A well-planned home is a home so thought out and so put together that the things that have to be done may be done with the least possible irritation and monotony. At the same time the well-planned home should stimulate those human faculties whose culture makes for racial progress. Expressed in a few terse words, the ideal house is one where the vexations that make the human spirit mean and ugly are lessened and those influences which make the human spirit large and beautiful are increased. The house that is really well planned should serve both these ends.
There is, however, apparently considerable confusion in the public mind about the whole business of house planning. So many houses which have been called beautiful have been found to be so utterly impractical, and the usual run of houses which are considered practical are in reality so tawdry and uninspiring that the public has well-nigh come to believe that the two elements are irreconcilable.
Windows are of huge size, and more like those of some modern factory than of a private home.
"The architect's idea was to make architecture subservient to comfort. The houses are, as it were, built from inside outward. When the rooms are large and airy, the windows are proportionately wide and high. But there is nothing hideous about these dwellings. The outer openings are painted in all colors blending harmoniously with the gray of the walls.
"And once inside the houses of this queer street one realizes that the architect had some far better purpose than building an elegant frontage. He built his house from the inside out. He has tried to make a street of habitable dwellings, convenient, airy, full of light, easy to work in, comfortable and harmonious.
"The oddness of the outside does not appear at all indoors. The doors, windows and stairways are planned so as to give the maximum convenience. These houses are built for living in, ... . There is nothing superfluous" ("Cubist Houses in Paris," Housing, March, 1928, published by the National Housing Association).
1 Adapted from "What Is Good Planning?" House Beautiful, January, 1930. Reprinted by permission from the House Beautiful magazine.
It would be far nearer to the truth to admit that the business of designing our homes has been in the hands of people who have been incapable. In spite of the twentieth century's progress in the development of great steel-frame and reenforced-concrete structures, comparatively little progress has been made in the design of homes for any except those who can afford to pay well. Possibly the reason lies in the fact that the best brains have been monopolized to design the larger buildings, and it has been left to anyone at all to design the average run of homes. It has been assumed that the man who put the house together could work out his own design. If plans are a help to him and save him time, then get someone who knows how to draw to make the plans. Teach a boy to draft and call him an architect. Then, because everyone else is busy, let him design the homes for the nation. The vast majority of homes are seemingly executed in just this way.
Nevertheless there are forces at work which have already exerted a great influence toward the improvement of home planning. It is naturally worth our while to find out what these forces are so that we may use our influence to encourage their growth. But there is more to it than that. The public has been merely taking what it could get, principally because it had very little idea that anything better was possible, and only confused ideas as to what good home planning really means. The public apparently has unbounded enthusiasm for what the radio and aeroplane may accomplish, but expects very little in the way of home improvement, except perhaps for the addition of some labor-saving machinery. It is just this confusion and lack of information on the part of the public as to what is possible as well as desirable in planning that keep the public at the mercy of bad planning.
'First of all most people think of good planning in too limited a sense. Their idea of a house is likely to be favorable if that house escapes the faults that have been causing them inconvenience. We all know what the usual inconveniences are: Bad repair, cramped quarters, lack of sunlight, and too much drudgery. When the average man or woman who has been suffering because the, building was in bad repair walks into a new house with paint that shines and fittings that glisten, ten to one he will take the house just because of its newness. The family that has lived in cramped quarters thinks principally of size and roominess, while the city dweller who has been cooped up in a dark flat seeks anything with sunlight and space around it. Then again when the tired housewife rinds a home offered complete with a dishwasher and laundry machinery, she will want it almost irrespective of other considerations.
Fig. 20. - The five-room cottage and floor plan (Fig. 21) which received the Better Homes gold medal in the National Better Homes architectural competition of 1930. Note the room arrangement providing opportunity for ample light and sun. (Photograph by Haight.) (Mrs. William Brown Meloney, founder of Better Homes of America, donor of medal.)
Fig. 21. - Cottage on estate of Mr. William R. Dickinson, Hope Ranch Park, Santa Barbara, Calif. (Reginald D. Johnson, architect.)
It is not easy to describe a well-planned house. That is one reason why so many people live in houses that are anything but well planned. A family's method of living often determines the plan. Many types of excellent plans are suitable only for establishments where servants can be counted on. As we are primarily considering the small house, we shall only say here that the man who wants a small house must forego certain features, such as a central hall running through the house, or a broad staircase, or an excessive number of rooms, which are naturally the part of large-scale planning.
In the first place economy of space is most important. The halls should provide access to the rooms in the most direct manner possible. At least one bathroom should be easily reached from the second-floor hall. Bedrooms should have cross ventilation. The living room should have access to the view, the sunlight, and the prevailing breeze, and also access to that part of the grounds where the out-of-door life is to be lived. The dining room and the kitchen should have morning sun, if possible, and the kitchen should have cross ventilation at all costs. It is desirable to have the out-of-door terrace or porch so situated that there is direct access from it to both the dining room and living room. It is ideal to have what architects call circulation between living room, dining room, and outside terrace, so that a person in each case may pass directly from one to either of the other two.
The size of the living room can be increased by suppressing the hall or omitting it altogether, so that one enters directly into the living room. In this case the main entrance, the stairs, and the entrance to the other rooms on the ground floor must be so arranged that the living room remains livable, and does not become merely a thoroughfare.
The situation of the kitchen is often exceedingly difficult in the small house. The old idea was that, of course, the kitchen must be placed at the back somewhere, but particularly since the days of the automobile the rear has been found to be frequently the most livable part of the grounds, so that modern planning is tending to put the kitchen at the side or even in the front. This permits easy access from kitchen to front door without wasteful hall space or without passing through dining room or living room.
The old idea of the rear yard as a proper place for the stable accustomed us to placing the garage in the same location, in spite of the fact that the problem is entirely different. For this reason miles of needless side roadways have been built, and the privacy and desirability of the rear areas have been destroyed. The only valid argument against placing the garage at the front or side is that the doors when open are unsightly. As yet we have not succeeded in working out a door treatment which will not tend to throw the rest of the house out of scale, but the logic of the location on the street front is incontrovertible.
It is almost incredible what a number of schemes of arrangement are possible for the small house. We can do little more than touch on general principles. First there is the square plan or short rectangle, which is compact and by some considered the most economical. Where there are four principal rooms on the second floor each can have corner ventilation, but through ventilation is not as good as in the Z plan or the "long" plan unless the house is small, in which case of course three-sided ventilation can be obtained without difficulty.
The long plan is generally the result of adding one or more wings to the square types. One wing generally contains the service rooms. Difficulty is usually encountered in providing access to the wings. Long halls are always undesirable. Only occasionally, and then only for some special advantage to be gained, should they be tolerated in the small house. Frequently a long plan is necessitated by reason of the narrow shape of the lot. It is a sad commentary on the ingenuity of American real-estate promoters that this difficulty is so prevalent. The plan is worked out on the theory that there is light and air on all four sides, but the house is frequently placed within three or four feet of the lot line so that the interior rooms are usually dark. There is no excuse for this type of plan. Where land is so valuable that lots of forty feet minimum width are not economic for the single house, it is best to recognize that an avowedly city type of row house or multifamily dwelling is preferable. The real reason that this narrow type persists is that building codes even in large cities still permit frame houses to be built huddled closely together provided the wall is not actually built on the lot line, in which case a masonry wall is usually required.
Contrary to what might be expected, the L type of plan offers great possibilities for small-house design. Small houses are frequently out of proportion because, though the rooms are small, the ceilings must still be sufficiently high for a man to live conveniently, while, at the same time, for good design the roof lines have to be kept as low as possible. In the informally heated houses of our ancestors the attics were low and snug and no one worried about fresh air. Now, however, our houses are thoroughly heated and we have more knowledge of hygiene. We cannot therefore solve this problem so simply. But by placing the ridge of the roof off centre we can maintain full headroom over most of the second floor and at the same time reduce the height of the roof line. By placing an L-shaped ridge over even a square plan very little headroom is lost and dormers are only necessary for the legitimate purpose of cross ventilation.