AND HOW TO MAKE THEM.
JAMES R. OSGOOD AND COMPANY,
LATE TICKNOR & FIELDS, AND FIELDS, OSGOOD, & CO.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1874,
BY JAMES R. OSGOOD & CO.,
in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
UNIVERSITY PRESS: WELCH, BIGELOW, & Co., CAMBRIDGE.
These letters between the architect and his friends are composed of hints and suggestions relating to the building of homes. Their aim is to give practical information to those about to build, and to strengthen the growing demand for better and truer work.
Even those who are not yet ready to build for themselves are seldom without an instinctive longing to do so at some future time, and a lively concern in the present achievements of their friends and neighbors, in this direction. Such will, I trust, find something interesting and instructive in these pages, and be moved thereby to a more cordial hatred of whatever is false and useless, and love for the simple and true.
SPRINGFIELD, March, 1874.
I. EVERY MAN SHOULD HAVE A HOME
II. A GRATEFUL CLIENT
III. THE BEAUTY OF TRUTH AND UTILITY
IV. PROFESSIONAL FOLLY
V. BUILDING-SITES AND FOUNDATION-WALLS
VI. GRAVEL-BANKS AND QUAGMIRES
VII. NATURE'S BRICKS ARE BETTER THAN OURS
VIII. THERE IS A SOFT SIDE EVEN TO A STONE WALL
IX. A BROAD HOUSE IS BETTER THAN A HIGH ONE
X. TROUT BROOKS ARE BETTER THAN STREET SEWERS
XI. THE STRENGTH AND DURABILITY OF BRICK
XII. THE WEAKNESS AND SHAM OF BRICKWORK
XIII. SKILL DIGNIFIES THE MOST HUMBLE MATERIAL
XIV. EVERY MAN TO HIS TRADE
XV. THE COMING HOUSE WILL BE FAIR TO SEE AND MADE OF BRICK
XVI. DOMESTIC DISCIPLINE
XVII. GOOD TASTE IS NOT A FOE BUT A FRIEND TO ECONOMY
XVIII. OUR PICTURESQUE ANCESTORS
XIX. THE USE AND THE ABUSE OF WOOD
XX. A SURRENDER AND CHANGE OF BASE
XXI. HOSPITALITY AND SUNLIGHT
XXII. UNPROFESSIONAL SAGACITY
XXIII. STAIRWAYS AND OUTLOOKS
XXIV. IN A MULTITUDE OF COUNSELLORS IS SAFETY
XXV. DOORS AND SLIDING-DOORS, WINDOWS AND BAY-WINDOWS
XXVI. EXPERIENCE KEEPS A DEAR SCHOOL
XXVII. FASHION AND ORNAMENT, HARD WOOD AND PAINT
XXVIII. THOUGHT PROVOKES INQUIRY
XXIX. CONSISTENCY, COMFORT, AND CARPETS
XXX. AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND ARCHITECTURE, POTATOES AND POSTSCRIPTS
XXXI. DOMESTIC-SERVICE REFORM
XXXII. GO TO; LET US BUILD A TOWER
XXXIII. BASEMENTS AND BALCONIES
XXXIV. FOUR ROOMS ENOUGH
XXXV. CONVENIENCES AND CONJECTURES
XXXVI. THE LESSON OF THE ICE-HOUSE
XXXVII. SHINGLES, SUNSHINE, AND FRESH AIR
XXXVIII. WHERE THE DOCTORS DIFFER
XXXIX. HOW TO DO IT
XL. THE BREATH OF LIFE
XLI. ETERNAL VIGILANCE
LII. SAVED BY CONSCIENCE
XLIII. FINAL AND PERSONAL
BY WAY OF APPENDIX
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
MR. AND MRS. JOHN
ROUGH STRENGTH AND SMOOTH-FACED WEAKNESS
ON A SIDEHILL
ONLY ONE CORNER
STONE BODY WITH BRICK MEMBERS
BREADTH AND HEIGHT
SECOND STORY OF WOOD
SQUARE HEADS WITH BRICK CAPS
FRAGMENTS OF BRICKWORK
BRICKS THAT ARE NOT SQUARE
A WISE GENERAL
"THE GROVES WERE GOD'S FIRST TEMPLES"
OUTER FINISH OF WOOD
"THE OLD HOUSE AT HOME"
FORTY-TWO FEET SQUARE
"LOOK OUT, NOT IN"
DUST TO DUST
WOOL AND WOOD
WOODWORK ON PLASTERED WALLS
"SISTER JANE, SPINSTER"
SISTER JANE'S KITCHEN
WHAT THE BASEMENT ADDS
OUTLOOK FROM THE ROOF
THE OLD, OLD STORY
GOOD OLD TIMES
AND HOW TO MAKE THEM,
HINTS ON LOCATING AND BUILDING A HOUSE.
IN LETTERS BETWEEN AN ARCHITECT AND A FAMILY MAN SEEKING A HOME.
From the Architect.
EVERY MAN SHOULD HAVE A HOME.
My Dear John:
Now that your "ship" is at last approaching the harbor, I am confident your first demonstration in honor of its arrival will be building yourself a house; exchanging your charmingly good-for-nothing air-castle for an actual flesh-and-blood, matter-of-fact dwelling-house, two-storied and French-roofed it may be, with all the modern improvements. In many respects, you will find the real house far less satisfactory and more perplexing than the creation of your fancy. Air-castles have some splendid qualities. There are no masons' and carpenters' contracts to be made, no plumbers' bills to be vexed over, the furnaces never smoke, and the water-pipes never freeze; they need no insurance, and you have no vain regrets over mistakes in your plans, for you may have alterations and additions whenever you please without making a small pandemonium and eating dust and ashes while they are in process. Nevertheless, I have no doubt you will plunge at once into the mysteries and miseries of building, and, knowing your inexperience, I cannot at such a juncture leave you wholly to your own devices.
It is a solemn thing to build even the outside of a house. You not only influence your fellow-men, but reveal your own character; for houses have a facial expression as marked as that of human beings, often strangely like their owners, and, in most cases, far more lasting. Some destroy your faith in human nature, and give you an ague chill when you pass them; others look impudently defiant, while many make you cry out, "Vanity of vanities!" If you are disposed to investigate the matter, you will find that the history of nations may be clearly traced in the visible moral expression of the homes of the people;—in the portable home-tents of the Arabs; the homely solidity of the houses in Germany and Holland; the cheerful, wide-spreading hospitality of Switzerland; the superficial elegance and extravagance of France; the thoroughness and self-assertion of the English; and in the heterogeneous conglomerations of America, made up of importations from every land and nation under the sun,—a constant striving and changing,—a mass of problems yet unsolved.
A friend once said to me while we were passing an incurably ugly house, "The man who built that must have had a very good excuse for it!" It was a profound remark, but if that particular building were the only one needing apology for its ugliness, or if there were no common faults of construction and interior arrangement, I should not think you in special need of warning or counsel from me. There are, however, so many ill-looking and badly contrived houses, so few really tasteful ones, while year after year it costs more and more to provide the comfortable and convenient home which every man wants and needs for himself and family, that I am sure you will be grateful for any help I may be able to give you.
We are told that all men, women, and children ought to be healthy, handsome, and happy. I have strong convictions that every man should also have a home, healthful, happy, and beautiful; that it is a right, a duty, and therefore a possibility. Small and humble it may be, cheap as to cost, but secure, refined, full of conveniences, and the dearest spot on earth, a home of his own.
In the hope of making the way to this joyful consummation easier and plainer for you, I propose to give you a variety of hints, information, and illustrations relating to your undertaking, and will try to make my practical suggestions so well worth your attention that you shall not overlook what I may say upon general principles. There is a right and a wrong way of doing almost everything. I am yours, for the right way.
A GRATEFUL CLIENT.
MY DEAR ARCHITECT: How did you know my ship was coming in? Queer, isn't it, that when a man does get a few stamps, his friends all find it out, and can tell him just what he ought to do with them. But you're right. I've lived in an air-castle long enough. It's altogether too airy for cold weather, and a house of my own I'm bound to have. Your information and advice will be exactly in order; for it is a fact, that, until a man has built at least one house for himself, he is as ignorant as the babe unborn, not only of how to do it, but, what is ten times worse, ignorant of what he wants to do. So go ahead by all means; make a missionary of yourself for my benefit. Don't get on your high heels too soon, and undertake to tell me what won't be of the slightest use unless I have a fortune to expend.
Give me something commonplace and practical, something that I can apply to a "villa" of two rooms if my ship happens to be empty. I suppose it's all true that an ugly-looking house is a sign of want of wit rather than want of money, but there are lots of people who haven't either, precious few that have both. At all events, the man who has only one thousand dollars to spend is just as anxious to spend it to the best advantage as he who has five thousand or fifty.
Mrs. John is delighted. She is bent on the new house, but knows I shall get everything wrong end first from cellar to attic. I always supposed a good kitchen was a desirable part of a family establishment, but the chief end of her plans is bay-windows and folding doors. However, if you tell us to put the front door at the back side of the house, or do any other absurd thing, it will be all right.
As to your preachment on general principles, I'll do the best I can with it; but don't give me too much at once.
From the Architect.
THE BEAUTY OF TRUTH AND UTILITY.
Dear John: I am glad my efforts in your behalf are likely to be appreciated, especially if you share this common opinion of architects, that their mission is accomplished when they have made a pretty picture, and that they are an expensive luxury, which the man who would build himself a house must forego if he would be able to finish. Greater durability, comfort, and convenience are not expected on account of their assistance, only that the house shall be more surprisingly beautiful. Doubtless there is some ground for this poor opinion, but the architects are not alone in their folly, or wholly responsible; they attempt to supply an unreasonable demand, and are driven to employ unworthy means.
The first grand lesson for you to learn (you must have patience with a little more "preachment") is that the beauty of your building cannot be thrust upon it, but must be born with it, must be an inseparable part of it, the result and evidence of its real worth. We must forget our great anxiety as to how our houses shall be clothed, aiming first to make them strong and durable, comfortable and convenient, being morally certain that they will not then be disagreeable to look upon. Professing a great contempt for a man who tries to seem something better and wiser than he is, let us be equally severe in condemning every building that puts on airs and boldly bids us admire what is only fit to be despised. The pendulum seems to have swung away from the plain, utilitarian mode of building that was forced upon our ancestors by a stern necessity,—possibly chosen from a sense of duty,—to the other extreme; giving us, instead of the old-time simplicity, many a fantastic design that claims admiration for its originality or its modern style. The notion that there can be a mere architectural fashion, having any rights that intelligent people are bound to respect, is quite absurd. Improved modes of construction and new helps to comfort and convenience are constantly invented, but one might as well talk of the latest fashions for the lilies of the fields or the stars in the heavens, as of a fashionable style in architecture or any other enduring work of art. Whatever building is nobly and enduringly useful, thoroughly adapted to its uses, cannot be uncomely. Its outward beauty may be increased by well-contrived disposition of materials, or even added details not strictly essential to its structure; but, if rightly built, it will not be ugly without these additions, and beware of using them carelessly. What might have been a very gem of homely and picturesque grace, if left in modest plainness, may be so overburdened with worthless trash that its original expression is lost and its simple beauty becomes obtrusive deformity. Even conspicuous cheapness is not necessarily unpleasant to see, but don't try to conceal it by forcing the materials to seem something better than they are. Let wood stand for wood, brick for brick, and never ask us to imagine a brown-stone value to painted sheet-iron. There is, too, a deeper honesty than mere truth-telling in material; a conscientiousness of purpose, an artistic spiritual sense of the eternal fitness, without which there can be no worthy achievement, no lasting beauty.
Accepting this doctrine, which cannot be too often or too strongly urged, although it is not new,—indeed, it is old as the universe,—you will, I think, be puzzled to find an excuse for yourself if you disfigure a charming landscape or a village street by an uncouth building. Build plainly if you will, cheaply if you must, but, by all that is fair to look upon or pleasant to the thought, be honest. It will require some study and much courage, but verily you will have your reward, and I for one shall be proud to write myself your admiring friend.
My Dear Architect: I've been trying to learn my "first grand lesson," as laid down in your second epistle to yours truly. About all I can make of it is: Firstly, that my house is for myself to live in,—wife and babies included,—not for my neighbors to look at; and, secondly, that however much I may try to humbug my fellow-sinners in other ways, I'm not to build a lie into my house, where it is sure to be found out, after I'm dead and gone, if not before.
You wonder what my opinion is of architects. Well, without being personal, I'm free to maintain that as a rule I'm afraid of 'em. The truth is, they don't care what a fellow's house costs him, whatever they may say in the beginning; and I never knew a man to build from an architect's plans that his bills didn't come in just about double what he laid out for. They want to get up a grand display, if it's a possible thing, so everybody that comes along will stop and say, "What a charming house! Who made the plans?" while from beginning to end it may be all for show and nothing for use, and mortgaged to the very chimney-tops. That's my opinion, and I'm not alone in it, either.
There was my neighbor down the road,—he wanted a commonish kind of a house. Nothing would do but his wife must have it planned by a "professional" man. Result was, she had to put her best bedstead square in the middle of the room, and there was no possible place for the sitting-room lounge but to stand it on end behind a door in the corner. Another acquaintance of mine had $5,000. Didn't want to spend a cent more than that. Called on an architect,—may have been you, for all I know; architect made sketches, added here a little and there a good deal, made one or two rooms a few feet bigger, poked the roof up several feet higher, and piled the agony on to the outside, until, when the thing was done, it cost him $11,000! Of course it ran him into debt, and most likely will be sold at auction. He'll never get what it cost him, unless he can sell it as we boys used to swap wallets,—without looking at the inside. But everybody says it's "lovely," and wants to know who was his architect.
That, I expect, is just where the shoe pinches. If an architect can only make a fine show with another man's money, he gets a reputation in no time; but if he has a little conscience, and tries to plan a house that can be built for a given sum, every one says it looks cheap, no kind of taste, and very likely the owner himself is grouty about it, and next time goes for another man.
I don't envy you a bit. But don't be discouraged.
From the Architect.
BUILDING-SITES AND FOUNDATION-WALLS.
DEAR JOHN: You seem to have made as much of my last letter as could reasonably be expected. I might reply to your unfortunate experience with architects, by describing the cost and annoyance of the subsequent alterations, almost inevitable whenever a house is built without carefully studied plans; and I do assure you that when the cost of a house exceeds the owner's estimates, it is simply because he does not know his own mind beforehand, or stupidly fails to have his plans and contracts completed before he begins to build. It's no more the fault of the architect than of the man in the moon. By and by you shall have a chapter on the whole duty of architects, as I understand it, but not until I have given you something more practical to think of and possibly to work upon.
Nothing astonishes me more than the absurdly chosen sites of many rural and suburban dwellings, unless it is the dwellings themselves. Notwithstanding our great resources in this respect, all considerations, not only of good taste and landscape effect, but even of comfort and convenience, are often wholly ignored. For the most trivial reasons, houses are erected in such locations and of such shapes as to be forever in discord with their surroundings,—a perpetual annoyance to beholders and discomfort to their occupants. I will not at present pursue the subject, but shall assume that the ground whereon your house will stand is at least firm and dry; if it isn't, no matter how soon it falls, it won't be fit to live in. Any preparation for the foundation in the way of puddling or under-draining will then be quite superfluous.
Unless you are obliged to economize to the uttermost, let your cellar extend under the whole house, and make it of good depth, not less than 7-1/2 feet,—8-1/2 is better. When this is ready, I suppose you will start for the nearest ledge, and bring the largest rocks that can be loosened by powder or dragged by oxen, and set them in solemn array around the cellar, their most smiling faces turned inward. If you can find huge flat stones of one or two yards area, and six to twelve inches thick, you will feel especially fortunate. In either case you will survey these with admiration, and rejoice in thinking that, though the rains may fall, and the floods and the winds beat upon it, your house will rest on its massive support in absolute security, never showing the ugly cracks and other signs of weakness that spring from imperfect foundations. Perhaps not, but it will be far more likely to do so than if the first course of stones in the bed of gravel or hard pan are no larger than you can easily lift. You cannot give these huge bowlders such firm resting-place as they have found for themselves in the ages since they were dropped by the dissolving glaciers. However you handle them, there will be cavities underneath, where the stone does not bear upon the solid ground. The smaller ones you may rub or pound down till every inch of the motherly bosom shall feel their pressure. Upon this first course of—pebbles, if you please, lay larger ones that shall overlap and bind them together, using mortar if you wish entire solidity. As the wall rises, introduce enough of large size to bind the whole thoroughly. Above the footing the imperfect bearings of the larger stones are of less consequence, since there is little danger of their crushing one another.
I say you will probably set their smooth faces inward, where they can be seen, which is quite natural and well enough, provided this is not their only merit. If behind there is a lame and impotent conclusion, a tapering point on which it is impossible to build without depending upon the bank of earth, it will be better to have less beauty and more strength. I don't like a foundation wall that is "backed up"; it should be solid quite through; if any difference, let it be in favor of the back or outside. You will find plenty of walls bulging into the cellar, not one crowding outward.
If the footing of a foundation is made as it should be, the upper part may be much thinner, since there is no danger of crushing it by any probable weight of building. It may be crowded inward by the pressure of surrounding earth, especially if the building is of wood. To guard against this, interior buttresses of brick, or partition walls in the cellar, will perhaps cost less than a thicker main wall. The buttresses you may utilize by making them receive shelves, support the sides of the coal-bin, etc., while the partitions will take the place of piers, and, if well laid, need be in smaller houses but four inches thick.
Should your cellar happen to be in a gravelly knoll,—you are thrice and four times blessed if it is,—and if there is a stony pasture near it or a quarry from which you can get the chips, you may try a concrete wall of small stones, gravel, and cement. It will be strong and durable; with a wheelbarrow you can make it yourself if you choose, and the rats will despise it.
Whether your house is one story or ten, built of pine or granite, you can have no better foundation than good hard brick laid in cement mortar; cellular above the footing, as brick walls should usually be made. Between this and stone it will be then a question of economy to be determined by local circumstances.
The details and accessories of cellars, their floors, ventilation, and various conveniences, belong to the interior equipments. There is, however, one point that even precedes the foundation,—the altitude. As the question commonly runs, "How high shall the top of the underpinning be?" Of course this can only be given on an actual site. It is unfortunate to plant a house so low in the ground that its cellar forms a sort of cesspool for the surrounding basin; most absurd to set it up on a stilted underpinning until it looks like a Western gatepost, lifted every year a few inches out of the ground by the frost, till it finally topples over and has to be set anew. Two things you will notice in locating your house,—as soon as the walls and roof are raised, the distance to the street in front will seem to be diminished, and the ground on which the building stands will appear lower than before, lower than you expected or desired. There is so much said and sung about houses being set too low, that it is quite common to find them pushed out of the ground, cellar and all, as though this would atone for a want of elevation in the land itself. There is little danger that you will place your house too high, great danger that you will not raise the earth around it high enough. Be sure that after grading there shall be an ample slope away from the walls; but whether you will have a "high stoop," or pass from the dooryard walk to the porch and thence to the front hall by a single step, will depend upon the character of the house and its surroundings. To express a generous hospitality the main entrance should be so convenient and inviting that it seems easier to enter than to pass the door. This effect, especially in large rambling houses, is most easily obtained by keeping the first floor near the ground. That hospitality and good cheer will always be found beneath your roof is my earnest wish.
GRAVEL-BANKS AND QUAGMIRES.
MY DEAR ARCHITECT: I'm all right on the gravel question. You don't catch me building in anybody's quagmire. There's plenty of rheumatism and fever 'n' ague lying around loose without digging for 'em, and then building a house over the hole to keep 'em in. I don't want to say anything against any man's building-lots, but how in the light of common-sense a man can, with his eyes open, build his shanty on some of the streets in your enterprising city, is too much for my understanding. If they would first put in good big sewers, running slick and clean to the river, and underdrain the whole premises, 't wouldn't be quite so bad. But I don't want them, anyway; give me the high land and the dry land. I'm not particular about founding on a rock, either; that was well enough in old times when they didn't want cellars, but let me have a good bed of sand or gravel. Cellar may not be quite so cool, but all we need is to go down a little deeper, while, as for health, I'd rather be ten feet under ground in such a spot than occupy the "second-story front," in some places I could mention.
Your foundation is all right in theory, and if I was going to put up a steam chimney, a government building, or anything else that must be done in the best way, regardless of expense, I should go for it. For cheap, common work, 't isn't worth while to be over-nice or over-wise. I tell you, there is danger of knowing too much about some things. According to your notion, a man couldn't do better than to stick the ground full of tenpenny nails to start with, and I should think a thousand-legged worm would be about the most substantial animal that treads the globe.
As to planting my house, when I've bought the lot, I'll ask you to take a look at it. I have a fancy for some sort of a sidehill, so I can get into my house, from one side at least, without going up stairs out of doors, and still have the first floor airy and dry.
From the Architect.
NATURE'S BRICKS ARE BETTER THAN OURS.
DEAR JOHN: Where to build your house may be, in truth, a question quite as important as how to build it. I regret my inability to give you the advice you need. Dr. Bowditch has, I think, intimated that there is an elysian field not far from here of such rare sanitary virtue that if its locality were known there would scarcely be standing-room within its borders for those who would flock thither, or something to that effect. I trust we shall some time have a scientific practical investigation of the whole matter, and such definite information as will enable us at least to qualify, by artificial means, evils that cannot, in thickly settled regions, be wholly avoided. Meantime stick to your text, keep high and dry. If you are bound to have a sidehill, and can find none to suit, you can doubtless make one of the earth thrown from the cellar wherever you locate.
Have you decided what materials to use, whether wood, brick, or stone? You will hardly use any other. Glass houses are not popular, although for their sunlight they ought to be; paper ones are not yet introduced among us,—I'm expecting them every year; and iron, important and useful as it is, and destined to become more so, is not adapted to such buildings as yours. Wood, brick, or stone, then,—which of the three? To spare you all possible confusion, we will take them separately and in order, beginning with the hardest.
For rural dwellings in New England stone is rarely used, except for foundations below ground, being, according to the common notion, better for that purpose than brick, but not as worthy to be seen, unless hammered and chiselled into straight lines and smooth surfaces. Errors both. Well-burned brick laid in cement mortar are nearly always as good as a stone foundation, while nothing can be more effective in appearance than a well-laid wall of native, undressed stone. We have too long neglected one of the most available of our resources in not making use of the small loose stones that abound in many localities. They are cheaper and better than bricks, and, rightly used, so thoroughly in harmony with the nature around them that we should find them in common use if men were half as wise in accepting the means of grace provided for them as they are prone to seek out many inventions. The earlier farmers with enormous industry built them into fences, and then added a second story of wood to keep the sheep from walking over them, or piled them up in conical heaps, watch-towers for the woodchucks. The later farmers, with less patience but possibly more enterprise, are running away from them to the smoother fields and richer mould of the Western prairies. We can do better than either; for, wherever found, they may be used most favorably, not only for foundation walls that are deeply hidden from mortal view, but for the main walls of the entire building,—favorably, not only in point of economy and strength, but with most admirable result as to external appearance. And here you touch your fundamental principle, that the best outward effect can only be obtained by a judicious use of the materials with which you build. You must not make the walls without any reference to their composition or proportions, and then try to conceal the poverty and awkwardness of the structure by pinning up preposterous window-caps, hanging horrible brackets under the eaves that must always be in doubt whether they support the cornice or are supported by it, fixing fantastic verge-boards to the gables, and covering the roof with wooden knick-knacks that mock consistency and defy description. Look rather to the materials at your command, and, whatever they may be, try to dispose them in such way that, while each part performs a legitimate, necessary service, you shall still have variety and harmony.
Because I have suggested building your main walls of natural undressed stone, you must not attempt to construct them of that alone. The main corners, the door and window jambs, the caps and sills, cannot well be made of these rough hard heads and cobbles that are scattered over the fields, or from quarry chips. And here will arise the question of cost. It would seem decidedly grand to use for the corners substantial blocks of hewn stone,—sandstone, granite, marble, or porphyry,—channelled and chamfered, rock-faced, tooled, rubbed, or decorated; key-stones and voussoirs embellished with your monogram or enriched by any other charming device you choose to invent; bands of encaustic tile, brilliant in color and pattern, belts of sculptured stone, and historic tablets,—if you fancy and can afford them. Unless your ship is heavily freighted with Australian gold or African diamonds, by all means dispense with the cut stone, and use brick for the corners, caps, and jambs, and some good flag-stones broken into strips of suitable width and thickness for the sills and belt-courses. This will give you a contrast in color (unless you have the reddest of red sandstone for the walls), the utmost economy and durability of construction, and a whole effect very likely better than that of the stone. These brick dressings may be light, especially the jambs; but the corners, at least, should be laid in such fashion as to bind well into the stone walls, and if of considerable height, should be strengthened by belts of stone, or iron anchors running through the brick and extending into the main wall several feet each way. Any large blank surface may be relieved by a little ingenuity in the selection of the stones for the main walls, introducing, perhaps, some of regular shapes and size, the raised mortar, which may be colored dark or red, marking the joints, or inserting a belt of different color. Horizontal bands of brick laid in fancy pattern may be convenient and effective.
Of course you will not adopt this style of wall unless there is a crop of suitable stones within easy distance. It is more probable that you will be afraid to use what you have than that there are none to use. Whatever can be made into a stone fence will make the walls of a house, if you are not too ambitious of height, and do not attempt to make them too thin. Other things being equal, the thicker the walls, within certain limits, the better. You don't care to build a Bastile, but deep window-jambs without and within add wonderful richness and dignity. If the walls cost little or no more, as is often the case, it is a pity to refuse the additional ground required for their extra thickness. Such walls should not be monopolized by hundred-thousand-dollar churches and fancy summer residences. They are quite suitable for the simplest, most unpretending country homes.
You will understand the general idea thus far by the accompanying sketches, with which I must close this letter, without concluding the subject.
THERE IS A SOFT SIDE EVEN TO A STONE WALL.
MY DEAR ARCHITECT: I'm slowly digesting your last production; not being an ostrich, it goes rather hard. For all that, it may be worth thinking of. Perhaps I shall be converted by the time the subject is fully shown up. I suppose we've always looked upon these loose rocks and stones sprinkled about the country as a part of the original curse, and have never thought of turning them to any sensible use, though good old Dr. Hopkins seemed to have faith that their soft side would some time be discovered. Funny, isn't it, that we should burn so much fuel and spend so much labor making bricks and other artificial building-blocks, when there are piles of them ready made, that would only cost the hauling? Not always on the square, to be sure, although in some places the ground is full and running over with flat stones that can be laid up as easily as shingles. They would hardly need any mortar, and the brick trimmings you describe would be a nuisance, except for looks. Miles and miles of stone-walls you will see, up and down hillsides and across pastures that don't look worth their taxes. Once in a while the lower half of a cider-mill, the back side of a barn-yard shed, or something of that sort, is made of them; but the people in these parts seem to think it would be folly to use them for anything more dignified. I suppose, because they are too simple and natural,—just as the Almighty made them.
These square-cornered, flat-sided fellows are not the commonest kind, however; and I'm free to maintain that I don't want to build my house more than seventy-five feet high of the smooth cobbles that will scarcely hang together in a respectable stone-heap. I should expect the whole thing would come tumbling down some rainy night.
Mrs. John don't take to the notion of a stone house—not yet. Says they're wofully old-fashioned and poky,—look like Canadians and poor folks. I just keep still and let her talk,—it's the best way.
Won't such walls be cold and damp? How am I to know whether the stones that I can find are fit to use? Send you a boxful by express?
From the Architect.
A BROAD HOUSE IS BETTER THAN A HIGH ONE.
MY DEAR JOHN: It will not be necessary for you to send me a stone-heap or a section of pasture-wall for inspection. I would rather venture an opinion from your description.
Of course, these walls alone, if solid, as they doubtless must be, will be cold and damp; they must be furred off within to prevent moisture from condensing on the walls of the rooms. This furring should be done with light studs, secured to the floor timbers above and below, having no connection with the stone walls, the inside of which may be left quite rough, whatever the "builders in the elder days of art" might say to such negligence. For greater permanence and security against fire, instead of wood furrings you may build a lining of brick, leaving an air space of several inches between it and the stone, very much in the same way as if the whole were of brick.
You say you would prefer not to build walls as high as a church tower of smooth cobblestones. Don't; it wouldn't be wise. Still I have seen them, of more humble dimensions, laid in good cement, as such walls always should be laid, that seem as firm as unbroken granite. But you will remember I only advise this mode of building on the condition that you are not ambitious of height. If you are, by all means curb your aspirations, or else buy a city house six or seven stories in the air, where you can gratify your passion for going up and down stairs. There is the best reason in the world why a tall house in the country should look grim, gaunt, and awkward; it is thoroughly inconvenient and out of place. The area of arable land covered by human habitations does not yet interfere with agricultural products. So let us spread ourselves freely. When we have learned the beauty and the strength of co-operation for mutual helpfulness, we shall see the prevailing mode of constructing houses in cities very much modified. Now they stand as books are placed on their shelves,—vertically and edgewise. They would hold just as many people, and be far more convenient, if they could be laid horizontally, one above the other.
True, this would involve floors impervious to sound, and fire-proof,—by no means a fatal objection. Since we can neither "fly nor go" in the air, like birds and angels, it is well for us, having found our appropriate level, to abide thereon as far as may be. There is no doubt that where dwellings must be built compactly in "blocks," as we call them, the "flat" arrangement, each tenement being complete on one floor, is the cheapest and best. Even the fourth story in such a building is preferable to a house of eight or ten rooms, two on each floor. But this does not concern you, unless you have a few thousands to invest in tenement-houses. In the right place I like an old-fashioned one-story house, but most people have a prejudice against anything so unpretending.
One other fact besides the worth of co-operation I hope the dwellers in cities will learn to recognize practically. When there were no swift and screaming locomotives, no cosey and comfortable horse-cars, no red and yellow omnibuses even, there was good reason why men must forego the boon of country air; must forget the color of the ground, the smell of the green things growing, and the shape of the heavens above them. But the reason no longer exists. Doubtless the business of a city should be as compact as possible; but for its dwellings, every consideration of comfort and happiness, of physical and moral well-being, demands that the inhabitants shall make the most of their migratory resources and—scatter; find room to build, not tenements or residences, but homes for themselves and their children. In the old time safety was found by crowding together within mural walls. Now the case is reversed. Where the population is densest, temptations and dangers do most abound. We've outgrown the walls, let us overcome the evils that were bred within them.
There may be a prejudice against another quality of these stone walls. They are rough. Roughness means want of culture and labor; that implies want of money, and that is—unpardonable. But roughness does not mean any such thing. What are mouldings and frets and carvings but a roughening of otherwise smooth surfaces? Artists of all kinds seek to remove even the appearance of an unbroken plane, and nature abhors a flat exterior, never allows one, even in the most plastic material, if it can be broken. See the waves of the ocean, the mimic billows on a snow-covered plain, the rugged grandeur of the everlasting hills. Fancy a pine, an oak, or an elm tree with trunk and limbs smoothly polished! What if the outside of your walls are somewhat uneven? Let them be so. The shadows will be all the richer, the vines will cling more closely, and maybe the birds will hang their nests in some sunny corner. Do not, then, try to improve the natural faces of the stones with pick and hammer; you will find it hard work, and, very likely, worse than thrown away.
I think you will like, both in exterior effect and in practical result, the plan of building the walls of the first story of stone with brick dressings, as described in my last letter, making the remainder of the house of wood, be the same more or less. If the sketches I send you do not make you in love with this style, or if you do not like to risk the experiment, examine something already built before deciding against it. But first explore the country around you and see if the stony prospect is good.
Mr. Donald G. Mitchell not only writes in favor of this mode of building, but proves his faith by his work; his new house at Edgewood being an admirable specimen of it. You will find, too, some noteworthy examples at Newport, for which, with much else in the way of applying a refined taste to rural affairs, we are indebted, directly or indirectly, to the same well-known writer. If, after the pictures, Mrs. John is still doubtful of the result, the examples above mentioned will certainly allay her misgivings.
You must not think I would recommend this as a universal fashion, even where the materials are abundant, but give it place according to its merit.
I hope you will be spared the folly of building your house of dressed stone of uniform size and color, lest it be mistaken for a large tomb or a small jail. That you may not at present be compelled to take up your abode in either, is my sincere wish.
TROUT BROOKS ARE BETTER THAN STREET SEWERS.
My dear architect: We read, we saw, and—were conquered. The pictures, the arguments, and especially the illustrious examples, brought down the house, or rather brought it up. Mrs. John is not only fully reconciled to stone walls, but she is decidedly unreconciled to any other,—that is, for the first story; the second story is to be of wood, the walls shingled or slated instead of being covered with clapboards, in the orthodox fashion. She is delighted with the notion that her "Baltimore belles" and the like can clamber against the house without being torn away every two or three years for paint. On the strength of this notion, she has already ordered a big lot of all sorts of herbs and creeping things, from grape-vines and English ivy to sweet-peas and passion-flowers. That's only one thing. Every time we go out to ride she gathers up from the wayside such a load of small rocks as makes the buggy-springs ache. We found a smooth round stone, yesterday, that looks so much like my head she declares it must be a fossil, and is bound to have it set over the front door instead of a monogram. We follow your lead in another direction; if we can't rise in the world without going up stairs for it, we'll try to cultivate the meek and lowly style.
Your best point, according to my thinking, is on the migration question. I read that paragraph over twice, and stuck a pin at the end of it. It doesn't concern me, to be sure; but I have the utmost pity for a man who is content to live all his life shut in between brick walls. To undertake to bring up a family of boys and girls where all the blessed freedom of out-door life is denied them, is worse than pitiful,—it's heathenish. Not that every boy ought to live on a farm and work in a barn-yard,—hoe corn all summer and chop wood all winter,—but I don't believe a child can grow up strong, healthy, and natural, body-wise and soul-wise, unless he has a chance to scrape an acquaintance with Mother Nature with his own hands. When I stake out John City it will be a city of magnificent distances, in the form of a Greek cross,—two wide streets crossing each other at right angles in the middle; all the business at the "four corners," where there will be plenty of short cross streets; the dwellings stretching away for miles on the two broad avenues; house-lots one to ten acres; Union Pacific Railroad will cut through the centre corner-wise; and the Metropolitan Transportation Company, or something else with a big name, will run elegant cars like shuttles through the two main streets, and Mrs. A at the West End can call on Mrs. B at the North, South, or East End, ten miles away, with less trouble than you in your city can go from Salem to Howard Street.
Similarly, Springfield ought to stretch from Longmeadow to Chicopee Street, from Indian Orchard to Agawam. At all events, if your folks will make the most of their opportunities, it will some day be one of the most charming inland cities on the continent. Whether there is good sense, public spirit, and patriotism enough to make it so remains to be seen.
From the Architect.
THE STRENGTH AND DURABILITY OF BRICK.
My dear John: It is encouraging to know that my suggestions find some favor in your sight. Pray don't go too fast. It isn't well to make up our minds fully until we have heard all sides, lest we have them to unmake, which is always more or less painful.
Notwithstanding the peculiar merits of the stone walls, the coming house,—the house that is to embody all the comforts and amenities of civilized life,—the house of safe and economic construction, well warmed, well ventilated, defiant alike of flood, frosty and fire,—the millennial house, if you please, will doubtless be a brick one. Don't be alarmed. I know just what vision rises before your mind's eye as you read this. A huge square edifice; windows very high from the ground, not very large, square tops, frame and sash painted white; expressionless roof; flat, helpless chimneys perched upon the outer walls, the course of their flues showing in a crooked stain; at the back side a most humiliated-looking wooden attachment, somewhat unhinged as to its doors and out at the elbows as to its windows, evidently hiding behind the pile of brick and mortar that tries to look dignified and grand, but only succeeds in making a great red blot on the landscape; all the while you know the only homelike portion of the establishment is in the wooden rear part. The front rooms are dark and gloomy, the paper hangings are mouldy, the closets musty and damp; there is a combined smell of creosote and whitewash pervading the chambers, and the ceilings hang low. I don't wonder you object to a brick house in the country. Yet, if you propose to build a model, honest and permanent, a house that shall be worth what it costs and look as good as it is, I shall still recommend brick. The growing scarcity of wood, the usual costliness of stone, the abundance of clay, the rapidity with which brick can be made and used,—one season being sufficient to develop the most awkward hod-carrier into a four-dollars-a-day journeyman bricklayer,—the demand for more permanence in our domestic dwellings, and the known worth of brick in point of durability and safety,—all these reasons will, I think, cause a steady increase in their use. Hence it behooves us to study the matter carefully, and see whether any good thing can be done with them.
Since the time, long ago, when the aspiring sons of Noah said to one another, "Go to; let us make brick and burn them thoroughly," to the latest kiln in Hampden brick-yard, there seems to have been little variety in the making or using of them, except that among different nations they have assumed different forms. They are found as huge blocks a foot and a half square, and in little flinty cakes no bigger than a snuff-box. The Romans made the best ones, some of their buildings having defied the elements for seventeen centuries, and their mantle, as to brickmaking, has fallen upon the Dutch. They were found among the ancient Peruvians, and the Chinese made beautiful the outside of the temple by giving a porcelain finish to the brick. Still I fancy they have always been more famous for their use than for their beauty; but their utility is beyond all question. If our modern experience doesn't prove it, read this inscription from an ancient brick pyramid of Howara:—
"Do not undervalue me by comparing me with pyramids of stone; for I am better than they as Jove exceeds the other deities. I am made of bricks from clay, brought up from the bottom of the lake adhering to poles."
Notwithstanding these claims to veneration, there is but little poetry about them, and therefore, I suppose, but little progress. Compared with other materials, they have undergone slight changes with us, in color, shape, or modes of use. A block of wood or stone contains, in the eye of the artistic workman, every possible grace of form and moulding; but a brick is a square, red, uninteresting fact, and the laying of them the most prosaic of all work. By common consent we expect no improvement in their use, but rather sigh for the good old times when work was honestly done and the size of the brick prescribed by law. We associate them with factories, boarding-houses, steam-chimneys, pavements, sewers,—whatever is practical, commonplace, and undignified. Yet there are charming, even delicate, effects possible with these unpromising rectangular blocks.
In your efforts to unite beauty and brickwork it will be well to begin modestly, merely aiming to avoid positive ugliness. Do not feel bound to enclose your house by four straight unbroken walls,—brick are no more difficult to build in irregular shape than anything else,—and do not, on any account, make square-topped openings, as the builders of the old-fashioned brick houses were wont to do. Doubtless you have read Mr. Ruskin's vigorous protest against this particular architectural sin; if you have not, by all means do so, only he proves too much, and would fain make us believe that our doors and windows must not only be crowned by arches, but they must be Gothic arches,—doctrine to be received with some grains of allowance. A pointed Gothic arch may be, often is, very beautiful; but, applying our test of utility, it is most obviously out of place, and therefore inartistic, where close economy, convenience, and abundance of light are required. For the sake of strength, if for no other reason, let the top of the openings be arched, but a low arch of one arc or two is often preferable to a high one. If, for economy's sake, you wish to make the top of the sash square, do so, curving the upper portion of the frame as a sort of centre on which the masonry may rest; but do not attempt this if the openings are wide, and in any case relieve the wood segment by ornamental cutting or some other device, otherwise you will have a weak and poverty-stricken effect. Or you may use a straight lintel of stone, taking care to build a conspicuous, relieving arch above it of stone or colored brick. You will get the idea from the sketches, and see that there is room for endless variety of expression and ornament without violating any of the first principles, which you will do if you try to cover a square-headed opening with a "straight arch" of brick, or leave a light, horizontal stone cap without a protecting arch above it.
THE WEAKNESS AND SHAM OF BRICKWORK.
My Dear Architect: You must have had a brick in your hat when you launched your last letter. I suppose there's no doubt that brick walls will stand thunder and lightning in the shape of Chicago fire and Boston gunpowder better than anything else. In fact, I've always had a notion that if there are any houses in a certain place where they don't need them to keep out the cold, they must be made of brick, Milton's gorgeous testimony to the contrary notwithstanding. But when you undertake to show up the softness and beauty of brickwork, you soar a little too high for me. If our masons would only make walls that are able to bear their own weight; not use more than half as much mortar as brick, and that made of sand instead of dirt; if they would build chimney-flues that will carry the smoke to the top of the building, instead of leaving it to ooze out around the window-frames a dozen feet away, as I once saw it in a costly building belonging to one of our ex-governors, and remember that a wooden joist running square across a chimney-flue is pretty sure to get up a bigger draught than most of us care for; if they wouldn't fill up the inside of the wall with bricks that it isn't safe to drop for fear they can never be picked up again; in short, if they'd do the work that can't be seen half as well as what is in plain sight, I'd never say a word about beauty, I wouldn't even ask for those elegant caps the masons are so fond of poking out over windows. You can find at least ten thousand such in Springfield. Some folks paint them, sprinkle sand into the paint, and then go on their wicked way rejoicing in the notion that they have told such a cunning lie as "no feller can find out."
Now and then the corner of a brick building is cobbled up into blocks and polished off in the same style. If these are some of the beauties of brickwork, I pray you have me excused. If you have anything better to offer, go ahead, I'm open to conviction; would rather be knocked down by an argument than a brickbat any time.
Mrs. John says she doesn't care a straw about bricks, and hopes you won't spend much time talking about them. She's bound to have a stone house, whether or no, and wants you to give us your notions about inside fixings, especially the kitchen. (Between you and me, she wouldn't have said a word about the kitchen, if I hadn't accused her of caring for nothing but bay-windows and folding-doors.) Her sister Jane has been over to see her, and they've had a host of projects to talk over; part of 'em I get hold of and part of 'em I don't. Jane isn't married, but she's got some capital notions about housekeeping. Great on having things nice and handy inside, especially for doing the work, but she don't care much for the outside looks. So she hopes you will get out of the brick-yard as soon as possible. Of course, I shall read what you have to say whether they do or not, but don't run wild on the subject.
From the Architect.
SKILL DIGNIFIES THE MOST HUMBLE MATERIAL.
Dear John: Please tell Mrs. John and Sister Jane that I am as anxious to get into the kitchen as they are to have me; and if I can succeed in giving suggestions that shall make the domestic work, on which our comfort and happiness so largely depend, easier and pleasanter,—restoring the wellnigh lost art of housekeeping to its native dignity,—it will be a grander achievement than designing the most beautiful exterior that ever adorned a landscape. I'm perfectly aware that the outside appearance of the house is to the interior comfort thereof as the body to the soul,—no comparison possible between the two. Still, they must possess their souls in patience and allow me to work according to my own plan. Moreover, they must not neglect a careful study of the brick question. A decided opinion is a good thing, provided it is grounded on the truth; otherwise it is a stumbling-block.
For yourself, I assure you my head is level; would that all brickwork were equally so. Beauty and bricks are not incompatible; but remember, there is one beauty of brick, another beauty of stone, and another beauty of wood. Do not confound them or expect that what pleases in one can be imitated in the other. As you were admonished, some time ago, "be honest; let brick stand for brick," then make the most of them. Your criticism on a very common form of "brick-dressing" is quite to the point. Aside from the stupid folly of painting them to imitate stone, not only these window-caps, but all horizontal belts having any considerable projection are essentially unfit for brickwork. The mortar is almost sure to fail at the upper side, giving the whole a look of premature decay, even if well done at first. A level course of long stone, running through a wall of small stones or brick, gives greater strength by binding the whole together. This has not always a good excuse for extending beyond the wall-face. But a projecting belt of brick adds nothing either in appearance or in reality. If horizontal lines are required to diminish the apparent height of the building or affect its proportions, make them of brick of different color from those of the main wall or laid in different position. Remember this; fanciful brick decorations are quite sure to look better on paper than when executed. As a rule, the more complex the design the greater the discount. Such work is apt to have an unsafe appearance, as though the whole was at the mercy of the bottom brick.
Your own sense of fitness must decide what shall be the general character of your house, whether light, open, airy, or sober, solid, and dignified. If the latter, let the strength of the walls be evident. Set the window-frames as far back from the wall-face as possible, in spite of any obstacles the builders may raise; make the arches above the openings massive, and the recessed portions of the cornice or any other ornamental work deep and narrow. There are not the same objections to a recess as to a projection; it is better protected, any imperfection is less apparent, and the desired effect of shadow is more complete. Much variety in color will not increase the appearance of strength, but the expression will be emphasized by pilasters and buttresses; also by the low segment arches and wide piers.
On the other hand, for a lighter effect, make the windows wider and crown them with semi-circles or pointed Gothic arches. Leave out the corners of the piers in building them up; introduce belts of brick laid in various positions and of different colors, if you can get them, as I trust you may. Indeed, this very season, a brickmaker has reported himself prepared to furnish black bricks and buff, red bricks and gray, all of good and regular standing. You may be sure I gave him my blessing, and invited him to press on. I do not know whether he will prove to be the coming man in this department, but whoever brings a greater variety of brick in form and color within reasonably easy reach will do a good work that shall surely have its reward; for brick houses we must have, ugly ones we won't have, and rich decorations of stone we cannot afford for common use. Meantime, if you can do no better, do not hesitate to use brick that have been treated to a bath of hot tar. They may look old-fashioned, by and by. No matter; an old fashion, if it is a good one, is more to be admired for its age than despised. It is only by reason of its falseness and inconvenience that it becomes absurd.
In the same category with colored bricks (indeed, they are a sort of spiritualized bricks) are the brilliant-hued encaustic tile that are finding their way hither across the Atlantic. Let us hope that the greatest country in the world will not long send three thousand miles for its building materials. A variety of forms and sizes of bricks we may easily have when we demand it in earnest. Beyond question there is room for almost unlimited exercise of fancy in this direction. We only need the taste to design appropriate shapes and to use them aright. Mr. Ruskin mentions certain brick mouldings as being among the richest in Italy. The matter of size relates rather to construction than ornament, but it is very important here. I think it will some time seem as unreasonable to make brick of but one size and pattern as it would now be to have all timber sawn of uniform dimensions.
You are more liable to attempt too much in the way of decoration than too little. Don't make your house look as though it was intended for a brickmaker's show-case. You will find the simplest designs the best. I have seen a really good effect on the side of a large building from the mere holes left in the wall by the masons' stagings.
One thing more: Do not become possessed with the idea that a brick house must be a large or an expensive one. It may be small and cheap, but withal so cosey and domestic, so thoroughly tasteful and picturesque, that you will have an unquestioning faith in the possibility and the desirableness of love in a cottage, the moment you behold it. On the other hand, by making the best of your resources, it is possible to build a large, plain, square house, a perfect cube if you please, that shall not only be homelike in appearance, but truly impressive and elegant. How? I've been trying to illustrate and explain. By being honest; by despising and rejecting all fashions that have nothing but custom to recommend them; by using colored and moulded brick if you can use them well; by not laying the outside work in white mortar, and by exercising your common-sense and independence, both of which qualities I am sure you possess.
I must beg Mrs. John and Sister Jane (by the way, I'm flattered to know that a notable housekeeper finds anything promising in what I have thus far written you) not to give up the ship. One more broadside for the brick-yard, and we will pass on to loftier themes.
EVERY MAN TO HIS TRADE.
My dear Architect: There is one point you might as well square up before you go any further. I understood that I was to build my house for myself to live in, not for my neighbors to look at. But I appeal to any white man, if you haven't had a deal more to say about the outside of the platter than the contents thereof. To be sure, it's what I might have expected. It's a way you architects have. You can no more help thinking how a house is going to look, than a woman can help hoping her first baby will be a beauty. I allow it would be a first-rate thing if we could have some streaks of originality, just a trifle more of variety, and a few glimpses of really good taste, along with the crumbs of comfort; and I'm willing to admit that your moves in that direction, as far as I can follow them, are all right. Still, it's a downright fact, that, unless a man is a great simpleton or a small Croesus, he is more anxious to make his house cosey and convenient, than he is to outshine his neighbors or beautify the landscape.
Sister Jane wants to know whether, in case one wishes to begin housekeeping on a small scale, it would be as easy to make additions to a brick house for future need, as to a wooden one. She doesn't ask on her own account, but for a friend of hers who is talking of building.
I expect you'll inquire pretty soon who's running these letters,—you or I; but if we don't sometimes show our ignorance by asking questions and making comments, how are you going to know what sort of information to shed?
From the Architect.
THE COMING HOUSE WILL BE FAIR TO SEE AND MADE OF BRICK.
Dear John: Once for all, your questions and those of Sister Jane or any of her friends and relatives are always in order. The more the better. I will do my best to answer them, if not exactly by return mail, yet as soon as may be.
Other things being equal, a house built of brick may be as easily increased to suit a growing family as one built of wood. There is necessarily a loss attending any change in a finished building, yet it is often well to arrange one's plans with reference to future additions. Will it be in order for me to express to Sister Jane my approval of any young man who is willing to begin life on a small scale, undertaking no more than he can do honestly and well, yet with ambitious forethought providing for future increase? You seem to be slightly in error upon this point. I have not said you must build your house without any regard to the exterior, or intimated that it would even be right to do so. I only protest against building for the sake of the exterior,—against sacrificing thoroughness and interior comfort to outside display,—against using labor and material in such fashion that they are worse than thrown away, their whole result being false and tasteless,—against every kind of ostentation and humbug. The truth is, we have all gone astray, literally, like sheep. We follow, for no earthly reason than because some one, not a whit wiser than we, happens to have rushed blindly in a certain direction.
"Of domestic architecture what need is there to speak! How small, how cramped, how poor, how miserable in its petty meanness, is our best! How beneath the mark of attack and the level of contempt, that which is common with us!"
Thus Mr. Ruskin on the domestic architecture of England. What would that merciless critic say, or rather what profundity of silence would he employ to express his opinion, of ours? It will be well for him and for us if he holds to his resolve never to visit America. This servile spirit of imitation, blind following of blind guides, is by no means confined to the outsides of our houses; it not only penetrates the interiors, but more or less influences all our affairs. Charge me with a professional interest if you will, I assure you no man can, in justice to himself or the community, build a house for his own use just like any other. He must attempt something better adapted to his needs and tastes than that can be which precisely suits some one else. If he can give no better reason for building as he builds, for furnishing as he furnishes, for living and thinking as he lives and thinks, than that another has done so before him, he may serve for the shadow of a man, but will never make the substance. Eastlake, another English authority, refers to continental cities and villages "the first glimpse of which is associated with a sense of eye-pleasure which is utterly absent in our provincial towns." And then, to drain the dregs of our humiliation, we are asked by his American editor to believe that, nevertheless, certain towns of the British Isles are miracles of picturesqueness "as compared with American towns, which have nothing but a succession of tame, monotonously ugly, and utterly uninteresting streets and squares to offer to the wearied eye." Yes, I am anxious about the outside of the house, but do not for a moment forget that it should always be subordinate to the weightier matters, the higher and holier uses of "home buildings."
Have I squared up your point? Let us return to the trowel.
The somewhat vexed question of mortar you shall answer according to your taste, so far as to choose between dark gray—"black" it is commonly called—and some shade of red, resembling the brick used. Between these two there seems to me to be one of those questions of taste, concerning which we are not permitted to dispute. With the dark mortar the joints will be visible, modifying the color of the wall, in some cases, perhaps, improving it; while the red will give a more uniform tint, on which not only colored brick or stone will appear to the best advantage, but the lines of the openings and other essential details are brought out in clearer relief. You would perhaps expect coloring the mortar the same shade as the brick to give precisely the effect of painting the entire wall. But it is not so. As in wood or stone, though in less degree, there is a kind of natural grain, even in the unnatural material, strengthened by oiling, but softer and richer than any painted surface. There seems to be no evidence that the mortar is injured by proper coloring-material,—mineral paints, or even lampblack, if you like it; I don't. Whether you like it or not, you are not to use white mortar for the outside work. Unless, indeed, you propose to build of pressed brick, in which case you will need it to show your neighbors how fearfully and wonderfully nice you are. If you are so devoted to worldly vanity as to build in that fashion in the country, I don't believe it will be possible for me to help you.
Chimneys deserve a chapter to themselves, they are so essential and so often abused. Let them start from the cellar-bottom and run straight and smooth to the very outlet. If you wish to be exceptionally careful and correct, use round pipe, cement or earthen, enclosed by brick. When it is so well known how often destructive fires are caused by defective flues, it is surprising that more care is not taken in building chimneys. They should be intrusted to none but workmen who are conscientious as well as skilful, otherwise every brick must be watched and every trowel full of mortar; for one defect ruins the whole, and five minutes after the fault is committed it can never be detected till revealed by the catastrophe.
If the spaces between the bricks were always filled with good mortar, it would be better not to plaster the inside of the flues, as the mortar is liable to cleave from the brick, and, hanging by one edge, form lodging-places for soot. As commonly built it is safer to plaster them within and without, especially without, for that can be inspected. The style of the visible part must depend upon the building. One thing lay up in the recesses of your lofty mind: A chimney is most useful and honorable, and you are on no account to be ashamed of it. Don't try to crowd it into some out-of-the-way corner, or lean it off to one side to clear a cupola,—better burn up the cupola,—or perch it daintily on a slender ridge like a brick marten-box; let it go up strong, straight, and solid, asserting its right to be, wherever it is needed, comely and dignified, and finished with an honest stone cap. Ruins are charming in the right place, but a tattered chimney-top on an otherwise well-preserved house is vastly more shabby than picturesque.
A common objection to brick houses is their redness; but there is no law against painting them, if their natural color is really inharmonious. Paint will improve the walls, will last longer on good brickwork than on wood, and there is no deception about it, unless you try to imitate stone. Still, it is not necessary, oil being just as good; and there is a sort of solid comfort in knowing that your house will look just as well fifty years hence as it does now, that it will mellow and ripen with age, and not need constant petting and nursing to preserve its tidiness.
The model house to which I alluded in beginning this subject will be, in brief, somewhat as follows: The outer walls will be vaulted, thoroughly non-conducting both of heat and of moisture. All the partitions will be of brick, precisely adapted in size to their use,—I am not sure but they will be hollow. The body of the floors will be of brick, supported, if need be, by iron ties or girders, all exactly fitted to the dimensions of the rooms, so that not a pound of material or an hour of labor shall be wasted on guess-work or in experiments. From turret to foundation-stone, the house will be a living, breathing, organic thing. If the weather prophet will declare what the average temperature of the winter is to be, we can tell to a hodful how much coal will maintain a summer heat throughout the establishment. You may be sure it will not be more than you now use in keeping two rooms uncomfortably hot and in baking the family pies. There will be no lathing, except occasionally on the ceilings; even this will not be necessary. You may make a holocaust of the contents of any room in the house, and, if the doors, finish, etc., happen to be of iron, as they may be, no one in the house will suspect your bonfire, until the heap of charcoal and ashes is found. Dampness and decay, unsavory odors and impure air, chilly bedrooms and cold floors, will be unknown. The ears in the walls will be stopped, there will be no settlement from shrinking timbers, no jelly-like trembling of the whole fabric when the master puts his foot down. Finally, the dear old house will be just as sound and just as lovely when the future John brings home his bride as when his grandsire built it. And it won't cost a cent more than the weak, unstable things we're raising by the thousand.
The coming house will surely be a brick one, but before it comes there will be plenty of work for the carpenters, and I shall not be at all surprised if you finally decide to build of wood.
From Mrs. John.
MR. ARCHITECT: Dear Sir,—Yesterday afternoon Sister Jane and I went out after May-flowers. We didn't find any, but on our way home met the schoolmaster, a friend of Jane's, who knew where they grew and offered himself as a guide. I was too tired to walk any farther, so they went off without me. Coming into the house, I was taken all aback by the sight of John lying on my best lounge, his muddy boots on his feet, his hat on the floor, and your last letter crumpled savagely in his hand. I was vexed, thankful, and—frightened.
I've taught the baby, who is only twenty-nine months old, to hang up his little cap, and not to climb into the chairs with his shoes on, but I can't make a model husband of John. He is as good as gold, but will leave his hat on the floor, his coat on the nearest chair, and never keeps himself or any of his things in order in the house. He says it's born with him; comes from a long line of ancestors (he's been reading Darwin lately) who lived in houses without any cupboards or drawers or closets, and he could no more put away his hat and coat when he comes in than a blue-jay could build a hang-bird's nest. Yes; I was vexed, but thankful, too, that Jane was out of sight. Of all people in the world; she has the least mercy for anything like domestic untidiness. I only hope she will some time have a house and a husband of her own; if one doesn't shine and the other shake, her practice will fall a long way behind her preaching. Let me warn you now, not to attempt making any plans for her. It will be worry and vexation of spirit from first to last. Every knot will be examined, every shingle ironed flat before it is laid, every nail counted and driven by rule. When I tell her it would wear me out, body and mind, to feel obliged to keep things always in order, she gravely reminds me that Mrs. Keep-clean lived ten years longer than Mrs. Clean-up, besides having an easier time, a tidy house, and an enviable reputation all her life. Yes; I was thankful she had gone philandering off after May-flowers, and hoped she would stay till I had had time to brush up the room and get John into presentable shape. But as soon as I went to rouse him I was thoroughly frightened. His face was flushed, his hair was ruffled, and he looked up in such a dazed kind of way, I really thought he was going to have something dreadful. He held out your letter and told me to read the last sentence, which I did. Even then I didn't understand what was the trouble until he went on to say that your final charge was too much for him. He was totally discouraged. You began, he said, by urging him to build a stone house, which neither of us liked, though we finally came around to it,—even went so far as to commence hauling stones. All at once you went into ecstasies over brickwork, and argued for it as though our hope of salvation lay in our living in a brick house. Now, as he was beginning to feel that he must change his mind again (he would almost as soon change his head) and cultivate an admiration for brickwork, you must needs switch off upon another track and coolly advise him to build of wood! He declared he was further from a new house to-day than three months ago. At that rate we should live in the old one till it tumbled down over our heads, which I don't propose to do.
The baby was asleep, so I sat down on the lounge, took John's head in my lap, and tried to explain what you meant. I told him I had heard enough about brick, and didn't care what you said about wood. We should hold to our original plan and have a stone house; but you didn't know where it was to be, and wished us to be thoroughly posted, then use our common-sense and decide for ourselves what it should be. In some places it would be most absurd to build of wood; in others equally so to build of anything else. The matter of cost, too, might affect our choice, and that you knew nothing about.
In my efforts to restore his equanimity, I had forgotten my broom and dust-pan, lying in the middle of the floor; forgotten John's big boots, not only on the lounge, but directly on one of Jane's most exquisite tidies; forgotten—actually forgotten—the baby, and was treating my disturbed husband in genuine ante-matrimonial style, when, of all things to happen at this very crisis, in marched Sister Jane and her cavalier! Simultaneously the baby awoke with a resounding scream.
Now there are three things that my notable sister holds in especial abhorrence,—untidy housekeeping, sentimental demonstrations between married people, and crying babies; and here they all were in an avalanche, overwhelming, not only herself, but a most prepossessing young man, who, for all I knew, was viewing me with a critic's eye, as a possible sister-in-law, and wondering how far certain traits are universal in families.
You will think I stand in great awe of Sister Jane; and so I do, for though she is two years younger than I, unmarried, and, candidly, not a bit wiser, she is one of those oracular persons who, unlike Mr. Toots, not only fancy that what they say and do is of the utmost consequence, but contrive to make other people think so, too.
It is one of my husband's notions that nothing in the house is too good to be used every day by those he loves best, meaning baby and I. So I have no parlor—no best room always ready for exhibition—into which I could send them, but my inspiration came just at the right moment.
"Don't, Jane, don't, for pity's sake, bring all that rubbish into the sitting-room!" She had her hands full of moss and flowers. "Please take it out on the piazza. John will carry you some chairs." And Jane was positively too much astonished to say a single word, but turned and walked out the way she came in, driving her dutiful escort before her.
Fortunately, our piazza is eight or nine feet wide. I wouldn't have one less than that. So John took out the chairs, and was properly presented to the young gentleman.
Half an hour later, when order once more prevailed, I went out to find Jane finishing a lovely moss basket, and the gentlemen amiably building air-castles. John had been reading your last letter aloud, omitting your reply to Jane's question, and was advocating brick in a most edifying fashion. As I sat down, the young man inquired very seriously if there would be any difficulty in making additions to a brick house, in case one wished to begin in a small way. John gave one of his queer looks, and guessed not; I, for a wonder, kept still; and Jane blushed brilliantly, remembering that she had already asked the same question on her friend's account.
I am, truly, anxious about the kitchen and closets, whatever nonsense my husband may write, but should be sorry to have the house look just like any other, and, of course, wish to have it look well. Why may not our stone house be built in the manner of your model brick one, at least basement and first story, thoroughly warmed and ventilated, brick partitions, fire-proof, and so on,—that is, if we can afford it? And that brings me to the question that I intended to ask in the beginning, Are these suggestions intended to apply to common kind of buildings or only to those that are usually described as "first class"? Architectural rules and the principles of good taste are not thought to concern those who, in building, know no law but necessity,—with whom the problem is to get the greatest amount of use for the least possible outlay.
John is industrious and serene, this morning. He thinks my letter isn't very practical, and hopes you won't forget that the subject in hand is house-building, not family history.
From the Architect.
GOOD TASTE IS NOT A FOE BUT A FRIEND TO ECONOMY.
MRS. JOHN: Dear Madam,—For your wise and tender treatment of John you have my heartiest thanks and admiration. It is not strictly an architectural suggestion, but could you not found a sort of training-school for wives who have not learned to manage their refractory husbands? I'm sure you would have plenty of pupils.
Your query as to applying these hints I am glad to answer. Instead of preventing its indulgence, close economy demands the exercise of the most refined taste. The very houses that must pay strict regard to the first principles of art are those upon which not one dollar can be wasted. But these fundamental rules are identical, whether the building costs five hundred dollars or fifty thousand. When the newspapers describe "first-class" houses, those above a certain size or cost are meant. Let us henceforth have a truer standard, placing only those in the front rank whose design and construction are throughout in wise accord with the material of which they are built and the uses for which they are intended.
Notwithstanding your want of interest in the wood question, I must give your husband one chapter on that subject, and promise him it shall be thoroughly practical, free from all romance and family allusions.
OUR PICTURESQUE ANCESTORS.
MY DEAR ARCHITECT: I've no doubt it would be vastly agreeable to you to have Mrs. John keep up this end of the correspondence. Very gratifying, too, to another party,—the paper-makers. It would be a big thing for them. But I don't want to hire a housekeeper, even in so good a cause, not till I have a house.
In spite of Mrs. John's devotion to her first love (I mean the stone walls), it is, as you say, quite possible that our family mansion will be wood; and Barkis is willin' to hear what you have to say about it.
One topic in your reply to my wife's historical report I hope you will work up more fully. Just explain, if you can, why the cheap buildings we have nowadays are so much less satisfactory to look at than those built fifty or a hundred years ago. Do you suppose the bravest artist that ever swung a brush would dare put an ordinary two-story house of modern style on the front seat in a New England landscape? It would ruin his reputation if he did,—even without the French roof. Can you tell why? There's no such objection to the homesteads of a generation or two ago. Don't tell me age is venerable, and moralize about the sacred associations and old-time memories that lend a halo of poetry and romance and what-'s-his-name to these relics of the past. That's all very well in its place, but if our grandchildren can discover anything artistic or even picturesque in our common houses of to-day, they'll be a progeny of enormous imaginations,—regular Don Quixotes; windmills will be nothing to them.
From the Architect.
THE USE AND THE ABUSE OF WOOD.
DEAR JOHN: One reason, among many, why the old-time houses are more grateful to the eye than those of similar cost but modern style, is that they were built of wood honestly and legitimately used, when wood was on all accounts the most suitable material for building. It is so still, and will be for a long time in many places, for its economy and convenience. Given a fair chance, it may be made very durable, and is even rendered practically fire-proof without great cost, by kyanizing and various other methods that are adopted for the same purpose. You will find one mode described in the June number of Harper's Magazine for 1870. Wood is effective, too, in appearance, when rightly used, which, more's the pity, does not often happen; for of all the materials that minister to human comfort and needs, this seems to me the most abused. Iron, like the old-time saints, betrays not its solid worth till it has been tried by fire,—is all the better for being hammered and beaten; stone is as much improved as an unruly boy by a good dressing; while bricks, like ghosts, come forth from their purgatory for the express purpose of being laid. All of these, by appropriate treatment, are invested with graces and glories that by nature they never owned. But a tree, graceful, noble, and grand beyond all human imitation, is ignominiously hewn down, every natural beauty disguised or annihilated, and its helpless form compelled to assume most uncouth shapes and grimmest colors.
Of late our injustice is greater and more disastrous; for we are destroying the very sources of supply without providing for the future, using wood in large quantities where other materials would be better and cheaper. Yet we think ourselves very economical. Once it was common to enclose wood buildings of all grades by walls at least ten or twelve inches thick, sometimes much more, and solid at that. They were called log-houses. Now it is the fashion to use two by four inch studs standing in rows at such distances that the whole substance of the frame in a single sheet would be about half an inch thick. These are suggestively called balloon frames. The former would be huge and inconvenient, the latter are often fair and frail. That the frame of the outer wall of a wooden building should be mainly vertical is evident, the outer studs, if possible, extending from the sill to the plates, and as many of the inner ones as may be reaching through both stories, especially those by the staircase, where the shrinking of the second-floor timbers will reveal ugly cracks and crooks. That the greatest strength and economy of material are secured by sawing logs into thin, wide scantling is also beyond question, but don't try to save too closely on a bill of timber. A thousand feet added to the width of the studs and the depth of the joist will make the difference between a stiff, unterrified frame, and a weak, trembling one. Neither be sparing of the number of these light sticks. Sixteen inches between centres is far enough for studs or joists; twelve is better, though particulars will depend on circumstances. We have no use for the old-fashioned huge square posts, horizontal girts, and braces midway the walls of a two-story building, having found that studs two inches by five will carry all that is required of them as well as if ten times as large. Let us generously give the light frame the stanch support of a sound, well-matched, and bountifully nailed covering of inch boards. There's great virtue in tenpenny nails. Let the building be well peppered with them. Even after boarding, your walls will have less than two inches of solid wood. If you wish to make an example of yourself, lay this boarding diagonally; and, to cap the climax of scientific thoroughness, having given it a good nailing and a layer of sheathing-felt, cover the whole with another wooden garment of the same style as the first, and crossing it at right angles. All of this before the final overcoat of clapboards, or whatever it may be. A house built in this way would laugh at earthquakes and tornadoes. It couldn't fall down, but would blow over and roll down hill without doing any damage except disarranging the furniture, and, possibly, shaking off the chimney-tops! It would hardly need any studs except as furrings for lath and plastering, and would be very warm. You know my mind about floors. If you can't afford joists stiff enough to hold you without jarring, even when you chance to cut a caper with the baby, defer building till you are a little richer. Floors need the well-nailed linings, too, especially those of the upper stories, almost as much as the outer walls, and should be deafened with mortar if you can stand the cost; if not, with felt. The upper floors we will talk over by and by. Some people have a fancy for filling in between studs with soft brick, but I don't believe in it. It is seldom well done, it injures the frame, and costs more than back plastering, without being much if any better. Rather build a brick house outright. It is well, however, to lay a course or two of brick in mortar against each floor, filling the space between the inner base board and the outer covering entirely full and solid, leaving never the faintest hint of the beginning of a chance for mice. Then when you hear the dear little creatures galloping over the ceiling, driving hickory-nuts before them and making noise enough for a whole battalion of wharf rats, there will be a melancholy satisfaction in knowing that you did your best to keep them out, and these brick courses will make the house warmer by preventing currents of air.
Here is one advantage in wood not easily obtained in brick or stone,—the overhanging of the whole, or a part of the second story, which may be made picturesque in effect and will add much to the charm of the interior. It may be simply an oriel window swinging forward to catch the sun or a distant view, an entire gable pushing the guest-chamber hospitably forth, or the whole upper story may extend beyond the lower walls, giving large chambers, abundant closets, and cosey window-seats. Of course, such projections must be well sustained. Let their support be apparent, in the shape of massive brackets or the actual timbers of the house.
Speaking of brackets, if we could learn to think of them, wherever they occur, simply as braces, we might have better success in their treatment. Our abominable achievements in this line spring from an attempt to hide the use of the thing in its abstract beauty. The straight three by four inch braces found under any barn-shed roof are positively more agreeable to look at than the majority of the distorted, turned, and becarved blocks of strange device that hang in gorgeous array upon thousands of "ornamental" houses. Besides these there are a host of pet performances of builders and would-be architects that deserve only to be abolished and exterminated; put up, as they are, with an enormous waste of pine and painful toil of the flesh, to become a lasting weariness to the spirit. Far more satisfying and truly ornamental is it, to let the essential structure of the building be its own interpreter. Very much can be done by a skilful arrangement of the outer covering alone. Don't try to clothe the house with a smooth coat of boards laid horizontally with no visible joints or corner finish. Such a covering is costly, defective, and contrary to first principles. Clapboards are good. Hardly anything is better, but don't feel restricted to one mode. I send you some sketches suggesting what may be done in this department by a careful design in the use of wide boards and narrow boards, clapboards and battens; boards horizontal, vertical, and cornerwise,—any and all are legitimate, and it may be well to use them all on one building.