Saturday, September 1, 2012

From Lobby To Peak - Round About the Room

***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 five of eleven - published March 22, 1882*** 

Let us see  now what we have about the walls of that snug room where the "Early Breakfast" was a-serving.   And, firstly, there is running around the room about three feet above the floor what a country carpenter would call the "chair-moulding" and what the stickler for niceties of speech would call perhaps the upper member or the cornice of the dado.   This furnishes a ledge, projecting maybe an inch and a half, where plaques, quaint old platters, half blue and white, or a Japanese array of dishes may be set on edge, all held in place and guarded against careless elbows by a small brass rod stretching from corner to corner or door to door, and fastened in the wood.     If the dishes in such receptacle are subject to frequent handling, and in a summer cottage by the sea, the every-day ware might easily make an "all around" decoration, the wall behind them for a breadth of eighteen inches should have cover that would suffer wear and not show finger-marks.    Nothing could well be better for this purpose than a strip of stamped leather-hanging, which we judge to be the material shown here in the lesser of the two cuts.   A very strong paper is also made in imitation of a bronze-toned leather, and except usage be inordinately hard would serve the end in view.

The upper edge of this wall-covering is both concealed and protected by another moulding into which little brass hooks are fastened and from which depend cups, as many and as rare and as rich as you like.

This is not the sort of decoration that would belong to the banquet-hall of a palace ; it would not justly and fairly belong to the homes of those who love to repeat at a distance palatial echoes. But let us remember that we are in a not over-large city apartment where economy of space is imperative, and where ceremony must wait upon tasteful disposition of the area at command.

Look again at the second and larger picture of our showing this week, and see what varied effect may be produced by differing sizes, hues and position in the assemblage of faience or porcelain upon this ledge of our dado : and observe again in respect of it that the easy, seemingly careless disposition of the successive rounds of color and of figure are such as would grow naturally out of the caprices of a zealous and variety-loving housewife, who would treat her friends to one show of her wares at a dinner of to-day and to another show at the dinner of to-morrow.

Once more, in reference to this bandlet of associated forms and color backed by deep bronze tint, consider how much the humblest little collage might be lighted up and made gay and festive and piquant such an "all around " disposition of blues and reds and grays, of Sunday wares and "best plates" and India china, and the rich brown of cooking dishes.

But what concerning the colors above and below this bronze-toned band of easy cupboardry? Below, it is not dillicult to see that low tones prevail and a color it would be a little unsafe to descibe : a brown surely, not over heavy, but we will suppose a pure Vandyke brown with a little lightening in it of white. And this foil of low-toned color should not only be laid upon the broad wall surface of the dado, but also upon the successive mouldings we encounter directly above; for on closer inspection we perceive that the moulding which carries its little dependent array of teacups, or tankards, as the case may be, is not the only one, but that another covers the edge of a second bandlet of color of neatly equal width with the bronze-toned one, and carrying certain puzzling forms.    What are we to make of this bandlet and of these net-like forms?

We must go beyond what the picture tells here, and say that it is a hand of cloth—arras, if you phase—blue in its prevailing tint : Japanese in origin, with longish, parallel white flecks of color woven into the tissue, as if it symbolized the sea. Perhaps it did in the weaver's fancy, perhaps it did not. In any event, the easily-fancied symbolism has been seized upon to warrant the deft fingers of some mistress of  the household in her pretty broidery task of working silken meshes of a net, here and there, over this blue sparkle of a sea and planting in her net, or near to its vagrant lines red sea-crabs, shining fishes, branches of sea-coral, whatever in short a nice, taste might suggest, as good adornment for such sea-blue ground of canvas, with all the aids of sparkling beads (flashing on the gills of fishes), and softest crewels and flossiest of silks. Yet all the tints are, as they should be, courageously subordinated. There is no flashy red, no brilliant blue, no screaming yellow ; the whites are sharpest, and they narrowed to spaces that are scarce seen in our pictures. The whole is firmly attached to the wall (glued perhaps), and as we said, protected as to its upper edge with a strip of the Vandyke brown moulding. Above this comes one of those piquant, soft-surfaced Japanese papers, the wall growing lighter us we go up, and drifted over with those puzzling groups of little disks, which the almond-eyed people love so well and which seem to carry strange mysteries in them.

But above all this, and just below the cornice—forming a frieze, is another bandlet of that curious, dreamy-blue cloth, stretched all round firm and hard, and showing a tint which, if below, it might be fancied a bit of sea, can with a fancy as easy be called here a strip of sky.

There are the same irregular streaks of white, which may be bits of stratus these have heen supplemented by the embroiderer's hand with litlle fleecy piles of cumulus and vagrant waifs of cirrous clouds, and at one point, unless our eyes deceive us, with flecks of snow. Then, into this belting of blue sky birds are happening always under the broideier's hand; birds with great sheaf of broad-spread wings, birds in gray solitude on brown splays of silk, birds of plumage rarer, flashing with what seem by contrast tints of gold and crimson.

And now let us moralize a little upon the order and style of this wall decoration. That "all around" cupboard may he extemporised as an "utter" convenience in the humblest household, nay in kitchen, and light up hardest work with its comforting disks of blue; and the same in the daintiest of households may be made by adroit selection and wise collocation a "thing of joy."

That bronze-toned leather is noway hard to find ; leather-like paper even less hard to find ; and if the seeker after good effects is debarred both, a dash of bronze color upon a deal board (better if paneled) will give all the effect. Consider again those bandlets of blue cloth : this indeed chances to apart in its weaving, a quaintness that comes from Japan, and so its nativity explains (and yet does not explain) those vagrant traces of white in the body of the color. but you may find good wall cloths outside of Japan, cloths which if they do not tempt you to counterfeit the sparkle of a sea or the feathery lights in a sky, may tempt you in a score of other ways, if you have the grace and dexterity to fling your floss silk into its meshes, for the telling of some simpler story.

What the story should be we do not to tell ; it may be a story of apple-blossoms, a story of "cherries ripe," a story of leaning reeds and rushes with dragon-flys dashing among them, a story of trailing vines where purple clusters hang. Whatever it be home ingenuity, leavened with a little subtle thinking, can work it-out : and so you will come stitch by stitch to the best sort of home decoration. You will not come up to Mrs. Wheeler's level in a day or a month, or a score of them ; but you will he venturing into fields where you may always go forward and always be drawing nearer to the best sort of accomplishment.

And now what of that cabinet which hangs against the wall, chained there as would seem and clamped about with metal fastenings?

We note first about it that it is a movable fixture, and from its strong array of metal bands and clasps, that it may very likely carry silver. Spanish, too, we should judge, of old stamped leather, that may have guarded trinkets ages ago; so as it hangs there, over the side-table, if seems to carry an odor of the wine of Xeres about it, and of garlic, and of golden-spurred Hidaigos.

What may be within? Its doors being closed we will not venture to say. But if put to good service it is every way a proper belonging to the room, and will serve as hint for what may be done in a dining-room in way of suspended clipboards and corner cupboards and cupboards of all sorts; on which topic we shall find margin some other week for fuller talk. 

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.

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