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The House Journal   | September 1902

Old vs New Furniture

Why the style of your furniture matters
image  the old and the new

Why the style of your furniture matters

The dispute over the comparative merits of the ancient and modern is at least as old as Bacon, and the discussion rages as fiercely today as ever it did. In the matter of furniture it is particularly marked, and, whereas we have on the one side those who contend that old forms and old details are hopelessly stale and unprofitable, there is on the other an equally emphatic party of admirers of all the classic styles who cannot for one moment tolerate that modern development to which they strenuously deny the name of progress.

In this, as in most other disputes and discussions, a safe dictum to apply is that neither party is wrong and that neither party is right. The disagreement arises from the limitation set on the imaginative powers of the everyday person. This one is only able to see so much at a time; that one, too, is similarly confined, but his particular outlook happens to be different. So far so good, but, in addition, as we proceed we find that the passion for partisanship, combined with the difficulty of acquiring catholicity of taste, produces that sweeping condemnation either of the old or the new which we find on the one side and the other. That nice discrimination which belongs to those who have the capacity and tolerance to be eclectic, ensures, it is true, their success, but, unfortunately, is only too rarely met with.

The fact of the matter is, of course, that there is a good and bad both in old and new; but they must be sifted by long study and careful artistic training, when the faults of both may be avoided, and the beauties imitated. No doubt the Jacobean style became overloaded and vulgar in tone, and no doubt the Georgian and French styles became finiky and unconvincing. No doubt, too, much modern work is without interest and frequently extravagant. All this does not prevent the older styles from possessing that perfect conception of outline, and correct apportionment of detail, which come of long experience, and the newer styles from displaying the fresh inspiration, which is the result of a return to the study of primitive forms of art. The qualities which are missing in the latter will be supplied by time and experiment, while the defects of the older styles may be eliminated by a judicious avoidance of unnecessary embellishments or redundancy of ornamentation.

The Hatfield writing desk from Story & Co. furniture makers
illustration  The Hatfield writing desk from Story & Co.

The accompanying illustrations will bear ample evidence to the statement that the firm responsible for them, Messrs. Story & Co., of Kensington High Street, S.W., employ designers who are not out of touch with the modern developments of art, and yet have the thorough and detailed knowledge of reognised styles, with the complete familiarity with thrir history that such knowledge implies.

The sketch of the Hatfield writing desk, which is in fumed oak and tasty metal furniture, illustrates the first. Here we have a pirce of work without the intolerable extravagance exhibited by some modern designers, and yet quite in keeping with latter-day demands for simplicity.

On the other hand, in the photograph of the Elizabethan bedroom, we find an extremely dainty reproduction of that interesting and homely style. The furniture is in light oak, and the hangings of a woven brocade. The balance between extreme severity and overcrowding of ornament has been nicely struck, and the handsome four-poster, with the characteristic laid-on half-turning at the back, is in perfect historical accord with the brick fireplace and the andirons. The square-framed chair and the pretty little table with drop handles, and the beamed ceiling with its hanging lanterns, all give a perfect finish to the room.

An Elizabeth Bedroom by Messrs. Story
image  An Elizabeth Bedroom by Messrs. Story

The Gothic drawing-room is of equal interest. The colouring at the top is blue, and the little figured frieze under the dentilled cornice is in bluish shades. The tiles are blue also, and a hammered brass hood unites with the foliated bosses in other parts of the decoration to earn the denomination Gothic. The designing of a room like this is not an ordinary task. Many famous artists in the early part of the Nineteenth Century taxed their brains to adapt the then popular Gothic style for domestic purposes, but, owing perhaps to an excess of zeal and devotion to the style they adopted, their efforts were rarely as successful as the one here shown.

A Gothic Drawing Room by Messrs. Story
image  A Gothic Drawing Room by Messrs. Story

The old Portuguese brocade and "Trellis" chintz afford a reminder that Messrs. Story & Co. have always made a special feature of textiles of all description. Although the illustrations lack colour, they give some idea of the beautiful pieces of work from which they are taken.

Antique Portuguese Brocade
image  Reproduction of Antique Portuguese Brocade in soft colourings of Old Greens, Rose, Blues, and Golds, on Ecru, Blue, or Rose Grounds
Trellis Chintz
image  "Trellis" Chintz—A design on White Grounds printed in Soft Shades of Pink and Green, Pink and Blue, also Mauve and Green

The Elizabethan dining-room, with its handsome green and brown hangings, the Dutch room, with its green fireplace and quaint hanging lanterns, as well as many other of the new showrooms recently opened to illustrate the various old English styles, thoroughly merit the inspection of those who, though they do not despise modern art—of which they will here find many examples—still retain a fondness for the work of the art-craftsmen of past ages.

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This article is a reprint of an existing article, published in The House, September 1902. It is the intent of this website to present this article in human and machine readable form. Format and editing changes have been made. This article is provided for the purpose of enjoyment only.