THE season of indoor occupations — the season of entertainments—brings the dining room into special prominence.
We are inclined to look upon it with a more critical eye when the curtains are closely drawn or the frost has etched its opaque patterns on the pane that once drew our glance toward the pleasant out-of-doors.
What should we ask of our diningrooms?
A utilitarian fitness we take for granted. A table, chairs, something in the nature of a serving table, are prescribed, but that fact need not really prove limiting to the effect of the room, or deprive it of that individuality which is a great part of furnishing success. We have left, quite without limitations of any kind, color; we have lighting to conjure with; we have all the accessories; and for those very tables and chairs, we have a multitude of styles from which to make our choice.
Before the actual furnishings, comes the fixing of certain fundamental points, important no matter what the final effect of the room. Just as restfulness is the keynote of the bed-room, a livable quality that of the living-room, so the diningroom must in the end achieve a calm, easy, cheerful atmosphere. What decorative and furnishing schemes are evolved to gain that end, is really a matter of minor importance.
Obviously, then, the furniture, permitted to be adequate, must be sufficiently restrained in size and quantity to avoid a sense of crowding; a crowded room is never calm, and it adds a special sin where easy passage about the room is a cardinal necessity—-the sin of awkwardness. To speak in positive rather than negative terms, the furniture must have at least one^claim toj'ibeauty—it must be
suitably proportioned to the size of the room.
It is an easy step to the next rule—that there must not be too many objects in the dining-room. The laden sideboard, the well-filled china cupboard, have heard the modern censure of their too obvious display and, with commendable tact, have adapted themselves to the new standards. The sideboard has gathered the bulk of the family plate into modest retirement in its low cupboards or banished the surplus to some place from which it is only drawn when the beauty of service is added to whatever other beauties it may possess. Similarly, the china cabinet no longer flaunts its opulence, or reveals too frankly the bare spots left by the requirements of the meal that is in progress. We see the cabinet still, and the small, built-in cupboards with glass panes, but they are used rather to hold a few choice pieces of rare decorative charm—a deliberate note of color, in which there is no hint of confusion.
When we have added comfort and cheer to our list of requisites, we are ready to choose new furnishings or bring fair criticism upon the old. It is of small use to preach the advantages of cheerful table talk, if we do not bring cheer to the eye, as
well as to the ear; to advise a comfortable attitude of mind, as an aid to digestion and enjoyment, if bodily comfort is made impossible by hard or ill-shaped chairs, or a table with awkwardly placed legs.
Such general considerations furnish us with a sort of least-common-denominator for dining rooms that may range the whole way from the elegance of rare woods, noble tapestries, exquisite napery and china, gleaming crystal and old silver, to the modest charm of simple back grounds, the friendly glow of color, the combined smartness and immaculateness of artfully painted surfaces.
The handsome dining-room that chooses to follow tradition at its best, clings frequently to the much-abused “period” styles. The fortunate possessor of a fine old mahogany or walnut suite, takes a certain richness as a keynote, and without any sacrifice of sunshine or the effect of sunshine, builds around those prized possessions; upon the polished floor, a rug with deep velvety pile, its plain color relieved only by the subtle play of light and shade that has ever contributed to the success of velvet, or the mellow harmonies of the master dyers of the Orient; walls panelled, perhaps, in fine woods or with handsome mouldings or made beautiful
with soft-hued paint or clever wall papers ; accessories that delight the eye—“twin delight to that of the palate.”
The lovely bit of glass that catches the sunshine or reflects the candlelight from a pair of tall torcheres that stand at either end of the serving table, the piece or two of old Chelsea, fragile Dresden or splendid Capo di Monte, that are sufficiently interesting to be worthy of the space the less discriminating furnisher might fill with an array of useful and maybe beautiful silverware; the few well-chosen pictures or perhaps a handsome fabric hanging or two (tapestries have ever seemed happily placed upon the wall of the dining room) —to such things fall the framing, the accenting, of the room that may leave expense out of its calculations.
It is a rare room, however, which quite falls into that class. To the lover of fine old furniture, who yet cannot afford to invest in it, there has come the boon of the frank but faithful reproduction. The modern maker of good furniture, apart even from the fashion of the “periods,” knows that he cannot do better than follow the straight lines and simple curves, the chaste beauty of design and ornament, of the masters of the latter part of the eighteenth century. So he gives us our chairs, tables, consoles, sideboards and cabinets after Sheraton, Hepplewhite, the brothers Adam -and in the best of cases, they are very fair copies indeed.
One sees the simpler suites, satisfying in line and finish, offered at reasonable prices; often, too, it is the practice, especially of the young householder, to begin a suite and add to it, a piece or two at a time. (Or, not caring for matched pieces, to “pick up” harmonizing pieces of old furniture, filling in the blanks, as it were, with cabinet-made pieces to match.) The
scale of the other furnishings may be reduced—not necessarily in charm, but in expense. Costly fabrics are replaced by those of artificial silk, perhaps—it comes in such delightful variety of weaves, designs and colors—casement cloth, poplins, repps, and a score of other moderatepriced but serviceable fabrics, guaranteed to withstand the sun and in many cases, to tub gracefully. And there is all the world of chintzes and cretonnes, of printed linens and exclusive hand blocked designs —although these last have a tendency to climb into the high-priced class.
The large rug is frequently in evidence in the. more modest dining room—the more moderate priced orientals, the seamless or the made-up carpet. The small room appears larger if a rug reaches the base-board on all sides, so that the eye is carried to the largest possible dimensions.
Very much liked—and very worthy of its popularity—is the dining-room furnished in the very simple manner; the gate leg table (when it follows the lines of its conservative forebears, and does not at-
tempt to emulate the centipede, with a wild confusion of legs) the plain drop leaf dining and serving tables, chairs such as the satisfying Lancashire or ladder back or the dependable Windsor, the friendly Welsh dresser, are ideal for the uses of the small modern house or apartment. There are informal types that consort happily with the simplicity and good taste of such furniture.
Even the china that is on the market to-day seems to plan for itself a background along these so-called “cottage” lines, for new designs have appeared in the last few years, showing the most delightful colorings and individual shapes. It is possible to-day to find the most fascinating dinner services, in striking patterns and colors, at very modest cost—the kinds'of dishes that make a table fairly glow with cheerful color. For decorative accessories, bits of brass and copper are often in just the right key, as are some of the potteries.
These simpler types of dining-room furniture offer themselves in many different finishes. The familiar polished woods are there walnut, maple, and sometimes mahogany; so are the painted and enamelled surfaces, in any desired color scheme; sometimes the finish is light, dainty, a delicate thing of pastel grounds and quaint nosegays; again, it is vivid, dashing, essentially modern, with boldly assertive colors and decorations of the most conventional or the most engagingly whimsical type.
Nothing adds savor to breakfast, like a glint of sunshine—during all but a few weeks of the year. Where sunshine is impossible—then the illusion of sunshine is necessary. Bright colors, with more than a hint of gold, are the greatest help. Gauze or net in a warm golden tint at the windows will go far toward imitating the
sunlight itself; a tinge of yellow in the wall paper, or a warm buff tone in paper or paint, will warm up the coldest room. If the windows open upon a garden or a view, then by all means curtail the window coverings; use tie-back curtains, or straight-hanging, transparent curtains of sheerest marquisette, net or gauze that may be pushed well back on their rods. A hint on the rather difficult casement window—its curtain may be run upon two rods, fastened on the frame of the glass, top and bottom, or on a single rod, the bottom hanging free, or upon a swinging rod, fastened upon the outer frame, that may be turned back out of the way, allowing the window to be opened freely.
When the curtains are drawn and we depend upon the artificial lights, it is important that they not only contribute to the color scheme, but that they be placed to the utmost advantage. Light should be concentrated upon the table, with secondary light areas over serving table or buffet. For many persons to-day no method of
lighting the dinner table seems to have quite the charm of candlelight. When candles are used in sufficient numbers to shed a soft light over the table, side lights are then sufficient. Shaded brackets should be used, so that no person at the table is facing a glare of light. All the light should, as a matter of fact, be governed by this same rule—adequate light, but no glare.
Where a central fixture is used, the dome type is the most satisfactory.. A height of about twenty-six inches above the table is advised—low enough to ensure the lamps being out of eye-range, but high enough to avoid interruption of the ’crosstable view. Sometimes it is an advantage to use frosted rather than clear lamps, to soften the light a little.
To sketch in an example or two—in the necessarily incomplete manner open to us—
Panelled walls, in dull blue-green, with two or three hanging panels or paintings, of colorful type. Side curtains of striped taupe and gold, over gold gauze glass curtains (or mellow panels of lace). Mahogany furniture, with a single piece— a cabinet or side table, perhaps—in old red lacquer that hovers close to a violet cast. Taupe rug.
Ivory walls, tan or blue or tan and blue rug, side curtains of tan, blue, green and terra cotta, on an ivory ground (in some of the smart striped materials or cretonne), a bit of warm terra cotta pottery,’such as a low fruit bowl or a pair of lamps or candlesticks on the side table, walnut or dark oak furniture in the dull finish, parchment shades, touched with a line of brown and terra cotta, on the lights.
Red has always enjoyed a certain favor for dining rooms, because of its richness, warmth and hospitable atmosphere. It seems to require the better materials,
however, to carry it out successfully. Damasks, brocades, the various silk fabrics, are moreconvincing than their lowlier relatives. We can evolve a graccious, aristocratic room, with ivorypanelled walls, or the still richer panellings of Italian walnut, with modelled plaster ceiling in old ivory; a Bokhara rug, or a broadloom in deep Venetian red; side curtains and chair coverings of old red and gold damask; gold shaded lights, touches of amber glass, with a single note of good blue, in a Venetian glass goblet, perhaps.
Yellow is as democratic a color as red is haughty. In all its variations, from warm ivory to orange and the golden browns, it is effective in any fabric, from lustrous damask, to home-dyed factory cotton. The chief difference in its use lies in the fact that the simpler the setting, the stronger the tone may be made. In a room that is richly furnished with a golden-hued rug, satin-wood furniture with coverings of brocade or damask,
colorful paintings, rare porcelains and ivories, the yellow and orange would be softened to ivory, and to dull gold. But let the room be cast on simpler lines, with craftsman furniture, low-toned decorations—then the yellow may be brought out strongly, to good advantage, in the walls, in shades and other accessories— perhaps in those delightful new dishes that come in solid colors.
With such variety in color, styles, woods, finishes, fabrics, and furnishings, surely it cannot be said that there is no scope for individuality in a dining-room. The formality that once characterized it, is now no more than a pleasing orderliness, a restraint that in no way interferes with beauty of color or line. The stiffness, the sombreness, that for a time got solemn hold upon the diningroom, have relaxed; all that is bright, friendly, cheerful, and pleasant'has come in their stead. This is, in truth, a happy age for the diningroom—an emancipation, in a day of emancipations.
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