Yet I know another whitewashed room in a country place designed by young artists who could not afford paper - the most restful, the most delightful, and certainly the most refreshing room on a warm summer day to be found anywhere along our coast. And what had these young girls done to make it so? Nothing but to introduce flowers and greens everywhere - ferns and blossoms in glass bowls on the ample pine tables; bunches of laurel in pots on pedestals in the corners; branches of maple on the mantel, green awnings at the windows, boxes of flowers on the sills.
No one need suffer, therefore, who cannot emulate a neighbor's costly appointments. The privilege of extravagance belongs to the few, but the right to refinement is a legacy to us all.
The aim even of the opulent in these days is to use inexpensive wash materials in the parlors of their summer cottages. I know no instance in which such happy results have been attained as in a house on the Maine coast rented by a New Yorker. When she took it, it was probably the ugliest cottage to be found on the island. This is what she did with the bare, long, and narrow parlor, having a fireplace at one end, and a bay-window on the side opposite a pair of big ungainly folding doors.
HOW WALL SPACE MAY BE UTILIZED.
She painted the wood-work white, and covered the walls with a paper showing pink roses on a white ground; made her curtains of white dotted muslin ruffled with lace, tying them at the windows, and the folding doors with big bows of soft pink cheesecloth, matching in color the roses on the paper. She painted the ugly furniture white, covering the chairs and sofas with a white cotton material showing a tiny stripe. The only silk permitted in the room was in the linings of the lamp-shades and on the cushions everywhere distributed - she is a woman who understands the art of cushions, the value of those civilizing touches which soft down sofa pillows lend the barest room.
Any one else might have a flowered paper and soft pink cheesecloth bows, but lacking her tact in the arrangement of her furniture, they would have missed her results. Few people understand even what this tact is, which is one reason why a drawing-room filled with newly arrived guests waiting to have dinner announced so often takes on an awkward air. People are bunched or crowded together in most houses, and suggest the fact of their having to wait, and not of their having come together at that moment to talk. No one who enters a room should have to peer about for a seat, or to find himself awkwardly placed when he ventures into a chair. And because this woman does understand, none of her sofas and chairs are arranged as for a lecture, or so that every one in a room must face every one else. Conversation, as she realizes, does not consist in haranguing assemblages, though some people seem to think so. You may want to see the face of your opposite neighbor at dinner, but want to escape it in the parlor. She knows that too! Guests who enter her parlor form themselves into groups of twos, threes, or fours, as the case may be, or they are led unconsciously to certain parts of the room where chairs and sofas are grouped to receive them.
In her summer-house parlor, then, and directly in front of her fire, which must often in that climate be lighted on August days, a small sofa for two is placed with a chair for a third person drawn up at right angles to it. Back of this sofa, close against it, is a large oblong table with a high crystal lamp, and white shade of cut cardboard. Small sofas are scattered about the room, one against the wall at right angles to the chimney; others on either side of the folding doors, and one back of the large centre-table. The bay-window holds the writing-table with its appointments in silver. The piano, the only dark object in the room, is in the very farthest corner, its keys to the wall. Its back is hung with white; against it stands a table with photographs and silver frames. Flowers in tall vases are everywhere.
Each one of the sofas or tables has some lamp and chair arranged with reference to it. Half a dozen groups of people may talk in this room without being disturbed by each other.
When a parlor is not in daily use, its mistress may be roused some day by a shock, discovering herself surrounded by guests difficult to entertain, sitting about her room in awkward isolation. If she would spare herself a second discomfiture, she should on the instant of their departure begin to rearrange her room, making a careful study of possible situations, conditions, and emergencies. Her wisest course would be to stand at her own parlor door and fancy herself a visitor just arriving. Would she want to go boldly forward and take a solitary chair in the middle of a big and half-empty room? Would she not prefer one into which she could slip just by the door, especially if she were a stranger? Would she want to discover such a chair, even when near the door, placed by a lady's desk, a note or two perhaps open before her? Would she again want to establish herself among the cushions of a divan as the only available sitting-place, or in a very low and softly cushioned chair out of which, were she portly, she would have to go through gymnastics to rise? Or, once again, would she like to seat herself facing the glare of a window, or the monotony of an ugly blank wall, or a mirror that reflected a pantry door, - not a pleasant picture? And would she not, were she a guest in the house, like a lamp by which to read, and a cushion for her back, and a table on which her book could be laid? And last, because most important, how shall the guest be provided for, be welcomed, without being admitted to all the family intimacies?
She should ask herself every one of these questions and a dozen more if her imagination be fertile. She should ask herself how she would like certain things were she a guest in other houses, and what she could be to better the condition of visitors in hers. Indeed, I sometimes believe that the proper furnishing of a parlor means nothing less than a question of ethical values or a problem in psychology.