Old And Sold Antiques Auction & Marketplace

Antiques Digest Browse Auctions Appraisal Home

Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Decorative Periods:
Decorative Stles And Periods In The Home
General Antiquity
Pompeian Decorative Styles And Periods
Gothic Decorative Styles And Periods
The Renaissance
Decorative Styles And Periods In Italy
Decorative Styles And Periods In France
The Style Of Louis Quatorze
The Style Of Louis Quinze
The Style Of Lous Seize
Empire Decorative Styles And Periods
Elizabethan Or Tudor Styles Sixteenth Century
Jacobean Period
Queen Anne
Chippendale Middle Of Eighteenth Century
The Adams Brother
Hepplewhite Book Issued 1789
Shearton - End Of The Eighteenth Century
English And American Empire
Art Nouveau

Decorative Styles And Periods In The Home

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Whether home-makers are dancing happily through their new portal to the music of wedding bells, or walking thitherward with the more repressed jubilation of middle life, the conviction in the mind is the same, that of all beautiful places in the world this home of theirs is to be the most beautiful.

The expression this beauty shal take is a matter of airy indefiniteness, and for direction depends upon the most haphazard of chances, mainly on the houses one has seen. If these have been in good taste, proper predilections are likely to have grown up in the mind; and if the contrary, a strong idea of what to avoid has sprung from tic contemplation of drawing-rooms, not widely divergent in effect from the pattern parlor set up in show windows of department stores; or from home s where shabby furniture of thirty years ago quarrels with modern bright ash wood-work and Nile-green walls.

A ready advisor comes forward in the form of the artisan house-decorator whose name is legion, and whose audacious signs flaunt gayly in the avenues; he promises with light ease to crystallise vague and vaporous desires. Deceived by his airy assumption of intimacy with the sacred mysteries, many a trusting beginner has delivered into his hands the keys of the empty castle, and into its holy precincts the vandal has poured an army of desecrators (he calls them decorators) with ladders, scaffolds, and canvases, which so effectually screen the advancing work that it is only when all is over the misguided owner is disillusioned; then there is no choice but to pay the bill or double it for rectifying. The choice of decoration is like the choice of a career; all exists in a flattering imagination while the selection is being made; after that comes the disillusioning reality.

It is worth the while of the owner of a home to know more than the people of whom he is to buy the decorations and furnishings for the new or the remodelled home. It might seem that it is the province of the decorator and the furnisher to know better than the layman all the intricacies and occultism of their trade; but the man with things to sell thinks only of selling them as a rule, and from his view point the buyer should know what he wants. After all that is not an unwarrantable assumption.

And this process of learning what is desirable to put into the home to make it the ideal of taste and comfort is one so absorbing and so piquant that it becomes a positive joy, as exhilarating as the chase, as absorbing as the search for gold. The eye learns to see those things to which it was blind before, and the mind dresses each discovery with an exquisite draping of the chiffons of romance and history.

Modernity with its conveniences, its adaptations to latter day domiciles and manners of life, puts up a plea for consideration. The reason for its rejection is to be found in the household wreckage piled up in dispiriting heaps on sidewalks of second-hand furniture stores, or before the homes of those who are in the unhappy process of moving from one home to another. As soon as its freshness has gone, we would have none of it.

When the forests of Michigan are brought to our shops in the form of freshly varnished furniture at prices attra ctively low, there seems to be a certain "go" about it, and the impulse comes to put some in the house. It is true there is virtue in much of the modern products; that thought has been the Scylla of buyers for seventy-five years, but the virtue is only that of suggestion. Some line is followed that explains the motif of another time, a distinctive and more perfect mode, and it is because of that resem blance that :he new lines please. Better far to turn to the original from which the pleasing lines are borrowed.

Modern developments are distrusted with reason.

They are founded on the restlessness of taste, on the corrupting desire for novelty, - a desire which trade encourages as being vulgarly " good for business." Modern modes in furniture and decoration are like modern modes in dress; they need only to pass out of fashion for the eye to discover their inherent ugliness. We are slaves to fashion in many ways, and on fashion the so-called modern furniture and decoration 3 depend for popularity. The fashion of the hour insidiously intoxicates the taste, whether it relates to a style of woman's adornment, a dinner, or the table on which the dinner is served. The awakening from this intoxication reveals the faults of the object f avoured.

Since the period known as the Empire, what tricks have been served by the fashion of the time, the novelty of the hour! Leaving whatever of chasteness the severe lines showed, the style became corrupted by clumsy modelling, mere size masquerading as elegance.

Within the memory of many we have had various reflections of Gothic and Japanese and Eastlake, - all now consigned to waste places as being too ugly for the eye to rest on in the quiet hours of home, and too shamelessly inartistic to exhibit to the stranger within the gates.

It is because of this series of false modern gods, each one worshipped in turn, that novelties have fallen into disrepute except among the masses. That a style is new causes the wary to regard it with suspicion, lest if he warm it by his hearth, it sting him at the last All other innovations have failed, and why not this most recent one?

Two things are clear: that the proved styles of the past are best, and that the buyer must study these carefully to prevent error. Periods are not so distinctly separated as inches on a yard-stick or squares on a checkerboard; they shade one into the other more like the tints on a cloudless sunset sky. There are as many transitorial periods as there are periods at their highest development, and these must likewise be studied for a full comprehension, although they are not so satisfactorily copied. The best effects are produced A here the leading motif of a period is adhered to consistently; but it is a part of the eye's education to know the evolutionary process. Only a thorough acquaintance secures absolute protection against the slipshod or mongrel styles which are to be shunned. with relentless avoiding. Indeed the whole of this specific education (apart from the intellectual joy) is its equipment against false gods, its ability to recognise their falsity.

A room decorated and furnished after a recognised style is like a past century compressed into one apartment. And therein lies one of its chief charms, its subtlest perhaps. It is a true delight when in hours of ease the eye rests on designs full of meaning, on forms invented to please the caprice of a court beauty, on lines indicating the conquest of one nation by another, on symbols which expressed human ideas before the age of letters. This chair is modelled from a design buried for centuries under the ashes of Vesuvius; this tapestry illustrates the monastery's attempt at Spanish-moresque design and colour; and on yonder table ecarte was played in the palace of St. Cloud. Each piece of furniture has a history to tell, - a stirring tale of man's progress, a terrible one of his iconoclasm, or a dainty one of his softer moods. The history of the rooms' fittings is a part of the history of the world, and in a liberal education is found the answer to the riddle of the designs. Indeed, one can scarcely live among these evidences of the past without being impelled to study the events which incited their production. The history of the home and its fittings is the history of man from the time when walls first sheltered his family.

The modern hotel and the stirring manufacturer have created a fleeting fad, - a run on what they proudly call period decoration. With much taste and fidelity to models certain hotels have furnished and decorated rooms which have attracted the attention of the travelling public. The sharp eye of trade has been quick to follow the lead and to display in the furniture shop and the department store sets for drawing-room or bedroom in the styles of Louis Quinze or Louis Seize. Even the remote periods of Italian and Flemish and English Renaissance are dragged forward and set before the purchaser as suitable for hall, library, or dining-room.

Entirely apart from the question of whether or not it is agreeable to run across these old models ignominiously placed next to toy velocipedes and dry groceries, is the matter of correctness of copy. Alas, not one of them will bear the jealous gaze of the true lover of the old styles in their purity. There is some law of nature which seems to compel the artisan to show the cloven hoof of innovation. His touch becomes desecration. Instead of affectionately, reverently following the lines invented by the inspired artists of long ago, his straying fingers invent unspeakable novelties with which to paint the lily.

Perfect copies of the exquisite forms of old furniture are not obtainable by the van-load. Special artists alone e can reproduce them, and even these too often miss the subtle proportions of the old, on which depends hall their charm. The ordinary department store copies have been turned out by thousands, and with a view of pleasing the popular taste of the moment. It is safe to say that popular taste is usually in error; it is rarely pure. These pieces are wrong in shape, wrong in color, in proportion. Inlay is introduced where no inlay ever was; simple lines are broken with carvings totally incongruous; stuffs for covering are e inappropriate; and in a dozen ways the eye is confounded, the taste affronted. And one of the points of irritation is the airs of familiarity with matters artistic that is assumed by those who gain their knowledge of the great decorative periods from examining and pricing these perverted man uf actures.

Those there be who recognise no difference between gold and dross, but theirs is not a permanent condition. If their houses are filled with counterfeits this will in course of time be discovered, and discontent ensue. Far better it is to be informed before buying, to have the taste so cultivated that mistakes are not made, and to have an eye so trained that a rococo ornament on an Empire chair would look as strange as a lemon growing on a rose-tree.

In many parts of our country the eye of taste is open to but one division of the great list of decorative periods, and its furniture. By this is meant the successive English styles running from the Jacobean through the Anglo-Dutch, and through the styles which were best expressed in mahogany, down to the Anglo-Saxon adaptation of the Empire; a period of decoration essentially English, a period of time extending from 1600 to 1800.

There is more than reason in the selection, - there is sentiment as well. As most of us are from English stock, the taste which pleased England pleases us. We do not find it cold and uncompromising, rigid and self-righteous, as do warmer temperaments, but it represents to us restraint and purity.

Then again a strong race-feeling is at work, and patriotism; for these styles belong to the earliest experiences of the early settlers, to the increasing luxury of the Colonists and to the independence of the States .- to say nothing of ancestral association.

It is in the smaller towns and among the oldest families that the relics of these periods are mainly preserved, both in domestic architecture and in furniture.

For years the country has been scoured, old pieces spied out by the covetous and sold by the impecunious, until now but little remains to buy. The result is far from deplorable. Those with money and taste and strong sentimental appreciation have gathered up the charming waifs and have massed them in homes of noble size, reproducing with fidelity the old atmosphere; and investing it with living energy.

Collections these gatherings are called only by the curio-hunter; to the true home-lover they are more. A collection suggests a dry posing, a soulless exposing, catalogues and erudition. Rising far above these in value is a room of fine proportion, made dignified by flitted pilasters and dentil cornices, - all happily fille d with colonial antiques which are revivified by :intimate association with their owner's daily life.

But there is an end to the mahogany of our forefathers. Every one cannot have an entire house furnished with mahogany antiques after the manner of certain elegant homes in Albany, in Hartford, in Providence, in Portsmouth, and on very many estates of the South. Copies, yes; but one is never satisfied with these after making the acquaintance of the poetic originals.

Besides this, the thin austerity of the English style doe:; not produce that sumptuousness of effect that is a de sideratum in these extravagant days. And as we are a travelling people, we now look elsewhere than in the farmhouse attic, the impoverished plantation, for survivals of old styles.

In our large cities, therefore, the present tendency is to leave the styles of England and to make interiors rich with those of Continental Europe.

S uppose one has been educated to the austerity of old mahogany set in rooms thinly decorated, with no attempt at ornamental woodwork, and one is at once thrust into a noble room dark with raftered ceiling, rich with glowing tapestries, luxurious with huge e throne-like chairs, the whole place a harmony of colour, an invitation to every artistic nerve to respond with sheer delight.

Where the bewildered senses lead, the mind follows. What are all these lovely productions, from whence did they come, by whom were they made and at what era, -all these questions require to be answered. A new world of decorative lore is opened, and one falls with a sense of artistic wellbeing into the belief that the Italians and the French are not only the greatest masters of elegant comfort, but that our English styles are after all but a hard, bare echo of the productions of races artistically superior.

And this is the position of decorative taste at the present mcment. It is ardently seeking the old styles of Continental Europe, and the result is matter for joy. Cultivation shines from every Renaissance cabinet, refined taste speaks from every Italian table, and exquisite luxury is offered-by every French chair.

To the unaccustomed these wonderful strange productions create a delicious sense of confusion, a piquant sense of ignorance, and a surety that here at last is th e me plus ultra of artistic excellence.

Side by s: de with this is the determination to know more of these beauties, to be able to distinguish them as surely as a Chippendale chair is known from an Empire, and, moreover, to learn their history from the very beginning. And therein lies matter more fascinating than a fireside tale.

Just how to gain this knowledge, how to enter into its delights, depends on opportunity. Those who live in rich cities, those who travel, can find the royal road. Others find their way in books, and it is with the intention of aiding such that this book is written.

As the models for all modern furniture are found in Italy of the Renaissance, that brilliant period is studied with the greatest pleasure and profit. At every turn a discovery is made which in some way relates to the household gods of centuries later, until at the last the conviction grows (not without patriotic protest) that all our vaunted excellence in design is but a dilution and a constricted copy of some inspired Italian work:

One must be abreast with the times; and as every ship brings from Europe magnificent trophies for the homes and museums of America, it is none too soon for us to learn how to read on the new-old faces their age and nationality and a bit of their romance.

Bookmark and Share