Cottage 3 House And Cottage Furniture
This is a subject so thoroughly discussed in the books, of late, that anything which may here be said, would avail but little, inasmuch as our opinions might be looked upon as old-fashioned, out of date, and of no account whatever,—for wonderfully modern notions in room-furnishing have crept into the farm house, as well as into town houses. Indeed, we confess to altogether ancient opinions in regard to household furniture, and contend, that, with a few exceptions, modern degeneracy has reached
the utmost stretch of absurdity, in house-furnishing, to which the ingenuity of man can arrive. Fashions in furniture change about as often as the cut of a lady's dress, or the shape of her bonnet, and pretty much from the same source, 236 too—the fancy shops of Paré, once, in good old English, Paris, the capital city of France. A farmer, rich or poor, may spend half his annual income, every year of his life, in taking down old, and putting up new furniture, and be kept uncomfortable all the time; when, if he will, after a quiet, good-tempered talk with his better-half, agree with her upon the list of necessary articles to make them really comfortable; and then a catalogue of what shall comprise the luxurious part of their furnishings, which, when provided, they will fixedly make up their mind to keep, and be content with, they will remain entirely free from one great source of the ills which flesh is heir to.
It is pleasant to see a young couple setting out in their housekeeping life, well provided with convenient and properly-selected furniture, appropriate to all the uses of the family; and then to keep, and use it, and enjoy it, like contented, sensible people; adding to it, now and then, as its wear, or the increasing wants of their family may require. Old, familiar things, to which we have long been accustomed, and habituated, make up a round share of our actual enjoyment. A family addicted to constant change in their household furniture, attached to nothing, content with nothing, and looking with anxiety to the next change of fashion which shall introduce something new into the house, can take no sort of comfort, let their circumstances be ever so affluent. It is a kind of dissipation in which some otherwise worthy people are prone to indulge, but altogether pernicious in the indulgence. It detracts, also, from the apparent respectability of a family 237 to find nothing old about them—as if they themselves were of yesterday, and newly dusted out of a modern shop-keeper's stock in trade. The furniture of a house ought to look as though the family within it once had a grandfather—and as if old things had some veneration from those who had long enjoyed their service.
We are not about to dictate, of what fashion household furniture should be, when selected, any further than that of a plain, substantial, and commodious fashion, and that it should comport, so far as those requirements in it will admit, with the approved modes of the day. But we are free to say, that in these times the extreme of absurdity, and unfitness for use, is more the fashion than anything else. What so useless as the modern French chairs, standing on legs like pipe-stems, garote-ing your back like a rheumatism, and frail as the legs of a spider beneath you, as you sit in it; and a tribe of equally worthless incumbrances, which absorb your money in their cost, and detract from your comfort, instead of adding to it, when you have got them; or a bedstead so high that you must have a ladder to climb into it, or so low as to scarcely keep you above the level of the floor, when lying on it. No; give us the substantial, the easy, the free, and enjoyable articles, and the rest may go to tickle the fancy of those who have a taste for them. Nor do these flashy furnishings add to one's rank in society, or to the good opinion of those whose consideration is most valuable. Look into the houses of those people who are the really substantial, and worthy of the land. There will be found little of such frippery with them. 238 Old furniture, well-preserved, useful in everything, mark the well-ordered arrangement of their rooms, and give an air of quietude, of comfort, and of hospitality to their apartments. Children cling to such objects in after life, as heir-looms of affection and parental regard.
Although we decline to give specific directions about what varieties of furniture should constitute the furnishings of a house, or to illustrate its style or fashion by drawings, and content ourself with the single remark, that it should, in all cases, be strong, plain, and durable—no sham, nor ostentation about it—and such as is made for use: mere trinkets stuck about the room, on center tables, in corners, or on the mantel-piece, are the foolishest things imaginable. They are costly; they require a world of care, to keep them in condition; and then, with all this care, they are good for nothing, in any sensible use. We have frequently been into a country house, where we anticipated better things, and, on being introduced into the parlor, actually found everything in the furniture line so dainty and prinked up, that we were afraid to sit down on the frail things stuck around by way of seats, for fear of breaking them; and everything about it looked so gingerly and inhospitable, that we felt an absolute relief when we could fairly get out of it, and take a place by the wide old fireplace, in the common living room, comfortably ensconced in a good old easy, high-backed, split-bottomed chair—there was positive comfort in that, when in the parlor there was nothing but restraint and discomfort. No; leave all this vanity to town-folk, who have nothing better—or 239 who, at least, think they have—to amuse themselves with; it has no fitness for a country dwelling, whatever. All this kind of frippery smacks of the boarding school, the pirouette, and the dancing master, and is out of character for the farm, or the sensible retirement of the country.
In connection with the subject of furniture, a remark may be made on the room arrangement of the house, which might, perhaps, have been more fittingly made when discussing that subject, in the designs of our houses. Some people have a marvellous propensity for introducing into their houses a suite of rooms, connected by wide folding-doors, which must always be opened into each other, furnished just alike, and devoted to extraordinary occasions; thus absolutely sinking the best rooms in the house, for display half a dozen times in the year, and at the sacrifice of the every-day comfort of the family. This is nothing but a bastard taste, of the most worthless kind, introduced from the city—the propriety of which, for city life, need not here be discussed. The presence of such arrangement, in a country house, is fatal to everything like domestic enjoyment, and always followed by great expense and inconvenience. No room, in any house, should be too good for occupation by the family themselves—not every-day, and common-place—but occupation at any and all times, when convenience or pleasure demand it. If a large room be required, let the single room itself be large; not sacrifice an extra room to the occasional extension of the choicer one, as in the use of folding-doors must be done. This parlor 240 may be better furnished—and so it should be—than any other room in the house. Its carpet should be not too good to tread, or stand upon, or for the children to roll and tumble upon, provided their shoes and clothes be clean. Let the happy little fellows roll and tumble on it, to their heart's content, when their mother or elder sisters are with them—for it may be, perhaps, the most joyous, and most innocent pleasure of their lives, poor things! The hearth-rug should be in keeping with the carpet, also, and no floor-cloth should be necessary to cover it, for fear of soiling; but everything free and easy, with a comfortable, inviting, hospitable look about it.
Go into the houses of our great men—such as live in the country—whom God made great, not money—and see how they live. We speak not of statesmen and politicians alone, but great merchants, great scholars, great divines, great mechanics, and all men who, in mind and attainments, are head and shoulder above their class in any of the walks of life, and you find no starch, or flummery about them. We once went out to the country house—he lived there all the time, for that matter—of a distinguished banker of one of our great cities, to dine, and spend the day with him. He had a small farm attached to his dwelling, where he kept his horses and cows, his pigs, and his poultry. He had a large, plain two-story cottage house, with a piazza running on three sides of it, from which a beautiful view of the neighboring city, and water, and land, was seen in nearly all directions. He was an educated man. His father had been a statesman of 241 distinguished ability and station at home, and a diplomatist abroad, and himself educated in the highest circles of business, and of society. His wife, too, was the daughter of a distinguished city merchant, quite his equal in all the accomplishments of life. His own wealth was competent; he was the manager of millions of the wealth of others; and his station in society was of the highest. Yet, with all this claim to pretension, his house did not cost him eight thousand dollars—and he built it by days-work, too, so as to have it faithfully done; and the furniture in it, aside from library, paintings, and statuary, never cost him three thousand. Every room in it was a plain one, not more highly finished than many a farmer's house can afford. The furniture of every kind was plain, saving, perhaps, the old family plate, and such as he had added to it, which was all substantial, and made for use. The younger children—and of these, younger and older, he had several—we found happy, healthy, cheerful, and frolicking on the carpets; and their worthy mother, in the plainest, yet altogether appropriate garb, was sitting among them, at her family sewing, and kindly welcomed us as we took our seats in front of the open, glowing fireplace. Why, sir, we exclaimed, rubbing our hands in the comfortable glow of warmth which the fire had given—for it was a cold December day—you are quite plain, as well as wonderfully comfortable, in your country house—quite different from your former city residence! To be sure we are, was the reply; we stood it as long as we could, amid the starch and the gimcracks of —— 242 street, where we rarely had a day to ourselves, and the children could never go into the streets but they must be tagged and tasselled, in their dress, into all sorts of discomfort, merely for the sake of appearance. So, after standing it as long as we could, my wife and I determined we would try the country, for a while, and see what we could make of it. We kept our town-house, into which we returned for a winter or two; but gave it up for a permanent residence here, with which we are perfectly content. We see here all the friends we want to see; we all enjoy ourselves, and the children are healthy and happy. And this is but a specimen of thousands of families in the enjoyment of country life, including the families of men in the highest station, and possessed of sufficient wealth.
Why, then, should the farmer ape the fashion, and the frivolity of the butterflies of town life, or permit his family to do it? It is the sheerest possible folly in him to do so. Yet, it is a folly into which many are imperceptibly gliding, and which, if not reformed, will ultimately lead to great discomfort to themselves, and ruin to their families. Let thoughtless people do as they choose. Pay no attention to their extravagance; but watch them for a dozen years, and see how they come out in their fashionable career; and observe the fate of their families, as they get established in the like kind of life. He who keeps aloof from such temptation, will then have no cause to regret that he has maintained his own steady course of living, and taught his sons and daughters that a due attention to their own comfort, with economical habits in everything 243 relating to housekeeping, will be to their lasting benefit in future.
But, we have said enough to convey the ideas in house-furnishing we would wish to impart; and the reader will do as he, or she, no doubt, would have done, had we not written a word about it—go and select such as may strike their own fancy.
We received, a day or two since, a letter from a person at the west, entirely unknown to us, whose ideas so entirely correspond with our own, that we give it a place, as showing that a proper taste does prevail among many people in this country, in regard to buildings, and house-furnishings; and which we trust he will pardon us for publishing, as according entirely with our own views, in conclusion:
——, ——, Ill., Dec. 18, 1851.
Dear Sir,—I received, a few days since, a copy of the first number of a periodical called the Plough, into which is copied the elevation of a design for a farm house, purporting to be from a forthcoming work of yours, entitled Rural Architecture. Although a perfect stranger to you, you will perhaps allow me to make one or two suggestions.
I have seen no work yet, which seems fully to meet the wants of our country people in the matter of furniture. After having built their houses, they need showing how to furnish them in the cheapest, most neat, comfortable, convenient, and substantial manner. The furniture should be designed for use, not merely for show. I would have it plain, but not coarse—just 244 enough for the utmost convenience, but nothing superfluous. The articles of furniture figured, and partially described in the late works on those subjects, are mostly of too elaborate and expensive a cast to be generally introduced into our country houses. There is too much nabobery about them to meet the wants, or suit the taste of the plain American farmer.
As to out-houses—the barn, stable, carriage and wagon-house, tool-house, piggery, poultry-house, corn-crib, and granary, (to say nothing of the rabbit-warren and dovecote,)—are necessary appendages of the farm house. Now, as cheapness is one great desideratum with nearly all our new beginners in this western region, it seems to me, that such plans as will conveniently include the greatest number of these under the same roof, will be best suited to their necessities. I do not mean to be understood that, for the sake of the first cost, we should pay no regard to the appearance, or that we should slight our work, or suffer it to be constructed of flimsy or perishable materials: we should not only have an eye to taste and durability, but put in practice the most strict economy.
I hope, in the above matters, you may be able to furnish something better suited to the necessities and means of our plain farmers, than has been done by any of your predecessors.
I remain, &c., most respectfully yours,
Having completed the series of Designs for dwelling houses, which we had proposed for this work, and followed them out with such remarks as were thought fitting to attend them, we now pass on to the second part of our subject: the out-buildings of the farm, in which are to be accommodated the domestic animals which make up a large item of its economy and management; together with other buildings which are necessary to complete its requirements. We trust that they will be found to be such as the occasion, and the wants of the farmer may demand; and in economy, accommodation, and extent, be serviceable to those for whose benefit they are designed.