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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Interior Decorating - Balance And Movement

( Originally Published 1920 )



Speaking from the standpoint of appearance as it expresses rest, repose or artistic skill, no one term means so much as the word balance. In fact, the arrangement of colour tones, forms and lines in a perfectly balanced scheme will always result in the appearance of just these qualities named. It is difficult at first to appreciate how important this element is in room arrangement.

The term balance means a perfect equalization of attractions, whatever the attractions may be, if they make an appeal through the sense which transmits them to the mind. The feeling for this quality is an instinct, inherent because man is a part of a created whole in which there are general laws touching every element of the universe.

The law of gravitation plays a certain part in optical effects, and this attracting force, pulling all matter in a given direction, is one of the influences that affects the nature of man. This term attraction applied to the sense of sight is balance. Where a perfect balance exists one experiences unconsciously a feeling of satisfaction which comes from a sense of rest and repose through finished action.

Balance, then, may briefly be defined as that principle by which an equalization of attractions is obtained, or by which a sense of rest, repose or finished movement is produced. The feeling resulting from balanced conditions has in it the quality of rest and satisfaction because nothing further having a sense appeal of attraction is presented to the mind.

There are two types of balance which may be described.

The first type of balance is known as bisymmetric. If a side wall entirely covered with one-tone wall paper has a vertical line drawn through its centre from top to bottom, this vertical line may be said to be the balancing point for all objects right and left of this line in relation to the wall space. So long as the wall is covered with one tone, no other thing appearing upon it or against it, it is in a balanced condition. That is, there is nothing on one side which makes a stronger appeal for attention than there is on the other. If one but drives a nail at the right of the line, and centres vision on the balancing line, he is at once invited by the presence of the nail to transfer his attention from the line to the nail.

If this nail becomes a picture, an ornament, an object of furniture or a person standing against or adjacent to the wall, the desire to give attention in that direction is increased proportionately to the attractive qualities of the object under consideration.

Returning to the first statement, in which a nail is placed at the right of the centre line: I shall restore the equilibrium and again find my wall balanced if I drive a nail of the same size, shape and colour exactly as far to the left of the centre line as the first one was to the right of the same line.

If my purpose in driving these nails is to arrange upon the wall two pictures, I find in placing one at the right I have again, notwithstanding my nail, completely unbalanced the wall; that is, there is something on the right that by its shape, size, colour, position and human appeal bids me look, become interested, and remain attentive.

Again, because I have placed a material thing on the right of this line, I have also added more matter to be unconsciously attracted by gravitation to the right side than I have to the left. This again, from another standpoint, unbalances the wall and makes the right side seem heavier or more drawn down than the left. If I wish to restore balance I must place on the second nail at the left a picture exactly equal in attraction to the one placed on the right, bearing in mind, of course, that each nail is as far from the centre line as the other.

The reason for starting with the nail is not, of course, on the supposition that a nail is to become a part of the decorative scheme, but to lead the mind to see that even the nail, should it be left without a picture, or the hole in the wall made by the nail if not properly covered, becomes an attracting force, which may ultimately figure in the destruction of balance on the wall.

This centre line on a wall space is an important thing to reckon with in all cases before attempting to balance the wall. If the wall were again cleared and I should decide to put two chairs exactly alike, each equidistant from the centre line, I should have a bal ance. If a cabinet be placed on the line so that exactly half falls to the right and half to the left; two chairs, exactly alike, one on each side of the cabinet, equidistant from the centre line and equidistant from the cornice upon the cabinet; a row of three pictures, half on either side the vertical line; at the ends of the cabinet two tall candlesticks, both alike and equidistant from the centre; in the centre of the cabinet a well-chosen decorative jar or piece of pottery, the wall will balance, having equal attractions in size, shape, colour and texture on each side of the vertical line. This type of balance is known as bisymmetric.

The natural feeling one experiences from this type of balance is one of dignity and formality first. The very fact that one sees on each side of the centre exactly the same forms, colours and textures, makes the mental grasp of the situation easier, and consequently, in the simplest possible way, with the least mental effort, produces the effect of dignity and formal arrangement.

Repose is a second feeling which must come without conscious effort. This is perhaps in part because of the analogy between the arrangement and the law of gravitation, as it may be seen in the use of the ordinary weighing scales. When both pans of the weighing scales are empty the bar is horizontal and the scales are at rest. Throw into the scale a cube of iron weighing one pound, and the scales are in motion, a diagonal position is created and rest is destroyed. Put into the other pan an iron cube of equal weight and size, and the weighing bar becomes again horizontal and the feeling of formal and dignified position returns, while the mental sensation of harmony with the law of grav itation is a natural sequence.

The side wall arrangement described works in prescisely the same manner. Because of our associations with things in these relative positions they produce the sensations described. We are at once more or less affected, according to our sensitiveness, by such an arrangement, and more or less require this form to produce the desired result.

There are so many applications of this bisymmetric arrangement in all phases of expression that no exhaustive treatment of them can be made. It may be suggested, however, that one's appreciation of the bisymmetric balance may be cultivated by searching the facades of buildings and their gable ends for the perfect bisymmetric arrangement. One may also arrange mantels or bureau and dresser tops in bisymmetric form, placing furniture and decorative objects simply in these positions, creating vertical centre lines on which they may appear as balanced attractions.

It will be seen in all applications of the principle that this, the simplest arrangement, requires the least subtle treatment, is a matter of intelligence rather than imagination, that it is formal enough for any condition and restful enough for any scheme. It is the easiest way out of ordinary problems of unrest in arrangement.

It must be admitted, however, that the constant use of bisymmetric treatment may result in a stiff effect and be a bit too formal, since it is rather monotonous and lacks in some ways the large imaginative opportunity of the more involved arrangement.

The second kind of balance is known as the occult balance. This means simply a balance which is felt rather than one methodically or scientifically determined. The occult balance may, it is true, be proven to be a balanced arrangement if one knows how to estimate the attractive force of the elements used in the scheme. It is, however, in general, a matter of aesthetic sense, acute feeling, or feeling and judgment combined, which is a matter of psychologic conclusion rather than of a material calculation.

With the Japanese the sense for occult balance as a national asset has been so strongly cultivated by education and environment that their compositions, whether in books, vases of flowers, architectural or detail arrangements, unconsciously present the most subtle and charming occult balance known to modern life.

Those who are sufficiently familiar with the period of Louis XV to understand the arrangement of ornament used in wall panels, or the application of this ornament to articles of furniture following the same structural lines, will perceive the same refined sense for occult arrangement in which there is a feeling of perfect balance on either side the vertical line. In no case is there a bisymmetric arrangement where forms, sizes, colours and textures are unlike on either side this balance line.

There are many other interesting national expressions in which the occult arrangement is the only one evolved through highly organized artistic skill in composition.

If the problem of a single wall arrangement is one of occult balance and one has the same cabinet, two chairs, two candlesticks and two or three pictures to place upon the wall, and must use them all while he may not use anything else, his problem becomes one of equalizing these attractions on either side the same vertical line. Naturally the cabinet will not balance one chair-perhaps not two. As soon as the cabinet is increased in attractiveness by two candlesticks, it is less apt to balance two chairs, or one, all other things being equal. The pictures evidently must be so arranged as to assist in this equalization of attractions, or else the other walls of the room must be taken into consideration with this one, and the problem become more involved.

For people who are not thoroughly practised, and not sure when a balance is perfectly arranged, nothing is more helpful when arranging side walls and single surfaces than to return to the weighing scale.

In the old-fashioned steelyard there is a chance to illustrate the occult balance idea. The horizontal bar, with its movable weight from right to left, forms a lever, with the fulcrum at the point where a hook is fastened, to which articles of various gravity are ad justed for weighing purposes. An iron weight is moved right and left along this bar until it exactly balances an object which is hung on the aforesaid hook. The heavier the package attached to the hook, the farther away from the fulcrum point the iron weight is moved. This weight increases in distance from the central balancing line as the attractive power of the parcel attached to the hook increases.

Another familiar illustration of this idea in the law of gravitation is seen in the see-saw board. If a board, alike throughout its length, is placed across a fence as a fulcrum point, so that just half of it is on each side the fence, it rests in a horizontal position and is balanced. If I place a twenty-five-pound boy on one, and fail to adjust the boy or to place a weight upon the other end, the board at once loses its balanced effect and one end is thrown to the ground. If, on the other hand, I place at the same time a twenty-fivepound boy on each end, my board remains in perfect equilibrium as truly as if nothing were placed upon the board at all.

My problem becomes complicated when I have a boy weighing fifty pounds and one that weighs twenty-five pounds to be placed upon this board, and still I desire the board to remain in a horizontal position and at rest. If I move the board so that there is twice as much length or distance on one side the fence as on the other, and place the boy weighing fifty pounds on the shorter end, and the one weighing twenty-five pounds on the longer end, I shall find my board resumes its normal rest position and will so remain.

From these two illustrations three very important statements are derived.

First. Equal attractions balance each other at an equal distance from the centre.

Second. Unequal attractions balance each other at unequal distances from the centre.

Third. Unequal attractions balance each other at distances which are in inverse ratio to their power of attraction.

Applied to the side wall, this means that the stronger the object is in its power to attract, the more it tends to gravitate toward the centre or balancing line; the less attractive the object, the more it tends to recede from the centre; that two objects, one of which is much more attractive than the other, to balance on a single wall must be so placed that the more attractive of the two is nearer the centre than the less attractive one, and the less attractive is nearer the corner than the more attractive one, the exact difference apart depending upon the attractive power. This establishes a balance, as has been shown in the case of the use of two boys of unequal weight and the see-saw board across the fence.

The wall problem usually involves more than two objects and sometimes many. One must begin by placing the largest, strongest or most attractive nearest the centre; then the next, the next, and the next, back and' forth from one side to the other of the central line, until a feeling of rest or equal attraction on either side is obtained. This arrangement, when it has reached a balanced condition, is the occult balance so often seen and so little understood.

In furnishing a room, however, one side wall is but a small part of the entire problem, and were one to take each side wall separately there would be the problem of putting the four walls together so that the entire room is a balance as well as each separate wall.

The central axis of the room is the place in which to stand when judging the balanced arrangement. If I face north and my north wall is well balanced, I turn to the northwest corner, and must feel a balance between the north wall and west wall as a whole; turn to the northeast corner, the same feeling of rest should obtain as between north and east walls. If this is right, the west wall and the east wall will also balance. The same process, facing south, will show at once whether the room is well balanced or not.

By well balanced, I do not mean the wall or the things that are a part of it or are attached to it, but those things in the room, whether they touch the wall or not, that seem to use that wall naturally as a background.

Sometimes a small picture hung over an article of furniture or a very dark contrasting value in some material, although in small quantity, will restore the balance where the opposite wall has a larger picture over a cabinet or piano, or where a tapestry gives a wall sufficient strength to demand a strong opposite attractive force. This prevents a feeling of tipping in the room.

Some of the very bad arrangement of pianos, especially black ones, across room corners, and the adjustment of bureaus, dressers and cabinets in the same diagonal positions are attempts to restore a balanced arrangement in the room and to connect one wall with the other. This linking by an unnatural line of one wall to the other does not as a rule restore the balance but it does destroy the structural effect of the room, creating another motif entirely foreign to the original idea, and it often makes the grouping of other articles of furniture quite impossible.



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