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Crimson Drapes Are a Must, Says Design Critic Edgar Allan Poe

Horror, especially gothic horror, has always been preoccupied by houses—vaulted castles where timeless evils lie in wait, basements that stand in for the subconscious, that kind of thing—but for Edgar Allan Poe, who laid a lot of groundwork for the genre, good interior design was such a moral imperative that his attempts to teach others what it looked like extended beyond his stories. In "The Philosophy of Furniture," originally published in the May 1840 issue of Burton's Gentlemen's Magazine, Poe wrote off the tastes of the French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, and Chinese, who "have but little sentiment beyond marbles and colours," as well as the Dutch, who in Poe's opinion, "have merely a vague idea that a curtain is not a cabbage." Americans were the worst offenders, though. Without an aristocratic class to emulate, they created an "aristocracy of dollars" where ostentatious displays of wealth were mistaken for good taste. (One wonders what he would think about these.) According to Poe, the English apartment was the most worthy style one could aspire to, and because he couldn't leave his fellow Americans to furnish one on their own, he explained everything that the perfect specimen would need.

"A judge at common law may be an ordinary man," Poe wrote, but "a good judge of a carpet must be a genius." Because his genius is a given, Poe goes on to say that in the perfect room, "the carpet — of Saxony material — is quite half an inch thick, and is of the same crimson ground" as the windows, the silk curtains, the "two large low sofas," the tassels hanging from the shelves, and the shade on the Argand lamp. Dude loved crimson, and gold was a close second, which should filigree and accent just about everything in the room. It's worth noting that just because wealth often masked bad taste didn't mean that good taste could be achieved without it.

Ideally, 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," and upon them should rest a number of large paintings—"Not one is of small size. Diminutive paintings give that spotty look to a room, which is the blemish of so many a fine work of Art overtouched"—most of which are "chiefly landscapes of an imaginative cast — such as the fairy grottoes of Stanfield, or the lake of the Dismal Swamp of Chapman." Nevertheless, Poe is willing to make allowances for "three or four female heads, of an ethereal beauty." Naturally, the tone of each picture should be "warm, but dark." We are talking Poe, here.

If things are beginning to sound a little "Masque of the Red Death," that's probably why Poe was much more successful as a spinner of horrific tales than as a design guru. For more tips from Edgar Allan Poe, interior designer, read an abridged version of his essay at Smithsonian Magazine.

· Edgar Allan Poe, Interior Design Critic [Smithsonian Mag via Co.Design]