Mellor, Meigs, and Howe: Inspiring but Unusable?
Recently, I have been looking at the black and white monograph of the work of Mellor, Meigs, and Howe (The Architectural Book Publishing Company, 1923), the Philadelphia based architectural firm known for the many Main Line houses and estates they built in the early decades of the 1900s.
Their architecture is famous. Their houses are considered gems of American domestic architecture of the early 20th century. However, it is their interiors that draw me back to regularly look at this book. In fact, I revere their interiors: handsome volumes designed with the spare and refined use of traditional details. I admire how the furniture is sparsely arranged and there is a reliance on the sculpture of the architectural forms. These types of arrangements are unpopular today; they are criticized for being too leggy without today’s typical use of curtains and upholstery to visually anchor them. These rooms are not considered comfortable by today’s standards.
I am not sure how something currently considered unworkable or unusable could inspire me so greatly. Maybe my interest in these rooms is part of the trend toward having less furniture in traditional rooms. It could also be another sign of the move away from absurdly over scaled upholstery, such as the chair and a half proportion seen a great deal these past years—that popular form that is bigger than a big club chair and smaller than a love seat.
Or, another explanation might be that like so many rooms that we see illustrated in books and periodicals, the rooms were arranged specifically for the book’s photography and not for actual everyday use.
Last week, in our office, we were studying this view of a windowed alcove with an 18th-century fall-front desk, an upright wooden desk chair, and geraniums lining the window ledge. There is a random arrangement of pictures on the wall. I thought to make it current, all you had to do is “just add lap-top.” Then a colleague suggested adding a “comfortable” desk chair, to which I asked if we have ever really seen a good looking one of these in current form. I think adding such a chair would ruin the whole room.
As ideas pass through my mind, sure enough they find application at a later date. For a Fifth Avenue apartment we are working on now, I see inviting window ledges and of course, a simple perch for a laptop…
Images from top: “A Monograph of the Work of Mellor, Meigs and Howe” cover page; living room fireplace of the George Howe, Esq. house; dining room of Dr. Francis W. Murray house; fireplace wall of garden room of the estate of Mrs. Arthur V. Meigs; southwest window of Living Room of the Heatly C. Dulles, Esq. All images from A Monograph of the Work of Mellor, Meigs and Howe, by Paul Wenzel and Maurice Krakow, The Architectural Book Publishing, Co, New York, 1923.