Lessons from Edith Wharton

What gave us the impression of excessive splendors when we read the descriptions of homes that our favorite Edith Wharton characters visited?  The author sometimes gave us a list of luxurious materials presenting themselves at first glance at the rooms whether it was a parlor, a ballroom or a dining table setting. “… the  many candles lustres reflected in the polished parquetry, and beyond the depths of a conservatory where camelias and tree ferns arched their costly foliages over seats and black and gold bamboo.”- The Age of Innocence. All in a few lines, Edith Wharton denoted luminosity, textures, depths and colors.

How do we apply these to our homes and in one similar stroke, add a sense of private luxury to our experience of the home?   To adhere to the same spirit as Edith Wharton who saw that beauty in simplicity and editing, we should give due attention to the entirety of a room while scattering textures, luminosity and colors in a sparse manner.

All objects of a room should shout only one thing in unison whether it’s “bright”, “muted tones” or “calm” etc… – that thing I call concept. The rest falls on to how one plays with the concept. One also has to remember that simplifying in the early 20th century is relevant only to the prevailing styles of the era. A simplified look now would be regarded as too sparse in the eyes of Mrs. Wharton – but simplicity is the start of an uncluttered life so on with it, we must abide by heavily editing out uneccessary things. “The essence of taste is suitability” – Edith Wharton.

It seems that the secret to simplifying the rooms dwells on muted tones to lessen the contrast between all the details, texture and ornaments. Couldn’t we achieve the same with bold colors? Some rooms have strong dominant colors but everything else plays second fiddle with a few daring to sparkle. “The desire for symmetry, for balance, for rhythm is one of the most inveterate of human instincts.” Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman Jr., The Decoration of Houses.

What makes a room so rich and appealing is the balance between the more luxurious materials and their supporting elements. The proportions and massing of the various items work hand in hand in creating the atmosphere. The rest is on the homeowners’ desires, personal taste and quirkiness.

“True originality consists not in a new manner but in a new vision.” Edith Wharton. Now that’s a toughie!

Photos  via: Pig Town Design, Material GirlsDesign Champagne, Swedish Interior Design, Veranda, Mary McDonald, Living with Style, John Saladino.

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