Style Of Building—miscellaneous
Diversified as are the features of our country in climate, soil, surface, and position, no one style of rural architecture is properly adapted to the whole; and it is a gratifying incident to the indulgence in a variety of taste, that we possess the opportunity which we desire in its display to almost any extent in mode and effect. The Swiss châlet may hang in the mountain pass; the pointed Gothic may shoot up among the evergreens of the rugged hill-side; the Italian roof, with its overlooking campanile, may command the wooded slope or the open plain; or the quaint and shadowy style of the old English mansion, embosomed in its vines and shrubbery, may nestle in the quiet, shaded valley, all suited to their respective positions, and each in harmony with the natural features by which it is surrounded. Nor does the effect which such structures give to the landscape in an ornamental point of view, require that they be more imposing in character than the necessities of the occasion may demand. True economy demands a structure sufficiently spacious to accommodate its occupants in the best manner, so far as convenience and 24 comfort are concerned in a dwelling; and its conformity to just rules in architecture need not be additionally expensive or troublesome. He who builds at all, if it be anything beyond a rude or temporary shelter, may as easily and cheaply build in accordance with correct rules of architecture, as against such rules; and it no more requires an extravagance in cost or a wasteful occupation of room to produce a given effect in a house suited to humble means, than in one of profuse accommodation. Magnificence, or the attempt at magnificence in building, is the great fault with Americans who aim to build out of the common line; and the consequence of such attempt is too often a failure, apparent, always, at a glance, and of course a perfect condemnation in itself of the judgment as well as taste of him who undertakes it.
Holding our tenures as we do, with no privilege of entail to our posterity, an eye to his own interest, or to that of his family who is to succeed to his estate, should admonish the builder of a house to the adoption of a plan which will, in case of the sale of the estate, involve no serious loss. He should build such a house as will be no detriment, in its expense, to the selling value of the land on which it stands, and always fitted for the spot it occupies. Hence, an imitation of the high, extended, castellated mansions of England, or the Continent, although in miniature, are altogether unsuited to the American farmer or planter, whose lands, instead of increasing in his family, are continually subject to division, or to sale in mass, on his own demise; and when the estate is encumbered with unnecessarily 25 large and expensive buildings, they become an absolute drawback to its value in either event. An expensive house requires a corresponding expense to maintain it, otherwise its effect is lost, and many a worthy owner of a costly mansion has been driven to sell and abandon his estate altogether, from his unwillingness or inability to support the establishment which it entailed; when, if the dwelling were only such as the estate required and could reasonably maintain, a contented and happy home would have remained to himself and family. It behooves, therefore, the American builder to examine well his premises, to ascertain the actual requirements of his farm or plantation, in convenience and accommodation, and build only to such extent, and at such cost as shall not impoverish his means, nor cause him future disquietude.
Another difficulty with us is, that we oftener build to gratify the eyes of the public than our own, and fit up our dwellings to accommodate company or visitors, rather than our own families; and in the indulgence of this false notion, subject ourselves to perpetual inconvenience for the gratification of occasional hospitality or ostentation. This is all wrong. A house should be planned and constructed for the use of the household, with incidental accommodation for our immediate friends or guests—which can always be done without sacrifice to the comfort or convenience of the regular inmates. In this remark, a stinted and parsimonious spirit is not suggested. A liberal appropriation of rooms in every department; a spare chamber or two, or an additional room on the ground floor, 26 looking to a possible increase of family, and the indulgence of an easy hospitality, should always govern the resident of the country in erecting his dwelling. The enjoyments of society and the intercourse of friends, sharing for the time, our own table and fireside, is a crowning pleasure of country life; and all this may be done without extraordinary expense, in a wise construction of the dwelling.
The farm house too, should comport in character and area with the extent and capacity of the farm itself, and the main design for which it is erected. To the farmer proper—he who lives from the income which the farm produces—it is important to know the extent of accommodation required for the economical management of his estate, and then to build in accordance with it, as well as to suit his own position in life, and the station which he and his family hold in society. The owner of a hundred acre farm, living upon the income he receives from it, will require less house room than he who tills equally well his farm of three, six, or ten hundred acres. Yet the numbers in their respective families, the relative position of each in society, or their taste for social intercourse may demand a larger or smaller household arrangement, regardless of the size of their estates; still, the dwellings on each should bear, in extent and expense, a consistent relation to the land itself, and the means of its owner. For instance: a farm of one hundred acres may safely and economically erect and maintain a house costing eight hundred to two thousand dollars, while one of five hundred to a thousand acres may range in an expenditure 27 of twenty-five hundred to five thousand dollars in its dwelling, and all be consistent with a proper economy in farm management.
Let it be understood, that the above sums are named as simply comporting with a financial view of the subject, and such as the economical management of the estate may warrant. To one who has no regard to such consideration, this rule of expenditure will not apply. He may invest any amount he so chooses in building beyond, if he only be content to pocket the loss which he can never expect to be returned in an increased value to the property, over and above the price of cheaper buildings. On the other hand, he would do well to consider that a farm is frequently worth less to an ordinary purchaser, with an extravagant house upon it, than with an economical one, and in many cases will bring even less in market, in proportion as the dwelling is expensive. Fancy purchasers are few, and fastidious, while he who buys only for a home and an occupation, is governed solely by the profitable returns the estate will afford upon the capital invested.
There is again a grand error which many fall into in building, looking as they do only at the extent of wood and timber; or stone and mortar in the structure, and paying no attention to the surroundings, which in most cases contribute more to the effect of the establishment than the structure itself, and which, if uncultivated or neglected, any amount of expenditure in building will fail to give that completeness and perfection of character which every homestead should command. Thus 28 the tawdry erections in imitation of a cast-off feudalism in Europe, or a copying of the massive piles of more recent date abroad, although in miniature, both in extent and cost, is the sheerest affectation, in which no sensible man should ever indulge. It is out of all keeping, or propriety with other things, as we in this country have them, and the indulgence of all such fancies is sooner or later regretted. Substance, convenience, purpose, harmony—all, perhaps, better summed up in the term EXPRESSION—these are the objects which should govern the construction of our dwellings and out-buildings, and in their observance we can hardly err in the acquisition of what will promote the highest enjoyment which a dwelling can bestow.
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