What Would Edith Wharton Think of Our Modern Home Decor Tastes?

One hundred sixteen years ago today, Edith Wharton published her first book. It wasn’t a novel, or a collection of short stories, but rather a treatise on The Decoration of Houses. Written with an architect she’d use in the decoration of her own houses, the book proved immensely popular and has been periodically reprinted. Wharton wasn’t exactly a minimalist, but she preferred simplicity and functionality in design to ornamentation. A lot of her views on those subjects pop up in subsequent novels, where she sometimes comments on the decor of a character’s home. Things have changed since Wharton’s time in the furniture industry, in terms of aesthetics, so we decided to take a bunch of her best and most authoritative lines from the first chapter of the book — “Rooms in General” — and juxtapose them with rooms as styled by those current experts in home decor, catalog stylists. The results were… mixed. Have a look for yourself.


“The vulgarity of current decoration has its source in the indifference of the wealthy to architectural fitness.”