Saturday, August 11, 2012

From Lobby to Peak - A Lobby

***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 two of eleven - published  February 22,  1882***

THE reader will already have guessed that the range of apartments of which  we gave a glimpse last week is not entered directly from the street; indeed it is not; and when we have fairly crossed the threshold of this particular home we have climbed the last stair, and may take what repose we
will on the bench of the little lobby which is the subject
of our talk to-day.  

Yet it is not such a lobby as we should have looked for in most apartment houses; it is not a mere slice of bald corridor, of even height with all the rooms we are to enter as we go forward; it is low, as lobbies should be; it has seemingly, too, its independent rooflet, as if the artist in a freak of humor had put our twin title of "Lobby and Peak" into the epigram of a drawing. What this peaked rooflet is like the pictures will tell better than we can say; certainly they will tell, among other things, that they who live in "flats" are not thereby necessarily condemned to stark rectangularities, and that art and contrivance may twist picturesqueness out of a bare corridor.

Let us measure the matter now more closely. If we look from the hall lobbyward by night, when the altar flame is glowing and waving on its tripod, we get such glimpse as was given last week, with the bit of rooflet, the iron ring upon the entrance door and the serried rang of rectangular "lights" above it and flanking it; but by day, and confronting us as we enter, is the opposite side of the lobby, with the small rectangular "lights" of cathedral glass repeated in twin easements, flanked by the   iron-trimmed door opening upon a dressing-room, and upon the bench between the twin casements is seated the little maid of our picture with book and basket.

Over this lobby space, which stretches from the airshaft to the arch separating the lobby from the back corridor, the original apartment ceiling is intact, but as much out of mind and concealed by the decorative rooflet as if it did not exist.

And is the rooflet decorative? If what is picturesque be decorous, we think these lesser detailed drawings on our page will answer the question. These rafters and cross-beams are not bald, not tamely smooth, not without quaintness of contour - furrowed, too, as if time had worn away their weaker and less solid strata, with dark, protruding bosses (are they knots or not knots?) giving emphasis to the light and shade that play over their surface; seeming browned, too, by age—a bronzy brown, as if household fires and vagrant clouds of steam or smoke, not in great puffs, but in ceaseless, remitting little puffs, had put their dark pyroligneous stains upon the whole; no shine, no polish, no hint of oil or varnishes; perhaps here and there a glint of brightened iron or bronze, which may by nail-heads, spikes, bolts, to hold all in place.

Do wc hear it hinted that this rooflet by its droop against the stairway hall, whence most of the light comes, brings darkness? That might well be, except that this rooflet carries between its rafters serried ranks of grooved olive-green glass tiles, looking for all the world as if they may have been the halves of Bordeaux bottles; so there is a rich warm suffusion of light from roof as well as the range of square, cottage windows, spending itself over the dark rafters, the gleaming bolt-heads and the warm red of the walls and wood-work, which by this tint are married deftly with the prevailing
color of wainscoting and corridors beyond.
No. 3.

Observe again, over the twin window of Mr. Church's sketch (No. 3), a series of round olive-green discs - for all the world as if they might be bottoms of those same Bordeaux bottles - ranging below the plate that support the rafters, these same discs ranging, too, along the opposite side of the lobby (as will appear in sketch No. 5) and with the glass tile and the cottage squares of window, giving all the morning and all the evening a soft, hazy, witching light; and when the sun at meridian floods the outer stairway hall with yellow noon, these discs (or bottle-bottoms, if they are such) are transmuted into so many rounded glories of golden green.

The large, noticeable thing, however, about all this is the piquant redemption of a bald bit of an "apartment" corridor and its transformation, by a few beams of pine wood and a few glasses and a few well-subordinated tints, into a cosy, warm-looking, home-looking, attractive lobby.

The eye that has tired with its morning look-out along the street fronts of a great city, and with the frescoes and tiled flooring and shiny veneerings of the great hall of an apartment house, finds in such homely shelter a delightful surprise and a delightful rest.

Again, this treatment divides, by this strongly marked, interpolated bit of rurality (as if it were a country porch translated to the city), the hall proper and its associated rooms from the bed-rooms, nursery and whatever else we may discover at some future time in prosecuting our search down the long corridor which leads away at right angles from the lobby. The rurality of this work which comes to the notice of the visitor as such charming surprise might be made even more piquant by a few homely red flower-pots, or continuous
tray, ranging along below the small-paned, cathedral-glass windows and bearing such witnesses of the fields as ferns or ivies or grasses or such other forms of plant life as do not demand the direct rays of the sun.

Not only have we here a little halting-place at the threshold which most agreeably breaks up and relieves its weary and monotonous length of a city corridor, but it gives hint for a lobby which with even greater pertinence and charm might bet set before or at an angle of the hall of a fair-sized country house.

Look for a moment again at the simple, quiet, effective details in the accompanying illustrations; count, too, upon a harmony of colors, even better graded than that of forms; the roof a rich dark brown, the walls and wood trimmings a warm Indian red; the floor, stained indeed, perhaps a figure on it, but stained and figured in so unnoticeable a way that it does not call the eye, nor can you report upon it; then give the golden glow which comes through the olive green of the glass, shimmering over all; add the lively plaid of our little maid's dress, who sits there demurely, and we have the material for a rustic picture. She might have been gathering roses, and the roses might have grown upon a tree which thrusts its thorny spines on every breezy morning against the windows of our "Lobby."

No. 5.

We will not pass altogether from our lobby without calling attention to a very humble bit of decoration which appears in the very matter-of-fact pulley and weight in Sketch No. 5.

And first, why are they there at all? They lift the upper and glazed half of the door opening upon the stairway. But why should any portion of the door open by lifting rather than by hinges?

The lift in this case is not only a convenience but almost a matter of necessity, and as the sash to be raised is somewhat heavy, a corresponding over-weight and strength of pulley is demanded. Shall these be huddled out of sight and boxed in after the usual fashion, or shall the necessity of the mechanism be plainly confessed and made so far as may be an humble decorative feature? Does not the full show of rafter construction and of every mechanical device about the little rooflet demand an equal boldness in the exposure and treatment of the pulleys and the weights?

At least it has been ventured on, with what success the reader will judge. The pulley is a wooden wheel, cut sharply and with a free hand so as to harmonize with the strong and homely treatment of the rafter roof. 

The weight (which would seem a rather uninviting subject to fasten anything decorative upon) is a wooden case or box, its angles rounded, charged within with a loading of lead or sand, its exterior carved in low relief, or may be cloaked over with some embossed bit of metalism and banded below with steel or brass bosses in the band (or with big nail-heads serving the same end): then a good close-linked chain is always decorative if it have a clear duty to perform, and it may be further and agreeably emphasized by a bronzing, or (if surroundings permit the blazonry) be toned to a silvery hue.

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 earlier posts on Tiffany's Bella penthouse apartment.

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