NEXT to the treatment of the walls, the treatment of the floor is the most important factor in the furnishing of a room, and two great principles of decoration are involved in the selection of its covering - the questions of harmony and of contrast. The effect produced should be subjective and yet dominant, softening or intensifying the suggestion made by the walls. The ordinary cheap carpet of commerce, with bunches of flowers or impossible figures scattered over a background of brilliant red, green, or blue, renders any further effort in a room hopeless. The effect it produces on the senses is almost as aggressive as that of a dog that jumps, barking at you, when the door is opened.
In smaller rooms, as a rule, the floor-covering should be unobtrusive. In English basement houses also, a certain sense of amplitude is achieved by having the room by the front door, the narrow hall which leads to the dining-room in the rear, and the stairs, all covered by the same color. It entices the eye, and leads it away from the walls, so that the size of the interior, if restricted, is forgotten.
Although the tendency of the day is away from carpets and toward the use of bare floors and rugs, there are certain houses in which carpets will always be found, because of the draughts about the bottom of long windows, or the cold which comes up through the cracks and chills the feet, and also because even in the treatment of the most elaborate houses certain problems are not to be solved by the use of foreign or domestic pattern-articles.
When a carpet is used on the floor of a living-room or drawing-room, it is usually of a plain color, or of two tones evenly and softly blended. The design, to be good, should be inconspicuous. Ingrain or Brussels fillings are often used, and in the more expensive imported sorts they come woven in one piece, twelve, fifteen, or even eighteen feet in width, making a seamless and very effective background for the rugs that may be thrown over them. Wilton velvet carpeting, in beautiful soft tones, with or without a border, can be made into excellent floor-coverings for drawing-rooms, and is often preferred by decorators to the less harmonious effects of the woven Eastern rugs. Where several rooms open out of each other, however, the length of space must be considered. In the front and back parlors of a city house, for instance where the sweep of the floor-line is much greater than its width, their length should be broken by the use of rugs, not accentuated by an expanse of plain color. Otherwise the impression produced is that of an alley as compared to a field.
The edges of these made rugs are faced with a heavy braid or carpet binding. They are not apt to wrinkle, but where they do slip under the feet, a band of rubber fastened along the edges will hold them in place. The expensive establishments often have hooks in sunken brass sockets set into the floor, to which the rings sewed to the rug are caught. The best and costliest rugs, however, are never fastened. Many of them are of almost priceless value, and are to be respected like the pictures on the wall. To mar them with a nail or a tack would be a desecration.
Were it possible, much space might be devoted to the subject of these rugs. Any detailed description of them lies beyond the scope of the present volume. A few suggestions, however, can be made.
When a woman has several hundred dollars at her disposal to expend on a rug, her best plan is to indulge in a little preliminary study of the question. There are several valuable and well-illustrated works devoted to the subject of rugs, and if she can go to collectors and reliable dealers, and learn from examples on the spot, so much the better. Those who live away from great centres, however, cannot always do this, and unless she have an actual practical experience, the out-of-town purchaser will do better to go to a reliable house, rather than trust to auctions or the bargain sales that are as so many traps for her destruction, - sales where genuine old Persian carpets are offered her for a comparative trifle, when the real antique Persian carpet is rarely to be had except by the most favored of collectors, - where, too, she may be betrayed into the purchase of a crooked, ragged article, the defects of which are recommended as a proof of its genuineness. There is a saying among the Orientals, that as even Allah makes mistakes, the man who should produce a rug without a flaw would claim preeminence over Allah and thus defy and dishonor him. A charming saying: one never tires of hearing it retold by persons who have been in the rug-shops of the East. But it is nearly forgotten by those who offer us the exquisite, nearly perfect productions of the best looms. The flaws of the very beautiful, the very rare, and the very costly are not so obvious that the pointing of a moral in regard to them becomes a necessity. In many of the shops devoted to the sale of rugs, however, there are from time to time stray specimens marked down below their market value, reduced because of some necessity of trade, or on account of some slight imperfection quite imperceptible to the ordinary glance and interfering neither with their beauty nor their durability. Where such is the case, the buyer of limited income should by all means take advantage of the opportunity. There is a richness of design, a softness of color, in these older rugs increasingly hard to find in those of recent make.
Wherever the influence of our bustling Western civilization touches the art of the Orient, it does so to its detriment. It used to be said of Japan, years ago, that it was impossible to obtain the exact duplicate of an article purchased there. Each decoration, being the product of the artist's inspiration of the moment, could not be repeated. It was not until tons of French china had been sent into the country to be adorned with designs exactly similar, that the work of the Japanese decorators lost the touch of individuality which had stamped it as the work of the artist rather than of the artisan. The latest importations of Oriental rugs bear the hall-mark of a like degeneracy in their leaning toward our domestic "Smyrna" patterns, and the colors resulting from the use of the hideous aniline dyes lately introduced into the factories of the East. So hopeless has been the effect of the latter, that one house, extensively engaged in the selling of Oriental carpets, has a sheltered tin roof, whereon the worst of their new rugs are stretched for weeks at a time, alternately flooded by the hose and baked by the sun, in the effort to subdue their appalling harshness of tone. It is safe to assert that exposure to the sun and rains of seasons would never enable them to compare with the soft richness of the camel's wool, or the harmonious hues of the handmade vegetable dyes of former years. The fact that a rug is of Oriental origin no longer insures its being desirable, nor even passable, from the artist's standpoint.