.... It is quite extraordinary to note that in spite of a general apathy toward things artistic, we are really making steady progress. Homes all over the country are getting better and better in suitability, planning and in execution. Individual examples are cropping up everywhere that are full of charm and beauty and constructive promise, but taken as a whole our houses as a real expression of satisfactory domestic architecture are way below par.
The homes of a nation reflect more clearly its personality, its degree of enlightenment and its position in the scheme of civilization than any other form of building. That is, the home reflects the individual taste and quality and character of its individual owner. Therefore homes collectively reflect the composite ideals of the people.
Home building in its innumerable phases is now being more broadly considered and discussed in this country than at any time of which we have any knowledge. Every detail of plan arrangement, type of construction, character of finish, manner of decoration and furnishing is being analyzed, exploited and continually spread before us in every periodical and newspaper.
It is perhaps truer in architecture than in any other art that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Few study the principles and practice of this art to the point of having any adequate capacity to differentiate even broadly between what is intrinsically good and what is bad.
Those who do not actually build new houses, buy and alter them, or rent and redecorate them; so that it is high time that the serious study of at least the elements of architecture should be required and taught as a part of every educational curriculum. Our children should be instructed in the applied arts at an early age, and later in the history of art, so that they may grow up with a clearer understanding, a more sympathetic attitude toward man's age-long effort to express the beautiful in matters of building and environment.
1 In Small Home, June, 1925.
2 Mr. Barber was, before his death, a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.
The planning and building of a home is a more involved process today than it was a generation ago. The cost of labor and materials has become vastly higher, in addition to which living conditions demand more intricate requirements in mechanical equipment generally comprehended under the titles of heating, plumbing, and lighting, which combined, not infrequently amount to one-quarter the total cost of the house.
After the price of the property and its necessary improvement has been deducted from the total budget allowance, the remaining amount available for the house should be divided by the probable cost per cubic foot obtaining in the chosen locality for the type of house desired. This will determine the volume in cubic feet of building that can be planned.
The arrangement, size and number of rooms obtainable within this cubage should be thoroughly considered and studied, and should in all cases be governed by the volume the cost permits rather than by preconceived ideals of living needs. If this principle is adhered to a great many of the usual disappointments and tragedies of exceeding the budget will be avoided. The sizes of rooms planned should be governed by comparison with the rooms one is familiar with and lived in. If it is impossible to obtain the number of rooms desired in the given cubage, it is better to eliminate one or more rooms than to build rooms of small or impractical size.
Every home should be composed of the fewest elements possible, straightforward planning making convenience of paramount importance, and living requirements reduced to the most direct and labor saving effort. As we learn to live more sensibly so will we build more sensibly.
Houses should be seriously planned, and built with words, and paper and pencil before venturing into the realm of construction. There is a surprising lack of definite knowledge among laymen as to exact sizes and dimensions of the things they see and use continually. Many amusing tests built upon this fact will be called to mind, such as guessing the height of a tall hat against the wall, or asking one to draw a picture of the face of one's watch. People who intend to build a house should begin observing and measuring; they should prepare a full notebook of their observations, including the mistakes and successes in the houses of their friends. It is not always the lack of money that makes houses stupid and commonplace. It is often the want of foresight and the lack of application of ordinary common sense in planning. Few people build more than one house in their lifetime; it should therefore be well and wisely built with every precaution and care conceivable. There seems to be a wide demand today the country over for houses containing three, four to five and six rooms, that is, houses containing in general a living room, dining room, kitchen, and one to three bedrooms.....
The small house problem has been broadly met on the Pacific Coast by the bungalow type of house where it originated and has been developed. The bungalow is an all-on-one-floor type of house and seems to appeal to women who do their own work. The bungalow has advantages in certain climates. Its principal disadvantage in our colder eastern climate seems to be that the sleeping rooms are too near the ground. Bungalows seldom, if ever, have cellars. In a northern climate some cellar space is essential for various reasons; furnace, coal and storage space are required, also a laundry. The natural place for these is in the cellar. People in northern climates seem to prefer to sleep upstairs; ....
Bungalows are more expensive than two-story houses if given the same number of rooms, for roofing surface, excavations and foundations, are items of considerable cost, which automatically reduce in favor of the two-story house.
The two-story house separates logically the living and service portion of the house from the sleeping portion of the house. Its only disadvantage is a staircase and hall space which have to be maintained and kept clean. The hall space upstairs, however, may be kept small and can serve the bedroom and bathroom conveniently. Bedrooms should have closets and should have the beds placed against inside walls and plenty of windows. The bathroom should have tile floors always, and wall if possible; if not tile, a substitute that can be easily washed and kept clean. A linen closet should open from the hall.
Three bedrooms seem to be a minimum, one principal room, one for children and a spare room that may be used for children or a servant, or guest. A sleeping porch is a luxury and not necessary if the bedrooms have plenty of windows. The living room should be of fair size and have a fireplace which eliminates the necessity of furnace heat till cold weather comes.
Kitchen should have outside door and a porch, however small, with outside closet and ice box near outside door, or on porch.
Main floor should be at least three feet above.ground; cellar should be not less than eight feet high in the clear and have steps to outside.
A mistake too often made in the designing of a small house is an attempt to imitate and reproduce in reduced dimensions elements that have been found to contribute to the attractiveness of a large house. Reduction in measurements and proportions of elements that have fixed human scale results in dwarfing unnaturally a given composition. By a similar process of reduction a full size man becomes in effect and personality a dwarf rather than a child.
The practical elements accepted for human use and contact in house designing, such as steps, doors, and heights of railings, and window sills, and the like, must remain the same in general dimensions whether they occur in a large house or in a small one. A small house should not be a big thing built in a small way, but a small thing having a definite individuality built in a big way.
Fixed standards should be satisfied first of all. The amount of window opening in a room, for instance, should have a direct bearing upon the dimensions of the room to be lighted. There are generally accepted standards of measurements used in furniture, that is, in the heights and sizes of chairs, tables, beds and bureaus, as there are also standard heights of sinks, wash basins, bath and wash tubs. The way to make a house convenient, usable and suitable in scale is to be sure that all these standards of practical measurements are satisfied and that sufficient living space remains.
Then again every year produces an increasingly wider range of choice in the selection of available materials for use in every department of structure and finish. The market is flooded with newly-devised and mostly patented processes, some worthy of serious consideration, while the greater number continues in an experimental stage of development. These latter if used at all should be chosen for having some proven history of performance that insures unquestioned and permanent value.
Disappointments are possible even when the greatest caution is exercised in the use of true and tried combinations of known materials. It is unwise, therefore, to experiment with innovations that are apt to complicate if not destroy the practical and lasting qualities of any adopted scheme of construction.
Simplicity and directness in planning, using the fewest possible elements capable of entering into any structure, should be striven for if efficiency and ultimate economy are to result.