Have wood and paper and upholstery really any moral and emotional
Certainly they have. Not very obvious ones perhaps, but
all-pervading and ever-persistent in their character; since there is no
dayscarcely an hourof our lives in which we are not, either
passively or consciously, subject to their influences. Our cravings
after elegance of form, glimmer and shimmer of light and color,
insensibly elevate and civilize us; and the men and women condemned to
the monotony of bare walls and unpicturesque surroundingswhether they
be devotees in cells, or felons in dungeonsare the less human for the
want of these things. The want, then, is a direct moral evil, and a
cause of imperfection.
The desire for beautiful surroundings is a natural instinct in a
pure mind. How tenaciously people who live in dull streets, and who
never see a sunrise, nor a mountain peak, nor an unbroken horizon,
cling to it is proved on all sides of us by the picturesqueness which
many a mechanic's wife imparts to her little twelve-feet-square rooms.
And it is wonderful with what slender materials she will satisfy this
hunger of the eye for beauty and color. A few brightly polished tins,
the many-shaded patchwork coverlets and cushions, the gay stripes in
the rag carpet, the pot of trailing ivy or scarlet geranium, the
shining black stove, with its glimmer and glow of fire and heat, are
made by some subtle charm of arrangement both satisfactory and
In spite of all arguments about the economy of boarding, who does
not respect the men or women who, at all just sacrifices, eschew a
boarding-house and make themselves a home?
A man without a home has cast away an anchor; an atmosphere of
uncertainty clings about him; he advertises his tendency to break loose
from wholesome restraints. So strongly is the force of this home
influence now perceived that the wisest of our merchants refuse to
employ boys and women without homes, while the universal preference is
in favor of men who have assumed the head of the house, and thus given
hostage to society for their good behavior.
But a house is not a home till it is swept and garnished, and
contains not only the wherewithal to refresh the body, but also
something for the comfort of the heart, the elevation of the mind, and
the delight of the eye.
If we would fairly estimate the moral power of furniture, let us
consider how attached it is possible for us to become to it. There are
chairs that are sacred objects to us: the large, easy one, in which
some saint sat patiently waiting for the angels; the little high chair
which was some darling baby's throne till he went away one morning;
the low rocker, in which mother nursed the whole family of stalwart
sons and lovely daughters.
Ask any practised student or writer how much he loves his old desk,
with its tidy pigeon-holes and familiar conveniences. Have they not
many a secret between them that they only understand? Are they not
familiar? Could they be parted without great sorrow and regrets?
Nothing is more certain than that we do stamp ourselves upon dead
matter, and impart to it a kind of life. Is there a more pathetic
picture than that of Dickens's study after his death? Yet no human
figure is present; there is nothing but furniture, the desk on which he
wrote those wonderful stories, and the empty chair before it.
Nothing but the empty chair and the confidential desk to speak for
the dead master; but how eloquently they do it!
Our furniture ought, therefore, to be easy and familiar. We cannot
give our hearts to what is uncomfortable, no matter how quaint or rich
it may be. And though it is always pleasant to have colors and forms
assorted with perfect taste, it is not desirable to have the effect so
perfect that we are afraid to make use of it, lest we destroy it. No
furniture ought to be so fine that we dare not light a fire for fear of
smoking it, or let the sunshine in for fear of fading it. In such rooms
we do not lounge and laugh and eat and rest and live,we only exist.
The proper character of drawing-rooms is that of gayety and
cheerfulness. This is attained by light tints, and brilliant colors and
gilding; but the brightest colors and the strongest contrasts must be
on the furniture, not on the walls and ceilings. These must be
subordinate in coloring, or the effect will be theatrical and vulgar.
The dining-room ought to be one of the pleasantest in the house; but
it is generally in the basement. It ought to be a room in which there
is nothing to remind us of labor or exertion, for we have gone there to
eat and to be refreshed. A few flowers, a dish of fruits, snowy linen
and china, glittering glass and silver, a pleasant blending of warm and
neutral tints are essentials. For ornaments, rare china, Indian vases,
Eastern jars suggestive of fine pickles or rare sweetmeats, and a few
pictures on the walls, representing only pleasant subjects, and large
enough to be examined without exertion, are the best.
Advantages of locality, a refined diner will always perceive and
appropriate. Thus I used to dine frequently with a lady and gentleman
who in the spring always altered the position of the table, so that
while eating they could look through the large open windows, and see
the waving apple-blossoms and breathe the perfumed air, and listen to
the evening songs of the birds. Bedrooms should be light, cleanly, and
cheerful; greater contrasts are admissible between the room and the
furniture, as the bed and window-curtains form a sufficient mass to
balance a tint of equal intensity upon the walls. For the same reason
gay and bright carpets are often pleasant and ornamental.
Staircases, lobbies, and vestibules should be cool in tone, simple
in color, and free from contrasts. Here the effects are to be produced
by light and shadow, rather than by color. Every one must have noticed
that some houses as soon as the doors are opened look bright and
cheerful, while others are melancholy and dull. The difference is
caused by the good or bad taste with which they are papered. Yet who
shall say what events may arise from such a simple thing as the first
impressions of an important visitor? And these impressions may
involuntarily receive their primal tone from a light, cheerful, or
dull, dark hall paper.
All rooms open to the public must have a certain air of conventional
arrangement; but the parlor in every home ought to be a room of
character and individuality. Here is the very shrine and sanctuary of
the Lares and Penates. Here is the grandmamma's chair and knitting, and
mamma's work-basket, and the sofa on which papa lounges and reads his
evening paper. Here are Annie's flowers and Mary's easel and Jack's
much-abused class-books. Here the girls practise and the boys rig their
ship and mamma looks serious over the house books. In this room the
picture papers lie around, every one's favorite volume is on the table,
and the walls are sacred to the family portraits. In this room the
family councils are held and the dear invalids nursed back to life.
Here the boys come to say good-bye when they go away to school or to
business. Here the girls, in their gay party-dresses, come for papa's
final bantering kiss and mamma's last admiration and admonition. Ah,
this room!this dear, untidy, unfashionable parlor! It is the citadel
of the household, the very heart of the home.
None can deny the influence which childhood's home has over them,
even unto their hoary-hairs; the memory of a happy, comfortable one is
better than an inheritance. The girls and boys who leave it have a
positive ideal to realize. There is no speculation in their efforts;
they know that home is Sweet Home. But in all their imaginings
chairs and tables and curtains and carpets have a conspicuous place.
This life is all we have to front eternity with, therefore nothing that
touches it is of small consequence. It is something to the body to have
comfortable and appropriate household surroundings, it is much more to
the mind. Is there any one whose feelings and energies are not
depressed by a cold, comfortless, untidy room? And who does not feel a
positive exaltation of spirit in the glow of a bright fire and the
cosey surroundings of a prettily furnished apartment?
God has not made us to differ in this respect. A pleasant home is
the dream and hope of every good man and woman. As Traddles and his
dear little wife used to please themselves by selecting in the shop
windows their contemplated service of silver, so also many honest,
hopeful toilers fix upon the chairs and curtains that are to adorn
their homes long before they possess them. The dream and the object is
a great gain morally to them. Perhaps they might have other ones, but
it is equally possible that the possession of this very furniture is
the very condition that makes higher ones possible.
Depend upon it A Society for the Improved Furnishing of Poor Men's
Homes would be a step taken in the seven-leagued boots for the
elevation of poor men's and women's lives.