Mom and I have always had “issues” with our houses. I always kept thinking I wasn’t content with what I had because every house I lived in has never worked for me and I was always trying to think of ways to get it to work better. I keep trying to make due with what I have and am always frustrated! Everyone kept saying that I needed less stuff but I use a good portion of the stuff I have so why should I get rid of it? I have a horrible time keeping clutter under control but that’s only because I have no where to put things. (meaning no storage cabinets or closets)
Mom and I have real issues with modern houses too. We will go to these open houses for brand new “family” homes and think things like:
Why do they have a laundry room so small that you can barely turn around in it and then you have to fold clothes on the couch?
Why is the teeny tiny laundry “room” on the way from the garage into the house and you have to step over everything to get out the door? Why is it in the middle of the hallway or kitchen? Why is it downstairs and all the bedrooms upstairs?
Why is there no mud room and shoes and backpacks are dumped by the front door?
Why is it that you can’t even open your car door in a 2 car garage and easily get out the kids and groceries?
Why do you have to hike across half the house to haul the groceries?
Why is there no linen or storage closets? Where do you put things like family games, holiday decorations etc.? Where do you store the vacuum and the broom and mop?
Right now Mike and I are looking for a new house and with EVERY house I have to think “can I change this bedroom into a laundry room?” “Can I move the patio doors so the eat in kitchen won’t have a chair knocking the glass door at each meal?” “Where can I add more cabinets for storage space?” etc.
Well, mom found this article by Lydia Sherman at Home Living and it expressed EVERYTHING we have been feeling! (I almost fell over when I read the last paragraphs, it was like she read my mind!) She very kindly allowed us to re-print it on our site for you. I hope you will enjoy it and please head over to Home Living and read her comments on designing a house after you are done! ! It’s a long read but if you have always had problems with your house then if it’s the only thing you read this week please read this!!!!! Tawra (who is going to going to the house construction business!)
The Effect of Architecture on Home Living
by Lydia Sherman
Americans wonder why their houses lack charm…charm is dependent on connectedness, on continuities, on the relation of one thing to another..”
“Houses have become utterly charmless, lacking in the capacity to inspire…”
“The finest Gothic dwellings were sheer enchantments, passports to another place and time.” (The above quotes are also included in the next to last chapter of Linda Lichter’s book on Victorian life, “Simple Social Graces” or “The Benevolence of Manners.” Both titles are the same text)
I will begin by saying that I never felt as isolated, restless, trapped or jailed in the log home built by my father and mother in the wilderness (you can see photographs of it in my book, “Just Breathing the Air.”) My parents, with no architectural training, knew what they wanted in a house that would be a home and they managed to put it there using their instincts. I never felt so lonely, and I never felt overwhelmed with housework and storage space (even in a family of 9) in that simple two story house, as I did thereafter when I began living in the modern neighborhoods. After my son in law began to uncover the schemes behind modern architecture, both my daughter and I began to understand why these houses had such a debilitating effect on our lives. Here, I will attempt to explain.
The homestead, as isolated and primitive as it was, was humming with activity and life. It was a real home, with windows overlooking the scenery. We slept upstairs where the heat collected from the wood stove, and where we felt safe from intrusion. You can see diagrams of the floor plan in my book. It had no matching appliances but there was always a feeling in it that I could never produce in the modern tract home. There was always someone coming down the home road to see us, whether it was the mail delivery with a package, or a neighbor. Even a bill collector got invited in for a cup of coffee. There seemed to be never a dull moment and even the quiet times were fulfilling.
In comparison, my experience in modern housing was quite the opposite. At first I was excited, after so far away for so long. I thought I would be around people and that there would be more interaction, but I did not see people. Instead, I saw the back of their cars as they left their houses. If I did have company, I had to be careful that visitors did not park in neighbor areas and that we did not disturb the neighborhood in any way. Neighbors were not neighborly and everything was impersonal. I woke up to bleakness I’d never known before, and many other homemakers said the same thing. Part of this was due to the modern architectural planning of houses and neighborhoods. The homemakers eventually went to work, as the isolation of these neighborhoods was just too much for them. The neighborhoods and houses seemed to be designed to make people want to leave home.
I want to congratulate the 20th and 21st century homemakers who really made homes and conducted good family lives inside these limited houses. They overcame the worst odds and embellished them, sometimes adding gates, dormers, porches, columns, window boxes, shutters, gardens and windows, and other architectural salvage, in order to transform them with life and beauty. They created doorways and arches and all kinds of things to make the house memorable, and even inspire artists. All over the web I see these make-overs and I have to say to the modern architect who embraced these (what I call “prison designs”) styles, that these women overcame the limitations and did a greater job than the Victorian women even had to, in order to make the homes livable. The women who make these “shabby shacks,” which had no architectural advantages, into livable homes are to be congratulated. In this respect, they had more fortitude and determination than any Victorian woman ever had to have.
The 20th century “progressives” (often referred to as modernists) sought to throw off authority and restraint and basic principles in just about everything. They rebelled against the manners and the sensibilities of their Victorian parents and grandparents, and attempted to make it fashionable to strip everything of its outer facade. They ended up with buildings minus entry ways and embellishments, clothing without structure, art without beauty, music and poetry without rhythm, meter or even sense, literature laced with despair, and religion without good foundations.
One such person happened to be the granddaughter of Catherine Beecher. Catherine herself, of whom I have previously written of in this blog, was a Victorian, who thought homes should be light and airy and friendly to the home maker. Her granddaughter, a twentieth century modernist, wrote in her rebellion, ” We are, after all, just animals. All we need is stalls to live in.”
She advocated plain houses with no view and no furniture and no embellishments or color. Her rebellious writings made me wonder if she was just trying to get out of keeping house.
I have discussed at length in previous articles at the Lady Lydia Speaks column at LAF, the effect of the rejection of responsible moral principles on art, showing an example of art from the 19th century which was easily recognizable, and comparing it to a piece from the 20th century with only black scribbles on it. Today I would like to compare the 20th century architecture that we had to live in, with the homes of our Victorian parents and grandparents.
Have a look at the old Victorian neighborhoods. You can take a drive around the streets of almost any town and see the years go by: Victorian, 1920’s bungalows, 1930’s and 40’s wartime homes, 1950’s homes, and then the 60’s and 70’s….you can identify them by their style. Usually there are several streets that begin in the 1800’s and then after a few blocks you can see the next century. One thing that stands out supreme in the Victorian neighborhoods, even in the crowded row houses of some towns, is that each “Victorian” is different in style and color, making it very interesting. As I said, Victorian wasn’t really a style of its own. It borrowed from many different styles, has many different roofs, porches, gables, pillars and columns, verandas and porches, steps. Each house is different. This explains somewhat why letters could just be addressed to the family, with no number on the street. You could find the house because you knew the Jones or the Smiths lived in the blue Queen Anne next to the yellow Georgian. Compare this to the modern tract homes (the homes built by contractors, squeezed onto a plot of land), are so similar in color and style that it is not easy to identify your friend’s house. I have old post cards that have only the name of the person and the town they live in. I realize the population has grown, which entails a new address system with numbers on the houses, but I do think the tract homes lack that identifying charm that says “this is our HOME. I think it really shows spunk in the 21st century men and women to paint these houses they are stuck with, an identifying color, and add trim and porches to them.
The Victorians architects were people like Alexander Jackson Davis, and Andrew Jackson Downing. You can tell their mothers admired one of the presidents of the time, Andrew Jackson. I will mention other architects of the time, later on, but these are two that I want to focus on, who had in their minds, cozy homes for families of the 19th century.
You can read about Alexander Jackson Davis and see some of his designs here
A few months ago I found a free online printable book by Davis and Downing, full of lovely family homes, in which he describes how they can be lived in, adding remarks like, “Just plant an apple tree on the side…etc.” I cannot find that book at this time, but it is there, somewhere.
A.J. Downing, with whom Davis collaborated on a book of houses for common people, said, “There must be nooks and crannies about it, where one would love to linger…cozy rooms where all domestic fireside joys are invited to dwell.” I felt this on the homestead in various corners of the “big house” as we called it. I did not feel it in the modern tract houses.
The Victorians built up, instead of out. The modernist created the ranch or the “rambler,” which was aptly named, for in it, the homemaker finds herself walking what seems like the length of a ranch, and literally “rambling” all day from one end of the house to the other. What she needs is usually at the end of the house where she is not, and once she gets there she has to walk all the way back, to use it. These houses, though they have ample expanse, have never had the kind of storage spaces women needed in order to keep their homes uncluttered.
Building out also meant that bedrooms were on the ground level. In my opinion this invited prowlers, and then fear of prowlers caused us to install extra precautions, such as bars on the windows and hedges to block out all scenery. On the ground level, people in bedrooms hear every single noise, from the door rattling in the wind, to a creak in a window at night. In order to escape this uneasy feeling at night, children in those kinds of homes will often forgo the “privilege” of having a room of their own apiece, and choose their parents’ room to sleep in at night.
The Victorian (which consisted of several popular styles, including Greek Revival, Gothic, Italiante, Farmhouse, Cottage, and more) custom of building UP, did a lot for the property. We complain about there being only breathing space between houses in modern neighborhoods, and that they are little more than glorified apartments when they are so close to the next house. The Victorian homes being built UP meant more out-lying property surrounding the house. In other words, they were not “rambling” all over the place. This meant they were able to use their imagination to create wonderful gardens, like extra “rooms” to sit in, walk in, muse in, pray in, and look on with appreciation.
Victorian homes were built by husbands and fathers or hired to be built by them, for their beloved wives and daughters and family members. These homes were so loved and valued that they were often handed down through the generations until they literally wore out. It takes a lot of living and a lot of abuse and a century to ruin the Victorian houses, but the modern tract home takes only a few months to destroy with careless living. That is something to think about.
The modern home was built for quick access. The gardens were not emphasized because the property was created to accommodate what I call in this fast-food era, “fast families,” which will enable them to drive up quickly in their car, alight into the kitchen from the garage, eat, take a shower, and then get ready to go “somewhere else,” paying little attention to the layout and the gardens or anything else in the home. They wouldn’t need to spend much time in it so they wouldn’t notice that there were no architectural interest. After all, it was just for resale value, not a home to be passed to the next generation.
Lacking porches or balconies, families have no special places to go, so they just want to get out and go somewhere else. It keeps society moving around daily, nightly and yearly, looking for some place they can feel comfortable. Many modern houses are poorly lit, and inadequately heated or cooled. Sometimes they feel more like institutional buildings than homes.
The architecture of the homes of the 19th century inspires tours of these great houses that have been saved and restored. I wonder how much touring the next generation will do of the modern tract home. I can just hear the guide, saying, “Notice the easy access to this house. They didn’t have to walk down a walkway, and there were no gardens to bother with. The 20th century citizen had all these embellishments removed, including porches and gazebos, so he could concentrate on intellectual things, making money, climbing the career ladder… the doors were hollow, in order to save expense, the roofs were not pitched, because that was an unnecessary affectation. Of course, there was some leakage from the ceiling, but modern water-proofing took care of that. You could just spray it on and eliminate the holes.” Again, I say, with the obviously quick access to the entry of these new houses, I wonder that the architect even bothered with a door. Perhaps it would have been more “efficient” to have the passenger suctioned from the car down a tube straight into a chair in the kitchen, where food would be automatically served.
Windows of the modern homes I’ve lived in were, more often than not, too high to look out of. Many children grew up without window seats or the pleasure of sitting near a window and just looking outside. The huge plate-glass windows often used in the living rooms, were sometimes a magnate for hot sun, making it impossible to sit in that room in the summer. Breaks in plate glass entails expensive replacements. They paned windows of the Victorian designs were easy to replace, and should one pane be cracked, you could at least tape it up or put a piece of paper in that one pane until it could be replaced. Modern homes do not have enough over-hang of the roofs to create the shade that is needed to shield the home from intense heat and light.
I once lived in an older home and noticed how thoughtful the design seemed to be. It was as though the architect said, “I know the lady of the house will be writing letters in the morning, and reading her mail, therefore, her desk will go with this window to capture the morning light,” or “if there is an artist in the house, this northern room will be perfect for a little studio.” In the kitchen, a woman could easily step out a door into a little garden to get fresh herbs and vegetables for a soup. In a modern tract home, we often have to walk around to an awkward area and don’t even get there in time to chase away the neighbor’s cat.
Kitchens in modern homes seem to be merely alley-ways between two points in the house. Someone is always walking through with laundry to put in the laundry room, or coming in from the side door on their way to some other room. This kind of traffic creates more housekeeping, and also more traffic jams. The so-called “efficiency kitchen,” which was designed to reach over and open the fridge, use the stove, and turn on the faucet, in one or two steps, are not efficient when it comes to serving a meal, or working together as a family. The farmhouse kitchens were also the eating areas and provided much more room and made much more sense. Homemakers will understand, I am sure!
There is much more I can say about the modern home and I will briefly cover some of the other problems. For one, the children’s bedrooms are on the outer areas of the house, which I do not believe is safe. Sometimes they even face the street, and have a street light pouring into the room at night. The Victorian bedrooms were usually upstairs. In upper rooms, it would be more difficult for passers-by to be seen in the window, or for anyone to peek in unless they took a great deal of trouble to get a ladder and risk their neck doing so. Upstairs will collect more heat in winter, as heat rises, and keep the children’s room warmer. Upstairs, you hear fewer noises than when you sleep downstairs, and can rest better. Bathrooms are often put in even stranger areas with no windows for fresh air. Pity the poor person in the tub when the electric current goes off, in one of those modern bathrooms.
Now let me move on to the neighborhoods that these poor homes were relegated to. It is interesting to see the diabolical design behind “suburbia.” I don’t know if anyone ever has felt, especially if you were born in the 40’s or 50’s, that they don’t feel like they belong to their town, or that their town or neighborhood is no longer like home, or that they just don’t feel it is even their country anymore…well, you are not going crazy. It has something to do with the way houses and neighborhoods of the 20th century were designed.
First of all, houses had no porches, verandas, steps, walkways, court yards entry ways, parlors,
or over-hang from the roofs. You arrived at the house and you were suddenly “in.” You have no breathing space, no time for thought, no time for recollection. You are transported rapidly from the train or the car to the inside of the house. Without an entry way to even cause a pause in your breath, there you are, right in the living room, with nowhere to put your hat or coat or bag. I wonder that the architects even took the trouble to put a front door on these houses, since no one uses it. They usually come in through the side door from within the garage. Is it any wonder that people suffer from claustrophobia, panic attacks, depression, and general disturbance of the heart?
Some of the older homes of the 19th century may look a little bleak at first, but you can imagine that they were once busy places where children had something to do, with spaces that meant something to them. The modern tract home seems to lack this feeling of belonging. At least, many of the homes of the previous generations were actually owned by the occupants. Today, many women express this common sentiment: I would rather have a run down old house and own it outright than have all these modern things and have to pay so much interest and never get out of debt.
I learned that these neighborhoods were deliberately designed to shut out your neighbors. Without front porches, we no longer sat on the them and observed the comings and goings and the behavior our our own and the neighbor’s children. We were unable to see when a crime was committed. We could not observe anything that was going on. With the windows facing our neighbor’s house, we could not look out without our neighbor thinking we were peering into his house, so we shut the drapes and retreated to the privacy of the back yard.
If one attempts to go for a walk in their neighborhood, they must pass within very close proximity of their neighbor’s front windows, and feel self-conscious that they are intruding on private property. Even the barrier of a side walk does not remove that feeling. The whole design makes us all more suspicious of our neighbor rather than loving of our neighbor.
There is much more behind the scenes scheming in the development of modern architecture. Whereas most architects of the past felt responsible to lift up mankind to acknowledge the presence of God, and to ennoble his soul through beauty and design that glorified God, the moderns of the 20th century stripped architecture of any embellishment or beauty, reasoning that it was “primitive, ” or ” conceited,” and lacking in “meaning.” They substituted it with their own “interpretation,” which involved the belief that man had evolved and was more closely related to animals. He only needed a stall to live in and a place to eat. He could live without ornaments of beauty or gardens or flowers or windows to look out of.
Many women in modern homes with all the amenities and conveniences and appliances they could wish for, have expressed the most fantastic sentiments, that would make the designers of these neighborhoods cringe. For example,
“I would rather live in a tent and own it outright, and have a great deal more nature to look at.”
“I could actually do more with an older, broken down home, to make it livable and beautiful, than in this new house.”
“I’d rather live in the house I grew up in…it seemed so much more like a real home.”
“I have trouble adjusting to this house. Why should we “adjust” to a house? Shouldn’t houses be things we are drawn to and enjoy, without having to agonize over all the problems they have?”
“Drapery is too expensive in these modern homes. That is why I use a blanket over the window.”
I can relate to all these problems. The older homes did not seem to have so many things to adjust to. Alexander Jackson Davis, said, “A house should have nooks and crannies about, where one would love to linger…” In a modern home I was always wanting to take out walls and make more space, but in older homes, I loved the little spaces that existed. They seemed to be designed with a purpose and the contentment we felt in those kinds of houses was much more than in a modern structure.
One French architect that my s.i.l. had to study, claimed that all we needed was houses designed as cars. Another architect of dubious character and a questionable home life, claimed all you had to do was ask a brick what it wanted to be. “I said to the brick, ‘brick, what do you want to be? It answered me, ‘I want to be an arch.’ ” Today this man’s structures sit in modern decay, begging for money to resurrect them. One of these architects created a structure with airplane wings for the roof. The professor proudly told my son-in-law that this designer wanted to make the world a better place, and this piece was an expression of that. My son in law, older now, and more wise to the ways of modernists, said, “Just a minute. Please explain to us how that structure makes the world a better place.” The teacher fell over his own words trying to get out of explaining it because the challenge startled him and he was not prepared to explain it.
To emphasize how a home can either be conducive to family life and family love, or be erosive, I found this quote by famed 20th century architect, Frank Lloyd Wright:
“A doctor can bury his mistakes but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines. “
He also knew that architecture had a strong effect on the human mind, for he said that he could design a house that could cause a divorce in a matter of weeks.
I believe we should hold designers and architects responsible for what they do. In a free market system, every architect and designer should have to go back to the houses they created and ask the dwellers how they are getting along. It would be interesting to see if there are more family quarrels, more stress, less efficiency, less relaxation, or more family cohesiveness in the homes they live in. If the family expressed dissatisfaction, the designers would get a bad grade. Architecture schools would thrive only based on the reputation of the students they produced with their curriculums–whether or not that person’s work was good and lasting, and whether o not the homes were desirable. Surveys would have to be produced that included how much crime was committed in those neighborhoods, divorce, family quarrels, and general discontent. That is not to say that human problems are the the entire fault of architecture, but just to show how bad architecture does contribute to some problems.
I was unable to find paintings of modern homes to include here, as artists do not seem to be inclined to paint sentimental pictures of them, for some reason. Thomas Kinkade’s paintings are now being adapted into actual building blueprints for homes.
For more about Andrew Jackson Downing, check here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Jackson_Downing
(A design by A.J. Downing in the 1800’s)
“Every house must have something in its aspect which the heart an fasten upon and become attached to…” A.J. Downing
Online book of Alexander Jackson Davis house plans http://books.google.com/books?id=KuWL9UnyEWQC&dq=alexander+jackson+davis&printsec=frontcover&source=web&ots=iYnm5gk9wO&sig=JocedDS0ePT6QV6oeCABoZignFU
Addition (Oct. 1, 2007): My son in law has asked me to ask readers to post their observations of the effect of architecture on their moods and their daily life for some research he is doing while in architecture school. Things like traffic flow, interference, inconvenience, lack of beauty, isolation, uneasiness, etc….please post your thoughts and I’ll send it all to him. Its okay to post anonymously but it also is okay to send pictures to describe the problems.
Also, I want to emphasis a point that one woman brought up in the comments. I commented on it but want to add it here: With any radical change that “they” (those who foist it upon us) want to present, comes the knowledge of just how much we will tolerate. Like bad legislation, they will often tack on an advantage that we just can’t live without or that adds to our comfort, whether it be refrigeration or nice formica in the kitchen, to distract us from the other problems that we would object to. Then we end up living in houses that have terrible architecture–architecture that somehow makes us feel nervous or discontent, but we think, “I should be grateful, because I at least have running water and I’m not living in a tent.”
Well with some of these designs, I could have been happier in a tent or a motor home.The house made you want to scream.
I’ve talked to other women about this and they said the same thing, “I thought it was just me. I thought I was being ungrateful.” It isn’t just you. There were efforts after major wars to change housing so that people would feel like animals. Modernists were educated to believe in evolution, and evolution plays a part in modern architecture.
Christians, especially, will be so polite and so tolerant because they don’t want to seem ungrateful, that these elitist designers will change our cities, add things to our water, and create all kinds of problems for us, knowing it will take years for anyone to notice to the point of objecting. Architecture is the same way.
They create terrible looking buildings even in the country: barns that look like ammunition storage sheds, etc. taking away the beauty and sentimentality of the farms and creating horrid scenery for us to look at across the field. It is revolting. It took a hundred years to made the old Victorian houses break down and turn into haunted houses, but it only takes a few days to make you feel like screeching in shock at some of the newer places you have to live in, due to the bad architecture.
One major differences in the houses of the 19th century and the Victorian era is this: the houses were almost always built for someone, and rarely were two exactly alike, whereas the homes of the last couple of decades were built for sale. That makes a big difference in their comfort and design. It makes a big difference in their dignity. It makes a big difference in the family relationship.