Sunday, 22 November 2015

Room Layout

Cheverells, by Charlotte Augusta Sneyd

The idea that we’ve come full-circle to the medieval Great Hall with our "modern" open-plan "living spaces" is now a cliché. But...

"Greater iPad use is causing a demand for quiet spaces around the home," says the Guardian Nov 2015. Will we start building walls again?

The classic "country house" living room is big, light and airy. There’s a large mirror on the narrow mantelpiece over the fireplace, to reflect light into the room. Between two high windows is a tallboy or commode: a high chest of drawers on legs. On its top are a few antique items (candlesticks, Chinese vases), and above them on the wall is a circular convex mirror – again to reflect light into the room.

How did people live in those huge rooms? Judging by contemporary paintings, they created a “camp” around the fireplace with easy chairs, stools, occasional tables. Light chairs for guests were set against the wall, so that if people called you could easily carry a chair into the circle for them. (We admire Regency furniture for its "light" look – so unlike heavy Victoriana – but it was all about portability. Though you probably rang for a servant to move the tables.)

In one watercolour, the round table is set with a carafe of water and some fruit. Books are in shelves set into niches. A table near the window is being used as a desk. It’s on castors, so it could be pushed against the wall if necessary, as are the easy chairs and tea-table. At the far end of the room is another fireplace in an apse, with niches on either side holding comfortable sofas. Huge French windows lead into the garden.

In the centre of the room is a Chinese carpet that acts like a picnic rug – delineating the territory so that the furniture doesn’t look lost. In the centre of the rug (and the room) is a circular table with a long, thick cloth over it to protect its surface and hide its legs. On it is a bowl of pot-pourri. It’s convenient for reading, writing or putting down a tea tray. Also leaning against the wall is a folding table that can be brought out for cards or teacups. On the walls are light, bright pictures and in the corner is a chaise-longue for resting on. (You can’t lie on your bed during the day because you will untidy it and make work for the servants. Poor Charlotte Brontë used to rest sitting in a chair by her bed, leaning her head on her pillow.)

Most of this is from a wonderful painting of an interior by Walter Taylor, 1860-1943. It looks like a first-floor drawing room in a Georgian town house. A first-floor room will also have a better view and get more natural daylight.

A watercolour of the drawing room at Cheverells by Charlotte Augusta Sneyd shows a large Victorian drawing room very like today’s “open-plan space”. There’s a pier glass at the end of the room, reflecting the window; chairs and a settle (high-backed sofa) by the fire. There’s another settle against the wall near the window, with a sturdy table in front of it piled with sewing gear. On a round table (again covered by a cloth) under the window are newspapers, books and a knitting basket. In the far corner of the room are a harp and piano. All very cosy – everybody can gather in the warm and get on with doing their own thing, using the natural light from the window. (But Emily’s harp practice might have cut into your reading.)

But where on earth do you put the TV? How about “in another room”?

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