SOME effective results may be obtained in the decoration of country houses for special festivities by the use of tennis nets, nailed, for instance, along the casings of stairways, their meshes filled with bunches of flowers and of greens, - hemlock, cedar, and holly in winter, varied with splashes of brilliant color; of autumn leaves and chrysanthemums in the fall, and of apple-blossoms in the spring. Pink and white apple-blossoms, by the way, make the most exquisite of house decorations, though the harvest must be sacrificed to it.
We are often bothered with the doors in our houses because few of them are interesting in themselves. Many of them open awkwardly, taking up too much room in small places. When this is the case, the door may not only be split in two and swung from either side, so that it opens exactly through the middle, but it can be split through the centre and so arranged with hinges that one part of the door doubles back against itself.
The Spaniards have a pretty fashion of decorating the panels of their doors with brass pieces, - the heads and wings of cherubs or the head of an animal. In this country the fashion is copied now and then, and plaster casts are used when brass pieces are not possible. The decoration of a panel always adds interest to the door. In the houses of some artists every panel has a painting, the work of some distinguished painter and friend.
Any utilization of space invariably appeals to me. Something akin to genius seems often to have been exercised and a rare imagination brought to play. I never get over the wonder of seeing how interiors of the same dimensions, how yachts especially, will be cut up and arranged, in one instance giving you a sense of amplitude and comfort and in another a sensation of always being cramped for space. In many houses there will be uncomfortable conditions accepted as hopeless year after year until some woman of imagination comes along, and, presto! a change that makes every one marvel that no one thought of it before. Such a change was made in the house of a woman I know, a clever woman who makes no more demur about ripping a summer-house to pieces in order to bring about new combinations of stairways and angles than the rest of us would about ripping last year's wash-dresses in order to alter the cut of a sleeve.
She rented a small country house with two communicating: rooms. One had no closet. She closed and fastened the door between the two rooms, then, measuring by the length of a skirt when hanging, she cut away the lower part of the door. When this was done she built a small square closet and put it against the door that had been cut. This closet then made on one side of the door a hanging-place for skirts, and on the other a projection, which, with its flat top, was utilized in the adjoining room for books and flowers. A small piece of ground glass on the top gave light to the closet. A narrow seat in front made of pine served as a resting-place when shoes were changed; the space under the seat was utilized as a shoe-box.
There are still garrets in the country, enchanting realms for children on rainy days, when old trunks and chests are ransacked and their treasures of ball-dresses and wonderful hats are brought out. But there are no garrets in town, - none at least in fine houses; there are trunk-rooms, sometimes, not always. A corner in the basement is generally set aside for these, specially designed in new mansions, and improvised in more modest abodes. We always miss these garrets, those of us who have known them. The constant care of modern town-dwellers is how to store away things without sacrificing space that is valuable, and without so scattering them about that endless time is wasted in their search. Then there are the superfluities, the ugly things which a householder wants to hide.
The best arrangement I know for small places is that system affected by a woman living in an apartment. In one room off the kitchen she put two rows of shelves running round the room just above the tops of the doors. Pasteboard boxes of a uniform size were then set out on these shelves. Each box was numbered. On the wall by the door a neatly written list was tacked, giving under the head of each number a list of the contents of the box marked with the corresponding figure. There was never any confusion in her neighborhood.
In another apartment I once saw two wooden boxes on rollers, made to slide under the two single beds, as we were once accustomed to sliding the old-fashioned trundle-beds of a long ago. One of these boxes held the party dresses of the wife, the other the extra coats of the husband. It was a makeshift, of course, but a clever one, as all apartment-house dwellers will recognize at once.
Whenever there is a jut in the window and no sill, a box is always to be urged; it can be covered and arranged as a window-seat. Inside it can be partitioned off for bonnets, arranged with trays for underclothes, or with shelves for shoes, the cover being hinged in the front. When there is a windowsill, or the line of the wall by the window is not broken, in small rooms such a box is impossible, taking up more space than it saves.
An invalid is apt to weary of her surroundings, especially a patient who has suffered from a protracted stay in bed with a nurse in attendance. The very pictures on the walls become unendurable, - the paper, the hangings. The atmosphere seems to grow heavier day by day. Those who have been ill will remember the joy of the first grand cleaning given to the sick-room, a cleaning which has lasted through the day while she was kept in another room. How fresh and delightful everything seemed to her when she was moved back again, how reposeful, how delightful and sweet smelling! It was like going into another country for a change of air.