Art and Decoration for Town and Country Homes

Art and Decoration for Town and Country Homes

Decorative Value of Silhouette

KATHERINE M. CALDWELL September 1 1924
Art and Decoration for Town and Country Homes

Art and Decoration for Town and Country Homes

Decorative Value of Silhouette

KATHERINE M. CALDWELL September 1 1924

Art and Decoration for Town and Country Homes

Decorative Value of Silhouette


ARTISTS and designers have always had a keen appreciation of the value of the single object or the group which is silhouetted sharply against a contrasting background. We see it in the old Persian cameos, some thousands of years


old. We see it in any number of the ancient arts. Our modern designers show an even greater interest in the silhouette idea, adapting it to their uses in a hundred ways.

We accept the results, in to-day’s fabrics, potteries and even more obviously in lampshades and applied decorations of one kind and another.

_ But how many of us grasp the very simple silhouette idea and use it ourselves to_ get effects? With this thought in mind, I have been making observations at every opportunity lately, and my conclusion is that it occurs to few people to apply the simple basic idea of achieving the silhouette, wherever it would be effective in arranging the furnishings and the decorative touches in a room.

Just a few days ago, I sat in a very fine old ljbrary—at least it has quite the effect of those mellow old world rooms that are such a joy; deep-toned, reposeful rooms, books making soft glowing tapestries of their walls, and sending out that faint, alluring odor—rarest fragrance, to the lover of old books.

The leaded windows had the effect of being deeply recessed, owing to the flanking book shelves. In one of these, there stood on the broad sill a very handsome equestrian bronze. It was so thrillingly alive, with the light behind it, that when I got home, I lost no time in moving a “Knight and Saracen” bronze group from its place on a somewhat shadowed hall table, to a window recess on the stair landing. It is ten times the piece there!

That same window gives another example of silhouette values in summer time. The ivy that covers the outside wall, encircles this window. It is necessary to keep the window fairly clear, but we allow a few sprays to cross it— with the most charming effect from the inside.

There has been a keen revival of interest in the old-fashioned ivy plant that grows indoors. And well there might be! It has the most enchanting picture-making qualities. Its dark shiny leaves are small and it grows slowly enough not to get out. of hand.

You can do several things with a pot of ivy. Set it in a plain dark—very dark— green jardiniere. Give it a little darkgreen painted trellis to clamber over. Then place it in a window (being careful not to subject it to strong drafts) or on a table some place where it will have a bit of plain light-coloured wall behind it.

Making Use of Brackets

THE beauty of a bit of ivy or other trailing vine, has sent the decorator hunting for wall brackets for it. A demand of that sort always inspires a supply.

It did not take long for various wall brackets to appear on the market—most of them metal or pottery. The most charming ones I have seen are of wrought iron, in traceries as graceful as the ivy itself.

This suggests immediately a delightful use to which many an old-fashioned little shelf bracket might be turned. You have seen them of walnut and other woods—-

some made to fit into a corner, others with flat backs and a little rounded shelf— quite big enough to support a small flower pot. I saw, not long ago, a very quaint one of Majolica; a small clock stood upon it, but its really good blues would combine very well with the dark green of a vine.

A combination of two of these ideas— the bracket and the window-framed silhouette—has been made possible by the sort of diminutive hanging baskets that first made their appearance under the patronage of some of the very exclusive decorators. For the most part, they are of wrought iron. An arm extends ten or twelve inches, perhaps, from the top of the window frame; from it depends a little iron hanging basket of simple design, which holds a pot of some pretty trailing vine. I know of no simpler way to create a charming picture.

The trailing vine is a favorite, too, for mantel decoration. A single pot, or one at each end of a light mantelpiece, is preferred beyond most bric-a-brac. There is something very restful, very distinguished, about a wide mantel shelf with perhaps one ornament of moderate size, and two lovely vines dripping some twelve or fifteen inches from either end of it.

What treasure have you that is at the present moment hiding its light of beauty beneath a bushel of poor placement?

Perhaps it is a white marble head or figure; an exquisite little piece, if it stood on a dark mahogany or walnut table, let us say, instead of on a white mantel piece. Or a pair of brass candlesticks, with good lines which deserve a chance to show themselves against a background of some dark rich color, instead of a neutral walL

Practical Suggestions

SO MUCH for the obvious application of the silhouette idea. It is very often just the basis we require to give direction

to some effort we are making to arrange a room effectively, for it applies to so many phases of furniture arrangement. Nearly any room contains a piece or two for which its Owner feels a special affection. Yours may be a high boy, a chair, a table. It has lines which you know are good. But—are you giving them a real chance to give all the pleasure they are capable of giving?

I do not mean that the prized high boy should be set up in splendid isolation, to demand of an awed world, “Regard me— I am exceptionally fine!” But it should be studied and given the precedence to which its rank entitles it. It stands, let us say, to the left of the doorway, in a corner which, truly enough, fits it in a physical sense; but when we have walked into the room, the placing of the furniture, the location of the centres of interest (whether they be fire place, table or chesterfield) leave our prized piece rather out of casual range.

A bit like burying a talent, isn’t it?

Couldn’t we re-arrange things? The wall opposite the door way usually offers a certain amount of prominence. So does that part of the room which we face when we occupy the most comfortable chairs. You know the way the furniture almost groups itself about these “centres of interest.” There are usually two or three groups in a living room. You may be able to make the choice piece of real focus pointior one of them!

Perhaps it is a mahogany chair with a fine back—a lovely Adam half-oval, or a Chippendale scroll that is a delight to the eye. Then let us shift things about so that the light from a window falls behind one chair, or a bit of light wall or fabric serves to silhouette its delicate beauty. Five people will then be able to enjoy it for one whose eye was able to single it out before and get the full beauty of its lines.

The Japanese make rather a cult of the single object. Their artists, their designers, know the value of a single note of beauty, well played up. We have come to appreciate rather keenly, the Japanese print; it seems to fit into certain furnishing schemes as no other picture could do.

I once asked a famous decorator why

she chose four of these prints for a room she was completing. Their own beauty was reason enough, of course; I remember three of them perfectly, to the present day: a heron—tall, white, exquisite, poised on the margin of a bit of marsh land; a

of marsh land; a clump of slender grasses, perhaps in that same marsh; a lone tree, lovely as few painted trees are given to be lovely. But I knew there was more to the distinguished decorator’s choice than the intrinsic worth or the indisputable beauty of the pictures.

“They soothe,” she told me, “as no other class of picture I know, will do. They are compelling because they are lovely and because they are unusual; to eyes that are ever used to a multiplicity of objects. They make you look at them— then they fill you, ever so quietly, with a sense of beauty. They put you, in short, in the mood to appreciate the rest of my room,” she laughed.

Her claim was well based. Anything that has the power to stay our restless thoughts, to put us in an appreciative and sympathetic frame of mind is a fine thing to live with.

A little of that same serenity can be introduced here and there in our furnishing. We can capture even more than that; we can get, too, that rather rare combination, the soothing quality coupled with a stimulated appreciation or realization of a fine thing. The lesson of the Japanese print seems worth learning, and worth applying to our own various problems of selection and arrangement of furnishings

It is, perhaps, not always easy to play up single objects in the small rooms that are characteristic of so many of our modern houses. But that very fact makes it the more worth attempting.

The small room is very prone to have a crowded effect—largely because, when several fairly big pieces of furniture have been introduced, it is crowded. Wisdom dictates a compromise in the matter of the furnishings—a discretion in the choice of large overstuffed chairs, for instance. Any number of very inviting types offer just as much comfort as the popular broadly-built chesterfield suite, and will occupy less floor space, since they waste less space in wide arms and unnecessarily thick structures.

But even when the best of judgment has been used, a room may easily seem overfilled. That is the cue for a careful examination of its contents, to see what can be eliminated. And it is also the cue to the clever furnisher, to create, if possible, an illusion of space where little space exists.

Fascination of Alteration

VERY often, your single, carefully silhouetted object will achieve this for you. A high, recessed window, with a single flower in a vase, will contribute towards the effect you want; it will draw the eye, please as a picture would please, and make one feel the space beyond. Devote a corner to the exclusive use of one tiny table of delicate design ; make a complete clearance of small, unnecessary objects, leaving one to blossom where perhaps five bloomed before; such cutting down serves to raise the standard of a whole room in a way one cannot realize without trying it. It gives a fascinating demonstration of the “survival of the fittest”—and offers variety, too, for one can air one’s possessions in turn, and effectively sidestep ihonotony.

There is an endless-fascination in playing with one’s

rooms—quite outside the question of materially altering their contents. We don’t change our furniture very often, beyond adding an odd piece here and there. But we can change the effect of our rooms in minor ways, and in many casee, it is advisable to do so. Take, for instance, the room that is light in key, cheery.

I modern in every way. It satisfies the eye, but does not, perhaps, stir the imagina, tion. Such a room I would advise pulling about occasionally, freshening your interest in it by a new grouping of its furnishings, keeping it actively pleasing instead of allowing it to be so painted on your consciousness that it ceases to mean_more to you than a comfortable lodging.

Next time you are making such a rearrangement, you will find additional interest if you will play up your best objects in the way I have suggested— singling them out from the mass a little, and placing them in such a manner that I their beauty of lines or form will be given i its chance. No object is too humble for

the purpose—a flashing wicker basket with a graceful curve to its handle, may be as effective as a valuable bronze. It only needs a note or two like this, raised above the quiet harmonies of a good room, to give just what is needed. In a small ravine beyond my window, there is a group of great elm trees; they are magnificent, a most imposing mass; but one tree, high on the opposite slope, is silhouetted against the Western sky— glorious as only an elm tree can be. It looks like a painting by Corot. It is superb. And the trees in the valley, far from being lost in consequence, take on added dignity; they are represented, explained, by their companion—the loveliest exponent of the silhouette idea I know.