Thursday, November 22, 2012

Room Service (1948)

Taken from Everywoman magazine, October 1948.

Our new Home-making editor invites you to study with her the three living-rooms pictured here: each belongs to a flat in one large converted house and each has been done up by its young owners. Whose taste do you prefer?

Mr. and Mrs. Pikestaff own this sitting-room. Like most young couples today the Pikestaffs had to furnish on a keen budge. They distempered the walls and painted the woodwork cream because it was the easiest colour to get and "goes with" everything. Because they believe in light rooms they carried the white of the ceiling down to the picture rail. Linoleum is hygenic and easy to keep clean, they reckoned, so they laid as much as they could get on the floor, stained the surrounding boards and added a small rug in front of the fire. Mrs. Pikestaff made "pretty" short, flowered curtains.

"Utility furniture is quite the best value for money today," decided the Pikestaffs and so equipped their room throughout: a dining-table, four chairs, a bookcase and a sideboard in dark ("won't show marks") oak and a three-piece suite. They chose a central ceiling fixture and a standard lamp for lighting, and as they had no pictures they just hung a mirror over the fireplace.

Comment: I wonder if your general impression of the Pikestaff's sitting-room is the same as mine? There's nothing obviously wrong with it, is there? It looks perfectly ordinary and that's just the point - it is ordinary. It might have been composed by any furniture salesman as a showroom for his stock.

I think the Pikestaffs should have valued the room's size and painted up the walls with cleverer colours than that apologetic, dead-level cream. By having cottage-type casement curtains they have thrown away the character of those large Georgian windows and wasted money on cheerless linoleum and an inadequate rug to cover their good board floor. I agree with them about the quality of Utility furniture, but an all-Utility collection needs careful arrangement and background to achieve individuality.

Mr. and Mrs. Folderol are a bright couple. They like to be up to the minute in everything. Brightly coloured floors were the newest thing, an American magazine had informed them. Strip carpet was unobtainable in bright colours but they found floor felt in a strong red and covered the floor with this. "Wallpaper is returning to fashion," ran an article in an English magazine they took, with illustrations of its uses including a papered niche of display shelves in a plain wall. The Folderols found what they considered a sufficiently striking paper, then panelled both chimney recesses and even the chimney-breast with it. Pictured in a French magazine Mrs. F. saw such enchanting muslin window drapes that she bought yards of net and fixed her new windows in the same way.

You wouldn't expect the Folderols to find anything appealing in Utility furniture, and they didn't. Having read all about the modern craze for Victoriana they furnished with late Victorian pieces from far-flung sales and secondhand shops. From an artist friend's studio they copied the wonderful divan seat. Mixing the old and the new in furnishing is very chic, they know. So they dine at a painted (by themselves) kitchen-table, and take their coffee from a high, round Victorian tea-table.

Comment: It's quite obvious that this couple's keen desire to be smart and their touching belief in the printed word have swamped their critical faculty and their common sense. Keeping abreast of new trends is a good idea, but these two have misapplied what they learned. Those drapes, for instance, would be lovely at a bedroom window in summer but are quite unpractical as winter curtains for a sitting-room. That rich red felt, used as a stair carpet in an all-white hall would be beautiful and practical but here it is neither. To mix styles in furniture successfully one must be sure the pieces are examples of good style: late Victorian and modern Bloomsbury theatrical are not good styles.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith planned their room with care (like the Pikestaffs) and with enthusiasm (like the Folderols) but with the balance of good taste and good sense which neither of the others display. Warm pink walls, with a restrained striped paper to dramatize the height of the room on the wall facing the windows. Ground length curtains (draught-proof and dignified) across the bay; venetian blinds against the pane; a window seat below, containing cupboard space; all the ingredients for comfortable winter and summer living. The good board floor, stained and polished, covered at strategic points with good-sized rugs.

The furniture an intelligent blend of modern Utility and plainest style Victorian. Look at the fireside group; Utility fireside chair and armchair; a pleasantly shaped old sofa, re-upholstered and with its wood stripped to match the modern light oak of the chair; a Utility coffee-table the right height for the chairs.

The Smiths' Victorian dining table is hospitably round to accommodate the odd guest at any time. They couldn't find a matched set of dining chairs, so bought two pairs and use them harlequin fashion. Their sensible sideboard is light oak Utility.

The Smiths made bookshelves across the chimney embrasures and Mrs. Smith hung an old mirror in one reflecting the door and a wide view of the room and a set of cherished flower prints in the other.

Unlike the Folderols the Smiths can see what they're doing by artificial light anywhere in the room. One lamp on the big table covers eating, writing and sewing activities; there is another beside the fireplace and for various occasions when flat lighting is necessary they have the ceiling fixture.

The Smiths' living-room seems to me to have everything. It's comfortable, practical, easy to run, good to look at and has personality: is in fact a home. Don't you agree?


  1. I really veer toward the second two, as I love a good dose of punchy colour and uniqueness to a room. It's a close call indeed, but I think the second inches out as my very favourite, and is a room I certainly wouldn't mind living with every day myself.

    ♥ Jessica

  2. Ha ha, I love these old articles. I've always hated the hectoring tone of them, the tendency to conform and be told what to do by them though. I have known people who would take such advice as gospel and not dare think for themselves. To be honest I'm not struck by any of the above but I do agree about a good wooden floor, I'm not a carpet fan and I loathe Venetian blinds. They wouldn't aprove of me at all because I tend towards "Bloomsbury theatricality" or Arts and Crafts style in a big way, I don't do minimalism!


I'd love to hear your thoughts!


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