The same tact has been shown in the treatment of the windows of a Fifth Avenue apartment house. This apartment is on the tenth floor and overlooks a mile or more of ugly roofs and chimney-pots ending at the river, a great stretch of sky overhead. The sills outside have been filled with boxes of evergreens and ivies, so that if you are standing in the room you see nothing of the ugly roofs and chimneys below. Curtains of a soft cream tone are hung from the upper casing to fall over the sash, but are drawn up on cords run through rings so as to form a straight line across the window some twelve or more inches above the evergreens. In this way any one sitting in the room can look up and see only a foreground of green against the blue of a western sky, the scalloped lace line of the soft curtain forming part of the frame to a lovely picture. There is, of course, with this arrangement, no glare from the sky, and the tact of the hostess has been proved by the way in which her windows have been made agreeable to those who are in her drawing-rooms.
I know a man of letters who loves a certain maple-tree growing in his garden. Through all seasons this tree is a delight. In winter its architecture fascinates him, in the spring its delicate foliage, in summer its shade, and in the autumn its flame of crimson and gold. No window broken into panes would give him all this tree, so he has had plate-glass run to the floor and his door transformed into a window. His writing-table is so placed that as he is at work, he has the feeling of being out of doors and with his tree.
A pine-tree, much loved by its mistress, was brought into her hall in the following way. At the end of the hall she built her window of plate-glass some six feet from the floor. The branches of the pine then nearly touched the pane, the woods stretching back of the pine. Not to allow the sense of the tree as a feature of the hall to throw the rest of the hall out of key, a Florentine fountain was placed in the wall just under the window. The water from its spout fell into a shallow marble basin some three feet wide and seven feet long, and set in the floor. Aquatic plants grew in this basin, ferns and green vines filled the little marble niches by the water-spout, so that the entire end of the hall was made green by growing plants and melodious with running water, the pine-tree outside being only part of the general construction, of the prevailing sentiment, which is perhaps a better way of putting it.
An acre of oak-trees has been considered in still another manner by the owner of a country house. Her library window is a square bay sixteen feet by two. A writing-table of large dimensions is placed in front of this window, a table so big that two persons can write there comfortably, and a row of books can fill either end. Along the edge of this table, nearest the window, brass and porcelain pots filled with plants are set, so that if you are sitting at the table, you can look up from your portfolio across the foreground of growing plants to the woods beyond. As the character of the woods change with the different seasons, the plants are changed. The beauty of this library window in autumn, when the oak-leaves are brown, is impossible to describe. Then the lady of the house fills her brass and copper pots on the table with chrysanthemums, - yellow and brown and russet chrysanthemums, - which, against the oak-trees just beyond, are indescribable in their loveliness. All the appointments of the writing-table are of brass. Silver, it need hardly be said, would be an altogether false note on that table. Shades are drawn at night, but there are no thin draperies of any kind: none are needed.
One ingenious young woman in a studio-building has a high window from where she can see almost the whole of New York stretched below her. Under it the blundering architect placed a steam-heater. She therefore has had built over the heater a high seat with a reading-desk in front. Over the top of the window a shelf is run for holding copper and brass. Here she sits and enjoys the sunsets, or the lights of the city at night.
In another instance, a dining-room bay-window was treated in this way. It was one of those ugly bays that were once so common in town, and which never seemed to bear any relation to the rest of the house. The landlord would make no alterations, but the tenant put a wainscoting all round her room, carrying it round the jut of the bay. Here, above the wainscoting, on either jut, she put narrow shelves, enclosing them with leaded glass matching in design that which she placed in her windows. The shelves were filled with her Venetian glass, her decanters, finger-bowls, and tumblers. The lower part, that which was made by the continuation of the wainscoting, was transformed into a closet with closed doors. The window-seats were cushioned to match the covering of the chairs.
I SOMETIMES believe that a ruffled dotted-muslin curtain does as much for a house as a tailor-made dress for a woman. It always has a certain air, and adapts itself to many occasions. One who chooses it is safe, and when one is in doubt, a dotted muslin is always to be recommended. And it is astonishing how often such a doubt arises, especially among those who live in out of the way country places, in army posts or small towns, where the near-by shops are filled with materials declared to be the "latest," but which are in reality but the stuffs discarded from manufacturers, or from larger retail establishments in town.
It has often excited in me something akin to compassion when samples of such materials have been sent to me by housekeepers in remote parts of the country. They have been so hopeless, so hideous, so altogether impossible. All my sympathy has gone out to the deluded woman who has been tricked by a mercantile announcement into buying what good taste has never approved, but upon which she has been led to believe fashion has set its sanctioning seal. And just here I would like to say that it seems to me both a duty and an obligation for those living at great centres, whether as manufacturers, designers, or newspaper correspondents, to send only the best into outlying districts, since that which is sent seems stamped with a certain authority and is accepted as such. Being bad, it can only act as a deteriorating influence upon the public taste. It may seem absurd to urge that a stuff, or a wall-hanging, a stair carpet or a table cover, may exert an educational or moral effect upon a household or a community. But the influence is not to be denied. That which we introduce into our houses affects us each day that we live, drags us down to a certain level, or raises us. We cannot escape the power of it. We are hampered or assisted, as by the fit and cut of our clothes. The effect indeed is stronger and therefore worse, for clothes wear out more quickly than furniture. And habit and custom end by reconciling us to the objectionable, so that by and by we find ourselves building up around the obnoxious feature. I have known this to happen with a pair of red plush curtains, costly enough but ugly, which a woman of my acquaintance felt bound to use, and around which eventually she built her entire house, to its ultimate destruction as a place of beauty or repose.