There are five fundamentals which should be considered in finishing the grounds about the small house, for it must not be forgotten that the finest gem of domestic design will be lost unless it is placed in the right setting. These five principles are the production of an intimate relation between house and grounds, the formation of a natural frame about the house, the building of interesting approaches, the planting for seasonal effects, and the growing of interesting and beautiful vistas as viewed from the house.
In considering this part of the problem, the designer must begin at the very outset to solve it. If the plot is level or capable of easy conversion into terraces, then the character of the house itself may be somewhat formal, symmetrical, and dignified; but it would be wrong to build a house of this kind upon a rolling and rollicking site. This latter kind of ground demands the picturesque type of house, and the roof lines should be planned to carry up some of the curves of the hillocks.
In all cases, however, it is generally recognized that the small house can best be tied into the surroundings by making it low, say a story and a half or one story, for one of two stories or even two and a half offers an ungainly elevation for an architectural composition. In rare instances have houses of this proportion been artistically finished. At any rate, the house should be kept as low as possible in the front, and the ugly, stilted foundations should not protrude above the level of the lawn. Nothing is so effective in producing a feeling of intimacy between house and grounds as to keep the level of the first floor only about six inches above the grade. This, of course, makes it difficult to light and ventilate the cellar, since any windows in the foundation-walls would have to open into areas. A compromise can be made by grading the lawn down at the back of the house, so that enough of the foundation can extend above the ground to permit of well-lighted cellar windows.
Another method by which an intimate connection between ground and house can be produced is in the blending of wall materials and foundation-stones. If the walls of the house are of stucco, and the lower part of them built of rubble-stone, then a gradual transition can be made from the stone to the stucco by carrying the stucco down over certain parts of the stone work, so that it flows into the mortar joints - like the waters of a lake flow into the little indentations of a rocky shore. This will eliminate any sharp horizontal line where the foundation-wall of stone ends and upper wall of stucco begins. As the stone has a natural intimacy with the soil, it easily makes the transition with the ground, and its effectiveness is very marked where the site is hilly and parts of the foundation are built upon little rocky juttings. This same easy transition can be made from stone foundation to brick wall. It is not possible to do it with the wooden wall, however.
But perhaps the most widely used method of producing an intimate connection between ground and walls of the house is with foundation planting. There is much abuse of this method. To surround the base of the house with billowy clumps of shrubbery, so that it appears almost as if it were springing from a bed of clouds, is not at all satisfying. Nor should the owner have to be everlastingly kept at the job of trimming down these plants or removing dead ones which refuse to grow in the poor soil and bad drainage next to the cellar. And the house should not be made to mourn behind a bed of evergreens, protected at intervals with sentinel-like cedars, dark and forboding, against the wall and sighing and whining in the wind. Rather should a delicate use be made of foundation planting by using vines, and now and then a small shrub or little evergreen. The object should be to make a shading and transition from the green lawn to the walls of the house by carrying upward upon the walls or against them some of the climbing plants, that the green of the ground may fade gradually into the white of the stucco or the red of the brick wall. Public buildings need massive and impressive foundations, but the small house should be nestled in Nature's lap.