MY NEIGHBOR ACROSS THE ROAD came for tea yesterday, bearing a copy of a 1946 decorating book as a housewarming gift. Couldn’t be more apropos, considering my house was likely built in the 1940s.
The book, Inside the Home by Dan Cooper, with chic line drawings by Teresa Kilham, is an illuminating view into the mind of the postwar homeowner. Cooper (1901-1965), best known as a textile designer and creator of a ready-to-assemble furniture line called PAKTO, exhorts his readers to ignore fads and get back to basics. Here’s his list of what a home needs:
“A place to sit
for games or such relaxations as you prefer
A place to sleep
A place to eat
A number of places to put things in or onto”
Inside the Home is an opinionated, tongue-in-cheek handbook on how to live the modern life. “There have been too many calls to lead the good life by using this period or that period, by combining blue with fuchsia, by pickling wood or padding headboards…Like sheep, we have followed one another from Gothic to Colonial to Mission to Regency. It is time to cut through all this claptrap and free the mind.”
Not, in other words, this:
Integrity, simplicity, usefulness are Cooper’s watchwords. Avoid reproductions. Never buy sets of furniture (“oppressive monotony”). Save by doing without rather than buy poor quality. What timely advice.
“Spend your money on a few lovely things and cobble up any other necessities out of inexpensive materials. Your extravagances will warm your heart every time you look at them.” Yeah!
Discard, discard, discard! “Empty spaces are delightful. Clutter is your worst enemy. Do not buy as much as a spoon for which you do not see an immediate need.” (Yard sale aficionados, take note.)
A home should suit the people who live in it, be “mentally and physically cheerful,” “clean and fresh and easy to keep that way.”
Something more along these lines:
I like his message, which Cooper drives home with some crazy anecdotes. Here’s how he illustrates the point that a home should please all its occupants:
“Not long ago in one of our large cities. there was a strange epidemic among school children. In first one home and then another, the offspring piled the furniture in the middle of the kitchen floor and set fire to it. Naturally this practice was frowned upon….In the subsequent investigation, it was found that in each case, the child felt ashamed of his home and did not like to bring his friends back to it.”
So make sure your kid likes the decor, or you might have what Cooper calls an “incendiary moppet” on your hands.
There are other chuckles. “If you have to suppress a scream when a guest lowers his weight” onto one of the “dear old chairs on which the family has been trained not to sit, it is possible you are on the wrong tack.”
My parents got married in 1946. I don’t know if my mother was aware of this book, but she would have loved it.