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Furnishing a Small House or Apartment

The furnishing of a small house or flat is a delightful and interesting task, and though it is one that presents many problems, the charm of collecting bits of old furniture and exploring all the possibilities of pleasant arrangement more than repays the time and thought expended on solving the difficulties that arise. This casual collecting is by far the pleasantest way of furnishing, and although you cannot hope to furnish quickly by such a method, you can replace, piece by piece, furniture that you may own and dislike. Guided by your personal inclinations, you may fill your rooms with attractive and interesting articles ; decoyed by the rules laid down by the unimaginative you may aim at perfect accuracy of period, and achieve a museum-like lifelessness.

Period rooms can be of great interest and beauty, but the slavish copying of a style, and the exclusion of appropriate touches of colour, are destructive to character, without which a room can only be dull.

The mixing of different styles of furniture was once regarded almost with horror, and comfort had to suffer in consequence, for the deep-sprung, modern easy chair was banned from all antique assemblies. Comfort is essential in a room that is going to be lived in, and although a William and Mary straight-backed armchair is a triumph of grace and proportion, it cannot compete in comfort with a modern easy chair.

If glaring incongruity is avoided it matters very little if furniture is mixed in a small house, or in any kind of house. The real, vital concern is to contrive in rooms the intimate, personal sense of comfort that is the foundation of enduring charm ; and it is the purpose of this book to present some simple ideas of decoration and arrangement, and to picture the wide choice of material for furnishing that lies open to everyone.

Antique furniture has its own special character and attraction, but modern furniture must not be passed by without a glance, simply because a good deal of modern work merits such treatment. All old furniture is not beautiful; some of it is only quaint, and some of it is frankly clumsy and useless, and out of place in any room. Furniture-making was never an independent craft, separated from everyday life : it has always been identified with the ideas, morals, and modes of its period, and has sometimes reflected them very clearly. It is a mistake to tolerate crudity ; and that brings us to the only rule to follow for furnishing, for it is impossible to frame regulations for matters that depend on personal taste, though this solitary rule is an admirable one : Exclude ugly, clumsy furniture and meaningless ornaments, whether they are old or new, from every room. There is no excuse for the making of ugly furniture now; there are so many beautiful things that can be copied easily.

A lot of modern painted furniture, especially bedroom furniture and painted chairs, has both character and good design to recommend it, and the best of it is very good indeed. We are inclined to neglect it because New Art, like similar unsuccessful experiments in originality, is often associated with work designed during the last two decades.

Chippendale Painted Cabinet Bedstead
Chippendale Painted Cabinet Bedstead, 1769.
Carved and painted pine, with mirror glass and brass handles.
Originally made to contain a bed, which folded up inside, later converted into a wardrobe.

H G. Wells once wrote : "A large number of houses deserve to be burnt, most modern furniture, an overwhelming majority of pictures and books . . . one might go on for some time with the list". It is perfectly true, although today we should find that a great amount of modern furniture would be set aside from the flames. New Art was a disaster, and might have established a strong prejudice against fresh effort in design, thereby retarding the development of decoration and furniture.

Originality should not mean the sacrifice of all established designs. To favour the abolition of the perfect proportion and grace of the classic orders of architecture would be architectural bolshevism. It is better to adapt existing models of furniture and schemes of decoration to modern needs, interpreting them with our truer knowledge of colour value and aiming at harmony in arrangement.

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