Francis Hall.

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and coziness.

But every man's house is in some sort an
effigy of himsel£ It is not the snails and
shell-fish alone that excrete their tenements,
but man as well. When you seriously build
a house, you make public proclamation of
your taste and manners, or your want of
these. If the domestic instinct is strong in
you, and if you have humility and simplicity,
they will show very plainly in your dwdl-
in^; if you have the opposite of these, false
pnde or a petty ambition, or coldness and
exclusiveness, they will show also. A man
seldom builds better than he knows, when
he assumes to know anything about it*

It cannot be said of us as a people that
we are a domestic, home-abiding folk. We
shift about from house to house with as litde
concern as do the woodchucks from hole to
hole. Most of us prefer to get our houses
ready made— builders' houses planned and
shaped on general principles like ready-
made clothing, and warranted to be in the
latest fashion. Indeed, it is a current say-
ing with us, that '* fools build houses and
wise men live in them ;" as if the wise man
had no house in his character, but only a
roof and four walls.

Our rural and suburban houses look smart,
airy, wide-awake, but they also look thin,
cold, flat, brazen, shoppy. You shall travel
days and hardly see one that gives the
impression of dignity, stability, coziness, or
homeliness. They are, no doubt, in the)
main comfortable, but they have bad nuuv-

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ners ; they stare at you, they advertise them-
selves, they crowd up on the highway, they
vie with each other, they are affected, proud,
scornful. Men of means for the most part,
especially citizens who go out into the coun-


try, build upon about the same principle
that women dress. I never see one of their
fancy, ornamental structures, but I am
reminded of a fashionably dressed girl of the
period, tucked, and ruffled, and padded,
and flounced and panniered ; not so bad in
dry-goods and for an afternoon promenade,
but preposterous in any more enduring form
and for any more serious purpose. When
will we get beyond this millinery style and
build wiUi as good taste as we dress our-
selves? This gray and drab, these soft
hats, these coarse Scotch and English
cloths, this complete subordination of every-
thing to ease and health — when will we
cany the same wise economies into our
For is not one's house

f dress?

;fore so much needed to

s, deep



iews —



house-building ?

faces glare, lines are sharp, objects are near,
distance is foreshortened, perspective is
killed. The eye does not get the sense of
depth and mellowness it does in more humid
dimes. There is no tone, no age, no uni-
versal presence, touching, subduing, harmo-
nizing, as under Transatlantic skies. And
because we live amid 6uch publicity shall
we take especial pains to make ourselves
seen ? Because the climate glares shall our
house glare also ? Even the European soon
succumbs and adopts our stark trimness
and baldness. I knew an Englishman who
painted his cottage white as if perforce, but
revenged himself i>y a black door and a
black fence.

As yet, our people have shown no sense
of the picturesque. When they builded
from necessity, this quality often attended
them ; but when they builded for good looks*



e people in this country,
laps the most merciless
:poses everything. The
:opic In fact, there is
hard naked space. Sur-

it retreated, and flew to the furthermost


The cheapness and abundance of wood,
of sawed timber, in this
countiy, obviating the
necessity of going to the
earth for our material,
and shaping our dwell-
ings out of the shapeless
but picttu-esque stone, has
been an active cause in
leading us astray. With
wood, and the planing
and scroll-sawing mill,
comes this cheap and
hollow ornamentation
and ginger-bread work.
With wood, also, comes

the paint-pot, and the temptation to bright


Then every man thinks the time may

come when he will want to sell, so he must

give his building a taking, ad captandum

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look, whatever his own private taste
may be.

More than that, we have had an immensity
of space opposed to us. We have had more
room than we could warm. We have had
to pitch our eflforts in a high key to make an
impression. If the vast and vacant sur-
rounding has not quenched and blighted in
us the feeling of the snug, the cozy, the pri-
vate, it has, at least, kept it in abeyance.

must be bom of the design, and of bold
and simple treatment. Do not so much
seek to please the eye as not to displease it.
Let one remember that his house is to stand
in the open air, and not in a show-case;
that it is to fraternize with rocks, stones, and
trees, and rude nature. If it does not look
at home where it stands, how are you going
to feel at home in it ? If it does not blend
with its surroundings, if it does not nestle


Man butters the bread of life from his
own heart ; but in this country the slice has
been so large, and the unctuous hearts so
few, that our bread is yet unbuttered. The
mellowing quality strikes in or dries up, and
it must be a long time yet before we, as a
people, can radiate or efl^ise enough of our-
selves to make our land or homes as redo-
lent of human qualities as are our ancestral
domains over seas,


After all our failure, I regard the problem of
how to build a house that shall not, at least,
offend the eye as a very simple one. For the
most part, one has only to avoid doing what
his neighbor has gone about with so much
pains to do : avoid light colors, leave off the
cornice, the stuck-on ornaments, build low
and rambling, and, in general, adhere rigidly
to the laws of construction, and let beauty
take care of itself. The architect certainly
cannot add this part; he cannot thrust beauty
upon your house; it must come of itself; it

fondly and lovingly in the landscape, how
are you going to nestle fondly in it ? If it
lool^ foreign and artificial, how can it be
the abode of peace and contentment ?

I think that, on examination, it will be
found that the main secret of the pictur-
esqueness of more simple structures, like
fences, bridges, sheds, log huts, etc., is that
the motive^ the principle of construction, is
so open and obvious. No doubt, much
might be done to relieve the flatness of our
pine-box houses by more frankness and bold-
ness in this respect. If the eye could see
more fully the necessities of the case, how
the thing stood up and was held together,
that it was not paste-board, that it did not
need to be anchored against the wind, etc.,
it would be a relief. Hence the lively pleas-
ure we feel in what are called '' timber-
houses," and in every architectural device
by which the anatomy, the real frame-work
of the structure, inside or out, is allowed to
show, or made to serve as ornament The
eye craves lines of strength, evidence of

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weight and stability. But in the wooden
house, as usually treated, these lines are
nearly all conceded, the ties and supports
are carefully suppressed, and the eye must
feed on the smdl, fine lines of the finish.
When the mere outlines of the fiame are
indicated, so that the larger spaces appear
as panels, it is a great help ; or let any part
of the internal economy show through, and
the eye is interested, as the projection of
the chimney-stack in brick or stone houses,
or the separating of the upper firom the
main floor by a belt and slight projection,
or by boldly projecting the chamber floor-
joist, and lettmg one story overlap the other.

Herein is the main reason of the pictur-
esqueness of the stonfe house above all
others. Every line is a line of strength and
necessity. We see how the mass stands up ;
how it is bound and keyed and fortified.
The construction is visible ; the comers are
locked by header and stretcher, and are
towers of strength; the openings pierce the
walls and reved their cohesion ; every stone
is alive with purpose, and the whole affects
one as a real triumph over nature — so much
form and proportion wrested fi-om her grasp.
There is power in stone, and in a less meas-
ure in brick; but wood must be boldly
handled not to look firail or flat. Then un-
hewn stone has the negative beauty which
is so desirable.

I say, therefore, build of stone by all
means, if you have a natural taste to gratify,
and the rockier your structure looks the
better. All things make friends with a stone
house — the mosses and lichens, and vines
and birds. It is kindred to the earth and
the elements, and makes itself at home in
any situation.

When I set out to look up a place in the
country, I was chiefly intent on findmg a
few acres of good fruit land near a large
stone-heap. While I was yet undecided
about the land, the discovery of the stone-
heap at a convenient distance, vast piles of
square blocks of all sizes, wedged off the
upright strata by the fix)st during uncounted
ages, and all motded and colored by the
weatlier, made me hasten to dose the bar-
gain. The large coimtry-seats in the neigh-
borhood were mainly of brick or pine ; only
a few of the early settlers had availed them-
selves of this beautiful material that lay in
such abimdance handy to every man's back-
door, and in those cases the stones were
nearly buried in white mortar, as if thev
were something to be ashamed of. Indeecl,
the besmeared, beplastered appearance of

most stone houses is by no means a pan of
their beauty. Mortar plays a suboxxiinale
part in a structure, and the less we see of
it the better.

The proper way to treat the subject ij
this : As the work progresses, let the waD be
got ready for pointing up, but never let die
pointing be done, though your masons w£
be sorely grieved. Let the joints be made
close, then scraped out, cut with the trowdi,
and while the mortar is yet green, sprinkled
with sand. Instead, then, of a white band
defining every stone, you have only shaip
lines and seams here and there, which gi>^
the wall a rocky, natural appearance.

The point of union between the stones,
according to my eye, should be a depres-
sion, a shadow, and not a raised joint So
that you have closeness and compactness^
the face of your wall cannot be too brokci
or rough. When the rising or setting am
shines athwart it and brings out the shadows,
how powerful and picturesque it looks 1 It
is not in cut or hewn stone to ex|»ess such
majesty. I like the sills and lintels of
imdressed stone also, — ^** wild stone," as the
old backwoodsman called them, untamed
by the hammer or chiseL If the lintels art
wide enough, a sort of hood may be
formed over the openings by projectiD|[
them a few inches.

/ Is there any pleasure like that of buildiDg
a house to your taste ? How I pity those
people that buy their houses and never
know the delight and the intoxication oi
building one ! — just as I should pity a mac
who does his wooing and wedding bv
proxy. House-building is a kind of firvcr,
or natural heat like love, and is quite sore
to attack a man sooner or later — ^generaDr
sooner than later. I 'have had two attacks.
both serious, and both ran their course
rapidly. One begins by t03dng with die
subject, looking over the architect books^
and considering the various plans. Prcs-
ently he begins to make sketches and com-
binations of his own, till he hits upon some-
thing that suits him, when he becomes fairff
inoculated. The desire waxes till it bccomct
a kind of delicious rage that consttmes
obstacles like stubble. One understands the
hurry and eagerness of the birds in building
their nests. But the bird is its own arclutoa
In like manner, if one can suflBdendy mastcf
the subject to dispense wiA that functioniij
(though a competent architect should in all
cases be bad to look over and revise the
plans before they are put into execution),

I the interest and pleasure are greatly increased.

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The bird is its own builder, too. And have
I not read that the main secret of the beauty
and excellence of the ancient architecture
was to be found in the fact that the archi-
tect was the master-workman, and not a
mere theorist and draughtsman? So, if
one Mrill take hold earnestly with his own
hands and make a positive contribution of
genuine manual labor, the house will have
a history and a meaning to him which it can
have on no other terms.

It seems to me that I built into my house
every one of those superb autumn days
which I spent in the woods getting out
stone. I did not quarry the limestone ledge
into blocks any more than I quarried the
delicious weather into memories to adorn
my walls. Every load that was sent home
carried my heart and happiness with it.
The jewels I had uncovered m the debris, or
torn fix)m the ledge in the morning I saw
in the jambs, or mounted high on the comers
at night. Every day was filled with great
events. The woods held unknown treasures.
Those elder giants, frost and rain, had
wrought industriously ; now we would un-
earth firom the leaf mold an ugly customer,
a stone with a ragged quartz face, or cav-
ernous, and set widi rock oystals like great
teeth, or else suggesting a battered and
worm-eaten skull of some old stone do§.
These I needed a sprinkling of for theu"
quamtness,and to make the wall a true com-
pendium of the locality. Then we would
imexpectedly strike upon several loads of
beautiful blocks all in a nest; or we would
assault the ledge in a new place with wedge
and bar, and rattle down headers and
stretchers that surpassed any before. I had
to be constantly on the lookout for comer-
stone, for mine is a house of seven comers,
and on the strength and dignity of the cor-
ners the beauty of the wall largely depends.
But when you bait your hook with your
heart, the fish always bite. " The boss is
as good as six men in the woods, getting
out stone," flatteringly spoke up the master-
mason. Certain it is that no such stone
was found as when I headed the search.
The men saw indifferently with their eyes ;
but I looked upon the ground with such
desire that I saw what was beneath the
moss and the leaves. ' With them it was
hard labor at so much per diem, with me it
was a passionate pursuit; the enthusiasm
of the chase venting itself with the bar and
the hammer, and the day was too short for
me to tire of the sporf
^"^The stone was e

in form and color. Sometimes it seemed as
if we had stmck upon the rains of some
ancient slracture, the blocks were so regu-
lar and numerous. The ancient stone-cut-
ters, however, had shaped them all to a
particular pattem, which was a little off the
square, but in bringing them back with the
modem pitching-tool the rock face was had,
which is the feature so desirable.

I confess I should not relish a house
built of some stone I have seen — ^that
cold blue stone, or that dark iron-look-
ing stone, or that firosty, inert stone, full
of minute glistening scales. Even granite
would not suit me, it bein^ too uniform
in color, and too austere m expression.
And as for marble, if it could be had
for the gathering — ^how can any but dead
men stand marble ? I like a live stone, one
upon which time makes an impression,
which in the open air assumes a certain tone
and mellowness. The stone in my locality
siupasses any I have ever seen in this respect
A warm gray is the ruling tint, and a wall
built of this stone is of die color of the
bowl of the beech-tree, moiled, lively, and
full of character.

In building in the country, I found one
must go to the city for skilled labor, espe-
cially in stone, and avail himself of the im-
ported article. American mechanics can
seldom be depended upon further than the
cellar wall, and unless you want cellar wall
all the way to the eaves, you must employ
men who have learned their trade. Then,
our mechanics will strike the stone on the
face, and can be made to see no beauty
but in a smooth surface. But a quick, in-
telligent Irishman, who has learned his
trade in the Old Worid, is as witty in stone
as in speech. He knows that every stone
was destined for a particular place, and not
to be put an)n¥here indifferently. What a
satisfaction it was to find that what my own
eye, familiar with natural fOTms and dOfects,
preferred, was approved by the most
skilled workman ! We had been to widely
different schools, but had both learned the
same lesson. To bring harmony out of dis-
sonance, to contrast and set off one stone
with another, to mix up as in nature the
little and the big, marks the skilled work-
man fix)m the bungler. In building of
stone, it is a question whether to use stone
throughout, or to build the upper half or
three-quarter story of wood, as is often
done m France and England, and as is
recommended in Mr. Gardner's recently

'-'^shed work on " Homes and How to

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Make Them." The addition of wood gives
more variety and picturesqueness, and if
the walls are rather high on either side or


end, as may be the case in a basement
house, the wood superstructure may be so
treated as to diminish the apparent height.
But to my eye it was not sufficient to see
the timber part simply superincumbent upon
the stone. I wanted to see a closer and
more vital union ; to see the two parts in-
corporated, if possible. So, in my house, I


ran the stone-work up to the eaves, and the
timber gables down to the chamber floor —
that is, cut into the walls six feet with my
wooden gables, and halved or dove-tailed
the lighter material into the heavier, so that
neither is complete without the other.
Thus each of the four gables is flanked by
two stone breasts or piers to a height of six
feet But, better than that, I projected the
gables fourteen inches and carried the wall
out by three steps with them. This I had
no trouble in domg with the admirable stone
at my command, and the eflect is rocky and
bold in the extreme. After this stroke it
would not do to leave the wooden ends
plain and smooth, so I planted upon them
a timber finish, following rigidly the princi-
ple of construction, and making every line
a line of strength — or showing only ties,
braces and supports, and thus breaking the
space up into numerous irregular panels.*
By building the ends of wood, and pro-

* In the engraving on page ^37 this timber-work
b too pronounced and hiu a cluttered appearance,
and obscures the windows on the south gable, which
is not the case in the house itself. 'Hie plans on
page 536 are adapted from Vaux. A more rambling

jecting them thus firom the chamber floor, I
gain considerable space in the chambers—
about sixteen square yards in all, making
the rooms in this part of the house imusu-
ally large and fine. What should a house
of undressed stone be trimmed out with
but unpainted wood? Oak, ash, cedar,
cherry, maple, — ^why import pine fix)m Mich-
igan or Maine when nearly all our woods
contain plenty of these materials? And
now that the planing mills are so abundant,
and really do such admirable work, an ordi-
nary-priced house may be trimmed out
mainly in hard wood for nearly the same
cost as with pine. Good white pine costs
firom five to six cents per foot, and in many
places in New York State, ash, oak, chest-
nut, maple, etc., can be had at from two and
one-half to four cents per foot. So far as
the work can be done by machinery, it
makes but little difierence what your timber
is. The smoothing and fitting, and final
putting together of the hard wood finish,
takes longer time ; but the oiling, or wash-
ing of it with some preparation, is again a
great saving over three coats of paint.

In my case I began at the stump; I
viewed the trees before they were cut, and
took a hand in sawing them down and haul-
ing them to the mill. One bleak winter day
I dimbed to the top of a mountain to survey
a large butternut which some hunters had
told me of, and which now, one year later,
I see about me in base and panel as I write.
One thus gets a lively background of inter-
est and reminiscence in his house firom the

The natiural color and grain of the wood
give a richness and simplicity to an interior
tiiat no art can make up for. How the eye
loves a genuine thing; how it delights in
the nude beauty of the wood 1 A painted
surface is a blank, meaningless surface ; but

style of house would have afforded greater pictur-
es<iueness, but less snugness and compactness for
winter, which was an important point with me. The
open fire-place in the liorarr is connected with the
main chimney b;^ means of a cement pipe in the
attic. The house is finished as follows : The kitchen
in oak, ash, and yellow pine ; the dining-room in
oak; tne lower ludl in maple and chestnut; the
living-room or parlor in butternut ; the library in
butternut ; the mistress's chamber in chestnut ; the
bath in curly maple ; the main hall in oak and black
walnut ; the chambers in ash, maple, and birch ; the
doors on main floor are butternut, and cost a little
over $5 each ; the chamber doors are black ash, and
cost about the same; the yellow pine doors in
dining-room cost $8 each. Afler one season of a
hot-air furnace, the hard wood has hardly started at
all, and not one door has sprung. The whole cost
of the house was about $6,000.

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the texture and figure of the wood is full of
expression. It is the principle of construc-
tion again appearing in another field. How
endless the variety of figures that appear
even in one kind of wood, and, withal, how
modest ! The grainers do not imitate oak.
They cannot. Their surface glares; their
oak IS only skin-deep ; their figures put natiure
to shame.

Oak is the wood to start with in trimming
a house. How clear and strong it looks !
It is the master wood. When allowed to
season in the log, it has a richness and ripe-
ness of tone that is delicious. We have
many kinds, as rock oak, black oak, red
oak, white o^k, — all equally beautiful in
their place. Red oak is the softest, and less
liable to spring. By combining two different
kinds, as red oak and white oak (white oak
takes its name from the external color of the
tree, and not fi-om the color of the wood,
which is dark amber color), a most pleasing
effect is produced.

Butternut is the softest and most tractable
of what are called hard woods, and its hue
is eminently warm and mellow. Its figure
is pointed and shooting — a sort of Gothic
style in the grain. It makes admirable
doors. Indeed, Western butternut, which
can usually be had in the Albany market,
makes doors as light as pine, and as little
liable to spring. 'Die Western woods are all
better than ^e Eastern for building pur-
poses. They are lighter, coarser, easier
worked. They grow easier and thriftier.
The traveler through Northern Ohio and
Indiana sees a wonderful crop of forest trees,
tall, uniform, straight as candles, no knots,
no gnarls, — all clear, clean timber. The soil
is deep and moist, and the trees grow rank
and rapid. The chestnut, ash, and butter-
nut grown here work like pine, besides being
darker and richer in color than the same
woods grown in leaner and more rocky soils.
Western black ash is especially beautiful. In
connection with our almost bone-white sugar
maple for panels, it makes charming doors —
just the thing for chambers, and scarcely
more expensive than pine. Of our Eastern
woods, red cedar is also good, with its
pungent, moth-expelling odor, and should
not be neglected. It soon fades, but it is
very pleasing, with its hard, solid knots, even
then. No doubt some wash might be
applied that would preserve its color.

There is a species of birch growing upon
our mountains that makes an admirable

finish. It is usually called red or cherry
birch, and it has a long wave or curl that is
found in no other wood. It is very tough
and refiractory. and must be securely fast-
ened. A black ash door, with maple or
white pine panels set in a heavy fiame of
this red, wavy birch, is a most pleasing
chamber finish. For a hard wood floor,
in connection with oak or ash, it is to be

Online LibraryFrancis HallThe Century, Volume 11 → online text (page 58 of 163)