The colonists had neither the tools nor the materials that had been available in England nor, for that matter, had they the time for the niceties of furniture craftsmanship. They built their furniture solidly so they wouldn't have to do it twice, and they made it simply because they had other things to do and could not afford to dally over time-consuming details.
Early Colonial is perhaps crude, but at the same time it has a charm in its simplicity, directness and functional ingenuity that is not to be found in the more sophisticated styles. A few pieces in early Colonial style that could be used to house hi-fi systems are shown in Fig. 427. The short heavy curved legs, plain rectangular inset door panels, simple straight cabinet lines, scroll sawn sides and shelf aprons in the upper shelf sections of sideboards and cupboards, and the typical knotty pine material are characteristic of this style. Other commonly used woods were cherry and maple. Pine was probably favored because, in addition to being in plentiful supply, it is soft and therefore easily and rapidly worked with the simplest of tools.
From the time that the Early Colonial style faded away into a Late Colonial style based on slightly belated copies of current English models, little original appears in America until Duncan Phyfe at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th. Until modern times Phyfe was the only American furniture designer and style setter of any real importance. His early work was largely derivative from Sheraton and Hepplewhite. Later however, he was considerably influenced by the French Directoire and Empire pieces then being imported from Paris. He discarded or changed much of the ornament of the French models, but retained the neo-Classic feeling of the originals. Phyfe's own originality shows more in his tables and seating pieces than in his cabinets, which stayed rather close to Sheraton.
Let's see how you might apply this knowledge of styles to some useful end in your own living room. Let us assume that a room X will accommodate an equipment cabinet of between 3i/4 and 4 feet in length, 18 to 20 inches deep and 30 to 35 inches high. Due to a low ceiling, a cabinet of greater height will not look well in the room, and because of other existing furniture the length is restricted. Because of the size of your equipment and the fact that you want to include as much record storage as possible in the cabinet, you have no desire to reduce the dimensions, so they are settled, and with them you have also settled the basic shape of the design. It must be a horizontal shape overall. The next question, then, is to determine the predominant style of the existing furniture to decide on the most desirable styling for the cabinet.
This is merely a matter of looking over the present furniture and comparing it with the styles we have discussed. In the majority of cases it will be one of them. If it should be in a style that has not been mentioned or if you are in doubt, perhaps a friend versed in these matters or the dealer from whom you purchased your furniture can identify it for you.
To achieve a pleasing and satisfactory overall room arrangement from both the visual and functional points of view, it is not at all necessary that all of the furniture m the room be of a single style.
Often pieces of varied, but similar, styles are blended with excellent results. Hepplewhite, Sheraton, Duncan Phyfe and perhaps even Chippendale could be mixed without visible conflict. Then again the neo-Classic styles could be mixed, Directoire, Beide-meier, Empire and perhaps Regency or Adam. And appropriate Contemporary can be mixed with any of them. Mr. Emerson's statement that "consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" is perfectly true of interior decoration.
Another trick that requires a bit more thought, care and taste but which, when well done, produces extremely interesting results is a restrained mixture of strongly contrasting styles. Some very distinctive and sometimes delightfully humorous effects can be achieved in this way. One Modern room of the strictest and most severe character was "made" by the incongruity and frivolity of one large Louis XV cabinet. By itself it was an absolute fright but so was the room without it. However, the combination of these two extremes in the same room lent a subtle touch of humor to both, and a happy, comfortable atmosphere to the entire room.
Unless you are sure of yourself, you will probably not want to try contrasts quite as strong as this. Just remember the main point of the story: if you use contrasts instead of blends, be sure the contrasts are strong enough to leave no question in anybody's mind that you intended a contrast, not a blend that didn't quite come off.
Unfortunately, very little guidance can be given as to whether contrast or blending is the right solution. It is primarily a matter of individual taste. There is, however, one good bit of negative advice. If you already have a mixture of styles, the chances are that the contrast technique won't come off well. It works best when the rest of the styling is quite consistent.
To get back to the hypothetical case of the cabinet mentioned earlier, let's see how this might be worked out in a few different styles. The cabinet in Fig. 428 is an excellent piece of Contemporary styling that also fits within the range of the dimensions we have allowed. By going to the limit of our permissible length, while staying under the height limit, the long low Modern effect is achieved while the heavy front molding adds the slightly softer feeling of Contemporary.
To get a Sheraton styling in the same space change the dimensions, within the given limits, to conform to Sheraton proportioning. This time the length can be cut back to the minimum and the height raised to maximum, and the piece would then be detailed in a manner characteristic of Sheraton's style.
In step by step order it is really quite simple to adjust style, room space and equipment requirements to each other.
First: determine the minimum space required by your equipment.
Second: determine the maximum space you can allow in the room, and be sure that this maximum exceeds by a little all around the minimums required by the equipment. This should leave a range in all dimensions within which you can,
Third: adjust your final dimensions to conform to the proportions that would be correct for the style you wish to use.
Fourth: add the correct characteristic detailing (legs, moldings, inlays, hardware or what have you) for the chosen style, and your basic design will be complete.
Your design, at this point, will lack only one thing before you can proceed to build it. Until you have worked out such things as what types of joints are to be used where, material specifications, finish specifications, types and locations of fastenings— in other words the details of how the unit is to be built, you'll still have only a pretty picture but not quite yet a complete design.
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