Classic Podium: We have a duty to live beautifully

From `The House Beautiful', one of a series of lectures on the decorative arts delivered by the writer and aesthete Oscar Wilde during a tour he made of the United States of America in 1882
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IN ASKING you to build and decorate your houses more beautifully, I do not ask you to spend large sums, as art does not depend in the slightest degree upon extravagance or luxury, but rather to procure articles which, however cheaply purchased and unpretending, are beautiful and fitted to impart pleasure to the observer as they did to the maker.

In the question of decoration, the first necessity is that any system of art should bear the impress of a distinct individuality; every home should wear an individual air in all its furnishings and decorations. Have nothing in your house that has not given pleasure to the man who made it and is not a pleasure to those who use it. Let there be no sham imitation of one material in another, such as paper representing marble.

As regards materials for houses; if rich enough, you will probably have marble. I would not object to this, but don't treat it as if it were ordinary stone. The use of the natural hues of stone is one of the real signs of proper architecture. Red brick is warm and delightful to look at and is the most beautiful and simple form of those who have not much to spend. In England we build of red brick, and the stately homes from the reign of the Tudors down to that of George II give good designs for brick houses.

Within the house: the hall should not be papered, since the walls are exposed more or less to the elements by the frequent opening and closing of the door. Don't carpet the floor: ordinary red brick tiles make a warm and beautiful floor, and I prefer it to the geometrically arranged tiles of the present day. There should be no pictures in the hall for it is no place for a good picture, and a poor one should be put nowhere. It is a mere passageway, except in stately mansions, and no picture should be placed where you have not time to sit and admire and study it.

Hat racks are, I suppose, necessary. I have never seen a really nice hat rack; the ordinary one is more like some horrible instrument of torture than anything useful or graceful, and it is, perhaps, the ugliest thing in the house.

If there is much, or heavy furniture, the design on the walls should be rich; if the furniture is limited, or light, the design should be light and simple.

The ceiling is a great problem - what to do with that great expanse of white plaster. Don't paper it; that gives one the sensation of living in a paper box, which is not pleasant.

As regards the floor: don't carpet it all over, as nothing is more unhealthy or inartistic than modern carpets; carpets absorb the dust, and it is impossible to keep them as perfectly clean as anything about us should be. In this, as in all things, art and sanitary regulations go hand in hand. It is better to use a parquetry flooring around the sides and rugs in the centre.

Most modern windows annihilate light and let in a glare that is destructive to all sense of repose. The small, old windows just let in light enough. If you have big windows in your house, I advise the use of toned green or grey glass with little bright spots of pure colour which give a more subdued light, a pleasing blending of colours and a sense of quiet and repose.

Avoid the "early English" or Gothic furniture; the Gothic, now so much thought of in this country, though honestly made and better than modern styles, is really so heavy and massive that it is out of place when surrounded with the pretty things which we of this age love to gather around us; it is very well for those who lived in castles and who needed occasionally to use it as a means of defence or as a weapon of war.

One must have a piano I suppose, but it is a melancholy thing and more like a dreadful, funereal packing-case in form than anything else.

Of all ugly things, nothing can exceed in ugliness artificial flowers, which, I am sure, none of you wear.

Today, more than ever, the artist and a love of the beautiful are needed to temper and counteract the sordid materialism of the age. In an age when science has undertaken to declaim against the soul of man and when commerce is ruining beautiful rivers and magnificent woodlands and the glorious skies in its greed for gain, the artist comes forward as a priest and prophet of nature to protest, and his religion, in its benefits to mankind, is as broad and shining as the sun.