Design Review: Volume 3, Issue 1 (July-August 1950)
Furnishing the Home
Furnishing the Home
The main theme this time is simplicity — not the simplicity of bareness or lack of interest, but a simplicity showing that each thing has received its full measure of thought.
On going into a room one should not have the feeling of confusion associated with an old-fashioned museum or the country store where one gets everything from gum drops to gum boots, nor should a sideboard remind one of that awful game when a trayful of miscellaneous articles is unveiled for half a minute and the unfortunate players are required to write a list of as many articles as they can remember.
Simple to maintain
Simplicity is important in everything about a house. Arrange your house so that it is simple to clean and maintain; so that meals can be prepared and served easily. Have in each room only the furniture required for what is done in that room and arrange it as far as you can so that the activities do not overlap or interfere with one another. This is the practical approach and, while it cannot be expected to take us all the way in decorating and furnishing, it is the essential basis without which nothing you can do will be a success.
A reason for everything
There is the story of a little girl whose scheme for improving her home was judged the best in her class. Her father was a carpenter and her mother a dressmaker and they lived in three rooms in an old house in a crowded part of town. The only window of their living room was a few feet from the brick wall of a factory next door, and they were living for the time when they could build a little house and live well out of town. The little girl said she was not interested in art, but just put down what she wanted and she was very practical. She planned to have her father, in his spare time, paint the walls of their living room the yellow of the sunshine they never saw, and the floor the colour of rich red earth. He was to put a wide shelf across the window at sill height to hold pots of red geraniums so that her mother might feel she had the garden she longed for. The window was to be curtained with butter muslin to let in as much light as possible, while partly hiding the brick wall opposite.
The table was to be put at the righthand side of the window close to the kitchen, to be handy for meals and so that her mother would have a good light for cutting out during the day. She herself would use it in the evenings for homework. Her mother was to make green slip covers for the chairs to remind them all of grass and green trees. Her mother's chair was to be near the window and the plants, with the shelf for her sewing materials. Her father's, the most comfortable chair, would be across the room near the radio, with a lamp beside it so that he could rest and read of an evening. The rugs for the floor were to be buff in colour to help to keep the room light, but they would be small enough to be picked up and shaken and easily cleaned when necessary.
Everything in this girl's scheme for her home had a reason for being as it was. Everything tended towards the general effect by relating the furnishings to a particular purpose and the people who were to use them.
A house is a unit
The simplest number is one, so when you are decorating your house think of it not so much as a number of rooms but as one house. The rooms should appear to belong to one another. Avoid violent changes in colour scheme or character in furnishing from one room to another. For instance, if your entrance hall has a green mottled lino on the page 9 floor and a pale green toned wallpaper, it would be a mistake to use in the living room a paper with pink flowers on a blue ground. Again, if your living room is furnished with highly finished mahogany, avoid the shock of going through to a dining room with chromium plated steel tube furniture. This does not mean that variations of colour scheme and type of furniture cannot be made, but see that they are not so great as to make the rooms seem as if they belonged to different houses or to different families.
In the colour scheme of a room it is a good rule to keep in mind that the more colours you use the more difficult will be your problem. In other words, be simple, choose a dominant scheme of two or three colours and have everything conform to it. Naturally you will be liable to use other colours than those of your basic scheme in such things as a bowl of flowers or a painting on the wall, but it is only by being careful to avoid a complicated colour scheme that such accents as your flowers — or your painting will have the value you intend.
The familiar requires criticism
It takes considerable effort to be really critical of our own surroundings. Those things with which we are intimately associated tend to be taken for granted and hardly seen. If we see it every day we eventually forget to wonder whether that picture, that lampshade or that ornamental vase is really worthy of the place we give it. The lesson from this is to examine our reactions, not on coming home, but on going to some other house. What do we see when we enter a room? Do our eyes move easily from place to place and light only here and there on something really worth their attention; or, on the other hand, is our attention constantly diverted from striped wallpaper to jazzy pattern carpet, to fringed lampshade, to decorated vase, to hammered brass firescreen, to pictures on the wall all around the room, all at different levels and all clamouring for attention? The answer is, of course, simplicity. To be good—that is, good for the purpose it is to fulfil—and good in quality a thing does not have to call attention to itself. In fact, the purpose of most of our things is usually the better fulfilled if they are inconspicuous. What do we have a lampshade for? Is it not to shield the brilliant source of the light from our eyes and to distribute the light pleasantly? Certainly we defeat our object by so decorating the shade that it calls attention to itself. The firescreen, too, is surely to screen the fireless fireplace, not to call attention to the fact that here is a hole that for the time being has nothing in it.
This is not, however, a plea for monotony, bup for the creation of a background, in which we and our activities are the important things and against which those things worth attention do not suffer unworthy competition. How much more effective are our pictures if we display them one or two at a time. The others can have their turn next month if they are worth it. Surely, too, the flower arrangement is all the better if its colours and forms do not have to compete with those of an over-decorated vase.
What furniture do you need?
When it comes to furniture the solution is again achieved by a little thinking, and thinking simply. As with all designing we start off from the requirements, which for all houses are basically the same. We want a place to sit, for talking, for reading, for games or such relaxations as you prefer; a place to sleep; a place to eat, and a number of places to put things on or into. If a start is made at this point you will then need to decide just how you and your family like to do these things, for, after all, it is your home and it should suit you. Don't be led astray in your thoughts by what the Browns down the road have done; it may be very good and look fine, but it may not be what would suit you best. So, having decided just how you want to live in your house, consider what furniture is necessary to make it comfortable and convenient to live that way.
The simple scheme is best
In the selection of your furniture beware of decoration, especially that which is stuck on to the otherwise finished article. Decorative trimmings will probably not wear well and they certainly do not assist in cleaning or increase comfort. In many cases they page 10 are applied to cover or divert your attention from poor construction or poor material. As suggested before, the object to which you really want to draw attention, the picture or the bowl of roses from your garden, will be all the more effective if it is not subject to competition from unworthy, showy things. In chairs, settees and so on the simplest shapes are often the most comfortable and are certainly the most restful on the eye.
Be careful with upholstery coverings. Having satisfied yourself that they will not be unduly sensitive to slight soiling and that the materials will stand wear, you should then consider whether it is suitable in colour, pattern and texture. The texture should be pleasant to touch, not too slippery and it should harmonize with the other materials, curtains and carpet in the room.
For upholstery some pattern or colour texture is desirable, but it should not be too large or there is danger of visually destroying' the shape of the piece of furniture, as is done by dazzle' camouflage painting. Again, let me urge that you aim, in decorating and furnishing at the simple scheme, carried out as simply and straightforwardly as you can.
(To be continued)
colour in the homewill be discussed in the next issue.