The Modern Use Of The French Period Styles


The world has often turned to Paris for its fashions, so it is small wonder that French house furnishings should play their part in society. There is sufficient variety in styles as distinctive and different as the Henry II and Louis XV to meet all tastes and even follow the swing of fashion's pendulum. One point must be kept clearly in mind in working in the French periods and that is that they are absolute. The successful introduction of anything not French into a French room, unless it be something Chinese, is such a difficult problem that it is better avoided; while a few pieces of French furniture can often be happily accommodated in rooms furnished in other styles.

But, it is not mandatory for the decorator to keep each French room in strict period because the periods overlap. While to the purist, curvilinear and rectilinear furniture and brick fireplace mantels and shelves are not properly associated, some very pleasing decorative schemes can be worked out by the combination of such pieces as are not too extreme in type. The Louis XV and XVI types frequently overlap, as do the Louis XIV and XV, and the Directoire and Empire.

Even the Louis XVI and Directoire types may be happily assembled. A perfect French period room when achieved is really a work of art, but its very perfection often makes it so unlivable that it is redundant in the modern home unless used in a mansion and a room for occasional use only. It looks palatial and it is meant for a palace. Artists of ability are also required to carry out even the smallest details of French decorative ornament to avoid banality. Nothing is more inane than amateurish work in the French styles and this should always be avoided. The most conscientious attention to detail is required, like room proportions, wall panel divisions, moldings, cornices, window and door openings, appropriate textiles for upholstery and drapery, all accessories, and the furniture and floor coverings.

None of the decorative styles are more demanding or rigid than the French styles. They are a matter of thought as well as taste. When completed, they are so ceremonious that they almost demand a certain elaborate social etiquette, with a good deal of bowing and scraping long since abandoned by society, there is a strong modern tendency to appropriate the simplified types of French provincial styles used in the country homes far away from Paris, where local craftsmen followed the Parisian models as well as they could, which means without the artist and the expert painter, wood carver, etc.

These French provincial rooms are more livable and informal, and have been growing in favor since about 1923. It is never advisable to attempt to design a room in any of the French period styles without documentary evidence at hand for reference at every step. However, a free use of French furniture, textiles, wall d?cor, door toppers, mirrors, window toppers, candelabras, and other accessories can be made in modern rooms, and so grouped as to meet the daily living conditions of the family, and to be practicable as well as in good taste.

In such rooms, furniture grouping is of first importance?window groups, lamp-light groups, table groups, fireside groups, or lounging groups, according to the use of the room. The boudoir, woman's bedroom, and the room for the young girl are never more beautifully or luxuriously furnished than when some of the elements of French furnishings are introduced, especially in connection with the draped bed, draped dressing table, and chaise lounge. Little French tables, commodes, cabinets, tabourets, and consoles are extremely useful in modern rooms when a little of everything is tastefully assembled. The chaise lounge in two or even three sections is an extremely useful and decorative piece of furniture.

The appropriate use of brightly colored leathers and Chinese rugs with Louis XV furnishings is not very well understood. Leather upholstery in single or combined colors was effectively used in that period. The decorative value of leather combined in canary yellow and powder blue, scarlet and lemon yellow, French green and lemon yellow can only be appreciated by use. These leathers may either be bright colored or antiqued. The use of Chinese rugs in appropriate pastel colorings with the addition of lacquer is very suitable especially where the chinoiscrie element is introduced in wall-papers, wooden bar rails, textiles, or screens.

As a rule the later development of the Louis XV style and the styles following are more suitable to modern conditions due to the fact that they are more consistent with the small rooms that we use today. French paneling may be introduced by the application of loose moldings applied to walls that should be first covered with muslin. French panels are usually made with a 2-inch molding and are vertical in proportion rather than square or horizontal. The spaces between the panels (stiles) are narrow and average from 2 1/2 to 4 inches.

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