In ascertaining what is desirable to the conveniences, or the necessities in our household arrangement, it may be not unprofitable to look about us, and consider somewhat, the existing condition of the structures too many of us now inhabit, and which, in the light of true fitness for the objects designed, are inconvenient, absurd, and out of all harmony of purpose; yet, under the guidance of a better skill, and a moderate outlay, might be well adapted, in most cases, to our convenience and comfort, and quite well, to a reasonable standard of taste in architectural appearance.
At the threshold—not of the house, but of this treatise—it may be well to remark that it is not here assumed that there has been neither skill, ingenuity, nor occasional good taste exhibited, for many generations back, in the United States, in the construction of farm and country houses. On the contrary, there are found in the older states many farm and country houses 20 that are almost models, in their way, for convenience in the main purposes required of structures of their kind, and such as can hardly be altered for the better. Such, however, form the exception, not the rule; yet instead of standing as objects for imitation, they have been ruled out as antiquated, and unfit for modern builders to consult, who have in the introduction of some real improvements, also left out, or discarded much that is valuable, and, where true comfort is concerned, indispensable to perfect housekeeping. Alteration is not always improvement, and in the rage for innovation of all kinds, among much that is valuable, a great deal in house-building has been introduced that is absolutely pernicious. Take, for instance, some of our ancient-looking country houses of the last century, which, in America, we call old. See their ample dimensions; their heavy, massive walls; their low, comfortable ceilings; their high gables; sharp roofs; deep porches, and spreading eaves, and contrast them with the ambitious, tall, proportionless, and card-sided things of a modern date, and draw the comparison in true comfort, which the ancient mansion really affords, by the side of the other. Bating its huge chimneys, its wide fire-places, its heavy beams dropping below the ceiling overhead, and the lack of some modern conveniences, which, to be added, would give all that is desired, and every man possessed of a proper judgment will concede the superiority to the house of the last century.
That American house-building of the last fifty years is out of joint, requires no better proof than that the 21 main improvements which have been applied to our rural architecture, are in the English style of farm and country houses of two or three centuries ago; so, in that particular, we acknowledge the better taste and judgment of our ancestors. True, modern luxury, and in some particulars, modern improvement has made obsolete, if not absurd, many things considered indispensable in a ruder age. The wide, rambling halls and rooms; the huge, deep fire-places in the chimneys; the proximity of out-buildings, and the contiguity of stables, ricks, and cattle-yards—all these are wisely contracted, dispensed with, or thrown off to a proper distance; but instead of such style being abandoned altogether, as has too often been done, the house itself might better have been partially reformed, and the interior arrangement adapted to modern convenience. Such changes have in some instances been made; and when so, how often does the old mansion, with outward features in good preservation, outspeak, in all the expression of home-bred comforts, the flashy, gimcrack neighbor, which in its plenitude of modern pretension looks so flauntingly down upon it!
We cannot, in the United States, consistently adopt the domestic architecture of any other country, throughout, to our use. We are different in our institutions, our habits, our agriculture, our climates. Utility is our chief object, and coupled with that, the indulgence of an agreeable taste may be permitted to every one who creates a home for himself, or founds one for his family. The frequent changes of estates incident to our laws, and the many inducements held out to our people to 22 change their locality or residence, in the hope of bettering their condition, is a strong hindrance to the adoption of a universally correct system in the construction of our buildings; deadening, as the effect of such changes, that home feeling which should be a prominent trait of agricultural character. An attachment to locality is not a conspicuous trait of American character; and if there be a people on earth boasting a high civilization and intelligence, who are at the same time a roving race, the Americans are that people; and we acknowledge it a blemish in our domestic and social constitution.
Such remark is not dropped invidiously, but as a reason why we have thus far made so little progress in the arts of home embellishment, and in clustering about our habitations those innumerable attractions which win us to them sufficiently to repel the temptation so often presented to our enterprise, our ambition, or love of gain—and these not always successful—in seeking other and distant places of abode. If, then, this tendency to change—a want of attachment to any one spot—is a reason why we have been so indifferent to domestic architecture; and if the study and practice of a better system of building tends to cultivate a home feeling, why should it not be encouraged? Home attachment is a virtue. Therefore let that virtue be cherished. And if any one study tend to exalt our taste, and promote our enjoyment, let us cultivate that study to the highest extent within our reach.