Saturday, March 9, 2013

From Lobby To Peak: A Library Corner

***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 ten of eleven - published May 3, 1882*** 

 IN the corner an Indo-Dutch chair, with its ebony or other wood covered with quaint incised work, and with a wealth of cushioned plush that is very inviting for dalliance with a "No-name" book, but too inviting for tussle with the Noxum Organum. There is no one rule which is good  for the furnishing of all libraries. A chair to sit comfortably upon, a good lamp to see by, a solid table for note taking and a shelf for books are the essentials. One may vary these and complicate them as he may vary and complicate the furniture of his brain, only some symbols of brain-work should be present. Vases one would say should carry somewhat of historic or archaeological flavor about them, and Indian bric-a-brac, if there be such, should reflect a little of the " Light of Asia".

 But what have we specially to note about our "Corner"? We observe upon the lower surface of the wall Japanese paper (imitation leather), laid on diagonally, showing differences of tone, but none of surface, as the drawing wrongly intimates. Above this the dado is made complete by two fillets of wood, and intersecting fillets enclosing little squares set of with thin Japanesque plates of metal. Nothing could possibly be simpler than this disposition of wood-finish, nothing easier of adjustment in the smallest or most modest house, and these enclosed squares chasing each other around the circuit of the walls might have their illuminations by home studies of color, might have a dance of silhouette figures, might show in a country home the whole series of wild flowers as they burst into bloom, and in a nursery might beguile the young folk with a procession of fairies, or "Forty Thieves", or Mother Goose's people, led off by Walter Crane*** illustrator*** or Miss Emmet. Again, these short strips of wood might be so adjusted as to receive glass slides, which might be put to practical use in covering dried flowers, or leaves, or grasses, so that one botanically inclined and puzzled for space might put his herbarium into decorative shape ; or, if a country liver, and entomologically bent, he could put his moths and butterflies into very effective show.

 Above this range of squares, which we have dwelt upon, with what some may count a fantastic array of suggestions, without exhausting the half that occur to us, we find the matted wall-covering before noted, and its support by irregularly disposed strips of wood, these forming the very simple yet effective framework to two paintings—one of Colman, giving a look across the sheen of the Hudson to the Palisades, and the other a galaxy of some riotous blooming things.

 As respects the matting, there may be said in its favor that  its own dun tint is most agreeable, that it is inexpensive, that it carries for a long time a pleasant balsamic odor, that it has an air of great neatness and cleanliness, and that it takes most accommodatingly any pigment which even a home decorator may choose to put upon it.

 On the other hand we anticipate a little objection making speech from the Mistress Plantagenets (who have brooms and dusters in the blood), to the effect that the open interstices of such a wall-cover will keep a great deal of floating dust which ordinary household service will not reach. In this there may be a measure of truth ; yet the objection will hold as strongly against velvety papers, and indeed all drapery.

 We recur to the pictures and to their simple, economic frame-work. If good paintings will hear this treatment kindly, good engravings may hear it also; nay, the autotypes, or the chromos even, which make the rarest pictorial ventures of many a housekeeper, may take their places in such an easy, dexterous kind of paneling with very excellent effect; they may be brought "on the line" ; they may be accommodated with what space they demand ; they may be easily replaced, and the strips which form the frame (and which in most instances should have uniform tint, agreeing with the other wood investiture of the walls) may have, where necessary, a little interior and subordinate fillet of gilded or bronzed wood. These rectangular interspacings, too, give capital opportunity for the placement of maps—never bad addenda to library fittings; and the later and best German relief-maps, when judiciously and quietly tinted, have a picturesqueness of their own.

 We note again, with respect to this simple way of breaking up bald wall-surface by economic exterior paneling, that it enables one to renew easily the wall-covering and to make home adjustment of it. A lively cretonne of good colors may supplant the matting: even old tapestry material may have its adjustments and joinings covered by these wood borders which form the paneling.

 Of course care should be taken to establish the vertical strips upon the solid (beams) within the wall, and to this end it is always well, in any and all home walls, to mark, in some easily determined way, the exact position of the upright studding. This may be done by a diagram, or by markings upon the floor or washboard.

 Observe too how easily this paneling will mate itself with any wish to establish temporary and exterior decoration. What a chance it gives for the adjustment of Christmas wreaths, or for the pretty festoons of lively and joyous drapery which some festal day in the family may invite! Young hands may drive nails in it without horrifying the master or the mistress.    Isn't that a good homely residuum to have amidst all the whirl and flow of decorative intention?

 Again, these strips of wood with their rectangular disposition may have a subdued ornamentation of their own. Cross-hatchings, home done, may show a little floral play left in relief; or the fillets may carry a hit of dentellated Venetian moulding, or a notched chevron finish, or (by the sea-shore with canvased interspaces) may show rope moulding and so give a snuff of sea things.

 Yet, again, these dividing lines upon the wall may take on broader proportions, and join at top in a rectangular, basket-like lattice, to form a frieze within which some vine-like tracery may be set allow ; or still more homely and not untitling to walls of an extemporized home in the country, the members of this panel work may simulate the beams of construction, paired in the corners and showing diagonal braces or bolt-heads and the score of axes. So you may get something of the quaintness and picturesqueness of an old, country timber-house at an easy and manageable rate.

 And now, leaving the walls, what shall we have to say of the two little doors of Japanese lacquer which open above the head of our "No-name" reader***Tiffany***? They give glimpse of the hall, and of the bit of mosaic there, which does duty in the ventilating shaft ; they give also, contrariwise, a glimpse from the hall of the library fire, of which fact we have already made note. Observe, also, that these are doors "in-door," and if closed would represent the upper ornamented panels of the larger door, to which they are attached. "Odd notion,"' you say. Aye, so it is. But why not doors within doors, as well as little ventilating loopholes of windows in larger windows? Nor is the matter wholly strange. Old country doors cut through horizontally in the middle, and thus excluding the colder air, and vagrant peafowl maybe, yet giving free ventilation and a good, serviceable leaning post for the country master, what time he lazes their upon his elbows, snuffing the fragrance of the May, were not bad. Nor yet are the little wickets bad, cut sheer through oaken and spiked doors, whereat in old Italian houses the leathern-faccd mistress will speer earnestly at one with her coal black eyes before she sets free the bigger door that gives admission. Both these are like, and yet unlike; so that traditionary support is not wanting.

 But what if it were? If any such phantasy can be set to offices of convenience, nay, if without clearly demonstrable convenience, it have a relishy novelty, which without harm doing, individuates the rooms or the treatment, it is good and well worth the doing. Why, in Heaven's name should we all wear the same pattern of waistcoat indoors or out ?

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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