Thursday, March 10, 2016

Proper Settings for Various Rooms

For those of us writing historical novels we often need to refresh ourselves with the various customs and manners of the past. Below are some excerpts from "Manners of Modern Society: Book of Etiquette" ©1878 about how various rooms in the house should appear. Enjoy!

The morning-room should be cheerful and sunshiny, and wear a domestic, cosy look. It is not fitted up with any particular style of furniture. The curtains and covers will be of some kind of smallpatterned chintz, with a carpet to match. Nothing very grand or very new should find its way into this apartment—nothing stiff or formal. Tables here and there, and chairs of different sorts and sizes, a stand with plants, a small piano, a low book-case—these are the principal features in a room of this description, a general elegant deshabille pervading the whole.
The fittings and furniture of the dining-room must be grave, formal, and massive; but not too elaborate. The most prominent feature is the sideboard. The dining-table used to rank high in beauty and finish, but now that is little cared for; and, provided the top be a broad one, it may be of white or any kind of wood, in these degenerate days when the cloth is never removed for dessert.
The carpet and drapery of this room should be dark, and yet warm and bright-looking, and there must be no ornaments save pictures—oil paintings —" a room hung with pictures is a room hung with thoughts"—and one or two ornaments on the mantelpiece.

The library presents generally a sombre aspect; its walls lined with lofty book-shelves, and one or two tables for the purposes of holding writing materials, pamphlets, and papers.

And now we enter the room which, though most persons try their best, so few succeed in furnishing and arranging tastefully; for, after all, the arrangement of the furniture adds greatly to or takes away from the appearance of the room. This is, par excellence, the lady's room—unless the house is large enough to afford her a boudoir—and the character of the lady herself may be told by inspecting that one room. How very seldom we see the model drawingroom! No upholsterer's routine work should be visible here in stiff suites of furniture (except in case of a drawing-room reserved for special occasions); elegant refinement should reign predominant. cheerfulness should go hand-in-hand with taste. Easy chairs are here a sine qua non. There seems to be a natural affinity between civilised beings and easy chairs, for everybody secures one where possible; therefore let them predominate in the drawingroom—some with high backs and some with low, some with straight backs and some with round, in all nooks and corners. Tables must be placed here, there, and everywhere, and yet not in the way; flowers or plants in vases, scattered about; and ornaments, simple or costly as the case may be, but always in good taste, and, above all things, not overcrowded. But the drawing-room will not be complete, nor yet have its properly comfortable look about it, unless there are plenty of books to be found on the tables, and these should be readable and entertaining volumes of prose and poetry, illustrated works, and magazines, which will not only serve their original purpose, but also supply subjects for conversation at all times, and more especially during that mauvais quart d'heure which precedes a dinner.
The greatest charm in such a room is, that it impresses you with the feeling that it is a resort constantly occupied, used, and enjoyed by the lady of the house. There is something indefinable, which chills and depresses one, on entering a room only used on very state occasions—one that is just inhabited while receiving visitors; a room where the fire-irons are arranged in stiff angles; every appliance in formal array, evidently never exercised in daily wear; where the tables are geometrically studded with smartly-bound unread volumes, and the prim couch and stiff chairs look as if they were meant for anything but to be sat upon.
Family comfort and enjoyment lie dead in a room of this description. This idea, once so prevalent, of having a " best room," is less general nowadays. It is a piece of folly and bad taste which has often been decried. A writer to the Connoisseur complains: "I have elegant apartments, but am afraid to enter them. All the furniture, except when we have company, is done up in paper; it is so genteel that we of the household must not use it commonly, which I consider a ridiculous absurdity and a great hardship."
To ensure comfort in one and all rooms, care should be taken that they are equably heated, neither too hot nor too cold—so that one is not roasted by the fire on one side and frozen by a cold draught of air on the other. Francis, sometime Emperor of Austria, said that it required as much talent to warm a room as to govern a kingdom. Of course part of that talent must be supplied by the architect; but judicious management is also required to preserve the equability; and a room full of people will become irrevocably depressed and glum when they are half-stifled with heat or shivering with cold.

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