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Beauty and Good Taste

March 21st, 2008

Daniel Pontius

My own personal style is a thoughtful editing of early and mid-century furniture and vintage pieces—a layering of textiles, patterns and art with a focus on reuse and reinvention.

Suitability; Simplicity; Proportion are the principles which guide me and can guide anyone to finding and enjoying beautiful objects and developing their own sense of good taste. These are Elsie de Wolfe’s guiding principles of good taste which developed from Edith Wharton and Ogeden Codman’s clasic, The Decoration of Houses. Let’s review the applicability of SSP today.

Suitability: pertains to the function of an item as in it should fulfill what it is meant to do. A table should function as a table. Further one could ask does it represent the personal style of the owner (or what they want it to be?) Can the owner understand it; relate to it–does it have a connotation that the owner can relate to beyond it’s utility? For example, is the object sustainable, ecologically sound, or will it be thrown out at the first whim or does it have an inherent value which can be traded on?

Simplicity: Is the object extraneous? Is it trying to be something that it is not? Is it trying to be clever or novel or does it have a substance of it’s own?

Proportion: Does the object work within the limits of the room that it is in and do the objects as a whole in the room work together to create balance?

In Elsie’s own words: “How can we develop taste? Some of us, alas, can never develop it, because we can never let go of shams. We must learn to recognize suitability, simplicity and proportion, and apply our knowledge to our needs. I grant you we may never fully appreciate the full balance of proportion, but we can exert our common sense and decide whether a thing is suitable; we can consult our conscience as to whether an object is simple, and we can train our eyes to recognize good and bad proportion… a woman’s environment will speak for her life, whether she likes it or not. How can we believe that a woman of sincerity of purpose will hang fake “works of art” on her walls, or satisfy herself with imitation velvets or silks? How can we attribute taste to a woman who permits paper floors and iron ceilings in her house? We are too afraid of the restful commonplaces, and yet if we live simple lives, why shouldn’t we be glad our houses are comfortably commonplace? How much better to have plain furniture that is comfortable, simple chintzes printed from old blocks, a few good prints, than all the sham things in the world? A house is a dead-give-away, anyhow, so you should arrange is so that the person who sees your personality in it will be reassured, not disconcerted.”

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