Saturday, October 27, 2012

From Lobby To Peak: Round About-Again

***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 six of eleven - published March 29, 1882*** 

We have here again,  in the corner, a little touch of that bandlet of blue of which we spoke last week, showing with more distinctness the finny denizens of that fancied strip of sea. Against it too is here arranged (by new architectural disposition of the ledges) an array of crystal—flagons, goblets, tumblers—all sharply cut. and by a sort of monotony, more fanciful than real, seeming to lend a little sparkle from their facets of light to the blue of the sea which is behind them.

The twin dishes in the corner show by their position precisely how they are supported and kept in place by the ledge of the dado. We have confronting us too, in the same engraving, the severe cupboard door of which we had occasion to take a glimpse when we came to our "Early Breakfast." Whoso is disturbed by its severity will very likely let his or her eye wander with an approving look to the more ornate one which is hung at the tail of the title line; but let the critic remember that it would never do to flank the quaint simplicity of the colonial mantel with any elaborate decoration in wood; its piquancy would he spoiled by the contrast. There should he no disturbance, by flamboyant carvings, of the repose which such an "old settler" of a mantel should carry with it.

What possible bit of finely this old mantel may have replaced we cannot say, but eight out of ten of the apartment houses built a dozen years ago will show the finery, and ten to one the faithful student of the fashion plates, and "my lady" who shines in the shiniest of satin circulars  will much prefer the finery. Yet, for all, it is a good, sober, homeish mantel—in a New York apartment house, taking off the edge of raw New-Yorkism, and in any house at all carrying traditional sweets of homeishness.

With the finery supplanted by it there certainly belonged the last new grate, with its iron tire prods, and maybe its castellated cast-iron fender and sweet half circle of an arch. Well, in place of it there is only that stupid square opening of a fireplace—of which we see a corner—large enough to take in the big billets of wood under the cupboard, and larger ones by half. Fire-dogs too—if we could set them—standing there sturdily on the tiled hearth, defying the cold, defying bad airs, and shouldering on all murky mornings a sweet burden of blaze.

There is somewhat worth saying of the chimney jambs and of the disposition and treatment of the tiles with which they are covered. They appear to lack any protecting fillet of metal immediately around the fireplace opening. This lack detracts no whit from the effectiveness of the treatment, but does expose the edges to injury by careless servants. The tiles, whose size and juxtaposition are clearly indicated, carry a little fantasy of their own, put in color—a color that is "fired in" and indestructible , yet not a lively or aggressive color, but subdued and showing vague picturings such as an imaginative eye would body forth in reeling clouds of smoke. There are faint indications of a crane, and old, farmers' kettles,and flame and smoke struggling and writhing together-the smoke rising highest and dispersing itself into wreathlets that somehow cover all the exposed area of the chimney, and showing faintly, and more by suggestion than positive outline, the semblance of flowers, of cherubs,  of dragon heads—whatever, in short, a fanciful man will sometimes set himself about discovering, in the winter eventide, amongst the whirls of smoke and flame that loiter and dart around his fire. It is indeed almost   too delicate a subject for an artist to meddle with, except he have smoke upon his pallet and fire in his brush ; but it is poetically typical of the homeliness that ought to reign, and can be made to reign,about a quiet fireside. But the subject of fireplaces is one we shall come upon again and again, and under all sorts of conditions, and what we say here in explanation of this fragment of one is not our last word even about the humblest of them. All neat housewives will agree with us in saying that good tile hearths and tile jambs, whatever figures they carry (so they be not in relief, which is very bad), are easily kept clean. They dust easily: the ashes or smoke do not " set" to them, as they do to rough stone, and not stain them, as they do marble.

Our second engraving, and lesser one, shows a window-screen of opalescent and other glass, which has already been made subject of illustration in one of our art journals, as a type of what the more recent American methods can do in way of glass decoration for homes We restore it here to its place as a screen to the window in our "Apartment" dining-room. It covers half the window, and runs in grooves, and is suspended by such weights and chains as we have before spoken of in connection with the Lobby fixtures—weights and chains which do not need to he hidden, and which by careful adjustment of poise and counterpoise will permit the lift or the fall of the screen at a finger's touch.

Does the  south sun stream in too aggressively through the lower half of the window? We interpose this glazed trellis work, with its riotous growth of leaves and stalk, and the sun is shorn of its sharpness by this seemingly tropical growth. Or if the light is too strong above, a touch of the finger will carry trellis and plant and flaunting leaves up to the height of that bandlet of blue, where—last week—we found birds flying and clouds gathering. And there is yet another practical use for such a screen. which is perhaps most desirable of all. The room is overheated, and a fair and square opening anywhere, in so limited area, makes a pestilent draft : but if we open the window proper—say some fourteen inches—then bring down our trellised screen close upon the windowsill, the air moves in behind it, and through the space between window and screen, disperses itself above, in all the upper regions of the room, without making a light glare, or giving disturbance to the most physical. Then such a screen, with such a subject, carries a racy smack of gardens with it. With the sunlight streaming through it, it is almost a desert in itself—albeit, only an eggplant.

We have remarked only upon the mechanism of this screen, and upon its practical uses, and upon its subject-matter; but of the qualities of this self-colored  glass—its rich hues, its striated texture, its opalescence, and of its adaptation to a multitude of decorative uses, we shall take other occasion to speak.

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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