One came to feel, after a while, that there was no such thing as absolute symmetry in Italian work, and I firmly believe that a large part of the interest in this work is due to that fact. That this subtle lack of obvious balance accounts in some measure for the strange compelling charm of the style seems no more than a reasonable deduction.
But it is in the Italian villas, which correspond most nearly to our country houses, that one sees this quality carried to an extreme that seems almost incredible. The general mass of the houses is so simple and the effect so regular that the mind scarcely grasps the fact that the windows are put in where needed for use, and without any thought of absolute symmetry, but with a wonderfully subtle sense of balance; so that the effect of a rectangular facade, with a strong shadow from long, horizontal projecting eaves, is of a well balanced symmetrical whole - an effect difficult to obtain in any other style.
Of course objection is made that this is not an "indigenous style." My own impression is that except for the pueblos and the cliff-dwellings the only "indigenous style" is the wigwam, but I do not feel myself entirely limited to this precedent.
The fact is that our modern conditions, both material and intellectual, are so far removed from even the Colonial farmer that his kind of house does not fit, at least not without such serious modification as to destroy its entity; whereas the architecture of the Italian Renaissance is the result of an activity, both intellectual and material, which is measurably reproduced in our present conditions. And the indications are very strong that we are entering upon a period of esthetic renaissance which has a very vital impulse.
Both on the score of practical economy, therefore, of adaptability to the materials, and as representing the intellectual and esthetic status of the present generation, the Italian Renaissance seems the most reasonable starting-point from which to develop our domestic architecture, especially as regards country house work.
Of course, it does not need saying that the fact that this Italian style is not necessarily formal and symmetrical, does not make it any the less well adapted to the most formal and precise type of building.
While this type of house may be executed with equal propriety in stone, marble, brick, or concrete blocks, it is peculiarly adapted to a stucco treatment. In fact a very large proportion of the buildings in Italy, even among the finest examples, are built of stucco on a rubble stone wall. The writer well recalls passing a Florentine palace near the Ric-cardi in the company of an educated Italian. Something was said about the building being of plaster and, surprise being expressed, my companion, with the utmost sang froid, took the end of his umbrella and broke off a good-sized piece from what looked like a heavily rusticated stone. This, however, should not be taken as an indorsement of the vicious practice of imitating stone in stucco. There is no worse crime in the somewhat extended repertoire of an architect than this same lack of frankness.
As a rule, a stucco house, unrelieved by decoration or ornament, has a cold and rather uninviting look, and it is, I believe, for this reason that half-timber work has been so often tried, unfortunately with almost uniform lack of success. Now it is quite possible to use exterior color decora-ment.
By using simple designs and quiet low-toned color, the monotony of the plaster wall may be relieved. The method of decoration is, of course, not uncommon in the north of Italy and is found even as far south as Florence, and may be perfectly well adapted to the conditions of our modern design.