Welcome to my A to Z Challenge on the subject of HOME
The word furniture comes from the 1570 French word “fournir” (furnish in English). Furniture was the prerogative of the higher levels of society and nobles who lived in castles while the less prosperous sat on benches, stools or on the floor, ate at whatever table available at their disposition and often slept on beds of straw. Furniture had a double purpose: to decorate a room as we intend it today and to be mobile. In fact in many European countries where romantic languages are spoken furniture was also called “mobilia” a Latin word which means mobile. The word is still in use today.
Vacation time of the rich and nobles was like a house moving of today, they took along chairs, tables, trunks and household stuff when they left their castle and went to visit their peers in their castles. Visiting people’s castle was a common custom as today we go on vacation and stay in hotels, except that our hotels are fully furnished and clothes is the only thing we carry around.
Furniture and adornments were meant to convey the wealth of its owner. Rich oak was the preferred wood for container such as trunks and credenza; upholstered chairs in velvet or expensive materials divided rooms elegantly in vignettes; turned legs accented and beautified any boxed furniture; elaborate window treatments kept the cold winter out and gilded and decorated walls lined with expensive art really told the story of how wealthy the family was.
The Dutch were the first to use Turkish rug as table coverings and not as floor covering. They believed furniture was to admire, to use and never to crowd a room, in that it would detract the light and the spirit within. However their reason might have been a more practical one. Dutch people scrubbed and cleaned their homes every day and when entering the house, took their shoes off on the unfurnished and very bare first floor, which was considered an extension of the street. With slippers on their feet, they entered the livable home on the second floor. However, the cleanliness of their homes did not reflect the cleanliness of their bodies. One would think that the same people who scrubbed, cleaned and shined their homes, would take an exceptional effort to keep up with personal care and hygiene as well, but that was not the case. Houses did not have a room for bathing and the multiple layers of clothing that kept them warm during the hard winter months, discouraged bathing and exposure to fresh air: “the bark stays better on the trunk”.
Strangely enough, not much as changed since then, except that furniture are less decorated, more functional, respect the rule of ergonomics, often are very technological with more than one function and we don’t take them on our vacations. In decorating, we like to reproduce past styles to feel a connection to history. The Dutch four-post bed is still in use today, as are alcoves and banquette seating under windows. Family portraits and various art pieces still line our decorated walls. Entering someone’s home it’s hard to remain indifferent one way or the other. Furniture will immediately communicate the status symbol or non-status of the owner and the style will speak about the owner’s personality.
As for cleanliness, I wonder often if people have learned anything or if technology has even helped. It’s not uncommon for me, being a designer, to go into a house for the first time and find a royal mess and stale air. The answer is to be found in the question: “what do people do with their time?”. Ciao,
Valentina Cirasola has been a lifetime designer in fashion and interiors. Her extensive knowledge of colors and materials led her in both directions successfully. She is well-known for designing custom furniture. She cares to make spacious and functional pieces, but she doesn’t forget to introduce the element of surprise, sinuous lines, attractive shapes and color in the style fit for each of her special clients.
She is the author of three books all available on