August 31, 2010
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In the introduction of her book ‘The Decoration of Houses’ Edith Wharton sets out to sell the need for such a book. She goes back to the middle ages and explains interior decoration had to be portable because people lived in tents and castles.
When people became settled she explains architectural ornament (with what we now recognize as classical motifs, proportion and design) became part of the interior decoration of rooms. Unfortunately over the centuries architects have come to believe mouldings, architraves and cornices are insignificant detail.
At the time Edith was writing this book in the late 1890’s she argued architects now hurried over this detailing and had handed over the decoration and furnishing of rooms to the upholsterer.
The poor upholsterer is accused of being ignorant and using unscientific methods. With the result Edith states boldly home decoration is seen as a black art. There has been no study or publication on house decoration as a branch of architecture in England or America for over 50 years she states.
Edith encourages home decorators to become skilled by studying the architects of old. She firmly states “….. architectural proportion – incontradistinction to the modern view of house decoration was a part of architecture in all it’s values……”
As I read this introduction I could feel her frustration. Edith had fallen in love with Italy and lived in France. During this writing project she consulted 25 French books, 20 English books, six Italian books and four German books. Wow she obviously thought research very important. I am finding the book ‘The Decoration of Houses’ fascinating.