• Eccentricity

    • The genius of the perverse was also concerned with “the spirituality of the British boudoir” which he used to imagine his ideal chamber, described in “The Philosophy of Furniture”.

    Edgar Allan Poe’s advice on home décor / 

    The essays Poe wrote never had enough readers. But, unlike his poems and stories, these always have an ironic and satirical tone that reveal a different side of the writer, one that had more to do with whimsical issues, as strange as the study of seashells and interior design. His essays are not exempt from his characteristic sense of perversion, nor of the narrative dexterity he used to tell 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 rose-wood sofas, a sleeping character.

    In order for this man’s dreams to be impeccable, the room must be decorated according to certain parameters which, as Poe asserts, are absent in most North American homes.

    He starts by saying that Europeans are “supreme” in their taste when it comes to decorating and, in all the world, only Yankees insist on going against common sense, since the only bastion of American aristocracy is that 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, [page 245:] 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 a 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.

    In this way, in the chamber where this man so pleasantly sleeps, the curtains appear to be phantoms that let red light, scenic, through tainted glass windows through. This is perfect for one of his stories or for a police investigation. Perhaps Poe was only preparing the scene so that DuPont could step in and solve a case, and the writer took advantage of the situation to create a detailed criticism of the poor American taste and to invent a slumbering character in said space. 

    Tagged: decor, Edgar Allan Poe, writers, essays