Furnishing Of The Home
Making the home — Changing conditions — The relationship between architecture and furniture—Ecclesiastical influence—The arrangement of collections.
THERE has ever been a halo of romance about furnishing the home, and the pieces of furniture belonging to a past age must always be associated with family life. The dwelling of man, from ancient British homes and far-off days to the present time of luxury and comfort, has always been the gathering ground where household necessaries and comforts have been found. Half the pleasure in possessing old furniture lies in the memories it revives, and the realism with which ancestral homes can be pictured. The home connoisseur points with pride to his possessions, and harps back to the " good old times " when his forbears commissioned some local carpenter or joiner to make them a chest, a chair, or perchance a buffet ; and if his family cannot boast an ancient lineage he is content with pointing with pride to the " genuine Chippendale chair " or other object he secured at a bargain t some well-known sale.
The furnishing of the home has occupied the attention of young couples of different social grades for centuries. To each of them the uncertain sea of matrimony was untried, but they were agreed that the joiner, and in more modern days the cabinet-maker, had first to be visited, for a house, however costly and pretentious, was not " home " until at any rate its rudimentary furnishings were installed.
In days gone by it was not possible to "furnish throughout," and most of the homes from which old furniture comes were furnished by a slow process. House furnishing in the Middle Ages and even in Elizabethan times—the times from which come the older carved oak of which the owners are so proud—was chiefly confined to the wealthier classes. The common people had but scantily furnished homes, and were content with the rough stools and benches village carpenters could make. In the eighteenth century, when the middle classes were gaining ground, the making of the home took time ; moreover, furniture was bought as the growing needs of the house-hold required ; and when the fortunes of the family increased first one new piece of more costly design and decoration and then another were added.
Furniture in the past was good, solid, and lasting ; chairs, chests, cupboards, and bedroom furniture served several generations, and as each succeeding young couple took their toll from the old home, and completed their furnishing in newer style, the household goods became mixed. It is true in the larger and wealthier homes there were rooms furnished throughout in well-defined styles—some had been retained in their entirety for generations, and others had been fitted up by successive owners, thus here and there rooms were distinguished by the names of the styles in which they were furnished, such as the "oak room," the " Carolean room," or the "white and gold room " filled with Empire furniture.
The furnishings of the home are seldom swept and garnished, for to part with family relics is breaking faith with those who handed them on with the remainder of their worldly possessions to their heirs. There were many who made special bequests of their furniture, and one of such would write in his will : " To my dearly - beloved nephew, John, I leave my mahogany bureau-desk and the tea china in the cupboard over it." Can we imagine nephew John's grandson or great-grandson parting with that beautiful Hepplewhite bureau-bookcase or cupboard full of priceless Worcester china because his dining-room or library is furnished in modern fumed oak or late Victorian incongruities ? No ! the home connoisseur values his family possessions.
The furnishings of the home contribute towards its comfort and happiness. To understand home furnishings, and especially those things the present day use of which differs from that to which they were originally put, is a laudable study. It is a delightful pastime, too, for interest grows as the research is continued, and sidelights are thrown upon the aim and objects of old-time furnishers.
In times when men had no settled habitations goods and chattels were few in number, and when huts of wattle and daub had been replaced by more permanent dwellings tribal wars and pillage prevented much increase of household goods. The chest or coffer was at hand when the overlord or chieftain desired to move on to his next domain, so that the produce of the estate could be consumed. There came a time, however, when the chest, although capacious, failed to accommodate the furniture of the home. The collector looks in vain for anything earlier than the wood coffer which gradually became a receptacle in which smaller boxes could be stored. To the chest were eventually added drawers, and from the chest evolved a chest of drawers, and perchance in later years a sideboard or a cabinet, a cupboard, or some more important piece of furniture. In the history of furniture we see the story of the development of social life, and although the connoisseur is puzzled at times over what may be called transition pieces, these connecting links are exceedingly valuable, in that they help to fix more definitely the fully accredited periods and stages.
At first no doubt the sideboard was literally a board fixed against a wall for convenience ; in common parlance, a shelf. To give it strength it had front legs ; in time it had back legs added, and it became independent. This board, or buffet as it was called later, afforded the possessor of wealth opportunities of display, and it was on the buffet that the work of the pewterer and the silversmith was displayed. The same simple principle may be applied to the cupboard ; a simple shelf, another shelf added, a door covering the contents of the two, a framework, and an extension, and the closed-in cupboard, at first plain, after-wards panelled, then carved, finally enriched with inlays, became from the simple shelf a thing of beauty, an ornamental and decorative piece of furniture such as collectors to-day value and admire.
As late as the fifteenth century even those who possessed more than the average wealth, and who had walled dwellings and securely guarded castles, had but few articles of furniture. The primitive stool or bench and the necessary trestle tables, were the chief objects supplementing the chest or coffer, and perchance the cupboard. Gradually ornament crept in, and the living-rooms became enriched with the work of the needle-woman and the metal worker. The painter added to the scenic splendour of the surroundings of a great feast, and the wood carver and the sculptor chiselled away at wood and stone. Here and there, as art progressed, the affinity between the architect and the cabinetmaker was seen.
As is well known, the earliest dwellings consisted of one large open hall. There were frequent signs of feasting, and the table groaned with an over-loaded board. The smith had contributed at an early date to the comfort of the dwelling, for he had fashioned andirons, and provided for the logs of timber to burn brightly on the hearth. The chimney had taken the place of the open flue, and the rafters were no longer blackened daily by smoke. Under somewhat more refined conditions it was possible for the furnishings of the home to be more elaborate. In the sixteenth century as yet there had been no idea of lightening the massive oak, although the plainer panels and beams were carved over. There was, however, a development going on in that bed-chambers were provided, and curtains divided off the sleeping apartments of the women from the men. Beds became common, but the furnishings of the bed-chamber and of the retiring-rooms were simple in the extreme in France, England, and in other countries which in the sixteenth century were coming under the sway and influence of the coming art.
It is said, however, that even as late as the beginning of the sixteenth century the necessity of transport still existed, and the furniture was made to take to pieces. Beds were jointed, and their columns took down. Tables were put up on trestles, but the- " cabinets," so called, were small, and could, on occasion, be enclosed in a large chest or a trunk. Even some of the chairs folded not unlike modern camp furniture. The hangings on the walls and the curtains running on poles could be taken down and removed. That seems to have been the position at the beginning of the sixteenth century, a fact which the student of furniture should remember, enabling collectors to recognise features in antique' specimens which would otherwise be difficult to explain. When things became a little more settled, certainly towards the close of the sixteenth century, the growing needs of a more domesticated home had been forced upon the architect, and the builder had provided accordingly. In many a turret, and in many a homestead, there were attics or garrets, the garret in the mansion being called " the wardrobe-room " ; and it was to those places, sometimes containing secret chambers, that much of the house furnishings were taken when the household removed, and were perhaps absent for months at a time, to be restored to their original places when their lord returned. Even at that period the dwellings of the lower classes, the craftsman and the labourer, were furnished in a very primitive way, although it would appear that their settles and chairs and cupboards and dressers reflected somewhat the progress then being made in the higher branches of art.
( Originally Published Early 1900's )