The Importance of Home-Making and Domestic Architecture

Hindrances to Success in Home-Making: Want of Public Criticism

Social influences are often very ancient, but one among them is far and away older than any other, older and more powerful too: it is family life in homes, for the long story of the hearth is the history of civilization.

The Importance of Family Life

To homes when they improve, age after age, we owe qualities of character that do big deeds and build up great nations; and from degenerate homes spring national weakness and decay. Family life, then, should be held sacred, a cradle and nursery for high traditions and right ideals, these being the fundamental riches of any people destined to rule the future.

Neglecting the Home

To neglect the home, for any reason, is indeed to neglect substance for shadow. Yet the people today are supposed not to care a row of pins for domestic architecture; and that is why newspapers and popular magazines never give space to house building, design and handicraft. Even those which publish diagrams of headachy chess problems never ask their readers to study plans and elevations; and so, in the opinions of editors (and many editors try to be in touch with everything that hinges on the people’s fancy), chess problems are attractive as well as useful while home architecture and furnishing are nuts beyond the ability of ordinary folk to crack.

The Popularity of Chess vs. Home-Making

Can that be true? Is chess more popular than the art of home-making? If so, then the greatest nation in the world has no common sense. But I, for one, do not believe that the British public is a fool, though often treated as such by its paid officials.

The Role of Editors

Editors are public servants, and a master is not often a hero to his valet, though it is better to look at employers through a magnifying glass when we serve to live because we never add to our own value by toiling for supposed duffers. And why should the great public be slighted? What is gained by that? The people think, for to this day they laugh with Falstaff and feel with Hamlet and King Lear.

The National Value of Family Life

If the national value of family life were understood, if it were regarded as topical and entertaining, the household arts and crafts would not be discouraged by the people’s editors but would have in the newspaper press a position equal to that which is given to the other peaceful arts: music and the drama, sculpture and painting, and literary work in various forms. Then the efforts of architects and craftsmen would be chronicled week by week, expert critics giving necessary hints and advice to families; slipshod workmen would soon fear the discipline of printed truth; and two curses of the last fifty years – jerry-building and jerry-furnishing – would then cease to be to homes what foxes (and Budgets) are to henroosts.

The Harm of Bad Art in Household Life

Meantime, remember, bad art in household life is more harmful by far than bad art elsewhere, as in theatres and novels because recreations are temporary while things that act and react on our fireside ideals are with us all day long and when bad do incessant wrong to the nation as a whole. Yet novels and plays receive much more encouragement; day by day they are reviewed throughout the year; while a district of ill-planned streets with jerry-built houses never gets even a line of criticism.

The Need for Public Criticism of Domestic Architecture

Not until every newspaper in the country shall give a column at least once a week to house-planning and another column to the applied arts; not until design and handicraft in all their domestic forms shall receive as much public criticism as do pictures and novels, or plays and the opera, can we expect to set on foot a really popular democratic movement at odds with jerry-crafts of every kind. A few months ago, in a technical journal, it was stated that jobs well done in speculative building were much more likely to get workmen “sacked” than to give them a settled position with their employers. Here is an ugly truth indeed; it invites punishment, even prison discipline, as well as detailed evidence in newspapers.

The Better Side of Domestic Architecture

Yet this question has another side, a better side, happily; for domestic architecture, though ostracized by the Press and crippled by gambling tradesmen, has yet found a good many protectors who have built for it fine country houses and town mansions; and here and there model homesteads and villages have been put up with skill and taste, giving our cottage crafts something akin to the fresh air treatment of consumptives; so that the prestige of British homes has been kept alive despite all opposition from the undertakers of house-building: the jerry-speculators and jobbers. And it is also a fact that the most thoughtful work has been illustrated in books which have sold much better than most successful novels, the editions ranging from ten to twelve thousand copies, as in the case of “The British Home of To-Day” and “The Modern Home”; and every copy was sold.

The Singular Fact of Industrialism

For a very singular fact is to be noted in our industrialism: namely, that thoroughness rarely appears in its work unless it endangers our lives or appeals to our criticizing love of sport. Home life is not looked upon as a sport; and again, jerry-building and jerry-furnishing do not (as a rule) imperil our lives like ill-made guns and ships; the injuries they inflict on us are moral and social, and these are not easy to bring into legal evidence.

The Case of Thin Walls

Take the case of thin walls between bedrooms. Do they not destroy the most needful privacy of domestic life since every sound in one bedroom is heard distinctly in another? Unquestionably, that is bad from various points of view; but how would you attack it in court before a judge and jury representing “Old Father Antic, the Law?” If you buy a gun and it explodes and hurts you, there is a case against the manufacturer; but if ill-built walls afflict your family with noises, nerves and colds, do you even think of trying to prove your wrongs and injuries? Danger here is not visible nor easily provable as it is in defective drains. These the Medical Officer of Public Health will condemn at once; but speak to him of walls which are not sound-proof even against private talk and he will shrug his shoulders and say: “Yes, of course, it’s horrible, but!”

The Need for Co-operation

Is that a good position for citizens to be in, do you think? The grievances are urgent for they strike at the comfort and morale of families; and yet somehow anyhow the means of redress are not only few but very hard to use with effect so that co-operation here is essential. The Home Defence Society with a yearly Congress on all domestic affairs would be invaluable; and traditions of the hearth are worth organized protection.


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