By Helen Mathers do not address those persons who regard every inch of carpet or wall wasted that is not covered by a piece of furniture, china, or picture, who buy haphazard whatever takes their fancy, and make a place for it somewhere, but those who have a genuine love for beauty and line, who possess the colour-sense, in a more or less developed state, and who, on entering certain rooms, experiencing a sudden vivid sense of pleasure, unconsciously ask themselves - "Why? "
Because, though some do, and some do not know it, they are vibrating to a particular note of colour in the room, usually struck twice - it may be two heavenly shades of blue, it may be copper-pink. Some sense is subtly satisfied, and if they analyse the contents of the room, they will find that carpet, walls, hangings, chair-covers, have all been chosen with reference to that one note of dominant colour, the furniture - it is taken for granted that there is not too much of it - being left to take care of itself. It does not really matter; the details of the colour-scheme are everything.
You go into another room, and a feeling of worry, of discomfort, keeps you fidgeting in your chair, and almost prevents you answering coherently your hostess's remarks. Irritably you look round for the cause of your misery, and find a carpet that ' jumps to the eye," rich curtains which do not harmonise with the decorations, and much rubbish mixed up with good pictures and rare old china. Unless she is prepared to spend a good deal of money on the three essentials, this woman's drawing-room must remain hopeless, and all you can do, if you have any sense of harmony at all, is to get out of it before your manners match your surroundings. A "house-doctor," for a modest fee, would " diagnose" the complaint of the unsatisfactory house, eradicate here, prune there, and " shuffle " the contents, so that the furniture and colours would get into the right places. There is a right place for everything, though it takes brains and time to find out exactly where, and the most rigorous surveillance must be exercised the moment overcrowding begins. Such work would be a labour of love to those who know what colour and line mean. Line, perspective ! How many people in furnishing give a moment's consideration to, far less understand, either ?
Yellow room. A cosy interior founded upon an old model
" Tis distance lends enchantment to the view" - if the poet had said "furniture" it would have been just as true. The woman who chokes up her rooms with useless things, so that you cannot see the wood for the trees, sins against Nature as well as Art. If she cannot get perspective out of a room six feet square, it is because she does not, and probably never will, know that the true secret of perspective is elimination. Space, perspective ! You must get them somehow - if you have the space, so much the better, the perspective is easily managed; but if you have it not, you must get the illusion of it by a sparse arrangement of furniture - the eye must be led up to effects - a cabinet, a picture, a piece of sculpture must be isolated, or its beauty of line and colour will be lost; the moment the eye is overfilled, the rarest things become cheap, and give no pleasure at all.
It is the same with a beautiful possession; and the Japs so well understand this that they only put out a few pieces at a time of their rare collections. These are appreciated, lived with for a time by the family, then put back, and others take their turn. Our Western habit of showing our treasures unassorted, arranged haphazard all at once, the Japs regard as vulgar and inartistic.
To study colour, for hints in the varying tones of any particular shade, we cannot do better than appeal to the Old Masters. Raffael's "Madonna" at Dresden is a striking example of the value of the repetition of colour - the blue of Mary's eyes deepening into the blue of her wonderful robes, and the rose-colour in the mantle of the kneeling man is accentuated by the deeper note in the cloak of the other figure. Study the Old Masters, cultivate harmony, messieurs, mesdames. Choose the colours that blend one into the other (the rainbow is a pretty safe guide), and make the gazer happy; think out beforehand every room you furnish, every detail that goes to the one central idea, and everything that does not fit in with that scheme banish to a part of the house where they will not affect you - or, better still, present them one by one to your tasteless friends.
Above all things. wherever you go keep your eyes open to pick up new wrinkles; there is something to learn in every house where the mistress of it knows her business. It may represent a great deal of money, this house beautiful, or it may represent a very moderate sum. As pleasing results can be got with chintzes, cool white walls, as with rich ameubiements, pictures, and bibelots. Choice of colour and arrangement is everything. It is necessary to know also what it is that constitutes real comfort.
Simplicity, simplicity, and always simplicity, should be the rule of every woman in her wants, her tastes, her furnishings, and, above all, her manners. By the gate of simplicity she will come imperceptibly to the pastures of elegance, and a new and more gracious meaning will be given to her life and to those around her.