Friday, January 4, 2019

The Gilded Age is History

What about the 'social value' of antiques? By that I mean: How furniture and accessories are intertwined in our social lives and represent our personal voice.  

The Decoration of Houses was written by Edith Wharton and Odgen Codman in 1897.  Wharton was in her 30's, a wealthy socialite in Manhattan with a passion for architecture and interior design, not the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist she became later.  Her family was so wealthy and so (self-) indulgent that the coining of the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses" was about her family.

This book became what Architectural Digest terms "the King James Version of the Bible."  What Wharton espoused was things like:
  • pleasingly proportioned rooms inspire
  • when on a budget invest in comfortable chairs and sofas and not accessories
  • build and decorate houses based on individual needs not trends
This was during the Gilded Age of mansions such as The Breakers in Newport, Biltmore in Asheville, Nemours in Delaware.  There were hundreds of these homes dominating the design scene.

The 'palace' look remained a prized style for decades and decades. In my youth, people had reproduction antiques into their homes to achieve European elegance.  Our small suburban houses were built on the same principles as the gilded age 'temples.' What were they?  The explanation comes from Wikipedia's commentary on the gilded age houses:

"All these houses are "temples" of social ritual of 19th-century high society, they are the result of the particularization of space, in that a sequence of rooms are separated and intended for a specific sort of activity, such as dining room for gala dinners, ballroom, library, etc."

Aspirations of architectural grandeur continue today.  So what's different in our home design and decor?  Edith Wharton's principles have taken over.  This means 'dark rooms' are gone. Our commonly accepted social style is contemporary and current.  


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