10 March 2018

Lessons from Thomas Jayne & The Decoration of Houses

Pink walls in Jayne's New Orleans apartment—from the Color chapter

Thanks to designer Thomas Jayne, the principles of The Decoration of Houses live on today- and are perhaps more relevant than ever. When Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman wrote their treatise on interior decoration they were rebelling against the oppressive and stagnant Victorian rooms of the nineteenth century. There is certainly a need for something similar today. Jayne—scholar, interior designer, self-described Classicist, is just the one to take on the task. Along with Ted Loos, he revisits the book, applying the principles set out by Wharton and Codman set out well over one hundred years ago.

Wharton was yet to achieve acclaim as a novelist, and Codman was a young architect, but the pair were determined to set the 19th-century house a fire! Jayne and Loos re-introduce the principles (as if they needed to be)—but alas they do. The book is illustrated with Jayne's work and organized into thirteen lessons, each a discussion of an aspect focused on by Wharton and Codman. Having read TDH, the book Jayne describes as sacred, a number times, I can attest to its wit, wisdom, and absolute irrefutability. Jayne's Classical Principles for Modern Design—Lessons from Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman's The Decoration of Houses should find its way to that shelf of much worn books that are referred to and revisited often.


Proportion is the good breeding of architecture. It is that something, indefinable to the unprofessional eye, which gives repose and distinction to a room... in its effects as intangible as that all-pervading essence which the ancients called the soul. -Wharton & Codman

A Jayne project in Montana—from his chapter about Halls and Stairs
(& one of my favorites of his projects in the book)

Tout ce qui n'est pas necessaire est nuisible. -Wharton & Codman

(All that is not necessary is harmful.)
another scene from the Montana project—from the Halls and Stairs chapter

The decorator is...not to explain illusions, but to produce them.
from TDH

a remarkable entry and stair featuring an Adelphi Paper Hangings wallpaper and floorcloth
(from Chapter 7 on Halls & Stairs

One of the first obligations of Art is to make all Useful things Beautiful: were this neglected principle applied to the manufacture of household accessories, the modern room would have no need of knick-knacks. It is one of the misfortunes of the present time that the most preposterously Bad Things often possess the powerful allurement of being expensive. One might think it an advantage that they are not within everyone's reach; but, as a matter of fact, it is their very unattainableness which, by making them more desirable, leads to the production of that worst curse of modern civilization- Cheap copies of Costly Horrors. from TDH

a stair at Drumlin Hall

Jayne's new book promises to be another go-to, must have, for serious interior designers, readers—those that already love TDH, young designers entering the field, and others that really need to read both books. Jayne's idea that "tradition is not about what was," appeals to me. He goes on, writing, "Tradition is an active word—tradition is now." Classical Principles for Modern Design—Lessons from Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman's The Decoration of Houses will dust away a few of the cobwebs from the original TDH, maybe it's just polishing things up a bit, regardless— it's time for rethinking the superfluous, the out and out "costly horrors", the how we approach the decoration of houses today.


  1. Hello Gaye, After your review I am more anxious than ever to get this new book. I have always liked Thomas Jayne's style, and if it sometimes seems the TDH is perhaps old-fashioned or outmoded, Jayne is the one to explain to us why it isn't.

    I like your quotes from the book, although my argumentative side wants to assert that 'pas necessaire' and 'nuisible' are both value judgments subject to individual interpretation!

    1. Jayne interprets TDH for today, I think he is a truly brilliant thinker. You will like the book!

  2. I love the palest pink and cream and could live in it comfortably. I have a Wharton book somewhere and read mostly about her. That staircase - I couldn't live with that wall. I know what I like the I see it, but couldn't say my style. Oh yes, eclectic.

    1. Mine too-eclectic. Wharton is one of my favorites all of her works. Jayne is a true Classicist on all counts! pgt

  3. Replies
    1. Of course! thanks for stopping in and leaving a comment. Blogs these days are the stepchild of instagram-why I am not sure. Sadly many are gone. pgt

  4. Wish the title were a bit longer, AND Their Gardens.

    Garden & Be Well, XO T

    1. It is a bit of a run on... but the book is terrific.

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