This section is from the book "The Practical Book Of Interior Decoration", by Harold Donaldson Eberlein, Abbot Mcclure, Edward Stratton Holloway. See also: The Victorian House Book: A Practical Guide to Home Repair and Decoration.
THE arrangement of furniture is taken up before the subject of furniture itself, because most persons are already possessed of at least a portion of what is to be used. Furthermore, the matter of arrangement and balance is so important that it should be mastered before new furniture is purchased. We have already, then, in our houses the constructional items of doors, windows, fireplaces and panelling, if this be used. Frequently, too, in new houses or apartments, there are such built-in features as china-cupboards, wardrobes and bookcases. All, therefore, that usually confronts us is the existing space into which we must pleasantly arrange our household effects, and possibly provide for others. When we mobilise these effects they seem of great variety, but their uses are so well defined that this in itself often aids their placing. In a bedroom of the usual size, for instance, the purpose of the room defines the appropriate furniture. Often, too, from the construction of the room, it is at once evident where the bedstead should go, and there remain but a few wall spaces into which we may fit a chest of drawers with mirror above, or a dressing-table, a highboy, wardrobe or chiffonier, a small table or two, chairs, and perhaps, if the room be sufficiently large, a couch, and the like. The fact that we should have a good light by which to dress, will probably determine the place of the dressing-table, while a wardrobe or highboy may go into a darker space, so that by natural circumstances our progress has greatly been aided (Plate 88 A and B). In any event, we have arrived at the precept that it is well to begin with the principal pieces of furniture, afterwards disposing of the others.
In order, however, that the final result should show a correct balance of arrangement, we shall need to use other principles. Some of them are at once evident, as, if we were to load a boat, we should not naturally place all the bulky freight on one side and the light on the other, so we shall not arrange all the tall pieces of furniture on one side of a room and place the low pieces on the opposite side. By so doing we should not actually tip the room as we should the boat, but we should tip its appearance. Furthermore, even if we disregarded for the moment the looks of the whole room and considered either side alone, we should see how monto-nous is a series of pieces of more or less uniform height. We must, therefore, intersperse high and low to secure a proper balance.
Balance, in its simplest form, is that in which the objects on each side of a larger central feature are the same in character and arranged in the same manner. This is illustrated in the beautiful group of Italian Renaissance furniture in which the chairs and torcheres are alike on both sides of the handsome credenza (Plate 89 B). This arrangement, being formal in its character, is particularly in place for stately rooms, but is equally appropriate in such humbler surroundings as a quiet eighteenth century room where two chairs flank a Queen Anne sofa with an old portrait above. The formality here is combined with quaint-ness, both of which are charming in an interior of this old-time type.
A further development of the principle of balance is that in which the objects on the two sides of the central object are not the same or even of the same character. Such an arrangement, as we shall by-and-by see, does away with formality, and imparts a more familiar and homelike atmosphere to the room where it is used.
Although balance of this nature is simple and easily accomplished, it is often neglected or but imperfectly managed. An example of such faulty.balance is shown in the illustration where, on the right of a fireplace, a tea-table with two small pictures above fails to balance the antique organ on the left. The readiness with which such an imperfection can be remedied, is shown in the corresponding illustration where the two small and poorly hung pictures have given way to a larger picture properly placed (Plate 90).
An example of what amounts not only to disorganisation in furnishing, but to loss of homelike feeling, is that of a room of generally attractive character with its comfortable sofa and chair on opposing sides of a fireplace and a stand placed stiffly between (Plate 91). It is evident that the chair fails to balance the sofa in length and that the stand is disjoined from either. Now if the chair were pulled slightly forward, and the stand moved back, not directly to the side of the chair but to the side and just forward of its edge, where it would be handy to the chair's occupant, it will at once be plain that an altogether different atmosphere of invitation and restfulness had entered into the composition. If a rug were laid down before the fireplace, the windows simply curtained, some of the objects removed from the mantel and a larger clock or other object introduced to give centralisation, the whole effect would be changed. It will, therefore, be seen that the treatment of this one room is a small object-lesson in decoration, and points out what an infinite improvement a few changes in position and addition can make in an interior which is already generally good, so far as it goes.
The principle of balance being so clearly shown, it might prove interesting to try a few experiments with light pieces of furniture in one's own household, especially if there are young people in the family. The future of good household-art naturally lies with the rising generation, and if those who are now young can be interested in such matters the benefit may prove immeasurable. Parents might also find their children taking a vital interest in the attractiveness and neatness of their own rooms. The writers, therefore, indicate a few such experiments:
If, for example, we have a fireplace, or other large object, with a small space on each side of it, we may place a chair with a picture above it in each space. Such an arrangement is balanced but is formal, and we may prefer a small table in one of the spaces. If it is approximately of the size of the removed chair we shall still have balance, but, if the table is long, we shall immediately see that this balance is disturbed, and it will be better to substitute a couch for the chair on the other side, thus matching the long table in shape.
We may, however, alter the arrangement which first existed by the use of a tall object instead of a long one - we may wish to place on one side of the central fireplace a mahogany bookcase which, although not much wider than the chair, if bulky, may happen to exceed it considerably in height. It is plain that we shall have to remove the one picture in order to give place to the bookcase, and we then have the case on one side and the chair with picture above it on the other. If the picture be of strong character in a dark frame and the chair also dark, we still have a good balance to the case on the other side, but if the chair be small or light in colour and the picture be likewise, we shall not have balance. The question of "value" has, therefore, entered into the problem as well as that of size. Value is the lightness or darkness of an object irrespective of its colour. Balance may be described as equal weight of effect, and it is that which we must secure.
Another principle with which we are all familiar is the avoiding of top-heaviness - we should not place a very large picture, hanging or mirror above a small chair or table. It is really surprising sometimes to see how little is required in this direction to spoil an effect and to "get upon one's nerves "when constantly seen. In such instances, we should recall here, also, the principle of value; for, although the sizes of the two objects may be in proper relation, the arrangement will, nevertheless, be bad if the upper one be too strong and dark for the lower. If the lower is also frail in build, the bad result will further be intensified.
Two varieties of treatment have been considered - that in which the objects on each side of a larger central feature were alike in character and similarly arranged, and that in which they were different but were either of themselves or by the addition of other objects of equal general effect.
Occasionally in household arrangement two other contingencies arise. It may be that on the one side of the central object (such as a fireplace) we wish to use some such piece of furniture as a bookcase of moderate size and on the other side a table and chair. We so place them at equal distances from the fireplace on its two sides, but are disappointed to find that the appearance is wrong, that the latter articles do not sufficiently balance the former. Even when we place a lamp or other object of some height upon the table the result is but little improved. We could build up the effect by a picture upon the wall, but we may already have done all we wish in this direction and may really prefer a change from the formal balance. It may easily be secured. It will be remembered that the writers' definition of balance was "equal weight of effect": in order therefore to give the object or group which is the lighter in effect the same weight which the larger possesses we must give more leverage to the lighter. In other words, as we move it farther from the central object it gains in weight of effect. A few inches will usually be sufficient, because the original discrepancy should not be great.
The second contingency is where there is no central object or room for one, but where the wall space is sufficiently large for »the placing of two objects or groups. In this case the procedure is precisely the same except that instead of working from a central object we work from a central point Measure the wall space and find its centre; if the two objects or groups are of equal weight of effect place them equidistant from this central point. If one is lighter than the other move the lighter farther away from the central point until it is felt that the balance is correct. There will likely be other circumstances in our household arrangement in which we shall have to exercise this balance of feeling and to which this will be a guide. Mathematical calculation would be too abstruse, and a little experiment will make is unnecessary as well.