Saturday, August 25, 2012

From Lobby To Peak - An Early Breakfast

***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 four of eleven  published  March 15,  1882 ***

THE sun should be an attendant upon breakfast; he should come straight in and goldenly. No every-day guest could be so welcome. Good house-builders and good home-keepers all agree that a cheery breakfast-room should have its windows set to catch the morning. Golden morning puts the best possible coloring upon table linen and delicate sliver of English bacon and upon coffe cups. It takes away, in good part, the ugly humors that follow upon a broken nap, and goes to make a querulous man cheery in spite of himself. Therefore all livers in apartment houses, as in all others, should look out sharply for an eastern or a southern, or—better yet, in a golden marriage of the two—a southeastern exposure. The little courts into which our apartment houses are cut for light and air will forbid a good gush of sunshine upon a dining or breakfast-room, except they be near the top, and this makes one strong count in favor of being at the top.

We have spoken of the breakfast-room particularly, because at dinner it does not so much matter where the sun may be shining, if he is shining at all. Nay, it is a question if direct sunbeams are not garish amongst the gravies and sauces and dependencies of dinner; beside which they of the cities and of apartment houses have at that hour for the most part other high lights and curtains tight drawn.

We are sure we are making no mistake in saying that a warm south light is flowing into the rosy room we have before us this week, and that it is the sun which is glimmering; so pleasantly over the mantel and fireplace and over the plaques, and over the table where her majesty La Jaune(***?***) is just now taking her little dish of pot-luck.

She sits in a high-backed chair, well calculated to keep growing shoulders straight if they be set well  against it; of good, honest structural development, too, without sham panels or impertinent spindles. The table also, by such corner glimpse us we have of it, has sober, solid aspect, not to be overset by an overweighted platter or an over-careless servant easily. There is no better point in a dining-room table, and we score a credit for its quality in it, waiting for some possible fuller show and some fuller talk about its aptitudes farther on.

Next, we note whatseems to have a sort of cousinly association with the table and the lesser chair in which La Jaune sits enthroned and napkined. In the big chair with the homely craw-hammer legs and its solid severities, bating only the good, easy-going cushion. It might do in a tavern (say The Mermaid) : it might do in a cloister (say Bolton Abbey) ; it might do for place of honor in twenty dining places you could name, and it is not so very unlike in contour to the old coronation chair of Queen Bess in Westminster Abbey, with ample space below its cushion for bestowing the ancient royal stone of Scone.

Perhaps it is in memory of some old quaintness encountered in travel that its designer has givcn it form. Might it not add some goodly savors to a haunch of venison if we could carve it from a seat that smacked of the great "Abbots' Kitchen" of Glastonbury?

Plainly enough it is not a lounging chair: plainly not a ladies' chair, for the easy acommodation of a skirt in bouglante(***?***); plainly not a chair for the easy study and easy handling of books therein ; plainly not a chair which a hostess could bring forward with an engaging alertness for the accommodation of a rhenmatic old gentleman who must count his steps. So by all these negatives we may decide that it is not an altogether worthy bit of furniture for a reading-room or a lounging-room or for my lady's boudoir. But there remains a plain, honest, straightforward, up and down, solid quality, making a good point d'appui for a man who carves strenuously, if not deftly, and who commands the "piece of resistance" at a dinner; therefore it is wisely in place here. Again, what we may well note in this chair is its lasting quality; it will not rattle to pieces; a stout man cannot put it upon the wrack ; a fidgety man cannot undo its joints; the most tavernish of chairtippers will find his match in it ; and it is even possible that the little maid, making a shy at breakfast before her elders are astir, may find it, years hence, endowed with a patriarchal dignity and as staunch and solid as now. Is it not worth while to put such strong work and such staunchness, into a family chair, one that is to stand with magisterial rank at a table's head year by year, as will make the young people cherish it when the dishes which we old folks eat from are forever shattered, and the "pitcher is broken at the fountain?"

But our virtuoso friend, Mr. Von Wroole, says, lifting his eyebrows and removing his glass through which he has been studying it for five minutes: "And what, pray, is it like ? Who ever saw such? What school did you say?"

Well, suppose we can't say; suppose there is nothing like it nor ever was. What then? Is that in itself ground for condemnation?

If inconvenient or cramped, or stiff or uncomfortable, or built in violation of laws of sound construction, these are excellent reasons for denying its satisfying quality; but because you cannot give it conventional rank or its cousinship to some age or school or class makes no reason at all for its condemnation. Shall we make nothing that hasn't its counterpart? No poem or drama or bedstead that hasn't its close afliliation with some school or time? lsn't it worthier everyway—as well for literary work as for art work (whether architectural or decorative)—to plan with reference to present, positive, actual needs, without regard to the odor of this or that tradition ?

Noble old traditions, or tender, rare traditions do indeed carry a great and constant eharm with them ; and it is in keeping with the full spirit of the best art that traces of these noble and tender traditions should come into our everyday work to help our present achievement ; they give color: they give literary quality ; they give depth ; they give affluence and sweet savors of the past ; but this make no reason for saying or believing that no new bases of tradition should be sought, or that art, finding its motive in the real wants and aspirations of home-life to-day, may not found new traditions to blend at some future time with still older ones, and so contribute its quota toward the rounding out of the great cycle of art development.

All this talk started by a straight-backed chair, which we had no thought of specially commending: but, finding it standing sturdily here in our very front, we have made it the text of the foregoing preachment.

Beyond the chair, in the darkest of the shadow, is some pit (for wood, as we judge), its fore-front and that of the cupboard above, with the generous door and as generous hinges, being flush with the chimneybreast.

If we put wood below shall we put other fuel in the square cupboard—decanters—square black bottles—tobacco? Or is it receptacle for flagons, jugs, sauces? Possibly a silver salver hangs within, and mugs, sugar-bowls, finding some protection there (though not complete) against the blackening fumes from the burning gas. The top of this cupboard, of even height with the mantel, makes a convenient resting-place for glasses, vases, dishes; a little fainter and weaker in their "Exposition" character than those upon the mantel (as is just); and on the other flank of the chimney there is another falling away from the voyant exhibit of the mantel proper to lesser glasses, kettles, teapots, whatnots, a hunt whose mysterious use and days of use only the mistress of the house could wisely instruct us.

Note again that the recess formed by the chimney on its other flank has not its sturdy, square cupboard door, which a persistent worker for "matching things" might very likely have set here in vapid double, but shelves for storage of rare and quaint glass, kept free from injury and dust and too meddlesome fingers by little sliding panels of plate-glass—glass so clear and solid that it does not require framing, but slides back and forth in prepared grooves of the wood-work upon its own well-ground edges. Below this upper closed cabinet is a lower array of shelves for material (Japanese mostly) rare and curious, but so strong and self-balanced that they do not demand glass covering and do not fear the oflicious handling of a maid or the flirt of a Japanese duster.

Amd now finally in our reckoning up, but firstly in its importance, is the fireplace and the mantel. You would say it was a Queen Anne mantel very likely, and possibly might add that it had no business with the chairs; no business with the table; no business with the Japanese wares. If the sort of unity implied in such speech-making is what our critical reader must rave, it is quite possible that we shall be offending him, off amd on for a week or two to come.

As a matter of fact the mantel is a veritable old one taken bodily from a house built in the colonial period, and with its sober brown investment of color (paint, of course) is as efficient a guard of the hearthstone and carrier of the trifles that rest upon it as it ever was in the good year 1768(Queen Anne being then fifty years in her grave). Of its special features, of the tile decorations of the hearth and of the squarely honest fireplace, we shall have somewhat to say some other week.
                                                               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. Some of the typesetting for this article was to grainy to decipher properly (***?***). skirt in bouglante for one???