Simplicity in Household Furnishings
An Argument for Simplicity in Household Furnishings.
¶ In all that concerns household furnishings and decoration, present tendencies are toward a simplicity unknown in the past. The form of any object is made to express the structural idea directly, frankly, often almost with baldness. The materials employed are chosen no longer solely for their intrinsic value, but with a great consideration for their potential beauty. The qualities thus apprehended are traced to their source and then carefully developed by the skill of the craftsman.
¶ In the eighteenth century, the French cabinet-makers created, charming objects suited to the palaces and castles of the old nobility. They revelled in richness of material: In woods brought from countries and colonies difficult of access: in costly gilding and other applied ornament; in fanciful painting which exquisite delicacy of handling alone saved from triviality and insignificance.
¶ But to-day, with the idea of development everywhere dominant, - in the sciences, in educational methods, in a11 that furthers human intercourse, comfort and progress, - we find the mood of the century impressed upon the material and necessary objects by which we are surrounded. Even our beds, tables and chairs, if planned and executed according to the newer and sounder ideas of household art, offer as a lesson taught by their form, substance and finish. We are no longer tortured by exaggerated lines the reasons for which are past divining. We have not to deal with falsifying veneers, or with disfiguring so-called ornament. We are necessarily confronted by substances precious because of their traditional use, their rarity, and the difficulty attending their attainment. We are, first of all, met by plain shapes which not only declare, but emphasize their purpose. Our eyes rest on materials which, gathered from the forests, along the streams, and from other sources familiar to us, are, for that reason, interesting and eloquent. We may, in the arms of our reading-chair, or in the desk before which we pass our working day, study the striking undulations in the grain of oak, ash, elm, or other of our native woods, and in so doing, learn the worth of patient, well-directed, and skilled labour; of that labor which educates; that is: leads out and develops the hidden values and qualities of things too often neglected because they are frequently seen.
¶ When in the decade of 1870-1880, Oriental art began to receive wide-spread attention in France, and became a favorite topic of conversation in fashionable salons, there were many connoisseurs who denied its claims to consideration. Then it was that M. Thiers, the President of the French Republic, summed up in a single pithy sentence the reasons for the narrow prejudice which refused currency to ideas other than those consecrated by long familiarity.
¶ He declared:
One should not go to Japan with the Parthenon in one's mind.
¶ A similar prejudice has established itself in this country regarding the use of mahogany in the finer pieces of household furnishings. The preference for this wood, founded partially upon its beauty, received a very strong impetus from the connection of the wood and of certain famous cabinet makers with our colonial history, which of late has been so thoroughly treated by American authors, and so thoroughly studied by our patriotic clubs. Consequently, our native products have been neglected and their possibilities overlooked. But it is true that oak, ash and elm, properly treated, possess attractions that yield to those of no other woods. The undulations of their grain, the soft, unobtrusive tones which they assume through skillful polish, the color-play which runs over their smooth surface are qualities which to be appreciated need only to be fairly observed. The intelligent craftsman in our country is now raising our northern woods to a place beside that occupied by the long-admired mahogany.
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