75 years-first, French Regency; later, the wonderfully graceful styles of Louis XV and Louis XVI and his Queen, Marie Antoinette.
Since then the attractiveness, the livable charm of small furniture has made it ever recurrently favored. The leading cabinetmakers of 18th century England -Chippendale, Adam, Sheraton and Hepplewhite created a remarkable number of small-size pieces, as we now know from extant examples. Still more was produced in the English Regency in the early 19th century and a great deal here in the unvainglorious United -States from the days of our colonial designers to the followers of Duncan Phyfe. In fact, it remained popular till close to the middle of the 19th century, when the pendulum swung back the other way and Empire and Victorian furniture became ornate and bulky.
In the United States today small furniture is returning to popularity for practical purposes as well as for reasons of taste. Our less expansive quarters make it advisable as well as desirable. Even in the two rooms that Americans wish to keep largish - the dining-room and the living-room or parlor - small furniture takes up just that much less space; allows for an extra article or so to be added and leaves areas free for walking about and general movement_ Its popularity seems likely to remain as long as the Age we live in remains an active and vigorous Age.
The prevailing style of interior decoration in the best American homes nowadays is eclectic-the various furnishings dating from various periods and gathered together in harmonious arrangement. This eclectic style permits of, indeed, calls for, a certain amount of occasional furniture such as is here illustrated: a folding top table for cards and games, a jewel-like desk both serviceable and ornamental,a chest of drawers that is placeable in any room, a cupboard mounted on a drop-leaf base that becomes a side-table in time of need and, for the bedroom, a powder-bureau that opens out for its hour of use.
When small pieces like that are added to a room in which there is a tall item or two, a secretary, a high-boy, a vertical mirror-things to lend height and give balance to the mantel, the doorways and windowsthey bring to a home and will bring to the home of the future, an air of friendly distinction and a great deal of charm.