Utility, Simplicity, Beauty

Utility, Simplicity, Beauty

The concepts of utility, simplicity and beauty in home furnishings.

Craftsman Style

¶ The owner of a new house often hesitates before the task of providing it with furnishings. He must, he believes, make sacrifices in one of two directions. Either he must allow the claims of beauty to usurp those of utility, and so detract from the essential qualities of his home; or he must content himself with surroundings less attractive than those of neighbors. If he chooses the objects which he regards as beautiful, he fills his rooms with slender tables, chairs and seats, delicately constructed, perhaps charged with marquetry, and almost invariably covered with perishable fabrics. If, on the contrary, he decides to purchase serviceable things for everyday use, he too often acquires a collection of articles ugly in form, crude and impure in color, and the very sight of induces depression and melancholy.

Smokers' cabinet and chair in dark oak ; chair cushion in United Crafis soft leather with laced edges
Smokers' cabinet and chair in dark oak ; chair cushion in United Crafts soft leather with laced edges.

¶ To avoid these results he has first to learn the wholesome lesson of simplicity. The home, assuming, of course, that it represents the station of its occupants, should never be encumbered with things of doubtful use, or questionable aesthetic value. The few articles necessary for the maintenance of comfort, habitual occupation and the healthful enjoyment of the senses, are the only ones to be admitted into living, bed, or dining rooms. Further, old things are best, since they have been tried and proven and not found wanting. That is: objects not such as satisfied customs and fashions which are now obsolete; but such as represent primitive ideas and therefore essentials; such as frankly state their purpose and honestly meet the needs which they were intended to supply; doing this without affectation of crudeness, and with regard to modern consideration for comfort and sanitation.


Combined exhibit of the Grueby Faience Company, of Boston, and the United Crafts, of Eastwood, N. Y., at the Pan-American Exposition, Inner Court of the Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building.

¶ If we take, for example, the bed as often now modeled with a view to decorative effect, we shall find it raised on a dais and surrounded by heavy draperies; both of which features are relics of a past time, serving no useful end, and contrary to modern ideas of cleanliness and health. The dais and the draperies formerly protected the bed from cold and dampness, and it is most interesting to note the development of this idea of isolation, from the cupboard beds of the Brittany peasants up to the great couch of the French sovereigns. The model of the bed best suited to the present time, when the value of pure air and the curative power of sunlight are fully recognized, is no derivative model. It must simply show solidity, simplicity, and a due regard for sanitary principles.


Another view of above.

¶ And so we might pass on through the list of household furnishings; condemning with justice those that copy and imitate; those that are wanting in honesty and originality; as when, for instance, a chair intended for constant use, shows the slender proportions of the style Louis Seize; or again, when decoration simulates constructive principle, as in the introduction of false mortises that fasten nothing; or when a certain combination of curves or angles appears throughout the work of a designer, until it loses all meaning, and becomes for the eye, what the refrain of a nursery rhyme is to the ear.

¶ If then these essentials of utility, that is: adaptability to purpose, and simplicity be assured, beauty will not be slow to follow. The necessities of construction demand a sufficient variety of line to satisfy the aesthetic cravings of the eye for pure form; - while the delights of color wait upon the use of our native and scarcely appreciated goods. It would seem that the American craftsman might receive, as addressed to himself, the words of our patriot poet, when he wrote:

That is best which lieth nearest, Shape from that thy course in art.



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