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Wharton, Edith, 1862-1937; Codman, Ogden / The decoration of houses

VI: Fireplaces,   pp. 74-88

Page 82

             The Decoration of Houses
ration has created a vague impression that there existed at that
time an American architectural style.  As a matter of fact, "Colo-
nial" architecture is simply a modest copy of Georgian models;
and "Colonial" mantel-pieces were either imported from England
by those who could afford it, or were reproduced in wood from
current English designs.    Wooden mantels were, indeed, not
unknown in England, where the use of a wooden architrave
led to the practice of facing the fireplace with Dutch tiles; but
wood was used, both in England and America, only from motives
of cheapness, and the architrave was set back from the opening
only because it was unsafe to put an inflammable material so near
the fire.
  After i8oo all the best American houses contained imported
marble mantel-pieces.    These usually consisted of an entablature
resting on columns or caryatides, with a frieze in low relief
representing some classic episode, or simply ornamented with
bucranes and garlands.    In the general decline of taste which
marked the middle of the present century, these dignified and
well-designed mantel-pieces were replaced by marble arches con-
taining a fixed grate.   The hideousness of this arched opening
soon produced a distaste for marble mantels in the minds of a
generation unacquainted with the early designs.   This distaste led
to a reaction in favor of wood, resulting in the displacement of
the architrave and the facing of the space between architrave and
opening with tiles, iron or marble.
  People are beginning to see that the ugliness of the marble
mantel-pieces of 1840-60 does not prove that wood is the more
suitable material to employ.  There is indeed something of un-
fitness in the use of an inflammable material surrounding a fire-
place.  Everything about the hearth should not only be, but loolz,

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