Furniture And Decoration

The furniture properly cognate to the "carpenters' Classic" phase, in the matter of architectural background, was of the swollen and clumsy late American Empire type, which was usually of solid mahogany or else veneered with crotch wood over the tumid proportions. There is so much of it still extant, and unfortunately some of it is being extensively reproduced and palmed off on the unenlightened in out of the way regions, that it is unnecessary to describe it in detail. This mobiliary type was closely followed by the rosewood furniture with much meaningless sinuosity of members and profuse carving of details. Such pieces as étagères or "what-nots" flourished in polite drawing-rooms as did also marble-topped tables, oftentimes surmounted with coloured wax flowers under glass domes as becoming central features of ornament. The rosewood period gave place in due season to the period of black walnut, a time in which mobiliary design made no improvement and only succeeded in debauching sundry eighteenth century Spanish and Italian motifs and making them infinitely worse than they were originally. Upon the heels of black walnut came the procession of golden oak with its tedious ponderosity and revival of loutish German mediaeval details, there being but a brief episode of Eastlake creations in walnut before the toffy-coloured tyranny became universal. After the chief vogue of golden oak, with its monstrous sideboards and ungainly tables, a medley of styles began to crop up. Then the dry bones were stirred and towards the end of the nineteenth century there began to be a revival of sane design in furniture which has improved steadily to the present day without serious let or hindrance, save for the "Art Nouveau" and ultra-impressionistic modern Viennese furores which, however, soon ran their ephemeral course and subsided into deserved obscurity. There were, undoubtedly, analogies during all this sterile and misguided period between the design of furniture and the architectural characteristics, but in a time when there was little domestic building that deserved the name of architecture and little furniture of any merit, it would be idle to point out correspondences of glaring imperfection.

Other Decorative Accessories And Movable Decorations

During nearly the whole of this dreary period of progressive horrors, which may be said to have reached its culmination in the Turkish cosy corner with all the grotesque and inappropriate accompaniments thereto appertaining, the "decorative accessories" were not decorative but quite the reverse and their room would have been better than their presence.

There were wall-papers, which were usually bad, and there were numerous draperies and fringes, which were generally far worse, about as bad, indeed, as perverted and fantastic imagination could make them. Carpets there were, and rugs, ingrain, Brussels, Wilton, Axmin-ster and sundry other weaves, physically admirable but, for the most part, either poor or actively objectionable in colour and pattern. It was de rigueur as a rule to have the carpets cover every inch of floor space. Later on, towards the end of the century when there began to be a taste for parquetted floors of hard wood and ornamental (?) designs, rugs came into greater vogue, especially after the impulse given towards the collection of Oriental rugs by the Centennial.

Barring these and shocking bad lighting fixtures and very mediocre sculpture in marble or bronze, with occasional excursions into the least inspired phases of Sevres, Royal Worcester and other ceramic productions, the period was barren of decorative accessories and movable decorations. The wall-papers designed by William Morris and the Japanese bronzes and some of the porcelains that appeared after the Centennial ought not to be unconditionally included in this category of condemnation, but their influence went only a little way towards mitigating the otherwise objection-able tone of the era.

Materials And Colour

Reference has already been made to the woods used for furniture and interior finish. It remains only to mention the materials employed for upholstery and hangings. Haircloth, both plain and patterned, enjoyed great popularity at the beginning of the period and deserved furniture of better design on which to be applied. Velvets, both plain and figured, brocades, damasks, brocatelles, poplins, satins and silks of the best quality were lavishly used for upholstery and draperies but, as a rule, far more could be said for their quality than for either their colour or their design. Carpets, likewise, were of the best possible quality but shared the same limitations regarding colour and pattern as the other fabrics.

The colours most favoured were either sombre and dull or else vigorous and full, in the latter case being employed without the requisite knowledge of their properties and relations to do them justice. The Viennese episode, almost coincident with cubism and post-impressionism in painting, launched into riotous excesses of both colour and design, if much of it can be called design, with an utter disregard for chromatic psychology. Perhaps the psychology involved was Teutonic, which would account for its inscrutability.


This was essentially the period of the "what-not" and the centre table - it might be more proper to spell it Centre Table with capitals as indicating the almost religious veneration paid it - of grim, sumptuous, uncomfortable and depressing formality and "genteel," middle-class propriety in arrangement without consideration for either practical utility or comfort. One cause, perhaps, for all the dreary, expensive banality and lack of either humanity or a modicum of taste was the fact that it was a period of preeminently material prosperity and rapid accumulation of wealth which brought to the fore a vast crowd of nouveaux riches who had neither the knowledge nor traditions back of them to impel them to better things. They allowed themselves to be outfitted by purely commercial purveyors who were enjoined to make the establishments of their patrons thoroughly respectable and au fait. And unfortunately those who, from their antecedents, should have known better, allowed themselves to be infected by the ill example of the vulgarly affluent majority.

During the last few years a new movement has arisen. As it has gained a very considerable following, particularly among those who are strongly individual in their tastes and preferences, it is desirable that a separate section be given to its consideration.