This section is from the book "Hints On Household Taste In Furniture, Upholstery And Other Details", by Charles L. Eastlake. Also available from Amazon: Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery and Other Details.
The design for a washing-stand which I have suggested here is of very simple construction, the only ornament introduced in it being a few easily-worked mouldings and a little inlay of coloured woods. Even if made of oak and fitted with a marble top, it ought not to cost more than an ordinary wash-stand of the same size, and would certainly be more picturesque.
A room intended for repose ought to contain nothing which can fatigue the eye by complexity. How many an unfortunate invalid has lain helpless on his bed, condemned to puzzle out the pattern of the hangings over his head, or stare at a wall which he feels instinctively obliged to map out into grass plots, gravel paths, and summer houses, like an involuntary landscape gardener? Time was when a huge 'four-poster' was considered indispensable to every sleeping apartment, and night-capped gentlemen drew around their drowsy heads ponderous curtains, which bade fair to stifle them before the morning. Let us fancy the gloom, the unwholesomeness, the absurdity of such a custom, viewed by our modern notions of health and comfort; and remember, whatever the upholsterers may tell us, that the fashion of our furniture, too, includes many follies at which posterity will smile.
To the four-poster succeeded the wooden canopied bedstead, or, as it is called in the shops, the 'half-tester,' and the French bedstead, of which the head and foot-piece were in shape and size alike, and over which two curtains fell, sometimes from a pole fixed at the side, and sometimes from a small circular canopy attached to the ceiling. These forms are still in use, though iron and brass are fast displacing mahogany and rosewood, as materials in their manufacture. For obvious reasons, and especially in large towns, this is a change for the better, though I cannot help regretting that we lose the natural beauty of those woods, which frequently compensated for much bad design. The design of metal bedsteads is generally very poor, especially where anything in the shape of decoration is introduced. For instance, it is usual to conceal the joint which occurs where the tie-rods intersect each other with a small boss. A circular rosette would be obviously the most appropriate feature to introduce at this joint, whether in wrought or cast metal. But, instead of this, the iron-bedstead maker (elegantioe gratia, as the grammarians say) insists on inventing a little lumpy bit of ornament, which, possibly intended to represent a cluster of leaves, more closely resembles a friendly association of garden slugs, and this abomination is repeated not only a dozen times in one bedstead, but in some thousands of the same pattern. The frame-work for the canopy over head is generally far too weak for its purpose, and often vibrates with the least movement, causing infinite annoyance to invalids and nervous people. In old days the outside corners of this canopy were frequently suspended from the ceiling; and this plan is still advisable when the supporting brackets are found to be ricketty. But if they were of stout iron and properly constructed, they would need no such support.
It is a great mistake to paint iron bedsteads, or any other object of metal work not exposed to the weather, in ordinary oil colour. It gives a commonplace sticky appearance, to avoid which flatted colour should be used instead.
Some of the modern brass bedsteads are of superior manufacture, stronger and better designed than those of iron. In selecting them, however, it will be well to choose those which are composed of simple bars and rods. The moment our manufacturers try to enrich work of this kind, they lapse into vulgarities of design.
Many people now-a-days prefer, on sanitary grounds, to sleep, through the winter as well as the summer, in beds without hangings of any kind. It is difficult to conceive, however, that in a well-ventilated apartment, a canopy and head curtains can be at all prejudicial to health, and it is certain that they may be made to contribute not a little to the picturesqueness of a modern bed-room. The question of their material should of course depend on the general aspect of the room, the nature of the carpet, wall-paper, etc. When the colour of the latter is decided in tone, white dimity curtains will by contrast have an excellent effect, particularly if the dominant colour which surrounds them is repeated in the form of braid or other trimming at their edges. But white curtains rapidly soil in London, and except in houses where they can be continually replaced, it will be better to let the bed-room paper be light, and have the curtains made of Cretonne, chintz, or damask, of which the two latter materials are occasionally manufactured in patterns of very fair design. They should never be made longer than is necessary for actual use. If they hang within two or three inches of the floor it will be quite near enough. When of greater length they trail upon the carpet and get soiled at their edges, or when drawn back they have to be looped up and pulled over the cord which confines them to their place. This is a most ugly and foolish fashion. Curtains, whether for a window or a bed, should be simply tied back when not in use (as in Plate XXXII.). The disposing them in heavy and artificial folds, such as one sees depicted sometimes at one corner of a theatrical drop-scene or behind the 'portrait of a gentleman' at the Royal Academy, is one out of many instances which might be quoted to illustrate the perversion of modern taste in such matters.
Iron Bedstead, with Canopy, designed by Charles L. East lake.
The canopy may be either disposed in plaits or decorated with fringe, but where plaits are used the fringe should be omitted, as it is apt to get tangled and pull the plaits out of shape. Box-plaits are the best to use, and should never be less than four or five inches in width, at intervals of about eight or ten. They should be pressed down as flat as possible, and when necessary, may be kept in shape by a stitch on either side.