Design Review: Volume 2, Issue 6 (May-June 1950)
I wantto make it quite clear from the start that I am on the side of comfort and convenience.
“Before There is a Thing There Ought to be A Thought”
As the purpose of a house is to be lived in, it should look as if it were intended to be lived in. It is possible to design decorative schemes which look as if they were not intended to be used and would be uncomfortable and inconvenient. Such schemes have no place in a home.
In a home, comfort, convenience and restfulness are much more important than display and stylishness. In saying this, I do not want to create the impression that appearance does not matter and that creature comfort and saving of labour are the only things worth consideration. Note that I include restfulness among the important characteristics and I refer more to its visual than its physical sense.
A harmonious colour scheme without too strong contrasts and a freedom from too many conflicting points of interest will ensure the visual restfulness which promotes mental calm and the ability to concentrate.
As a house is to enclose the activities of a family, it must be considered in relation to a particular family and the things that family does. A room furnished and decorated for formal entertaining would be unsuitable for young children, or for visitors who drop in in gardening clothes. The bedroom of an eighteen or twenty-year-old girl would not appeal to a ten-year-old boy who wants his friends in to play trains. A comfortable, pleasant and convenient scheme of furnishing and decorating can be worked out for each of these instances, which are sharply contrasted. Generally the requirements fall between the extremes. In addition most of us require our houses to suit changing circumstances. Perhaps the children come home from school bringing friends to play in the living room where the fire is, but afterwards dinner guests arrive in the same room. Most rooms, therefore, are a compromise, designed to suit more than one purpose.
Briefly, a room should look well and be comfortable and convenient under varying conditions. If there is a separate room it is better to let the children use it as a playroom rather than to have a dining room separate from the living room. If it is normal for the children to play in your living room, the decoration and the furniture should not be so delicate that the children leave obvious evidence. A good living room will be as pleasant and convenient with two friends in to afternoon tea as for a party. The scheme of your living room must not be so highly developed and precisely worked out that drawing the curtains or shifting the furniture upsets a carefully planned balance of colour or arrangement of forms.
Worth Thinking First
Now to consider curtains, paint, upholstery and wallpaper. You may think the view from your window would look well framed between blue curtains, but remember that in the evening you will want to draw those curtains, thereby creating a mass of blue which may upset your colour scheme and will absorb light, making your room darker than it need be. The chesterfield suite, which looks luxuriously comfortable and perhaps is so for a group of four sitting round the fire may be a nuisance (when there are more people) because of the space it takes up. Comfort is felt rather than seen, and shape is more important than bulbous padding. A splendid decorative effect can be got by very light self-coloured carpet, satin or brocade upholstery, but they impose a great strain on the housewife if they are used as they are likely to be in a real living room. If you have a drawing room or a front parlour, they may be manageable. When they are really put to use, are they worth the trouble?
Floors Need Cleaning
A housewife spends much time sweeping, cleaning and polishing floors—not pleasant occupations, so try to make their cleaning easy. Floors most likely to have dirt trodden in or to have things spilled should be smooth and easily wiped. Linoleum is the obvious suggestion, but even lino marks, especially by children with rubber soled shoes. A fairly strong marbled or mottled pattern helps to disguise soiling and extends the time between cleanings. But lino is hard and cold and noisy to walk on, so that in bedrooms and living rooms we want carpeting or rugs. A polished wood floor with rugs can be delightful but requires sweeping, then polishing, as well as cleaning and shaking the rugs. If carpeting is required it is preferable that it is all over the floor, so reducing cleaning.
Bathrooms, kitchens and rooms where splashing, steam or soiling are likely should have washable walls. Enamel is the obvious thing but excellent wallpapers are made and a light texture helps to disguise marking. In the other rooms the normal type of wallpaper is the commonest finish, is economical, easily renewed and generally satisfactory. Keep in mind washable distemper which can be cleaned with a damp cloth or an even more durable finish: flat oil paint.
Value of Light
The same considerations apply to fabrics. Curtains have to be washed or dry-cleaned—they fade and are blown about by the wind. But the wear and tear on curtains is small compared with that on upholstery, for which strong fabrics of close weave are best. It is often impossible to clean upholstery and, as re-covering is costly, a few shillings spent on durable covering are justified. Slip covers in washable materials are worth considering as they allow the use of gay and light-coloured fabrics. In general, upholstery fabrics should be neither so light as to show every spot nor so dark that a thread will be obvious.
Every piece of furniture should mean something. Avoid having furniture merely because it happened to be in the shop or because you inherited it. You have your own life to live and your possessions should be adapted to you—not you to your possessions. Before buying a chesterfield suite think whether it is the most comfortable, economical and convenient way of seating four or five people. Chairs of more modest dimensions may be even more comfortable, less costly and are easier to move. Again, don't buy a glass-fronted sideboard because you saw one with attractive china displayed on it. Consider whether it is really a convenient way of storing your table ware and whether you want to put them on display anyway.
(To be continued)