Harmony is to me an important factor in timelessness as important as absence, as well as a basic principle of design. This is well explained by the following quotation. It's long, but worth reading fully for – despite being written about art in the 1920s – it has, if you'll pardon the expression, stood the test of time. Just as importantly, it contains a basic lesson in design the consequences of which, are sadly rarely visible in much of what is published about interior design today.
"Harmony is the art principle which produces an impression of unity through the selection and arrangement of consistent objects and ideas. When all the objects in a group seem to have a strong 'family resemblance,' that group illustrates the principle of harmonious selection; and when these 'friendly' articles are so arranged that the leading lines follow the shape of the object on which they are placed, harmony has been secured in both selection and arrangement. How much likeness should be sought and how much variety or contrast is appropriate are the questions to be decided in any situation. One enjoys a certain amount of variation for the sake of interest, but for the sake of harmony this variation must always stop just short of absolute contradiction in any important matter. Similarly, there should be something in common among all the large things which are to be put together, but the smaller objects used for accent and variety may contrast. The smaller the amount of contrasting note, the stronger the difference between the contrasting objects may be.
"In both the fine and applied arts, it is usual to think of the principle of harmony as having five aspects. These are harmony of: (1) line and shape, (2) size, (3) texture, (4) idea and (5) color."
A cardinal quality in rooms that I find timeless is absence, by which I mean an avoidance of the non-essential, and a trust that space, in itself, is not negative. It does not mean that I prefer rooms that are unfurnished or undecorated – though there are empty rooms rooms large and small that can live without further additions. The only improvement that can be made to them is to leave them alone.
I had planned to present one room at a time in what is an ongoing, and occasional, thesis about timelessness, but here in this interior by that most discrete and educated of decorators, David Mlinaric, the consistent use of absence is irresistible – so much so, I felt I must show more than one room to give at least an impression of the harmonious whole.
This flat – three floors in a George IV London terrace – can hardly be said to have stood the test of time, given the short time (five years) since it was published. Yet one feels it may well. This interior feels timeless to me and herein lies the difficulty of using the word timeless about a present-day interior: none of us are prophets. Pundits certainly, writers with deadlines, probably, but not prophets. In its coherence, the design certainly illustrates the principle of harmonious selection as stated in the quotation above. There is harmony of line and shape, size, texture, color and perhaps the most important of all, idea.
To my eye, Roderick Cameron's older version of the La Fiorentina salon has stood the test of time better than Billy Baldwin's.
I will be exploring the topic of timelessness and harmony more in coming posts. I welcome your thoughts as I continue to attempt to pin down this will o' the wisp concept.
Mlinaric on Decorating, Mirabel Cecil and David Mlinaric, Francis Lincoln Limited, London 2008.
Photography by Derry Moore for pages 259 to 269 (I think)
Quotation from Art in Everyday Life, Harriet and Vetta Goldstein, The MacMillan Company, New York, Fourth Edition, 1954.
Photos of La Fiorentina by Durston Saylor for an article written by Aileen Mehle for Architectural Digest, January 1999. First used by me here in my post A man of most remarkable taste.
Photo of Roderick Cameron's Fiorentina sitting room from here (unattributed as far as I can tell, accompanied an essay written by Steven L. Aronson for Architectural Digest, October 2001). From my essay A lovely absence of color.