In fitting up the parlor of such a cottage as this, good taste would seem to indicate that the carpet should be of small pattern, and rather quiet in color, so as to give an air of repose to the whole room. The wood-work might be either stained and varnished, or painted in light, cheerful tints. The walls should be covered with a pretty, fanciful paper, harmonizing with the wood-work, and not large in pattern, or it would appear to decrease the size of the apartment.
The mantle-piece may be of wood, of some simple, tasteful design, corresponding with the rest of the room, and yet look far better than a cold, costly white marble affair, that will run away with much money to no purpose.
The centre-table should be a sensible, substantial piece of furniture, at which three or four people will be able to sit and read comfortably.
A well-made chintz-covered lounge, although a much more economical, and a far more comfortable piece of furniture than a modern rose-wood sofa, will be found to have an equally agreeable effect in the room.
Two or three tables of fanciful design and trifling expense, that can be moved wherever they may be wanted at a moment's notice, will give life and animation to such a parlor; and an easy-chair or two for tired visitors, besides the regular half dozen, will be found very acceptable.
Some pretty, simple engravings on the wall in neat frames, and an oil- painting or two, can be obtained at a very moderate cost. Pretty casts for the mantle-piece, or to be placed on brackets here and there on the walls, may be obtained for a mere trifle. I purchased one, for example, the other day, in New York, for twenty-five cents, full of grace, beauty, and artistic thought.
A bird-cage, or a basin of gold-fish, or a hanging backet for flowers, if there are any young girls in the family, will also help to give an air of vitality to the whole room, which should be the central point of attraction for all the inmates. It is possible, however, if we lay much stress on these minor accessories, that some Mr. Blank may say, "This will never do. We can't have our girls fussing around with flowers, and birds, and gold-fish. They have their duties to perform, and their studies to attend to." We will, therefore, stop here, merely venturing to remark, with all due deference, that although duties must, of course, be performed, yet innocent pleasures ought also to be encouraged, and that no study will insure so rich a reward to all concerned as the study of simple, quiet, domestic grace and elegance.
Notes by Sarah E. Mitchell: Calvert Vaux included the above comments on parlor decoration in his description of his design for "A Simple Suburban Cottage" (see sketch above). In that particular design, the parlor was to measure 15 feet 9 inches by 12 feet 6 inches. The house itself was two stories, with cellar below and attic above.
Text by Calvert Vaux, Villas and Cottages. A series of Designs Prepared for Execution in the United States, Harper & Brothers, Publishers, New York, 1857, pp. 110-111. Sketch is Design No. 1 (Vaux and Withers): A Simple Suburban Cottage from Calvert Vaux, Villas and Cottages. A series of Designs Prepared for Execution in the United States, Harper & Brothers, Publishers, New York, 1857, p. 108; Digital Editing by Sarah E. Mitchell.
Copyright © 2003 Sarah E. Mitchell