The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/Louisa C. Tuthill/Domestic Architecture in the United States

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Domestic Architecture in the United States
by Louisa C. Tuthill
published in The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings

DOMESTIC ARCHITECTURE IN THE UNITED STATES.

Domestic architecture in this country must be adapted to the circumstances and condition of the people. As it is an art originating from necessity, the progress of society must change the architecture of every country, from age to age. As wealth and refinement increase, taste and elegance must be consulted, without destroying convenience and appropriateness. We can no more adopt the style of architecture than the dress of a foreign people. We acknowledge the flowing robes of the Persian to be graceful and becoming; they suit the habits and climate of the country. The fur-clad Russian of the north has conformed his dress to his climate, and made it rich and elegant; yet, as he approaches his neighbours of Turkey, his dress becomes somewhat assimilated to theirs. France is said to give the law of fashion in dress to the civilized world; and the absurdities that have resulted from following her dictates, have produced ridiculous anomalies in other countries.

In adopting the domestic architecture of foreign countries, we may be equally ridiculous. England, our fatherland, from some resemblance in habits and institutions, might furnish more suitable models for imitation than any other country; yet they would not be perfectly in accordance with our wants. Our architecture must, therefore, be partly indigenous.

Our associations of convenience, home-comfort, and respectability are connected with a certain style of building, which has been evolved by the wants, manners, and customs of the people. Any great deviations from a style that has been thus fixed, cannot be perfectly agreeable. We must improve upon this style, so that domestic architecture may in time be perfectly American.

Man in his hours of relaxation, when he is engaged in the pursuit of mere pleasure, is less national than he is under the influence of any of the more violent feelings that agitate every-day life.

Hence it is that in our country there is danger that our villas will be anything rather than national. The retired professional man, the wealthy merchant and mechanic, wish to build in the country. Instead of consulting home-comfort and pleasurable association, they select some Italian villa, Elizabethan house, or Swiss cottage, as their model. Ten chances to one the Italian villa, designed for the border of a lake, will be placed near a dusty high road; the Elizabethan house, instead of being surrounded by venerable trees, will raise its high gables on the top of a bare hill; and the Swiss cottage, instead of hanging upon the mountain-side, will be placed upon a level plain, surrounded with a flower-garden, divided into all manner of fantastic parterres, with box edgings.

Our country, containing as it does, in its wide extent, hills and mountains, sheltered dells and far-spreading valleys, lake-sides and river-sides, affords every possible situation for picturesque villas; and great care should be taken that appropriate sites be chosen for appropriate and comfortable buildings; comfortable, we say, for after the novelty of the exterior has pleased the eye of the owner for a few weeks, if his house wants that half-homely, but wholly indispensable attribute, comfort, he had better leave it to ornament his grounds, like an artificial ruin, and build himself another to live in. Cottages are at present quite “the rage” in many parts of the United States. Some outré enormities are styled Swiss cottages.

The larger and better kind of Swiss cottages are built with roofs projecting from five to seven feet over the sides; these projections are strengthened by strong wooden supports, that the heavy snow which falls upon the roofs need not crush them. Utility and beauty are thus combined; but there is no beauty in such a cottage in a sunny vale, where the snow falls seldom or lightly. On the Green Mountains, or among the White Hills, it might stand as gracefully as it does among its native Alps. Walnut and chestnut trees are always beautiful accompaniments to the Swiss cottage. The same care should be taken to render the cottage comfortable, as the villa; and in this point, unfortunately, there is often a complete failure. There is no absolute need that this should be the case. A cottage or a farm-house may be picturesque without sacrificing one tittle of its convenience. The great and leading object should be utility, and where that is absolutely sacrificed in architecture, whatever may be substituted in its place, it cannot be considered beautiful.