EARLY in June, Jack and Mary were on their way home from Cousin Tom's. The day was fine and the sun hastening down the western horizon. The car was running smoothly and silently, and they were in high spirits. For several months they had been furnishing their dining-room, visiting several of the better shops in New York City and one of the cheaper ones, talking over the subject with Cousin Tom and Cousin Harriet and other relatives, admiring or condemning the dining-rooms of their friends, and listening seriously to the suggestions of their architect, Mr. Joannes. For while Jack has a will of his own, and has a way of getting accomplished what he and Mary want, his wide experience and natural ability have educated him in matters of style and taste to consult the expert rather than the novice, and even to allow his own personal predictions to be overruled by others, especially Mary.
Of all the stupidities and inanities perpetrated for newspapers and magazines on the subject of interior decoration and furnishing, by those who write with little knowledge and less taste, none is more misleading than the idea that a man's home should be the expression of his own personality as he himself understands it. Oliver Wendell Holmes, in the Professor at the Breakfast Table, described humans as having three personalities - what they themselves think they are, what other people think they are, what God knows they are. Of these three personalities, the first is decoratively the least desirable to translate into draperies and rugs and furniture, even the second is not altogether suited for interpretation in material form, while the third is one revealed to us never completely but sometimes partially in those vivid and inspired moments when God seems to have opened our earthly eyes and ears to spiritual truth.
When the portrait painter puts a man or a woman on canvas, it is not enough to seize one of the three personalities and freeze it fast in paint. The great portrait is one that is a composite of the three personalities, and the greatest portrait of all is the one that expresses the individual not as he is but as he hopes to be in his most earnest and eager moments of self-communion. So it is with a home. The home ideal is the one that expresses a family not as it is but as it hopes to be, and that by surrounding them with beautiful objects beautifully grouped against a beautiful background, lifts them to a higher plane of decorative knowledge and taste.
I have no patience with those who sneer at the man who having made his pile employs the best architect and the best decorator to build and furnish him a fine residence. The nouveau riche is right - right not only from his own point of view and that of his family, but also from that of the general welfare and culture of the country. By surrounding himself and his wife and children with the best, he is improving and developing their perceptions and preparing them to meet on a more equal footing those who acquired culture by inheritance and early environment.
But enough of this philosophical digression. Jack and Mary are already halfway home from Cousin Tom's house, climbing the steep grades that lead up from the shore of Long Island Sound to the hills near the Hudson.
"Jack," said Mary, putting her hand on his arm to attract his attention, "don't you think the paper on Harriet's dining-room has too large figures? The first thing you see as you go in are those big grapevines with big clusters of grapes and big leaves chasing one another around the room. I don't see much Colonial simplicity in that."
Dining Room in Cousin Tom's House.
"It is rather overpowering, I must admit," responded Jack, smiling fondly at Mary. "What I liked best in the room was the magnificent Oriental rug on the floor."
"No wonder," said Mary. "Harriet told me it cost Tom $350, and he in the business at that. Tom likes Oriental rugs, especially Persians, better than any other form of art, and spends more time with his Oriental rug buyer than with any other man in his employment."
"His home shows it," commented Jack. "Don't you remember the living-room - no less than seven - or was it eight? - Persian rugs, one of them a large one?"
"Well, I think that's very nice," said Mary. "He loves Oriental rugs, and is able to have them of the kind and quality he wants. But I'm glad our house is in darker colors, so that we are able to have rugs of darker tone. I think the Bokhara we bought for the dining-room is just a dear. The wide selvage at each end, and the long and shaggy fringes, and the rich reds and blues make me warm and comfortable just to look at them."
"Yes," assented Jack, "and our rug cost only $200, a little over half what Tom paid, and he gets his at wholesale. Did you notice how much cosier our dining-room is than Tom's?"
"Yes, indeed," said Mary, "and it is nearly as large as theirs. I think Harriet said theirs was 17 by 18 feet, and ours is 15 by 18, with something taken out of the two corners by the catty-cornered walls."
"Our dining-room hangs together better," suggested Jack, calling to the chauffeur to drive less rapidly, "and has more individuality. Those walls across the corners were certainly a happy idea of Mr. Joannes's."
"Why, Jack," said Mary, "they weren't his idea at all. Before he designed the house at all I told him I wanted cattycornered walls in the dining-room."
"Yes, I remember now," said Jack. "And he came back at you by saying a woman's first idea on entering a room is to shift the furniture, and if possible to cattycorner a piano or desk or bureau, and then turn round for applause."
"I thought it was very rude of him, at the time," said Mary. "And the way you laughed wasn't at all polite."
"Never mind, dearest," retorted Jack, "we must all live and learn, and you have never even suggested cattycornering the piano in our living-room."