Decorate your house following Edgar Allen Poe's advice
“The genius of the perverse” was also concerned with “the spirituality of the perfect boudoir”, which he describes in his essay: “The Philosophy of Furniture”.
Poe’s essays never had enough readers. But, unlike his poems and stories, these have an ironic and satirical tone that reveal a different side of Poe, one that had to do with whimsical and strange issues such as the study of seashells, etiquette and interior design.
His essays, however, are not exempt from certain perversion, nor from the characteristic dexterity he used for narrating practically anything and everything. In “The Philosophy of Furniture” (1840), not only does he teach us how the “perfect boudoir” should be decorated, but he also places in the room –on one of the rosewood sofas– a character (the proprietor) who lies asleep.
This sleeping character is the perfect excuse to show us that the room’s décor is impeccable: in order for this man’s slumber to be pleasant and profound, the room must be decorated according to certain parameters which, as Poe asserts, were (and still are) absent from most North American homes. Needless to say this character is also each one of his readers.
He starts by saying that Europeans are “superior” in their taste when it comes to decorating and, in all the world, only Yankees insist on going against common sense––the only bastion of American aristocracy, he states, is dollars. “The supreme insignia of aristocracy, their display may be said, in general terms, to be the sole means of the aristocratic distinction; and the populace, looking up for models, are insensibly led to confound the two entirely separate ideas of magnificence and beauty”. The essay goes on to describe:
How this happens, it is not difficult to see. We have no aristocracy of blood, and having therefore as a natural, and indeed as an inevitable thing, fashioned for ourselves an aristocracy of dollars, the display of wealth has here to take the place and perform the office of the heraldic display in monarchical countries. By a transition readily understood, and which might have been easily foreseen, we have been brought to merge in simple show our notions of taste itself.
On the shape and composition of an ideal boudoir:
Even now, there is present to our mind’s eye a small and not, ostentatious chamber with whose decorations no fault can be found. The proprietor lies asleep on a sofa — the weather is cool — the time is near midnight: I will make a sketch of the room ere he awakes.
It is oblong — some thirty feet in length and twenty-five in breadth — a shape affording the best (ordinary) opportunities for the adjustment of furniture. It has but one door — by no means a wide one — which is at one end of the parallelogram, and but two windows, which are at the other. These latter are large, reaching down to the floor — have deep recesses — and open on an Italian veranda. Their panes are of a crimson-tinted glass, set in rose-wood framings, more massive than usual. They are curtained within the recess, by a thick silver tissue adapted to the shape of the window, and hanging loosely in small volumes. Without the recess are curtains of an exceedingly rich crimson silk, fringed with a deep network of gold, and lined with silver tissue, which is the material of the exterior blind. There are no cornices; but the folds of the whole fabric (which are sharp rather than massive, and have an airy appearance), issue from beneath a broad entablature of rich gilt-work, which encircles the room at the junction of the ceiling and walls. The drapery is thrown open also, or closed, by means of a thick rope of gold loosely enveloping it, and resolving itself readily into a knot; no pins or other such devices are apparent. The colours of the curtains and their fringe — the tints of crimson and gold — appear everywhere in profusion, and determine the character of the room. The carpet — of Saxony material — is quite half an inch thick, and is of the same crimson ground, relieved simply by the appearance of a gold cord (like that festooning the curtains) slightly relieved above the surface of the ground, and thrown upon it in such a manner as to form a succession of short irregular curves — one occasionally overlaying the other. The walls are prepared with a glossy paper of a silver grey tint, spotted with small Arabesque devices of a fainter hue of the prevalent crimson. Many paintings relieve the expanse of paper. These are chiefly landscapes of an imaginative cast — such as the fairy grottoes of Stanfield, or the lake of the Dismal Swamp of Chapman. There are, nevertheless, three or four female heads, of an ethereal beauty — portraits in the manner of Sully. The tone of each picture is warm, but dark.
Two large low sofas of rosewood and crimson silk, gold-flowered, form the only seats, with the exception of two light conversation chairs, also of rose-wood. There is a pianoforte (rose-wood, also), without cover, and thrown open. An octagonal table, formed altogether of the richest gold-threaded marble, is placed near one of the sofas. This is also without cover — the drapery of the curtains has been thought sufficient. Four large and gorgeous Sevres vases, in which bloom a profusion of sweet and vivid flowers, occupy the slightly rounded angles of the room. A tall candelabrum, bearing a small antique lamp with highly perfumed oil, is standing near the head of my sleeping friend.
On the lighting of the room:
A mild, or what artists term a cool light, with its consequent warm shadows, will do wonders for even an ill-furnished apartment. Never was a more lovely thought than that of the astral lamp. We mean, of course, the astral lamp proper —the lamp of Argand, with its original plain ground-glass shade, and its tempered and uniform moonlight rays.
Thus, it seems that in this chamber, where this man so pleasantly sleeps, curtains also have the quality of ghosts that let the red, scenic light in through stained glass windows —Perfect plateau for one of his horror or detective stories. And even if Poe took this opportunity to make a hilarious critical observation of American taste, perhaps he was only preparing a perfectly inhabitable set (where nothing can disturb our slumber) to bring Dupin back to life, and motivating us to do the same according to his home décor philosophy.
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