In a purely classical room, sheltered by the embrace of classical form, there is a singular intention, a thread of decorative motif that will carry throughout in varying degrees. An acanthus leaf that snakes around the cornice will embellish the leg of a chair. The shape of that cornice will be echoed in the rug. This decorative harmony is pleasing to the eye and although to us it may look a bit staid or overly formal, it was a revelation in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Nearly as soon as it was introduced though, we were busy chipping away at classicism, or perhaps reforming it for our own purposes, and responding to the cycle of industrialisation and war. With industrialisation came cheap, mass produced pictures and furnishings. Today we are not accustomed to exercising rigourous restraint when creating or renewing rooms. Few of us will seek to freeze a room in time when putting it together. This is usually the preserve of the rare historic house where a collection of furnishings has remained intact, where the original collection is being pieced back together as much as possible, or where the owner seeks to create a particular period.
|The double parlours at Millford, 1840, in South Carolina, repaired and restored, including many of the original Duncan Phyfe furnishings, sought out and returned to the house by owner Dick Jenrette. He believes Millford to be the finest example of Greek Revival Architecture in America.|
Especially in Britain, we are often happiest to create a pleasing jumble out of all our possessions, or as Nicky Haslam said recently on Radio 4, "to create a story of objects". The decorator Nancy Lancaster was famous for creating this look, perfected at the home bought with Ronald Tree, Ditchley Park. She and her husband had little in the way of important pictures and furnishings for theit vast pile. Instead she created atmosphere using pieces that were the precursors of what is detestably referred to today as shabby chic. Brought up in a lovely house in Virginia that had suffered much during the American civil war, a bit of pleasing decay was important to her. Whilst we try to make things old using special finishes and dyes and paint finishes, she would leave a newly upholstered sofa lying out in the rain until she had the result she was after.
|The elegantly proportioned hall with Palladian chimneypiece and stone flags, |
comfortably yet sparsely furnished by Nancy Lancaster in the mid 1950s
What we do today, often unconsciously, is use classsical principles as a reference point for our rooms. The anything goes approach often termed eclectic, which in real terms means a mixture of furnishings, art and pictures from many different periods and styles, in a room that may have no architectural context for its contents, predominates. We are literally bombarded with choice and to some degree I believe that is reflected in the way we furnish our rooms and why we furnish them this way. It is what we see everywhere. Media exposure, for better or ill, has become our version of The Grand Tour. Despite the pendulum swing at the end of the last century towards modernism, classical influence is still apparent.
|Classical architectural details such as the early dado and panelling in this intimate drawing room, and the cornice added by antiques dealer owner Michael Rainey, although incongruous, provide a suitable backdrop for its contents. The fine bibelots and furniture, combined with contemporary sofa and chairs, are almost whimsically placed. Decorative scheme by Killian-Dawson|
|"Happy are those who see beauty in modest spots where others see nothing. Everything is beautiful, the whole secret lies in knowing how to interpret it." French painter Camille Pissarro|