Saturday, March 9, 2013

From Lobby To Peak: Between Rooms

***From Lobby to Peak - a series of illustrated articles in Our Continent - by Donald G. Mitchell - describing  the New York City  apartment of Louis Comfort Tiffany - progressing from room to room - Mitchell describes the essence of Tiffany's style - part nine of eleven - published April 19, 1882*** 


We have to-day under view one of those wide rectangular openings between two smallish rooms, originally intended for those intractable things called Folding-doors. And here—as in so many other instances where they have been established by the conventionalism of the builder, or of habit—they are not needed and are not wanted. And the old problem presents itself, which is presented to so many—how shall this great square opening, which makes a quasi division, be robbed of its bald, obtrusive rectaugularity and be mated congruously with the decorative treatment of one or other or both of the adjoining rooms?

There are conditions, to be sure, when such a ?mber setting for folding-doors makes an important factor in the ordering of household economies, and when—willy-nilly—the mistress is compelled to make two rooms of one ; in which case—if it be a frequent case—there may be warrant for removing the great upper panels of the doors, which are so insusceptible of good decorative treatment, and filling their places with screens of glass mosaic, in the manner of the window screen of which mention has been previously made. Such a use of translucent material, while securing privacy to either room, would break up the awful dimness which the ordinary folding-door brings with its closing, and would offer charming opportunity for rich color effects—effects that would belong not only to daylight, but to night illumination. The qualities of the new opalescent glass are such that it is hardly less beautiful to to look upon against the darkness, when it has good light from within, than under transmitted light It offers to the eye under these conditions a great, glowing, sparkling field of mosaic  set off with wavy lines of golden leadings.

If, however, the folding-doors, where they are of consequence, are too solid or too elaborate with their incised work to be robbed of their rich carven panels, there remains a way of redeeming and lighting up their heaviness, which it is well to know, and which under tasteful adjustment may give most piquant emphasis to their old features, and equip them with new and more brilliant ones. And how is this to be brought about ? Glass is the magician ; not glass as we ordinarily know it—not thin glass, or cathedral glass—but thick, irregular, broken masses; not large, but each maybe with a half dozen facets, Hashing and refracting light—a series of jewels of red, of golden yellow, of blue, of topaz, inserted into perforations of the wood, chiseled so as to mate their irregular forms, by which method a door may be set at intervals (which intervals should be subject to keen artistic adjustment) with a blaze of gems.   The effect under direct light will of course be every way better if the carving be executed with a view to this illumination, in such sense that the glass nuggets, with their golden leadings (if needful) may symbolize the light and life of blooming flowers upon sprays of carven boughs. Under transmitted light they will gleam with their gold and ruby red like gems, or rather like stars, through opaque masses of foliage dimly seen.

But methods of this sort lead us too far away from the modest decoration of the apartments we are considering; and yet even the humblest town or country householder may yet a hint from it which he may some day put to service. A case in point has just come to our notice : Rustiman***Tiffany***—who likes piquancies about his country house—has a dim corridor connecting two apartments of the upper part of his dwelling, and the only available source of light in it is from a long horizontal slit, scarce four inches wide, between two great flanking beams, and immediately under the timbers supporting the ceiling. There is no glazing in the ordinary way such a horizontal slit upon the sky. As a matter of fact it had only two four-by-eight panes of glass, which our friend removes ; removes too all material encumbering the horizontal slit—six feet long perhaps ; fits into it an inch-and-a-half plank of pine, cuts ten circular holes of three inches diameter through this bit of pine plank, scores its surface with little "hatchings" of his own device (his instrument being a rusty wrought nail), then tones the whole with a deep stain of asphaltum, inserts into each opening the bottom of an ordinary junk bottle, and straightway he has in his corridor a little illuminated frieze of golden green jewels, set in what might pass for elaborately carven Irish bog-oak!

And now we come back to "the parting" between the room, under which we stand to-day. It divides the dining-room from the library in "our apartment," The farther or dining-room side of the casing of the doors—not seen in the engraving—retains its original, conventional moulding; but on the hither side this has been replaced with a casement of perfectly plain wood, which lends itself so much more happily to all methods of decoration that it is surprising how the old fashions of involved and tasteless moulding do still hold their ground. 

ln this particular instance the foliage decoration, which we noted in our last paper, upon the golden ground of the Chinese matting (and which immediately flanks the opening we are now describing), runs over upon the smooth surface of the casement, covering its upper portion with a "fine confusion of leaves"—stretching out below the lintel in scroll-sawn forms of foliage that match absolutely with the forms upon the wall; so that you see the same fashions of leaf, now in rich brown upon a gold ground of matting; again in fainter yet agreeing tints upon the mass of shadow leaves on the wood, and then in opaque singleness against the strong light beyond the opening.

The engraving, after Mr. Vender's drawing, will make all this clear; it will show that upon the opposite or right-hand side of this parting of the wall another form of growth makes its appearance upon the wood (as it does upon the matted wall which there flanks it), and brings the liner forms of the Chinese wisteria foliage and its heaped bloom of delicate purple to blend with the coarser leaf forms of the Horse Chestnut.

As a support and protection to that part of this foliage decoration which falls below the lintel, a light shelf is thrown across the opening, held to a level by rods (suggestive of a lattice) that connect it with the lintel above. Upon this shelf, to affiliate well with the bower-like treatment, are placed curious shapes of gourd growth and as partners with them a few gourd-shaped vases of Japan——The general effect is to make the little dining-room beyond, with its rich Mosaic window screen (as we look from the library) seem like an embowered recess; and the ugly rectangularity of the great folding-door opening is lost sight of in the pretty cheats and over-cheats of its burden of foliage. But the effect  it must be observed, is due not to high elaboration and studied imitative coloring, but to an easy sketchy treatment that suggests rather than fulfills the issue in mind. Strong, positive tints, however correct technically, would call attention to themselves, which they should not do, and fail of that quick suggestion of leafy arboreseence which should be conveyed by the very sketchiness of the work.   The same is true of all good decoration ; it should teem with suggestiveness rather than with matter of fact details.

This hanging shelf with its little burden of vases and gourds will give a hint of what may be done with such available unused spaces against transom lights or over-door openings in many a summer cottage, where spaces are not abundant. A little piquant balustrade on either side will make it a secure place for the bestowal of odds and ends of porcelain, pretty vases, biscuit figures, or, if the occupant have a penchant for natural history, his stuffed birds may make a miniature silent aviary there ; or, by the seashore, the balustrade may take on the guise of a net, through whose meshes his shells and corals may tell their stories of the wonders of the sea.

The second engraving shows specially two rare bits of coxcomb-shaped jade, which have been wonderfully wrought and pierced through by oriental artificers, the lower and larger portion carrying a socket behind it for wax taper or lamp, in order to show by night its wonderful translucence  The figures below are literal copies of Japanese jars and bottles.

Donald G. Mitchell.

Donald G. Mitchell was a close friend of Tiffany's. Our Continent was a new magazine covering history, literature, science and art. Click HERE to view all earlier posts on Tiffany's Bella penthouse apartment.

1 comment:

  1. The article in 1882 states Tiffany "likes piquancies about his country house". He didn't purchase "The Briars" in Oyster Bay until 1890 so I have to wonder what country house did Tiffany have before? His Fathers Hudson River area estate perhaps?