This section is from the book "Modern Buildings, Their Planning, Construction And Equipment Vol6", by G. A. T. Middleton. Also available from Amazon: Modern Buildings.
The one thing we never need fear in decorating our houses is that we shall get too monotonous an effect. We can quite safely, and generally with an effect of restfulness, spaciousness, quietness, and completeness, have our walls and woodwork of one colour throughout the house. An architect's client frequently says: " But if I have my walls, woodwork, and upholstery all this same colour I must surely have the tiles round the fireplace another colour, or I shall get too monotonous an effect." He does not realise that when one has done all one can to get a restful, quiet, and harmonious treatment, the inhabitants of the room and the things which will be brought into it sooner or later will unavoidably introduce a greater number of colours, forms, and textures than are artistically desirable. Getting an effect of too great monotony is the last thing one need fear, for it practically never happens.
We may be sure that our treatment of a domestic interior is not artistic in the true sense of the word if it does not produce a feeling of comfort; and to give this feeling of comfort we must have a look of cleanliness. This can only be obtained by using materials, surfaces, and colours which show the dirt. The words "cleanliness and comfort" seem inseparable; but no matter how clean a room really is, it is impossible to get this feeling of cleanliness and comfort if the things in it are, like those in the back sitting-room of an ordinary boarding-house, chosen because they will not show the dirt. When a woman in a clean white apron and a print dress opens the cottage door at which one has knocked, one has a pleasantly satisfactory feeling which the same woman in an equally clean brown cloth dress and a dull black apron could not give us.
A very short walk through our streets will suffice to reveal that one of the most common causes of architectural failures to-day is the want of appreciation on the part of our architects of the importance of gathering together the small enriched and detailed parts of the facades of our buildings, massing these in certain parts and enhancing them by their relation to and contrast with broad, plain surfaces, or the massive, solid, and constructional parts of the building. It would be easy to find hundreds of ways of illustrating this fact, either by its neglect in inferior work or its observation in good work; and a whole volume could, with advantage to the art of architecture, be devoted to its consideration. But one example must suffice for the moment. The great beauty of a rich late Norman doorway and the wall in which this occurs arises from the way in which all the moulding, enrichment, and ornament are clustered together round the door, allowing the plain wall surfaces to enhance them and to make them tell, and allowing them in their turn to enhance the beauties of the plain wall surfaces. Imagine for a moment the same amount of moulding, enrichment, and ornament used again, but impartially and evenly distributed over the whole surface of both wall and doorway recess ! The suggestion sounds an absurd one, and yet a very little reflection will suffice to reveal that this is really what the modern architect does in his ordinary practice; and it was this which helped to produce many of the failures belonging to the decadent periods in architecture. Too often the available amount of moulding, ornament, and enrichment is impartially spread over the whole surface of the building, thickly or sparsely as funds allow, but with no appreciation of the gain to the building of collecting these together and clustering them on parts carefully chosen, thereby greatly enhancing their value and effect and that of the plain parts contrasted with them.
All this is equally applicable to the interior treatment of ordinary rooms. In a room where everything is equally ornamented, the beauties of none of it can possibly be seen or appreciated.
Most of our readers will have experienced something like the following: -
A piece of rich and beautiful oriental embroidery is brought out of the drawing-room of a country house to decorate some barn, which for the nonce is to serve as a concert-room, and one is ashamed to find how many times one has seen that bit of embroidery before in the drawing-room from which it has been taken without having in the faintest degree appreciated its beauty.
Another very fruitful cause of failure in modern architecture is the lack of study of the proper massing of light and shade, and of the forms of the masses of both. Let us take our enriched late Norman doorway again and its surrounding walls as an example. Imagine how the effect of the whole would be lost if the mass of shade produced by the recessing of the door were broken up into little shapeless blotches and patches, and distributed impartially over the whole surface of the building. This again is a suggestion which sounds ridiculous, and yet this is what the modern architect does in his ordinary practice by scattering meaningless bits of ornament and enrichment here and there without sense of grouping or massing, by senselessly broken pediments and blocked columns, and by projections of one sort or another, without any thought of the presence and forms of the shadows they will cast, or much consideration of the massing of his lights and shades. These are in some measure points to be considered in domestic interiors. The most happy results are not to be obtained by having all parts of a room or a house equally lit either by daylight or artificial light. In both cases the light and shade need to be very earefully studied.
Generally speaking, it is more pleasant to enter a room through a space which is rather less well lit than the room itself, and, to be most effective, recesses and alcoves should be either rather lighter or rather darker than the body of the room. This is a point which no good architect would lose sight of in church work, but which is often thought to be negligible in domestic work. Easel pictures are usually the most important element in the decoration of a domestic interior, and these are still almost invariably hung too high, often too high to be seen to the best advantage even when standing, and always too high to be seen to the best advantage when sitting. In most rooms one feels to drop below one's proper relation to the things in the room when one sinks into a chair. We should realise that we are sitting in our homes five hours for every one that we are standing, and should arrange them to look their best when seen from this position.
Finally, we would call attention to the gain in economy, in space, money, and trouble of cleaning and dusting, obtained by having fitments rather than loose furniture. The custom is to design furniture which is supposed to come in conveniently anywhere, and to accommodate anything one may wish to stow away in it, and experience proves that it generally comes in but inconveniently everywhere, and is most unaccommodating in the way it receives those particular things which we find we want it to hold.
It is hoped that the accompanying illustrations (see Plate VII. and Fig. 177A) will show that furniture can be economically and happily fitted into all sorts of spaces and recesses, over fireplaces, under stairs, in the walls, and between the points of support. How great is the artistic and utilitarian gain to the whole when the furniture has been designed for the place which it is to fill in the building, and when the place has been arranged for it in designing the building itself.