The Mount: Edith Wharton and the American Renaissance


Kay Davis
University of Virginia
© 2001-2003


Edith Wharton > Wharton's Homes > Ogden Codman Jr. > The Decoration of Houses >
Life in the Berkshires

The Decoration of Houses

Edith Wharton's first published book, co-authored with Ogden Codman Jr., was The Decoration of Houses. The book became a standard in the field of American interior design.

In The Decoration of Houses, Wharton and Codman argued that American architecture and decoration had "wandered since 1800 in a labyrinth of dubious eclecticism." (27)

They drew on the principle of scientific eclecticism, claiming that proper room design came from "mathematical calculation" and "scientific adjustment of voids and masses."

The Decoration of Houses

Wharton and Codman believed that architects and decorators should study works found in Italy after 1500, in France from the time of Louis XIV, and in England since the introduction of Italian Renaissance works.

They argued that eighteenth-century French and English homes, with precedents in Italian architecture, were the best models for private homes in America. They also claimed that the interiors of homes must reflect both historical precedents and contemporary needs.

The Decoration of Houses was well-received, though critics noted that it was targeted at upper-class audiences rather than the average homeowner. A critic wrote in the January 1898 issue of American Architect and Building News:

"If it be granted that a reform in house-decoration, if not necessary, is at least desirable, it must be admitted that such a reform can originate only with those whose means permit of any experiments which their taste may suggest." (29)

The Decoration of Houses was a significant book because it offered advice to practitioners in the emerging field of interior design and outlined many principles of the American Renaissance movement.

Notes | Credits | Site Map |Feedback | Home