The first of a series of articles on the experiences of amateur furnishers
MARY AGNES PEASEOctober151927
Adventures in Home Building
The first of a series of articles on the experiences of amateur furnishers
MARY AGNES PEASE
ALTHOUGH the present generation spends few hours of its busy days in ‘the sanctuary of the home’ there was never a time when more attention was given to the decoration, furnishing and general beautifying of houses than in this present year of grace. Magazines and newspapers vie with one another in presenting informative articles on making the home beautiful, comfortable and convenient. Some of this broadcasting of ideas has fallen upon fertile ground, and the achievements of some amateurs with taste and ingenuity rival those which have been done in the correct manner. The experiences of a few of these are worth recording ahd in this article and others of the series to follow, I shall tell, for the benefit of those who, with high hopes, small means and little experience, are starting out on the interesting adventure of furnishing a home, of the accomplishments of some successful amateurs in this particular art.
The Bride and Her Dreams
ONE feels sorry for the bride who has happy dreams of gay and lovely furnishings for her new home, and who is suddenly faced with the news that some well-meaning relative has suddenly decided to give up housekeeping and has bestowed the furniture of mid-Victorian type upon the newly-weds. I knew a bride who was so situated, but instead of tamely submitting to the calamity which had befallen her, she performed ruthless operations on some of the atrocities, painted others, and eventually by dint of weeks of hard toil, simple methods and small expenditure, established a charming home.
Two of the pieces of furniture which were operated upon by this up-and-doing bride have always been a joy to me. One was a book-case of the golden oak curly-cue order. It had little cupboards here and there with glass doors, absurd little ornamentations which made line impossible, and was altogether a rather hopeless-looking affair. With the aid of a carpenter, she disposed of the curly-cues and the doors, removed every trace of ornamentation, sawed down the straight stiff top into a gracious, curving line, and then had the whole thing stained mahogany color and varnished. Equipped with books in gay and sober bindings, it is a handsome addition to her room, as the photograph reproduced herewith will testify.
Another rather dilapidated piece was an old square piano. She had a cabinet-maker take this in hand. After it was denuded of its keys and innards, it was converted into a desk table. The wood was beautiful, and after it was polished it became one of the most satisfactory pieces of furniture in her house.
No longer do we consign pieces of furniture to definite uses. A Welsh dresser may be used quite suitably
as a book-case, a piano may become a desk, or a washstand may become a dressing-table. If your household inheritances are of good wood but unpleasing design, it is usually possible to re-mould them more in accord with the heart’s desire. All that is needed is a little artistic ability, a love for line and design and a fairly capable wood surgeon. In out-of-the-way places one may some-
times find almost priceless treasures at what may be considered modest prices.
Some people are born finders, especially if they are equipped with a knowledge of woods and of the period to which their find belongs. Not long ago I came across a fine old drop-leaf table in a cellar, where it was used as a base for pots of paint, boxes of tools and the like. It was mahogany, but had fallen so far from its high estate that it might have been almost anything. I bought it for two dollars, but to this money price must be added the value of hours of sand-papering and rubbing down.
We finally reached through to the bruised spirit of this fine old piece, and it seemed to glow in thankfulness at its rehabilitation in a proper setting in a sunny living room. It now bears upon its shining splendor a copper bowl filled with flowers and old glass candlesticks with orange candles.
Developing a Sense of Harmony and Color
I HAVE a friend who is intensely practical, and always regards any purchase with a view to its permanence. As a result her house always looked as if it needed cheering. Last Christmas someone sent her a lovely gold colored cushion for her sofa. It gave the effect of a gypsy who had wandered into church by mistake, but it brightened the room in a most surprising way. On a recent visit to my friend, I found that she had treated her room to new curtains of a soft orange shade. I must have shown surprise because she said apologetically: “I suppose it is silly of me to buy new curtains when they weren’t needed, but that yellow cushion looked lonely.” The cushion and the curtains have brought the rather dreary room out of darkness into light. I tried to encourage her to continue her good work, but she is a large body and must move slowly.
The most interesting people in any line of endeavor are those who are able to make much out of little, and when, with taste, little money^and an observance of the general principles of house-furnishing, a novice is able to bring, into the making of a home, that desirable triumvirate— dignity, simplicity and charm—she has not lived in vain.
While there are a few people who are born with a keen sense of color and with an almost uncanny knowledge of the effect of certain combinations of furniture and textiles,^most of us are in the student class,'and need to keep constantly before us a few well-established principles Jof the art of furnishing, three of which might be specially mentioned here.
Principles of the Art of Furnishing
THE first is the necessity of harmony in furniture. This does not mean that the pieces selected for
a room should be all of the same period or of the same wood, but that the pieces must harmonize if the result is to be satisfactory from the artistic and comfort standpoint. It should also be borne in mind that certain textiles belong to certain furnishings. Velvets do not belong to painted wood, nor does heavy tapestry. A room may be made or marred by its hangings and covers.
Then there is color treatment. For bleak rooms which face the north or are shadowed by a veranda or lack adequate windows, much can be done in simulating sunshine by means of light-colored walls and hangings, and making yellow or orange a dominant note. Glass and mirrors can help enormously in obtaining this effect. Where the light needs to be modulated in a room, the reverse treatment is of course to be observed. In such case gray might be used with green or blue in their softer tones.
The value of space is a third consideration. Don’t clutter. Few things and those fitting, is an excellent motto to follow. In a small room, figured hangings should be taboo, as should also figured wall paper. The arrangement of furniture is a vital matter in giving a sense of space and careful grouping can change the whole appearance of a room.
Some Ways to Add Interest
AN interesting and, at the same time, -**■ a conservative way to introduce color into a room is through the judicious use of chintz. I say ‘judicious’ advisedly, because I have seen a room ruined by a too-great use of this material, when the curtains and the entire furniture covering were all a maze of blue and red birds on a light ground, and there seemed to be no quiet resting place for the eye. If, however, the chintz is used only for the purpose of adding color and design to a room, there is no limit to its charm. Unlike other materials with definite decorative merits, chintz may be used in any room in the house with advantage.
It seems to me that the decorative value of books is not sufficiently appreciated in furnishing. Like chintz, books are suited to any room—even the kitchen. They give that lived-in quality to a room which is so desirable, for they suggest the presence of those who are never lonely because they are constantly in contact with other minds.
Harmony in form and color is the cry to-day in dress and furnishings. There is also a new vogue for simplicity. This may be very expensive or it may be quite the reverse, but there is no reason why simplicity at small cost may not be very charming, if taste and care and time be given to securing it. In another article in this series I shall tell you how with a few heirlooms and only $400 in money, a young couple turned a bleak old house into a real home.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.