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( Originally Published 1955 )
The first step in planning your furniture is to decide upon a style that will be in keeping with the period of decoration you have chosen. See Chapter 9 for a detailed discussion of period furniture.
If you have fallen heir to certain pieces of furniture which you wish to use, or feel you must use, then make these your springboard and build up from them to an interesting and wellcoordinated scheme. Different furniture styles can be mixed, but try to match woods or the color of their finishes. Some pieces may need refinishing or painting. Always remember that the color scheme of the room, upholstery, draperies, floor coverings, and accessories can perform miracles in tying everything together.
Before buying any furniture, read "Orderly Planning and Buying," especially those sections dealing with the floor plan and furniture. You will then be able to work out how many pieces of furniture you will need and their approximate size.
Furniture Arrangement. If you have chosen your furniture carefully, with an eye to scale and proportion, you should have little difficulty in arranging it attractively if you bear in mind the principles of balance and rhythm.
Think of your room as a scale on which things are weighed, or balanced, and place your large pieces of furniture in different parts of the room so that they balance each other.
Remember, too, that you must think of balance in height as well as in weight. A door or tall window should be counterbalanced by a high piece of furniture opposite it, or by a grouping of objects that gives a sense of height, such as a table with a mirror or group of pictures above it.
Every room should have a number of groupings of furniture, with one predominating as the center of interest. Be sure, however, that all the groups are related so that the eye moves smoothly from one to another.
Here are a few general rules to follow in arranging pleasant, livable rooms:
1. Large pieces of furniture should parallel the walls.
2. Large chairs and their accompanying tables should be placed at right angles to, or parallel with the walls.
3. All rugs should be parallel to the walls; this means scatter rugs, too.
4. Never cater-corner furniture or rugs. It breaks up the apparent size of the room and looks awkward. Screens are the only exception.
5. For corner treatments, use round objects, such as a round table, or a column form. Corners are naturally the only place for corner cabinets, but don't think you always have to fill those corners. They are often loveliest when left free.
6. Small chairs can be placed on the diagonal of a room, and when so placed give just that needed movement and rhythm to break the monotony of the lines that parallel the walls. A desk chair could be one of these, or one or two that you might use in a conversation grouping, such as a sofa group.
7. Use furniture of different heights and shapes; for instance, you might use a round and low coffee table, or two round and matching end tables, to give a little relief from the straight-line pieces. Your end tables should match. Occasional tables should vary, but either the straight-lined or the circular type should prevail.
8. In general, keep the center of the room clear of furniture, as this is usually the passageway through which most of your indoor traffic moves.
9. Never allow some poor little table or chair to remain stranded by itself, or allow a small picture to hang alone on a large wall. Always relate an object to another object, and have a reason for doing so. Hang a mirror, picture, or group of pictures over the chest or wall table; or at least place a vase of flowers on such a piece; or put a stunning lamp on it (if there is a reason for it) the size of which is in scale with the table or chest, and draw up a couple of small chairs on either side. This provides a pleasing triangular composition.
When you have chosen your furniture, you can save your floors, and save yourself the arduous task of moving furniture, if you will take a little extra time to plan. Draw to scale on a separate paper an outline of each of your furniture pieces, as if you were looking down on them from above. Cut them out and move them around on your floor plan and see where they fit best, keeping in mind that they should be arranged in groups.
Bookshelves often pose special problems. For average literature and reference books, allow for 8 to 10 books per foot. Medical and law books take up more space; allow 4 to 6 of these per foot. Here is a guide that will help you choose shelves that best fit your needs:
Height: Seven feet is a practical height for tall bookshelves. However, should your room be of unusual height or should you have a lot of books, shelves could be built up to the cornice or ceiling line.
Width: In order to take care of the weight of most books without sagging in the middle, the shelves of each unit should be not more than 3 1/z feet long. If a longer expanse is desirable, have a support in the center of the unit.
Depth: Ten-inch shelves will take care of average size books. Art books or magazines may need up to 14 inches. If they are laid flat, they will need an average depth of 14 inches.
All bookshelf heights should be adjustable by providing two rows of holes-the holes spaced any distances apart you figure will be most practical for the size books you have, or propose to buy. These holes, of course, will be on the inner side of the uprights in which you put peg supports. Eight to ten inches between shelves are good average heights.
Antique Veneered Furniture. The veneering work of the fine cabinetmakers of the past has given us most of the beautiful furniture pieces that we treasure as antiques. Beautiful and rare woods were glued onto a frame of more common wood, each piece being carefully matched to fit the next, and all woods and graining carefully chosen.
At the time these were made, there was no such thing as central heating in the homes and building they were intented to grace, and so they stood up for many generations without any disastrous effects. However, those antiques, when placed in homes with modern heating, are beginning to show the symptoms of old age, and are drying up, cracking, and shedding their beautiful outer skins, resulting in costly repair bills.
Modern Methods of Veneering: The expert cabinetmakers of today have taken into consideration our present way of living, with various types of heating, and so, while still producing the fine workmanship of the past, they have solved the problem of warping in the following manner, as explained by Mr. J. Mason Read of J. Mason Read & Co., manufacturers' representatives:
The form of the furniture piece is made of a hard wood, like oak or poplar, and dried to a proper moisture content. This is known as the core stock.
Over this is glued a plywood board, made of several extremely thin layers of wood, glued together, with the grains running at right angles to each other (one lengthwise, the next crosswise, etc.). Usually plywood is three or five ply. The more layers there are, the stronger the wood. These layers of wood are also properly dried before they are put together. By alternating the layers of the length of the grain with another of the cross grain, any further pull in the drying out of the wood is equalized, thus forming a iion-warping base on which to apply the final face veneer with its beautiful marking, which is usually about 1/28 of an inch thick.
The number of fine and rare woods with beautiful markings and grains are too numerous to mention here. They come from all over the world, and it takes a real expert to recognize those other than the more familiar ones we know, such as mahogany, oak, walnut, cherry, etc.
With modern methods of construction, one need have no fear of warping, and with loving care and ample moisture in the room, by means of bowls of water or humidifiers, and a weekly rubdown with natural crude oil to nourish the wood, one can still know the thrill of owning and enjoying a fine veneered piece of quality workmanship that has all the charm and beauty of an antique. Clues to Quality Workmanship. In well-made pieces, furniture parts are joined by either of two methods: dowel and dovetail joints, or mortise and tenon joints. These are glued into place, and often, for extra strength, are screwed as well. Nails are never used in furniture of good construction.
Chair seats and table tops should have corner blocks beneath them in all corners, and these should be screwed in place.
The best wood finishes are rubbed down by hand with linseed oil and pumice, which gives that soft patina so valued by connoiseurs. Woods that have been sprayed with varnish or shellac have a transparent, high polish, which tends to be garish. To test a wood finish, rub the surface quickly with your finger until it gets warm. A good finish will show nothing; a poor finish will get sticky and have rough spots.
Because much of the structure is concealed, it is considerably more difficult to judge upholstered furniture than it is to appraise all-wood pieces. Good quality fabric, carefully finished seams, and well-finished wood surfaces, if any, will give some idea of the workmanship.
Webbing, which supports the springs and stuffing on the seats and backs, is made of jute strips, about four inches wide. Grades of jute are numbered; the lower the number, the poorer the grade. Number 12, the best grade, is Indian jute; number 9 is American jute. In a good grade of upholstered furniture, the webbing strips are placed about a half inch apart. In poorer grades, the webbing is more loosely woven.
The springs are sewed to the webbing and then tied together. In a good chair, the springs are sewed closely together to avoid sagging. From eight to twelve springs are usually used for the average chair. In a less well-constructed chair, the springs are fewer and farther apart. Burlap is stretched over the springs as a foundation for the padding. The best quality chairs have padding of heavy horsehair or other kinds of hair. In chairs of poorer quality, the padding may be of sisal, kapok, or cotton; and in the cheapest grades, even excelsior is used.
A muslin cover is placed over the padding except in the poorest grades of upholstered furniture, in which the padding is often upholstered direct and with cheap and loosely woven fabrics. In well-made chairs, however, an overall padding of cotton felt is placed over this muslin cover; and then it, in turn, is covered with still another muslin cover and, last of all, with the upholstery fabric.
Cushions are of down, down and feathers, or goose and duck feathers. Foam rubber is also used for cushions and seats. It is more resilient than down or feathers and does not have to be plumped up. In addition, it is cool and wears extremely well. In poorer grades of upholstered furniture, the cushions are often filled with kapok or cotton. The final test of any chair or sofa is, of course, comfort; even the best quality piece is not a good investment if it is not comfortable. Before any purchases are made, each member of the family should be allowed to test the chair he or she will use most often, so that everyone will have one chair that is just right for him.
Remember, too, that overstuffed sofas and chairs are heavy and bulky; too many of them will make your room look like a sinking ship. Two lounge chairs or two comfortable chairs and a sofa are sufficient, unless the room is unusually large.