George H. (George Herman) Ellwanger.

The story of my house online

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These are but my fantasies.







A house without woman is a house without a soul.


HERE is expressed from the grapes
that ripen on the sunny slopes
of Ay a wine called Fine Fleur
d'Ay blanc Fine Flower of
white Ay a sparkling, golden, perfumed
nectar, to sip of which is an exhilaration.

In every ideal home there exists an es-
sence that likewise diffuses its fragrance
the fine flower of noble womanhood, with-
out which the house is a habitation, not a

Alone under the ministering care of
woman may the routine of daily life be re-
lieved and varied, and the course of the
household made to flow free from friction
and asperity. Caressed by her gentle touch,
order ranges itself, beauty finds a dwelling-
place, and peace enters as an abiding guest.

Pre-eminently it is woman that idealises

The Story of my House.

the home, and, with her sweet, refining
presence, mingled with the joyous laugh of
children, creates its atmosphere of serenity
and content.

To the gentler sex, therefore to the old
and to the young, to the dark and to the
fair, to all who woo for us the sunshine of
the home a health in the Fine Flower of











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Spring speaks again, and all our woods are stirred,
And all our wide glad wastes a-flower around.


SHADED slope bounds the home-
stead to the southward, and a
thick copse, descending rather
abruptly to the river, flanks the
grounds in the rear. Screened
from sun and glare, the grass-plot is always
a favorite lounging-place during hot weath-
er. Across the water a west or south wind
invariably blows, freighted with coolness
and charged with that indefinable odor
which the wind gathers from its passage
through a wood.

From the trees and bushes and grasses
along the river banks the air has dusted a
fragrance ; from the leaves, the fern-fronds,
and the flowers it has extracted an aroma.
The scent of the swamp honey -suckle
along the hillside now forms its strongest
component part. Its perfume is tangible,

8 The Story of my House.

fresh, and uncloying sentient with the de-
licious breath of the summer and, I fancy,
charms the wood-thrushes into sweeter song.

The west or south wind invariably blows.
Even when not felt, it may be seen in the as-
pen's trembling leaves; so that, however hot
the day, here a breeze may be always felt or
seen. Through the trees the river sparkles,
and through a wider opening may be traced
its sinuous course until it merges into haze
and sky. My book remains unopened ; it is
pleasanter to read the earth and air. The bees
hum, a wood-dove calls, the soothing roar
of the rapids rises and falls. So sweet is
summer air, so caressing are summer sounds.

How the sails have multiplied on the
river! Is it the haze or the sudden sunlight
that has transformed their canvas into un-
accustomed color ? Yonder a larger vessel,
of different mold from the pleasure-craft, is
rounding the river's curve in her cruise up-
stream. Her clean-cut prow rises high in
air, her painted canvas is spread, and the
sunlight strikes the gold of her sides. On-
ward she sails, graceful as a water-bird,
tacking at intervals to catch the breeze. At
once it becomes plain to me it is no mi-
rage, no cheat of the atmosphere, but a re-
ality. Up the river from the lake, through
the lake from the sea; launched from her
harbor in distant lands, and laden with her
precious stores, my ship has come!



People who know my house come to like it a little;
people who merely glance at it see nothing to call for
comment, and so pass on. . . .

My house not being a fine house, nor a costly house,
nor what people call an elegant house, what is there in
it to describe ? O. B. BUNCE, MY HOUSE.

MAKE no claim that the house
wherein I dwell is a perfect
one; it is my first house a
fledgling. One must build at
least thrice, it has been truly
observed, to obtain the perfected dwelling,
and still there will remain room for im-
provement. So many things go to make
up the ideal house, it is beyond human pos-
sibility to combine them all; while even
during the process of construction one's
tastes are liable to change or become sub-
ject to modification.

To the most of mankind a single venture
is sufficient; only architects build more than
once for a pastime. For the sole office of
the architect is to plan; the province of

io The Story of my House.

the builder to delay. The asylums teem
with victims to the vexations of house-
building. Having money to make and not
to disburse, with no further care than to
complete the work in hand with the ut-
most leisure, the architect and builder pass
through the ordeal unscathed, and remain
to lure new victims. One exception I re-
call. Picturesquely situated on the eastern
coast, within hearing of the surge and ris-
ing amid the forest-growth, stands an un-
tenanted villa. The imposing exterior is
of massive stone, and all that unlimited
wealth and taste could contribute has been
lavished upon the interior. The mansion
was completed within the specified time,
but during its construction architect and
builder both died, the owner living only
three days after its completion. From the
placing of the foundation-stone to the pro-
spective fire in the hearth from commence-
ment to completion who may foresee the
possibilities ? Ever man proposes while
Fate disposes.

Plans look so feasible on paper, and
building seems so delightfully facile in
theory so much time, so much money,
and your long-dreamed- of castle in Spain
is a reality. But, like the quest of a Ger-
man professor 1 once knew who was
searching for a wife who must be rich,
beautiful, young, angelic, and not afraid of

The Perfect House. 1 1

a mouse, the perfect house is difficult to at-
tain ; while plans often resemble the sum-
mer excursions one takes with the mind
during winter, apparently so easy to carry
out and yet so unfrequently realized. We
forget the toilsome climb up the mountain
where we arrive, perchance, to find the
view shrouded in mist; or a cold spell sets
in when we reach the seashore; or heavy
rains render the long-contemplated angling
trip a dismal failure.

If we leave the house to the architect,
he builds merely for himself he builds his
house, not yours. You must be the ideal-
ist of your own ideal. " Our so-called
architects," says Richard Jefferies, " are
mere surveyors, engineers, educated brick-
layers, men of hard, straight ruler and
square, mathematically accurate, and utterly
devoid of feeling. You call in your practi-
cal architect, and he builds you a brick
box. The princes of Italy knew better ;
they called in the poet and the painter, the
dreamers, to dream for them." How the
penetrating insight of Montaigne pierced
the mask of the architect: " The Merchant
thrives not but by the licentiousness of
youth; the Husbandman but by dearth of
corne; the Architect but by the ruine of

Perhaps the easiest way out of the diffi-
culty is to secure a house already construct-

12 The Story of my House.

ed that will meet your requirements as
nearly as may be. But the mere building,
the foundation, construction, architectural
details, and interior arrangement are only a
small part of numerous vital factors that
should enter into the question of the house
and home. There are equally the consid-
erations of situation, neighborhood, acces-
sibility, and a score of like important feat-
ures to be seriously meditated on. One
can not afford to make mistakes in build-
ing or in marrying. "In early manhood,"
says Cato, "the master of a family must
study to plant his ground. As for build-
ing, he must think a long time about it."
The external construction is, indeed, the
least part of building there is still the
decorating and the furnishing.

Wise is he who weighs and ponders
ere he decides upon the location of his
house, especially if he would be near the
town. For in the ideal home I would unite
many things, including pure air, sufficient
elevation, pleasant views, the most suitable
exposure, good soil, freedom from noise,
and the natural protection from wind af-
forded by trees. "Let our dwelling be
lightsome, if possible; in a free air and
near a garden," is the advice of the philoso-
pher, Pierre du Moulin. Very apposite are
old Thomas Fuller's directions for a site
"Chiefly choose a wholesome air, for air is a

The Perfect House. 13

dish one feeds on every minute, and there-
fore it need be good." And again: "Light
(God's eldest daughter) is a principal beauty
in a building, and a pleasant prospect is to
be respected." In the chapter of the Es-
says, on Smells and Odors, the author per-
tinently observes: "The principall care I
take, wheresoever I am lodged, is to avoid
and be far from all manner of filthy, foggy,
ill - savouring, and unwholesome aires.
These goodly Cities of strangely seated
Venice and huge-built Paris, by reason of
the muddy, sharp, and offending savours
which they yield; the one by her fennie
and marish situation, the other by her dur-
tie uncleannesse and cpntinuall mire, doe
greatly alter and diminish the favor which
I bear them."

All these desiderata are well-nigh im-
possible to unite in the city. There all
manner of nuisances necessarily exist
manufactories which discharge noxious
smoke and soot, the clangor of bells and
whistles, an atmosphere more or less
charged with unwholesome exhalations.
This more particularly in summer; in win-
ter I grant the city has its charms and ad-
vantages. Wealth may sometimes com-
bine the delights of urban and rural life, as
when a large residence plot is retained in
a pleasant neighborhood of the town. But
even unlimited means can rarely procure a

14 The Story of my House.

place of this description, which comes by
inheritance rather than by choosing, and in
the end becomes too valuable to retain.
Besides, however fine the ancestral trees
and endeared the homestead, it must still
lack the repose of the country, the free ex-
panse of sky, the unfettered breadth of the

When I look about me I find the com-
bination I would attain a difficult one to
secure in almost any city. If I build in the
suburbs, upon the most fashionable ave-
nue, its approaches may be disagreeable
and the surrounding landscape flat and un-
inviting. The opposite quarter of the sub-
urbs, the main northern residence avenue,
will be windy during winter. If I locate
westward there may be factories and car-
shops to constantly offend the ear; if I
move eastward unsavory odors may assail,
and if I select a site in yet another neigh-
borhood that commends itself for its eleva-
tion and pleasant society, there may be the
smoke and soot of neighboring chimneys
to defile the air and intrude themselves
unceasingly into my dwelling. The coun-
try-seat sufficiently removed from town,
and yet comparatively accessible, alone
may yield, during the greater portion of
the year, all the desired qualifications of
the ideal home. Does not Beranger truly

The Perfect House. 15

Cherchons loin du bruit de la ville
Pour le bonheur un sur asile.

Seek we far from the city's noise
A refuge safe for peaceful joys.

And have not all the poets before him apos-
trophized the delights of a country life ?

Why not the town-house, and also the
country-seat a hibernaculum for the win-
ter, and a villeggiatura for the summer?
Unfortunately, this would involve construct-
ing two houses, meeting a double building
liability, harboring two sets of worries ;
and, moreover, one's library, however
modest, can not well be disarranged or
periodically shifted from one place to an-

The old Latins were distinguished as
we well know for their love of the country.
Virgil, Ovid, Tibullus, and Terence all had
their country-seats. Horace, in addition to
the Sabine farm, possessed his cottage at
Tivoli, and longed for a third resort at Sor-
rento. Pliny the Younger, and Cicero rode
seventeen miles from Rome to Tusculum
daily to gain repose. Pliny's letters attest
his intense fondness for rural surroundings.
The holder of numerous country-houses,
he has described two of them very minute-
ly, his descriptions giving to posterity the
most reliable and truthful account of the
old Roman villas. Of all his villas, includ-
ing those at Tusculum, Praeneste, Tibur,

1 6 The Story of my House.

several on Lake Como, and his Laurentine
and Tuscan resorts, the two latter were his
especial favorites, whose fascinations he
never tires of recounting. Especially at-
tractive is his account of Laurentium : the
apartments so planned as to command the
most pleasing views ; the dining-room
built out into the sea, ever washed by the
advancing wave ; the terrace before the
gallery redolent with the scent of violets ;
the gallery itself so placed that the shadow
of the building was thrown on the terrace
in the forenoon ; and at the end of the gal-
lery " the little garden apartment" looking
on" one side to the terrace, on the other to
the sea ; his elaborate bath - rooms and
dressing-rooms, his tennis-court and tower,
and his own sleeping-room carefully con-
structed for the exclusion of noise. " My
house is for use, and not for show," he ex-
claims ; "I retire to it for a little quiet
reading and writing, and for the bodily
rest which freshens the mind." One side
of the spacious sitting-room invited the
morning, the other the afternoon sun. One
room focused the sunlight the entire day.
In the walls of this his study was "a
bookcase for such works as can never be
read too often."

The Tuscan villa was on a still more
extensive scale, the house facing the south,
and adorned with a broad, long colonnade,

The Perfect House. 17

in front of which reposed a terrace embel-
lished with numerous figures and bounded
with a hedge of box from whence one de-
scended to the lawn inclosed with ever-
greens shaped into a variety of forms.
This, in turn, he states, was fenced in by a
box-covered wall rising by step-like ranges
to the top, beyond which extended the
green meads, fields, and thickets of the Tus-
can plain, tempered on the calmest days by
the breeze from the neighboring Apennines.
The dining-room on one extremity of the
terrace commanded the magnificent pros-
pect, and almost cooled the Falernian.
There, too, are luxurious summer and win-
ter rooms, a tennis-court, a hippodrome
for horse exercise, shaded marble alcoves
in the gardens, and the play of fountain
and ripple of running water. The long
epistle to Domitius Apollinaris, descriptive
of the Tuscan retreat, he concludes by say-
ing : " You will hardly think it a trouble to
read the description of a place which I am
persuaded would charm you were you to
see it/'

It was the delightful situation and the
well cared for gardens of Pliny's country-
seats, it will be seen, no less than the re-
fined elegance and the conveniences of the
splendid houses themselves, of which Pliny
was mainly his own architect, that rendered
them so attractive. Assuredly he must

1 8 The Story of my House.

have been a most accomplished house-
builder and artist-architect ; for, in addition
to the many practical and artistic features
he has enumerated with such precision, he
specifies a room so contrived that when he
was in it he seemed to be at a distance
from his own house. But even Pliny's
wealth and inventive resources, much as
they contributed to his comfort, could not
combine everything. He could not bring
Laurentium to him ; he must needs go to
her. The daily ride of seventeen miles and
back to the city must have been irksome
during bad weather ; and even amid all his
luxury and beauty of scenery he bewails
the lack of running water at Laurentium.
Luxurious and convenient as were the old
Roman villas, they were built with only
one story, in which respect at least the
modern house is an improvement upon
the house of the ancients ; and there yet
remain other beautiful sites than those
along the Tyrrhenian sea or in the vale of

Whether the house be situated in the
country or in the town, whether it be large
or small, it is apparent that the site and the
exposure are of primary importance. So
far as situation is concerned, a rise of ground
and an easterly exposure, with the living-
rooms on the south side, is undoubtedly
the pleasantest. During the summer the

The Perfect House. 19

prevailing west wind blows the dust of the
street in the opposite direction ; during
winter the living-rooms are open to the
light and sun. The comfort of the house
during summer, and the outer prospect
from within during winter, will depend in
no small degree upon the proper planting
of the grounds.

Deciduous trees, and here the variety is
great, will shade and cool it in summer,
evergreens will furnish and warm its sur-
roundings in winter ; while for a great
portion of the year the hardy flower-gar-
den, including the shrubberies that screen
the grounds from the highway, and the
climbers which disburse their bloom and
fragrance over its verandas and porches,
will contribute largely to its beauty and

Somehow I can not look upon my
house by itself, without including as acces-
sories, nay, as essential parts of it, its out-
ward surroundings and external Nature
the woods whence its joists and rafters
were hewed, the earth that supplied its mor-
tar, brick, and stone, the coal whence it de-
rives its light and heat, the trees that ward
off the wind in winter and shield it from the
sun in summer, the garden which contrib-
utes its flowers, the orchards and vineyards
that supply its fruits, the teeming fields and
pastures that continuously yield the largess

2O The Story of my House.

of their corn, and flocks, and herds. From
each of these my house and I receive a

My purpose, however, even were I able
to do the subject justice, is not to treat of
the adornment of gardens, of architectural
styles, expression of purpose in building,
or the proper exterior form for the Ameri-
can town-house and country villa. There
remain, nevertheless, some features of the
interior of the home to which I would fain
call attention, though even here, more than
in the matter of the exterior, opinions ne-
cessarily differ. Every house, methinks,
should possess its distinctive character, its
individual sentiment or expression ; and
this depends less upon the architect and
the professional decorator than upon the
taste reflected by the occupants. And yet
there is nothing so bizarre or atrocious
that it will not please some ; there exists
nothing so perfect as to please all.

Shall the ideal house be large or small ?
Excellent results may follow in either case
in intelligent, thoughtful hands. Where
money is merely a secondary object, then
the great luxuriously furnished rooms, the
lofty ceilings, the grand halls and stair-
cases, the picture gallery, the music, bill-
iard, and ball rooms, the house of mag-
nificent distances and perspectives. Still
man is not content ; for such a house, to

The Perfect House. 21

be beautiful, calls for constant care, a retinue
of servants, a blaze of light, a round of
visitors and entertainments to populate its
vast apartments and render it companion-
able. The house to entertain in and the
house to live in are generally two sepa-
rate things ; but, of the two, you want to
live in your house more than to entertain
in it.

Doubtless, even to those possessed of
abundant means, the medium-sized house,
sufficiently roomy for all ordinary purposes
and yet cosy enough for family comfort, is
the most satisfactory. In daily domestic
life you do not become lost and absorbed
in its magnitude ; and for the matter of
entertainments, on a large scale, you always
have the resource of a "hall," with no
further trouble beyond that of issuing the
invitations and liquidating the bills.' In
the ideal dwelling-house of medium size
even this will be dispensed with, while
still preserving the charm of privacy one
has simply to add a supplementary supper-
room and an ample ball-room, to be thrown
open only on special occasions for the ac-
commodation of the overflow. Thus it
would be possible to avoid a barn to live
in, and a cote to entertain in.

The great thing in house planning is to
think ahead, and still think ahead. The
hall which looks so spacious on paper is

22 The Story of my House.

sure to contract, and ordinary-sized rooms
will shrink perceptibly when they come to
be furnished. It is important that the
spaces between the doors and windows,
the proportionate height of the doors and
windows, the many little conveniencies,
and innumerable minor yet major details,
like the placing of mantels, registers, chan-
deliers and side-lights, be planned by the
occupant, and not left to the mercy of
the architect. The latter will place the
mantel on the side of a long, narrow room,
thereby diminishing the width several feet,
when it should go at the end. He will
hang the doors so they will bump together,
or open on the side you do not want them
to open on. If he concede you a spacious
hall and library, he will clip on the vestibule,
or be a miser when he doles out the space
for the stairway landing or the butler's
pantry. And what architect will stop to
think of that most important of household
institutions a roomy, convenient, con-
cealed catch-all, or rather a series of catch-
alls !

Even so simple a contrivance as an in-
visible small wardrobe in the wall adjoin-
ing the entrance a receptacle for hats,
wraps, and waterproofs he has never yet
devised. Every hall must of necessity be
littered up with that hideous contrivance,
a hat-rack, in a more or less offensive form,

The Perfect House. 23

when at a touch a panel in the wainscot
might fly open to joyfully engulf the outer
vesture of visitors. You must see your
house planned and furnished with the in-
ward eye ere the foundation is laid, and
exercise the clairvoyant's art if you would
not be disappointed when it is finally ready
for habitation. The question of closet-
room is best left to the mistress of the
house, otherwise it is certain to be stinted ;
and it were economy in the end to secure
the services of a competent chef to plan the
kitchen and its accessories that tributary
of the home through whose savory or un-
savory channels so great a wave of human
enjoyment or dolor flows.

It is with houses very much as it is with
gardens no two are ever precisely alike ;
so far at least as the interior of the former
is concerned. Both reflect, or should re-
flect, through a hundred different ways and
niceties of adjustment and arrangement, the
individual tastes of those who are instru-
mental in their creation. The ideal house
must first be conceived by those who are
to dwell in it, modeled according to their
requirements, mirroring their ideas, their
refinement, and their conceptions of the
useful and the beautiful. By different per-
sons these ends are approached by different
ways. So long as we attain the desired
end, the route thereto is of little conse-

24 The Story of my House.

quence. But in the ideal house, it may be
observed, a little money and a good deal of
taste go a very great way.

All the eyes of Argus and all the clubs
of Hercules must need be yours, would you
see your house perfectly planned and per-
fectly constructed. The terrible gantlet one
has to run ! He who builds should have
nothing to divert his mind from the task. It
is the work of a life-time crowded into a

And when all is done, and the lights
are turned on and the house is peopled
with its guests, who is there that is fully

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Online LibraryGeorge H. (George Herman) EllwangerThe story of my house → online text (page 1 of 15)