The Spell of “Old Things” in a Small Home or Apartment
ANNE ELIZABETH WILSONAugust11925
Art and Decoration for Town and Country Homes
The Spell of “Old Things” in a Small Home or Apartment
ANNE ELIZABETH WILSON
AMONG the minor curses of the twentieth century is the belief prevalent among people going into an apartment or small house, after the big old family home, that all the "old things" they might possibly bring with them, may be
out of place, too cumbersome or too hard to care for, in the new home of comfort and dreams. And in turn, the manufacturers of light oak and Michigan Queen Anne have flourished mightily, and many a dainty true-lined and lovely piece of mahogany and walnut has moldered “to dust, away.”
Of course there are the impossibilities —but they are chiefly the impossibilities of just such folly as that of our own generation. There was the curlemeque age of the good Queen Victoria (still in our ken) when the simplicity of the old English and Colonial lines was “old fashioned.” And that was the time when all the young brides bought sideboards that towered to the ceiling with crevasses and nitches and whirligigs all over them; when chairs, upholstered in brocaded plush, bridled with peaks and whorls of solid wood across the back and wheels on each arm. Those were the dark days when our houses were “done over” in “the fashionable style,” and our attics teemed with the portly or slender but always proud, figures of exiled mahogany, rosewood and walnut.
But we, with the spectacle of several generations before us, may pick and choose. I have never seen the choice more happily carried out than in the cozy apartment of a business woman whom I know who “adores old things” and has found them most lovable and appropriate for a tiny home. The little fireplace in her living-room is a delight. About it she has assembled a number of those charming sampler pieces worked in wool that of late years have become so popular with interior decorators and antique dealers. The beauty of the pieces she has selected is that they are so low, so quaint and so simple.
The Effect of Good Taste
STANDING before the mantel is a delicate walnut fire-screen of the most graceful proportions —a long slender stand and an oval frame. Its motif is that of an angel carrying a little child. The background of the design is palest blue wool, representing the sky, while the figures of the angel and child are brought out by beadwork in varying shades of gray and white. The gray clouds half-circling the top, through which the sun is bursting in radiant white, are perhaps symbolic, and outside of the exquisite workmanship of the piece which is well-preserved under glass, the motif is so touching that it makes an added appeal. Indeed the declarations of sweet faith, the quaint precision often exemplified in old samplers, is one of their greatest charms, I think. They sometimes preserve the most cryptic little homilies, the most demure verse. I never look at one hut that I can picture some little lady of the long ago, a grandmother or greatgrandmother, with hair smooth-parted or with precisely fingered curls on each ear, sitting primly by her tombour frame, quietly working in flowers and letters. There was a sad elusive sweetness in the philosophy of women of those two generations that still pervades their gentle handiwork.
Two other pieces before the fire are also examples of this beautiful wool embroidery, roundly tufted in warm rich colors—a stool with exquisite, curved legs in walnut, and a wee mounted foot cushion no bigger than a waffle! Many
a dainty prunella-booted foot has rested lightly there, I trow, while busy fingers flew.
An old Dolton teapot rests on the mantel shelf, and two old family pictures carry out the entirely quaint and simple effect. A slender little what-not with spool-turned shelf-stays nestles in the right-hand corner from the fire-place, and gleaming in its recesses repose several rare old bits of china and silver.
At the left a shelf has been built over that ubiquitous eye-sore, the radiator, and there an old inlaid walnut work-box, some books and a vase beautify the corner.
Although in reality the old shawl which is draped over the register belongs on the piano, I could not resist putting it into this picture to show you. It is a Cashmere pattern in softest mauve and strawberry with a faint touch of old blue, on silk as fine as a cobweb; so fine, indeed, that it might pass many times
^hat old-fashioned test of drawing through a wedding-ring.
Note, too, the charming effect of the frames of the little daguerreotypes and photographs on the back wall by the fireplace. What could be daintier or more appropriate for limited space than these?
The color effects of this group by the fireplace are most attractive. The upholstery of the little low chair, as with all the upholstered furniture in the living room, carries a deep wine-colored stripe. Although the furniture has been reupholstered, its new material is consistent with one’s idea of just what a
quaint little chair or sofa should be. Then the pale blue and gray of the screen, contrasting with the warmth of the other two wool-work pieces at its foot, and the pastel mauves of the old shawl blending with the lavender of the plumy twigs of shrub in the Dolton pitcher, are lovely combinations indeed.
It is remarkable how well these dear little old things take their places in a new setting. It is just a tiny apartmenthouse fireplace, but with these few charming bits about, it is enchanted into something truly homelike and dear.
The Bewitchment of a Dressing Table
NOW in that mid-Victorian time I was telling you about, when they sent Grandma’s highboys up to the garret and put in young cathedrals for dressingtables instead, there was a demand for “bric-a-brac” such as never before. It
was because of the thousand and one niches that had to be filled! And about that time there appeared a beautiful snowy-looking ware called salt glaze. It looked very much like transparent alabaster, and standing against dark polished wood, seemed as delicious as a weddingcake. The only trouble was, that at that particular time there were so many trifles crowded about, that it must have been difficult to tell what was or what was not really lovely. So here, you see, is another opportunity for us of the twentieth century in our infinite wisdom, to pick and choose.
In the same apartment with the fire-
screen and the old shawl, I found a set of three salt glaze toilet bottles in all their pristine snowy whiteness. They sat upon the simple walnut dressingtable, about as fetching a sight as ever one saw. Originally, one would surmise, they were perhaps
designed to hold toilet water and pomade. All three have hollow scalloped stoppers shaped like the bell of a flower, but the centre bottle, being shorter than the others and a little more squat, divides near the centre. This one undoubtedly held something heavier than the rest— a hand lotion perhaps—a brilliantine for glossy locks, a face cream prepared by precious recipes at home. The flotvers painted on the white rounded bodies are blue and pink and white, and where rims appear, is laid a dainty line of gold. Could anything be more feminine and enticing?
Would that more of us saved such relics of yesterday as these. They are not spectacular, they are a ware to which no particular commercial value attaches, but they are exquisite. I would wager there are countless such little treasures as these lying about old homes unnoticed and uncared for, that might give the final air of distinction and grace to many a younger Canadian home. And they go with any furniture. The owner of these bottles told me that there were several sets of them, in different colors “at home,” but that no one had ever thought of using them until she had picked up this set. The others were probably lying there still!
If there is anything more perfect in Europe or Asia than the
lines of a pure piece of Colonial mahogany, I should like to see it. For symmetry, for grace, for absolute pleasing proportion and simplicity, there is nothing to my mind, to touch it. And incidentally, there is nothing that fits so well into the small modern home, as the smaller pieces of Colonial furniture. The architects themselves realize this in constant adaptation of Colonial line. Nowhere is there a baluster to be found so delicate and graceful as in Colonial precedent; or a doorway so fine and so gracious in a limited space. Of all architecture, and of all interior periods, the Colonial is the purest, for its inspiration is taken directly from the Greeks, those greatest exponents of beauty in simplicity.
What better dining table for a cottage, bungalow or apartment dining-room or combined living-room, than a gate-leg or drop-leaf of mahogany or walnut? Fortunate are those whose old family homes yield them the.treasure of such a table and wise, those, whose judgment leads them to buy one, lacking hereditary possession. But do not be lured by the professional antique dealer who does over an old piece at a fabulous price. If you browse around second-hand
shops and auctions for a little while, you will usually be rewarded with the object of your search in its original form^ at a mere song. Then you can always find a good cabinet maker who will repair or polish your find reasonably. Old tables and chests of drawers are much enhanced, as a rule, by the addition of crystal knobs. Very often the old wooden ones are broken off anyway, and are not nearly so effective as the crystal. They are also difficult to match.
A charming little mahogany sewing table is another of the really old treasures of the apartment I mention. In the accompanying photograph you can see the effectiveness of the crystal knobs.
Just in order to get a picture of it, I placed on this table another gem—this
1 believe of an earlier Victorian period than that of the salt glaze bottles—an engraved glass vase in a silver stand from which depend two crystal balls. It is seldom that one sees so delicate and beautiful a piece from this period.
Judgment Versus “Age”
THE real secret of the successful furnishing or occasional enhancing of a small home with old things is, not so much demanding of yourself that you pick the “oldest,” or what you might suppose to be the most valuable of the best periods, but to select, from the odds and ends of the several periods which were clearly marked on this continent and which are usually represented in the furnishing of every old house, those pieces which in actual small size and daintiness, will lend themselves to limited spaces. This has been the case in the apartment home I have described. Colonial, early and mid-Victorian pieces have been selected for their suitability, and the result is alluring.
Nothing is more hopeless than the home into which over-balanced, stuffy and unwieldy old [ ieces have been
introduced simply on the pretext that t hey are old and so must necessarily be good. There are as many bad pieces scattered about among the old as the new, but it is the duty as well as the privilege of the younger generation to distinguish and preserve the beautiful. For even among the periods usually decried by collectors, there are the pristine and lovely, as behold the salt ghazo bottles, and the engraved glass and si ver vase!
Among other particularly well-chosen pieces in the apartment I speak of are a small slant-faced desk of walnut (early Victorian) and a handsome drop-leaf table, also of walnut. It is suitable either for library or meal-time use. When the leaves are expanded, I imagine it could seat eight people if necessary, and, when folded, it takes up less space than the ordinary square drawing-room table.
And so in the contemplation of a wellchosen selection from several merged periods of the past, 1 took a lesson as I left the charming small home of my antique-loving friend, and regretted my own lost opportunities for salvaging the varied beauties of “old things” and so much that is truly lovely among the less favored “periods.”
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