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The Decoration of Houses

Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman Jr.

Book Overview: 

The Decoration of Houses, a manual of interior design written by Edith Wharton with architect Ogden Codman. In the book, the authors denounced Victorian-style interior decoration and interior design, especially those rooms that were decorated with heavy window curtains, Victorian bric-a-brac and overstuffed furniture. They argued that such rooms emphasized upholstery at the expense of proper space planning and architectural design and were, therefore, uncomfortable and rarely used. Wharton and Codman advocated the creation of houses with rooms decorated with strong architectural wall and ceiling treatments, accentuated by well-suited furniture, rooms based on simple, classical design principles such as symmetry and proportion and a sense of architectural balance. The Decoration of Houses is considered a seminal work and its success led to the emergence of professional decorators working in the manner advocated by its authors. (Summary by Wikipedia)

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .At present, however, the subject deals only with the material livableness of a room, and this will generally be found to consist in the position of the doors and fireplace, the accessibility of the windows, the arrangement of the furniture, the privacy of the room and the absence of the superfluous.

The position of doors and fireplace, though the subject comes properly under the head of house-planning, may be included in this summary, because in rearranging a room it is often possible 20 to change its openings, or at any rate, in the case of doors, to modify their dimensions.

The fireplace must be the focus of every rational scheme of arrangement. Nothing is so dreary, so hopeless to deal with, as a room in which the fireplace occupies a narrow space between two doors, so that it is impossible to sit about the hearth.[7] Next in importance come the windows. In town houses especially, where there is so little light that every ray is precious to the re. . . Read More

Community Reviews

This is worth reading just for the scathing chapter on bric-a-brac.

the house is a mess but what the heck .... we have this to read :D

Amazing how on point this book on interior design is 125 years later. Edith Wharton would HATE Live Laugh Love signs and thats why we love her

Practicing too

I'm not much of an aesthete, so oftentimes the dialogue and "theory" - as it were - of furnishing homes was often lost on me. Reading this was more of out historical interest in Wharton's oeuvre. It was intriguing to try and decipher who was responsible for the passages I was reading - Wharton or...more

3.5 stars (liked it)

I enjoyed this surprisingly advanced instruction about, and critical assessment of, the then-current 19th-century interpretation of the ultimate in interior design in America. The book is structured with several chapters detailing design recommendations for various aspects of...more

Interesting to see old ways of decor. Many of those still stand the test of time.

I didn't realize that Edith Wharton was well-versed in architecture and decoration until visiting her home, The Mount, and learning that it was mostly all her own design. I was prompted out of curiosity to read her book. I was prepared for it to be dull, but found it to be anything but. She bring...more

Mrs. Wharton along with Mr. Codman changed the way we look at our homes and espoused a philosphy that is as current today, as it was at the turn of the century. Out the door flew faux "old French" (Machine made furniture in the "French" style), Velvet poiteres, lurid colours, as oppressive as th...more

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