In an age of standardization we have not yet standardized good taste. We are all still free to exercise our own opinions as to what is good and what is bad in art. While harmony is the basis of design, what one may consider harmonious another may deem devoid of all harmony. It is in our interpretation, then, of the principle embodied in the word that our standards of good taste are grounded. Harmony in a composition might be described as that quality which tends to retain unity between the various elements. The success of a musical composition is dependent upon the laws of harmony; a composition painted by an artist on a canvas must be harmonious in design and color to warrant approval; and in the design of a completely furnished room or interior one must immediately sense a harmonious relation between the various furnishings and the details of the architectural scheme in order to truthfully say that the room is well designed.
While I have in the preceding paragraph paralleled the design of a completely furnished room with the composition of a musical score and that of a painted canvas, there is a vital difference which should not be overlooked. A musical composition and a painted picture are each the work of one person, while in the design of a room one artist - the architect - starts the composition, and another - the decorator - finishes it. This unusual procedure frequently tends to disrupt harmony. To apply the same procedure to the development of a musical score or to the completion of a painted picture would undoubtedly result in a dismal failure. In order to be successful as a team, one might say, the architect and decorator must not only collaborate, but must actually have similar ideals. They must not only appreciate the value of harmony between the various elements that go to make up the finished room, but they must have similar ideas as to the real meaning of the word "harmony."
We are just emerging, fortunately, from an era which might be described as "The Revival of the Periods," during which time we showed no evidence of possessing any originality or creative ability whatever. We "originated" period designs, "adapted" period ideas, and "reproduced" period details until the entire country was astonished and ashamed to find that during this era, while we had been copying designs originated in some European country five and six and seven centuries ago, these same European countries had been seriously and successfully developing an art which would express their modern character and reflect their modern tendencies.
During the "Revival" epoch in this country, however, we learned a lesson. It was easy to practice harmony under conditions that then prevailed. A Louis XVI room needed Louis XVI furniture. It was as easy for the decorator to design or select Louis XVI chairs as it was for the architect to panel the walls in true Louis XVI character. The client or owner in those days gave to his architect and decorator an order to execute that called for little if any ability. What a difference today! An architect designs a room to reflect modern impulses, to satisfy modern desires, and to express modern tendencies.....
Let us consider how the decorator may attain harmony between the design of the furniture and the architectural treatment of the interior, for unquestionably the furniture is the feature of the decorative scheme. Design, as used in this particular case, means much more than composition. An artist designs his composition and then paints it on canvas. His design is merely a picture. The architect and the furniture designer, however, find that design has a much larger meaning than that. To them, design means, first, materials. The physical properties which a material possesses very largely influence design in both architectural and decorative spheres. Materials have pattern, color and texture, too. Then, design means giving a form to these materials. The architect and furniture designer compose their designs in two dimensions, as does the painter, but they must create a design that can take shape in certain materials in three dimensions, so that the finished object will satisfactorily serve a definite purpose.
Very often harmony between a piece of furniture and the architectural treatment of a room is obtained by employing similar materials in both schemes. Thus there is effected in the design a certain relationship which is not limited to the natural pattern of the material and its color, for certain materials stipulate a certain type or style of craftsmanship. Let me illustrate my point. The coarse, open grain of oak, for example, is particularly adaptable to crude and rugged details. Thus in a room in which the ceiling is beamed with hand-hewn timbers of oak and the floor is laid of random-width oak planks, harmony is attained by introducing oak furniture of a similar style of craftsmanship. Another illustration might be that of a room in which the walls were designed of mahogany with ornamental motifs occasionally carved in the wood. The detail of the ornament carved in mahogany would be entirely different from ornament carved in oak, for example, due to the fine and close grain of mahogany. Thus, to effect the proper relationship between the architectural treatment and the furniture, it would be necessary to use for the furniture some wood which also was characterized by a close and fine grain in order that a similarity of craftsmanship might prevail.
Often an attempt is made at harmony by introducing in the wall decoration, by means of applied plaster or painted ornament, some detail which is featured in the upholstery fabric used to cover the chairs, for example. This may tend to make the finished scheme more unified, but this alone will not create a harmony which is satisfying. The tendency toward a greater expression of originality and creative ability (which we absurdly refer to as "the modern movement") makes the attaining of harmony between architecture and furniture more difficult. Modern design involves the interpretation of modern impulses. The architect and decorator may have entirely different ideas as to what modern impulses should be expressed and what should not. It is up to the decorator to attune himself to the architect's ideas, however, if he would attain success. The architect designs the house; he decorates the interior, to a very great extent, when he designs the woodwork, the mantel, the floor and the ceiling, although his ideas on the placing of the furniture, as well as its design, are seldom sought. And he has his own ideas, too. He could not design a room successfully if he did not visualize it completely decorated and furnished to the very last detail.