The gray linen once universally used in our houses, giving them so bare and cold and uninviting a manner, is now seldom seen except on railroads and steamboats. It never had any tact, this gray linen. It always asserted itself, and a small room filled with it seemed at once overcrowded and each piece of furniture twice its former size. Moreover, it kept the lower part of the room in too light a key, which is always objectionable.
With a pretty flowered material, on the other hand, a parlor in summer may be made altogether charming and habitable. Many parlors in their summer dress are even prettier than in their winter habit. One in an apartment which I saw not long since is treated with a striped and flowered cotton, costing only ten cents a yard. The furniture is all covered with it. The heavy portieres, which were left hanging for lack of a space to stow them away, and also to prevent them from showing marks and creases from being folded, were enclosed in cotton. This is a custom adopted by many householders. Sometimes a bag is made and slipped over the portieres. An easier way is to sew the material together at the bottom and fasten it at the top to the curtain rings. By being made full, the material can be basted about the thick hanging. A flap should go over the top by the curtain pins, so that the dust will not sift through the opening. A piece of the same material is used as a ruffle over the bare, uncurtained windows to break the line.
Expensive chintzes and cretonnes may be used in the same way, and the prettier the material, the better the results. In some New York houses everything is covered, even the tables, with this chintz, the dust being all pervasive.
These covers are no longer made with braid, but are finished with stitching, the two edges of the material sewed together.
Careful housekeepers have, besides these slipcovers, a set of white linens for the pictures and the bronzes of each room. These linens are hemmed and marked with the name of the room and of the article to be covered.
When awnings are chosen, the color must be considered from out doors and in. For green rooms, plain green awnings are better than anything else. Green looks well from outside against the red brick of some houses. There are some plain grays and browns that are agreeable. The reds are well enough from the outside, but they give no suggestion of coolness from the interior.
When a room with a fireplace to be supplied with logs lies in a wing, a device is to send the wood up from the cellar by means of a dumb-waiter that opens in a window-seat. When the seat is cushioned and closed no one suspects the presence of a dumb-waiter.
The best investment any young housekeeper can make lies in a purchase of mahogany, good old desks and sideboards and sofas. They possess a dignity which no upholstered piece of furniture can rival. The best foundations in house decoration are made with these.
When purchases for a house are made there should always be an ample supply of vases for flowers - not flower vases, either in china or glass, but plain or fluted white glass or crystal, pieces of pottery, fish-bowls, and always simple green glass vases of any and every size.
The habit of buying "ornaments" is dangerous in the extreme. There is seldom a place for them when purchased. Most of us at some period in our lives have been possessed of the passion for buying these things - bisque figures for mantels, mosaic paper-weights, boxes and vases of Scotch plaid, boxes of olive-wood from Sorrento or carved wooden spoons from Switzerland, small, cheap bronzes, clocks with glass shades, brackets with cow-boys crouching under shells as if ashamed to be seen, things that are found in notion shops arranged on a counter and sold at a uniform price.
Ornaments for the sake of ornaments are generally horrid things, and either destroy houses altogether when placed about, or find themselves when a house is to be saved inside of dark corners and on top of closet shelves. Interesting specimens of crockery are not to be confused with these, nor are pieces of brass which have some beauty of color. But even among these one must learn to move warily. Until one knows how to choose an object of beauty, something to be valued for its special excellence, it is better to purchase only that which first of all is to serve some purpose.
It is for this reason that you may be forgiven for putting into a dining-room that which would not be permissible in a parlor. Thus, if you could afford only one stone-china cup, you would be pardoned for using it on your table if you filled it with the best you had and offered it with hospitable intent. No matter how exalted your guest might be, you would not need to be ashamed nor blush. You would still be doing him an honor and breaking no law of good taste or good breeding, because you were giving your best, supplying a need, and refreshing the physical man; but such a cup put up as an ornament would be abominable, while a more gaudy or more costly cup would be worse. What holds good of a cup, holds good of every other appointment, - of chairs, tables, sofas, vases, pictures, and, most of all, of so-called ornaments.
Although the question of gardens does not properly enter into this volume, there are two suggestions which the reader may find interesting. In gardens laid out by architects in these days there is in many cases provision made for the birds. Small pedestals are erected of various forms, holding basins of water in which the song-birds can dip. In some country places trunks of trees are utilized, their tops surmounted by a basin. The cavities in the rocks are kept filled by many people, and it is always an interesting spectacle to see groups of robins gathering during the day for a plunge.
Every householder prides himself on the motto which he chooses for his sun-dial; here are two: -
"Pereunt et imputantur." They perish and are set down to our account.
"Horas non numero nisi serenas." I record no hours except the pleasant ones.
It is to be supposed that transoms serve certain purposes of utility in a house, but they certainly add nothing to its beauty. If I had my way I should shut them all up and fill the space left by each with a bas-relief in plaster. Now and then a clever artist paints them, and if there be a shelf enclosed with leaded panes running around the room, it is sometimes interesting to treat the leaded design in the glass of the transom. Occasionally shadow silk is pasted flat on the glass, giving the impression of stained glass. In bedrooms the simplest fashion and the best is to employ a muslin like that of a thin curtain, gathering it on small brass rods placed on either side of the glass. In one or two instances, when the transom is permanently closed, a shelf is built in front of it and then set out with pottery.
The newest of the country houses of to-day are built with flower-rooms which open out of the pantry and near the dining-room. These rooms are large enough to hold two or more persons comfortably. In the best of them there is a wide porcelain sink with running water and wooden drip-boards on either side. Part of the wall-space is then filled with a closet having glass doors, for holding the different flower vases. There is, of course, a wide shelf on which the flowers are laid, and a drawer for the scissors, as well as a cupboard for the baskets and the straw trays on which the gardener brings the flowers to the house. These elaborate appointments are not always possible to every-day householders, but in each house there should be certain shelves set aside for the empty flower vases. They add nothing to a room when empty, and in a closet they are well out of the way of the dust.