A wooden frame house, with exterior plastering on galvanized wire lath, costs about three per cent, more than a house shingled or clapboarded. This extra initial cost would not go far towards keeping wood finish and paint in good repair. Then, too, plaster can be used to great advantage as a covering for second-hand or old brick, a material that is often easily and cheaply obtained. It can be applied to houses of fireproof construction, such as brick, hollow tile, or concrete. Added to practical reasons are artistic ones and the greatest of these is simplicity. This should be, I think, the key-note of the design of the average American suburban or country house. A house that depends on its proportions, on the spacing and arrangement of window openings in relation to the walls in which they come, must have, perforce, character and individuality. It must reflect on the outside the arrangement of rooms inside. It must be logical, and if it is it overcomes one of the great defects of our American houses, namely, the attempt to appear something that they are not. It is an American trait; you see it in the way our servants dress; in the one-story shop with a shingled front a story higher; and it is a vulgar trait that we seem to be outgrowing, architecturally at least. In this country we have countless examples of houses designed and placed without regard to customs and surroundings; but with a "style" carefully studied and historically correct. These houses lack something above all else. They lack the quality of a home. This quality is one which is preeminent in English houses. It is apparent to the man who views them from the outside, and it is even more apparent to him who stays for any length of time in one of these houses. It is intensely true of English houses that no matter how big the house, it is just as domestic and home-like when almost empty as it is when full of guests.
Slowly we are coming to a realization of the value of character, significance and individuality as expressed in our houses. Not so often as formerly do we start with a preconceived idea of the exterior of our house and then try to fit our rooms into this shell.
Independence was the key-note of our national beginnings, but it didn't extend to our house-building. Independence in house-building has for a good many years been the keynote of English domestic architecture. The Englishman plans his house, arranges his rooms to suit himself, and if he shows his independence in what we consider an absurd arrangement of his dining-room and service rooms, it isn't to the point, for what I want to show is that when he has got what he thinks will make him a comfortable house, he goes ahead, or his architect does, and produces an exterior arrangement that in nine cases out of ten is thoroughly charming.
If the charm of these English houses is often partly due to the setting of trees, shrubs and vines, should that be used as an argument against the design of the house? Not at all, but rather let us consider that it is a further proof of skill, for where is greater skill necessary than in designing in such simple forms that they harmonize with informal and natural arrangements of flowers and trees, in such a way as to seem almost a part of the landscape.
The houses illustrated here, English and American, are chosen at random, and are essentially types of average houses such as the most of us might build. Some of them are as distinctly English as others are American, but they all have character, significance and individuality. I have purposely passed over many charming examples because they seemed to owe their charm to some special feature of design or of setting.
But the houses which are illustrated here seem to me to place before you examples of the results obtainable if you will start house-building unhampered by a "style," I have used again and again the words character, significance and individuality, perhaps beyond the limits of your endurance, but these qualities are the beginning and the end of a style. Russell Sturgis says that they are style, and that is exactly what I want to repeat to you. Look at the illustrations; the houses are varied in type. Most of them are irregular in plan and consequently in elevation. But the point I wish to make is that they are not necessarily so. Look at the interiors here shown, English and American. Do they seem to lack the quality of home or of refinement?
Start unhampered by a "style." Plan and build a home. Seek to express in your house your needs and your tastes, and not an historical reproduction. Sentiment for the past, for traditions - yes indeed, lots of it. But reproduce in the spirit of Colonial or any other type of architecture and not in the form, and you will have what the modern English house has more than the houses of any other country. It will not matter what form the house takes or how closely it approximates what we call one or another style. It will have character, significance and individuality and it will stand for independence of thought on the part of both owner and.