The Importance of Traditional Thoroughness in English Design and Craftsmanship

The Oddity of Building By-Laws

At a time when jerried-work is common, it is odd to think of the many building by-laws that act and react on house architecture. Though designed to be of use to the country, they have not checked the speculative builder and very often they prevent good work by opposing local traditions of both style and workmanship. In some counties, for example, thatched roofs are forbidden; in others, weather-boarded walls; and so it is high time that all these by-laws should be examined by a commission of experts appointed by the Board of Trade.

Historic Qualities in English Design and Craftsmanship

The illustrations chosen for this chapter represent in various ways two historic qualities in English design and craftsmanship: grace with strength and quietness of style. Fussiness and pretension are modern qualities first introduced by the factory system and steam labor which displaced the old craftsmen with their traditional methods and self-respect and lowered the national sentiment of thoroughness. Since then many efforts have been made to renew the ancient craft spirit as by Pugin, Ruskin and William Morris then by the Arts and Crafts Society “The Studio Magazine” the Home Arts and Industries the Art Worker’s Guild and the architects and designers illustrated in this book. So it is the aim here to show in each picture some quality or other which used to be national qualities springing from the same Anglo-Celtic (or Saxo-Celtic) wish to be thorough and sincere without any such parade or affectation as would invite ridicule.

The Difference Between English and French Style

The French, so afraid of ridicule in society, are more venturesome in Art showing qualities of style less temperate than those which are typically English. The way in which Chippendale got rid of the reversed angles and the gilt that came to him from France is an example of the difference in self-control that parts the quiet English genius from its more ornate French rival.

The English Dislike of Mere Eloquence

To this day Englishmen hate mere eloquence; a florid display of feeling is at once resented as bad taste; and this national self-discipline arising from a fear of ridicule is the quality we need in the household arts.

Examples of Good Old English Traits

Turn, for example, to the color-plate of Mr. Frank Brangwyn’s working design for a billiard-room with its simple wall-panels and its frieze and you will find three good old English traits: a steadfast purpose, sober design and complete workmanship. Mr. Mervyn Macartney in the smoking-room at Angley Park, Crembrook shows vigor with grace in the treatment of wainscoted walls; the style here is Classical and observe how the ceiling is divided into compartments. There is visible support for the floor above.

The Danger of Sham Ceilings

The ceilings that we know today are usually large spaces of white plaster stretching above our heads like sheets; we do not know whether the plaster is firmly fixed or not but accept it as an article of faith though it falls from time to time. Ceilings indeed are the most dangerous shams in our homes just because their constructural fitness does not receive enough attention. There may be a ton of furniture in your room upstairs yet the ceiling under that weight has no visible supports. Altogether as a ceiling may be called the underside of a floor it should look safe; and because it forms a large area of space in a room its treatment should be entertaining to the eye. Mr. W.H. Bidlake in his oak hall at Almondsbury has a ceiling built in one old English way a good way simple and attractive; and if critics tell us that beamed ceilings divided into compartments harbor dust our reply is this: pneumatic sweepers have been invented and fear of dust cannot reconcile us to any appearance of unsafety in dangerous things.

The Adaptation of Medieval Traditions

Other illustrations show in modern work the adaptation of medieval traditions as in the stately houses in Cadogan Square Chelsea.

The Importance of Planning

Many matters have to be considered here; they are scattered and hard to focus, so I have hesitated long how to treat this chapter. Perhaps the simplest method, and the most useful, is a sort of catechism, a series of questions and answers. Thus:

Why is planning all important?

Because it means three essential things: (a) arrangement, that is, a thoughtful, thrifty, and convenient use of space for given purposes; (b) a just consideration of many details subordinated to a general scheme, in order that many parts may be united into a whole, as in orchestral music; and © comfort, not comfort for a day nor for a year, but comfort while the house lasts.

The Use of Space

The use of space for given purposes cannot be convenient when it does not suit the common needs of a family: and so this point determines the other two. Yet amateurs rarely try to understand what it means. On some details they have correct notions, but these bulk out so largely in their minds that other matters are forgotten. Seldom do they remember how complicated house-planning has become with the progress of science.

The Progress of Science

While you think of isolated ideas, for example, your architect has to view every one of your needs in relation to the area of your site and the amount of money you are prepared to spend; and among those needs are many which did not exist a few generations ago. There must be perfect sanitation now, and a good supply of hot and cold water; gas and electricity demand much attention; and your open fireplaces require the latest and best invention for the use of coal with economy, so that your house may be snug in winter.

The Importance of Warmth

You do not wish to feel that shiver of cold which runs through mediaeval literature. Winter during the Middle Ages was feared by all householders, however befurred the wealthy made their clothes. To-day, warm rooms are necessary; indeed, a house which cannot be kept warm in winter is a crime in building and should be punished as such.

The Importance of Window Placement

They look best in the long walls, according to many good architects. That is a point for country-houses. In town architecture, windows are usually at the end facing a street, and the ends are often narrower than the sides.

The Decline of Square Rooms

The old-time liking for square rooms has grown weaker and weaker, for two reasons. In the first place, most modern houses are smaller than old houses of the same type (owing to increased costs for building and to the rising value of convenient sites); and in the second place long rooms seem larger than squares having the same area. That is why square rooms are not satisfactory in small houses.

The Use of Bay Windows

Narrow rooms, again, can be widened picturesquely (except in towns) by means of a bay-window or two at the side. Never place windows opposite each other, for that does away with privacy. In little bedrooms only one window should be put because furniture needs much wall-space. But two windows are very useful in big bedrooms, one for the dressing-table, and another to be left open in all weather.

The Problem of Open Windows

Inventors have not yet solved for us the problem of open windows in relation to wet days. There is still a panic indoors when rain begins to fall; windows are closed at once against the wet. Yet rain-drenched air has a refreshing sweetness which every home ought to be able to welcome, without damage to curtains, etc.

The Need for Rain-Awnings and Dust-Screens

We need, too, another invention, in these rapid days of motor cars with their “moving sepulchre of dust.” How to screen an open window from dust, without blocking out the fresh air, is a problem worth solving, particularly as the dust is charged with grit and germs, with particles of manure and other nasty things. Much remains to be done. Every window should have a rain-awning and a dust-screen.

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