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Furniture Of Modern Design
( Original Published 1917 )
Period furniture is not adapted to the use of all people. There are some persons of very modern feeling to whom the spirit of the furniture of bygone days does not seem at all appropriate for use today. They want something which is to them more up-to-date, more truly American. For them there is a modern type which is admired and used by a great number of people who feel the need of an inexpensive yet pleasing kind of furniture.
The mission furniture originated some thirty years ago in a little mission church in California. The church was an humble frame structure and the chairs made for it were of the sim plest, straight-line construction possible. Because they were so simple they seemed to possess an element of beauty, and the public soon recognized this fact and called for other straight-line designs in inexpensive furniture. Furniture makers all over the country abandoned, to some extent, the manufacture of much ornate, fantastically carved, light oak furniture, and bent their energies toward the making of straight-lined dark-stained mission furniture. Many of the designs were too heavy, were lacking in a fine sense of proportion, but much of the furniture was, and still is, good.
Mission furniture is often wrongly used, however. Many people forget, or are ignorant of, the fact that this style of furniture was originally designed for the bungalow type of building, where the woodwork of the rooms is on plain lines and is stained the same tone as the furniture. While mission furniture may seem very much at home in a western house, it may be entirely out of place in a house of the middle west, and surely would be incongruous in a colonial mansion of the east.
Where mission furniture is well adapted to the home in which it is placed, great care should be taken in selecting the rest of the furnishings. Plain walls are best with mission furniture. If figured wall covering is especially desired, however, only that having a very conventional pattern should be selected. No attempt at daintiness should be made in a room with this type of furniture. The side hangings at the windows should be non-transparent, of firm weave, and, if figured, should be of geometric design. Some of the newer types of domestic rugs are more suitable for use with mission furniture than oriental rugs. Oriental rugs carry with them the spirit of the past and so are not appropriate for use with furniture of a distinctly modern type. The plain Wiltons with shaded borders are often used, but the texture of the many different makes of Scotch rugs seems most fitting.
Craftsman furniture is an outgrowth of mission furniture. The public soon tired of so much straight-lined, heavy furniture. People called for designs retaining all the good qualities of the mission furniture, but adding a feeling of grace and a certain degree of delicacy. This demand the manufacturers succeeded in meeting in many charming instances. The shops are now filled with modern furniture, much of which is really beautiful. Sometimes this furniture is of entirely new design. More often each piece is a successful composite of many antique motifs, so blended that an entirely new idea seems to have been originated. Some of this craftsman furniture is heavy and substantial looking, some is dainty and graceful. In all designs, however, there is a distinct lack of unnecessary ornament, and the charm depends entirely upon the extreme simplicity. Much of this furniture is very inexpensive and fills a national want for people of limited means.
As with mission furniture, the most simple draperies, rugs, and wall coverings should also be used with craftsman furniture. With some of the more delicate designs, however, daintier backgrounds are permissible in the rooms where they are placed.
The principles upon which both mission and craftsman furniture are based are honesty and simplicity. The wood is of the best quality and the workmanship must be exact, as any imperfections are at once noticeable in furniture of such simple lines. White oak is generally used, and in three different tones, a soft, light brown, a rich, nut brown, and a delicate silvery gray. Table tops are sometimes covered with hard leather, and soft leather cushions are often used in chairs and settles. As with period furniture, the mission and the craftsman types will never go out of style because they in themselves represent a new American period of design based upon natural lines which give comfort and durability, adapted to the lives of the great class of people. There is little chance for change in this style in the years to come, for it is impossible to get far away from the structural lines which give the purpose and use of each piece, and the proportions which best serve that purpose and use are the proportions which it should have.
There are several kinds of "straight line" furniture on the market which are also somewhat upon the mission order, and were probably first inspired by the early western designs. Furniture of this type comprises pieces which are well made, of good proportions, and equally possible for use in kitchen, office, or living room. The dignity of their simple lines makes them harmonious in any setting which is not elaborate.
Cottage furniture is of much the same type, but here there is more of an attempt to make it artistic. It is sometimes enameled, and painted with delicate garlands in conventional designs, or the natural wood is used, stained in several different shades, and oiled. Many of the chairs in natural wood are modifications of the old Windsor style. This furniture is really inspired by the furniture of our grandparents but is often more beautiful than the old pieces. It fits well a demand for a certain type of furniture which is inexpensive and is at the same time very dainty. Rag rugs are generally used with this kind of furniture, with plain walls of delicate tints and old-fashioned chintz hangings at the windows, with the same chintz used for cushions.
Willow furniture is another class which is very popular and which has a distinct use in many modern homes. Because of its solid comfort, artistic effect, and great durability it is a great favorite with many people. It should be remembered, however, in using it, that it is of a distinctly informal type. No room in which it is used could be very stiff and dignified. It is very cheerful, however, and one of its good points is that it may be used upon the piazza, left out in the rain even, and still may be refinished to look as good as new with either paint or enamel.
A more luxurious furniture of much the same kind is made of prairie grass. The weave of this furniture is usually very close, the fibers well woven together to withstand hard usage. It is very attractive; and comfortable chairs, settees, tables, and stools may be found in great variety.
No indoor room except the sun parlor should ever be furnished with either willow or prairie grass furniture exclusively. Although each piece individually may be beautiful, a whole room filled with chairs and tables of this type gives an effect of monotony and coldness. One or two willow or grass chairs may be used in an informal living room. Combined with mahogany they give very satisfactory results. White or colored willow is also charming used with enameled furniture of the same shade.
The same precaution should be observed in the buying of willow or grass furniture as in that of any other class. It is best always to be sure that the article is well made and of good material, and to remember that it is more wise to purchase one chair which will stand the test of years of wear, than to purchase three badly constructed ones. The prevailing styles made by the most reliable manufacturers should all be studied before a selection is finally made.