WHEN I was asked to write one of a series of arguments, each advocating a particular style of architecture for the country or suburban home, I protested. I said it was foolish to try to prove that one style or another is the only one in which to build a house: The word style loomed large in the foreground; horrid with all its arbitrary importance, and exceedingly independent and pompous on account of the adulation and attention which it is always receiving from the public. I started to explain to the editor that style is a growth, a long painful process of evolution; brought about by the life of the people that has developed and perfected it, and not an arbitrary attribute to be bought and sold. You know the argument; for no doubt you have cornered an architect and asked him some poser about style, and he has retired behind this well worn armor; but I gave it up and said - well, never mind what I said, but I accepted the invitation to argue for a style.
I was not only to argue for a style but I was to present an enthusiastic argument. So at this stage in the game I was committed to do something that I didn't believe in doing, and do it enthusiastically at that. I was to stand up and say, "You must build your house in this style or not at all." I was to be uncompromising in favor of a certain fashion. I had begged the editor to let me" hedge" a little, and I wrote him some very sound truths on tolerance, but he scorned them.
First floor plan, the home of Howard Van Doren Shaw, architect, Lake Forest, Ill.
Then he told me that I should present the case for the Modern English Plaster House. He knew I liked the modern English house and he played to my weakness. I still pretended to be disgusted, but I no longer worried, for I saw a great light, and I hope now to show why I felt that my troubles were over.
In "A Dictionary of Architecture and Building" by Russell Sturgis, there are two definitions of "Style" in the following order of importance.
"I. Character; the sum of many peculiarities, as when it is said that a building is in a spirited style. By extension, significance, individuality; especially in a good sense and imputed as a merit, as in the expression ' Such a building has style.'
Second floor plan, the home of Howard Van Doren Shaw, architect, Lake Forest, 111.
"II. A peculiar type of building, or ornament, or the like, and constituting a strongly marked and easily distinguished group or epoch in the history of art.....".
There is more of this second definition, but this is enough to show its meaning; it is a type, a fashion. I might have added to the sentence quoted, " such as the American Colonial Architecture," by way of further explanation.
But turn to the first definition and read it again, carefully. It is a big, broad definition. You will find three words worthy of note: "Character," "Significance," "Individuality " - qualities well worth finding in a house.
I am going to try to point out the value of these qualities, and to show you that the modern English house, with all its faults (and to an American these are not a few), combines these three qualities to a greater extent than do the average houses of our own and other countries. Finally, I should like you to consider how similar are our own needs and tastes when we want a home.
Character in house architecture means that the building inside and out shall have domestic qualities and suggest, more than all, a home.
Significance I understand to be the successful harmonizing of the needs of the client with the natural setting of the house; in other words, it is the logical solution of the problem, that brings peace and comfort to the occupants of the house, and gives an outsider the pleasure that one has in any well balanced view or picture.
Individuality is more or less the result of character and significance, and is greatly influenced by the relation of the architect.
Now Colonial houses have character; no one will deny that; and very charming it is, but it is the character of the past. In his definition of the Colonial, Russell Sturgis says in part that it is the architecture of the Colonies, "especially in American use, that which prevailed in the British settlements in America previous to 1776, and by extension and because the style cannot be distinctly separated into chronological periods, as late as the beginning of the present century," etc.
There are many times that a client comes to one and asks to have a Colonial house, for it is justly a popular type of American domestic architecture. The architect must set about to adapt the Colonial type to modern and special requirements. The difficulty is perhaps best illustrated in the preceding chapter devoted to the Colonial style, where the author pictures the house and its rooms. What does he do? He draws a delightful picture of days and customs gone by and places "My Lady" in a lovely frame. But "My Lady " is not a modern American woman. No doubt she still exists, and, when a specimen of her is found, give her the Colonial house by all means without a question. She will want it, she will be fitted to care for it; in short, to give it to her is the solution of the problem in this particular case.