THE modern development of art is full of strange inconsistencies, and they are nowhere more apparent than in the connection of design with manufacture. Many people who are fully alive to the inartistic character of the furniture with which they surround themselves, and who would gladly hail a reform in upholstery, are deterred from helping to forward that movement by a fear that, if they did so, their chairs and tables would not be what is called 'in keeping' with the house which they inhabit. This plea, however, for tolerating the present state of things, is worthless. It would be hard, indeed, if, because the builders and land-owners compel us to live in square ugly boxes of inferior brickwork, plastered over with a delusive mask of perishable stucco, we were on that account compelled to purchase furniture as mean, as fragile, or as pretentious as our ordinary town dwellings have become. If we are to defer the consideration of household taste until we have re-modelled our national architecture, we may wait for ever.

Of late years there has, indeed, been much improvement in the design of our churches and some other public buildings, but the general aspect of London streets and suburban residences remains hopelessly uninteresting, and is likely to continue so while they lie at the mercy of speculating builders, and a system of tenure which gives the landlord but a temporary interest in the stability of his houses.

If the style of our architecture were definitely Italian, it would naturally become a question whether we should be justified in fitting up our homes with any class of furniture but that which prevailed during the Renaissance period. But while May-fair remains what it is, a dull labyrinth of bricks and mortar, it can afford no possible standard of uniformity for the design of the sofas and sideboards within its walls.

Yet the very people who believe in this undesirable consistency of ugliness, do not hesitate to furnish several rooms of a modern house, each after its own particular fashion, and no considerations of beauty or convenience are allowed to interfere with these conventional notions of propriety. The consequence is that our furniture generally reminds us less of its use than of trades connected with it. The great solemn dining-room, with its heavy sarcophagus-like sideboards and funereal window curtains, is eminently suggestive of the undertaker's calling. Upstairs, the ormolu decoration, the veneered walnut tables, the florescent carpet and sofa-cover recal to our memory the upholstering youth who so confidently expressed his opinion on their merits. And a storey higher, somehow, in the midst of lace bed-curtains, muslin toilet covers, pink calico, and cheval glasses, one may fancy oneself in a milliner's shop.

Now all these rooms ought indeed to be furnished characteristically of their purpose, but by no means in various styles. The wardrobe must, of necessity, be different in shape from the cabinet, the bed from the sofa, the wash-stand from the sideboard; but the general principle of design in all these objects should be the same. The chair which can be pointed out as a 'bed-room chair,' and the carpet which may be described particularly as a 'drawing-room carpet,' are sure (under the present system of design, at all events) to be in bad taste.

As a rule, our modern bed-rooms are too fussy in their fitting up. People continually associate the words 'luxurious and comfortable' as if they were synonymous. To my mind they convey very different ideas. Glaring chintzes, elaborate wall-papers, French polish, and rich draperies on every side, may represent considerable expense and a certain order of luxury, but assuredly not comfort.

Now, one of the points on which I wish expressly to insist is this, that excellence of design may be, and, indeed, frequently is, quite independent of cost. I might go further, and say with truth that the style of inferior design is sure to deteriorate in proportion to its richness. Some of the worst specimens of decorative art that one sees exposed for sale are expensive articles of luxury. Some of the most appropriately formed, and therefore most artistic, objects of household use are to be bought for a trifling sum. Take the common bed-room wash-stand, for instance: I mean such a one as will be found in the upper bed-rooms of a moderately-sized house. It is made of deal or birch wood, and usually painted, it must be confessed, after rather a ridiculous fashion - viz., in imitation of oak or bird's-eye maple. But the shape of that wash-stand is a reasonable shape, and could hardly be improved. It is fitted with two shelves, the upper one cut to receive the basin, and the lower one 'boxed' to receive a drawer. It has a splash-board to protect the wall against which it is placed. It is supported on four legs turned and shaped after a fashion infinitely superior to that of any modern dining-table. It is not, indeed, an example of high art in manufacture, but it is an instance of honest workmanship, and until we get honest work, we can have no artistic furniture. Now observe, the form of this cheap and common wash-stand is good, because it happens to be traditional. The pattern has probably varied little ever since such articles were first used in England. It has never been worth while to alter the shape of a piece of furniture only used in second-rate bedrooms, and which costs, say, from 30s. to 40s. But with articles of luxury it is different. Your 'superior Spanish mahogany wash-stand, with carved standards and marble top, on castors,' may be of more valuable material than its humbler prototype, but in regard to design it is often not nearly so good. The marble top and sides, instead of being left plain, are 'shaped ' into senseless curves. The four corner legs are often banished as too obvious and ordinary a means of support, and an attempt is made to balance the wash-stand on two mis-shapen lumps of wood called 'standards;' but as these would certainly be insecure in themselves, they are allowed to expand each into minor legs or claws towards the floor. Finally, the whole of the wood-work (probably veneered) is covered with French polish, which looks smart enough when first applied, but which gradually grows shabby and shabbier with every drop of water spilt upon it. The price of this 'superior' article is from six to eight guineas. It is absurd to suppose that such an enormous disparity of cost between the third-floor and the second-floor wash-stands can be accounted for simply by a difference in the intrinsic value of their respective materials. The truth is that a vast amount of money is continually being wasted on bad art in the way of carving, etc, which passes for elegance with the million, but which all who are familiar with the conditions of good design must regard with contempt. This mistake is not confined to bed-room floors. The kitchen dresser, regarded from an artistic point of view, is really more reasonable in form and more picturesque than the dining-room sideboard; the servants' coal box than the illuminated scuttle in my lady's boudoir; and so on throughout the house. It is not, of course, the use of rich material alone, or the elaboration of ornament, but the misapplication of both, which leads to error in art-manufacture. It would be extremely absurd to use gold or silver in making a coal-box, yet these metals, even in such a situation, would be as capable of artistic treatment as iron or copper. It would be the height of extravagance to construct a sideboard of cedar or sandal-wood, yet such materials could be well adapted to the purpose. But papier mache ornaments on a scuttle, or a buffet overladen with vicious carving and artificial sheen, have to answer a worse charge than that of mere extravagance. In the one case material, and in the other decoration, is utterly misapplied.