The Outfitting Of A Guest Room
( Originally Published 1907 )
IT is perhaps a question, whether it shows the eternal youth of the world or its illimitable age -at least, it shows an eternally continuing similarity, in spite of vast changes in social life, household ways, habits of thought, civilization, government-that so much of the past would precisely fit today.
Now, look at Elisha, nearly three thousand years ago. At a place where he is staying, a local committee comes to tell him that "the situation of the city is pleasant," but complains of the water supply. When mischievous children cry out in glee at his baldness he becomes angry, as might an irascible bald-headed gentleman of to-day. When a woman does him a disinterested favor he cynically asks her in what quarter she expects his influence in return.
One feels in quite a modern atmosphere. And when the woman of Shunem entertains him, she offers the precise essentials of the hospitality of today: she welcomes him to dine, and then has him conducted to his room, having "set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick."
Thus the first recorded summary of what must needs be in a guest room was the same three thousand years ago as it is now: to give a bed and a light, and conveniences for sitting down and for the toilet.
The bed, naturally enough, is the principal feature of any guest, room. And the lover of the old wishes to have one with four high posts and a canopy top.
It is not so easy to find old four-posters as to find some other classes of furniture. When worn out, a bedstead was generally thrown away. There was no other purpose to which it could be put, and it was not often kept just for an indefinite desire of keeping, as was many an old table and cupboard and chest-on-chest.
As with so many things that look well, the inception of the four-poster did not come from any thought of looks, but of utilitarian comfort. It was highly advisable-it was practically necessary-in the raw winter climate of England or the United States, before the days of well-heated houses, to afford more protection to a bed than came from quilts and blankets. And the consequent four posts and curtains are so decorative that it is still a pleasure to see them.
The bed in the guest room of the once-while inn is not only of the olden time, in both age and appearance, but it possesses also the hygienic merits of the most advanced beds of to-day, having set within it an iron bed as already described.
Its four slender Heppelwhite posts are surmounted by a canopy which rises in the middle in a bow-shaped curve, so that, although the posts are but six feet high, and the canopy is therefore at that height at both the head and the foot, it sweeps up in the middle in this bow-shaped curve, giving an airy and spacious effect.
The canopy is covered with a corded cream-white French chintz, old-fashioned in appearance, in a pattern of great sunny, luxuriant roses. It not only looks well, but befits the past, as, at the period at which this bed was made, bedroom hangings included such materials as damask and fustian and chintz. "Bought my wife a chint," records garrulous old Pepys. The chintz for this bed is probably of much the same material as that referred to by Franklin, who sent from England, for bed and window hangings, "fifty-six yards of cotton, printed curiously from copper plates."
Coverlid and valance are of the same chintz as the canopy, and so are the panels at the head and the foot of the bed, and there is a narrow box-plaited frill of chintz outlined around the edge of the canopy and fastened with brass tacks. Two or three chairs are covered with the same old-fashioned looking material, and there are box-plaited frills of it across the top of each of the three windows.
One obtains in this manner a distinctively old-time effect, and it is added to by the long white muslin curtains and the white muslin that covers the dressing-table.
The frame of the bed, undraped, is rather plain, as were by far the greater number of antique beds, they offering only shape in their framework and relying for further effectiveness upon draperies or hangings.
Although there is a scarcity of old-fashioned beds, they are still to be found, of various degrees of elaborateness or the reverse. Fortune, in the shape of a neighbor, brought us our second one the other day, with enormous posts, the neighbor offering it as a friendly gift. "But you must n't think this is much," he said, in modest disparagement; "for, to tell the truth, I paid only eighty cents for it, at an auction, and the posts are too high for my rooms, but I know your ceilings are high enough."
And here is a suggestion for a different treatment from that of the four-poster first described. We shall set it up in the English style, like that bed which Mr. Pickwick prepared to sleep in by mistake on a certain eventful night : a bed will be set inside the posts, in such a way as to leave, inside the hanging curtains, "a little path, terminating in a rush-bottomed chair, just wide enough to admit of a per-son's getting into or out of bed."
Beds were held in such consideration, in past times, that it is a pity that so many collectors entirely neglect them, through not understanding that the stately frames can be used with modern springs and up-to-date adjuncts. Mary Washington willed to George her best bed, and Shakespeare, dying, grimly willed his second-best to that Ann whom, very considerably older than himself. he had married when but a lad under age.
Next to the bed, following the order for old Elisha, comes the dressing-table. In this room it is four feet six inches long, and only two feet three inches high -a comfortable, agreeable height for its purpose. Beneath the table, and out of sight behind the muslin covering, there is necessarily quite a space; and it is always an excellent thing to put in such a place, for hats and miscellaneous finery, two or three of those old-time, gorgeously papered bandboxes of the poke-bonnet era. An old-fashioned, mahogany-framed mirror, large enough for use by one either sitting or standing in front of it, leans, from the table, against the wall.
It is probable that Elisha had some indoor ablutionary means, but, whether he had or not, the guest of today must not be without such facilities.
And so, in this room, there is an old square wash-stand, from an old home garret, and the top is so made that the washbowl fits into it.
We were fortunate in obtaining, from the aged owner of a very old house, a pitcher and bowl, of a charming soft-hued blue, without a chip or a mar upon either one of the pieces.
They are of an old-fashioned kind, made in England, and display a picture, large in the bottom of the bowl and a trifle smaller upon either side of the slender octagonal pitcher, which purports to be a view of Niagara Falls. But what a Niagara! It is given as a sort of Yosemite, with one fall above another; at one side of the larger and lower fall are some Indian wigwams, on the other bank is a massive European castle, and in the foreground, looking with awe at the falling water, stand a group of men and women fashionably costumed. But all the work is most admirably done.
Instead of coming to the inn, this pitcher and bowl came near to going in a far different direction. The aged owner said that she had no desire to keep the articles, but that her niece, "a red-headed art student, down to New York," wanted them. "But," continued the owner thoughtfully, "she never said anything about money." When the observation was made a second time, it took on the proportions of an undoubted hint-and when negotiations were complete (the owner wanted only a modest three dollars for the set!) the woman was still murmuring, "My niece never, no never! said anything about money."
It is still an amusing memory, how carefully those pieces of blue were driven home, held in the lap with possible excess and superfluity of caution.
For the stool that Elisha was given, a chair would certainly answer; but, fortunately, this room can match the literal stool, with a low cricket from an old New York house. Of the chairs, the one most prized is the old Shaker rocker which in the early days of our collecting meant so much to us.
It is not necessary to limit a room to the single Shunamite candlestick. And therefore, as a collector naturally picks up old candlesticks in a great variety of places, there are sufficient to put a pair upon the mantel and another pair on the dressing-table.
With the four-poster, and the rose-colored chintz, it was particularly needful that a corresponding air of the old time be maintained throughout, and so, for the walls, there was selected a white paper, relieved by chintz-like stripes, with a design in small pink roses and attendant greenery.
It is a cheerful, sunny room, and there is an old black-fronted Franklin, brass-banded and brass-knobbed, built within a white mantelpiece of wood.
Within the fireplace stand brass andirons, with iron feet, from an old house in Tallahassee, and above, on the wall, is a picture of Mayflower days. There are also in the room a few old-fashioned prints and six small colored prints of famous old houses.
Upon the floor are rugs, several of them woven or braided for this room, with rose or pink effect. A little care in the selection of cloth and in the choice of warp will secure whatever harmony and predominance of color may be desired. At Mount Vernon great attention was given to hand-weaving for floor-covering; and at one time Martha Washington went beyond this, by having some old silk gowns frayed out, spun roughly, and woven into covers for the sitting-room chairs, on the looms in her own spinning-sheds.
This guest room is the first room at the top of the stairs leading up from the broad hall; and up the stairway there is a mounting line of pen-and-ink portraits, by cartoonists, "to brighten and shorten the way." On the landing is a corner shelf with half a dozen candlesticks above and half a dozen pair of snuffers below (all old, and of various associations), ready for those setting bedward.
It has been a delight to outfit, also, the other rooms besides the guest room upon this floor : rooms, little or big, with pleasing outlook upon village street or stone-walled meadows or wooded hills.
Upon the walls of one of these rooms (it claims to be the room in which Aaron Burr slept) we found a wall-paper of old-fashioned block pattern, with white strongly predominating, but with a sprig of green flower, shaded in black, upon each block.
Tradition, local memory, village authority undisputed, declare the paper to have been put on in 1842, and it is certainly like patterns of that period. It seemed a pity to cover it-and yet there were a number of blemishes that could not be overlooked, and, of course, it was quite impossible to find any paper like it to use in repairs. But here is a stratagem which may be suggestive to others who may come upon a similar problem. Very carefully, the paper was stripped from the broad chimney-breast above the fireplace, and the fragments, cut into pieces of a shape to match the lines of the pattern, were pasted over the little holes and blemishes. There was enough to make the paper everywhere perfect in appearance : everywhere but on the denuded chimney-breast. In covering that, a green cartridge paper, of a green to match the sprigs in the squares, was found. Upon this was placed, in relief, a white garland of Georgian style. The woodwork of the room was painted white. Andirons of black iron were placed in the fireplace. Brass candlesticks were set upon the dark marble mantel. Between them is a small bust, in faience, of a sober-faced Donatello boy. And, thus retaining the old wall-paper, there seems some-how to have been retained also the subtle charm of old atmosphere and simplicity.