Illustration for article titled When Edgar Allan Poe offered Americans interior design advice

While we might picture Edgar Allan Poe hunched over his writing desk in a drafty, sparsely furnished home, the famed horror writer actually had quite specific tastes when it came to interior design. And he believed that Americans simply did not know how to furnish a room.


In his 1840 essay "The Philosophy of Furniture,"The Philosophy of Furniture," published in Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, Poe laments the state of American interior design, calling it "preposterous." "How this happens, it is not difficult to see," he writes. "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." He goes on to list, in rather entertaining fashion, the myriad sins of American design: it includes too many straight lines, with curtains too voluminous, glass too glittery, and far too many flickering lights. And don't get him started on carpets.

So what would Poe rather see? Well, he offers a lengthy description of what he deems a room with unimpeachable decor:

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, 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 gray tint, spotted with small Arabesque devices of a fainter hue of the prevalent crimson.


He goes on to list the sorts of paintings he might see (large ones, featuring landscapes and female portraits) and the furniture (including rosewood sofas upholstered in red and gold silk).

Regardless of whether Poe ever possessed furnishings like the ones he describes, modern Poe fans can visit a copy of the room from his mind's eye. The National Park Service decorated the reading room at the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia somewhat in accordance with the "Philosophy of Furniture," although the room it uses isn't actually part of the residence where Poe lived, but rather adjoins his former home.

Photo of the Philadelphia Poe House Reading Room by RTLibrary.

The Philosophy of Furniture [via Smithsonian Magazine via Boing Boing]


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