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Country Houses

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The Country House is a comparatively modern idea, and one which has added much to the joy of life. There are all kinds and conditions of them, great and small, grand and simple, and each is a joy to the proud possessor.

Life was such a turbulent affair in the Middle Ages that country life in the modern sense was an impossibility. The chateaux and castles and large manor-houses were strongly fortified, and there were inner courts for exercise. When war became the exception and not the rule, the inherent love in all human beings for the open began to assert itself, and the country house idea began to grow.

Italy was the first country where we find this freedom of attitude exemplified in the beautiful Renaissance villas near Rome and Florence. The best were built during the sixteenth century, and were owned by the great Italian families like the de Medici and d'Este. They seem more like places built for the parade and show of life than homes, but the home ideal with all its conveniences was another outgrowth of peace.

The plan of an Italian villa is very interesting to study, to see how every advantage was taken of the land, how the residence, or casino, was placed in regard to the formal garden and the view over the valley, for they were usually on a hillside and the slope was terraced, how the statues and fountains, the beautiful ilex and cypress and orange trees, the box-edged flower-beds and gravel paths, all formed a wonderful setting for the house, and together made a perfect whole. The Italian villa was not necessarily large, in fact the Villa Lante contains only six acres, which are divided into four terraces, the house being on the second and built in two parts, one on each side. Each terrace has a beautiful fountain, with a cascade connecting those on the fourth and third. This villa is indeed, an example of taking advantage of a fairly small space. It was built by the great Vignola in 1547, and although slightly showing the wear of time, has all the beauty and charm and romance which only centuries can give.

The Italian villa can be adapted to the American climate and scenery and point of view, but it must be done by one of the architects who have made a deep study of the Italian Renaissance so the true feeling will be kept. There are some beautiful examples already in the country.

In France, the chateaux which have most influenced country house building are those which were built during the sixteenth century, many of them during the reign of Francis 1st. Among the number are Azay le Rideau, Chenonceaux, and Chaumont. Blois and Amboise are also absorbingly interesting, but belong partly to an earlier time. The chateau region in Touraine is a treasure land of architectural beauty. In the time of Louis XIV Le Notre changed many of these. old chateaux from their fortified state to the more open form made possible by a peaceful life.

We turn to England for the most perfect examples of country houses, for the theory of country living is so thoroughly understood there, one might really say it is a national institution. Many of the manor-houses, both great and small, are beautiful examples of Tudor architecture, which seems especially suited to their setting of lovely green parks. The smaller country house, which has no pretention to being a show place, is as perfect in its way. The English love for out-of-doors makes them achieve wonders with even small gardens, and the climate, being gentle, helps matters immensely.

In America we are taking up the English country house ideal more and more and adapting it to our own needs. The question of architecture is a question of personal choice influenced by climate, and there are now numberless charming houses scattered over the length and breadth of the land which have been built with the purpose of being country homes. They are not for summer use only, but all the year round keep their hospitable doors open, or else the season begins so early and ends so late, that, with the holiday time between, the house hardly seems closed at all. It is this attitude which is changing country house architecture to a great extent. The terraces and porches and gardens and glass-houses are all there, but the house itself is more solidly built and is prepared to stand cold weather.

For the average American the best types of country house to choose from are the smaller Tudor manor-houses, Italian villas, Georgian architecture in England, and our own Colonial style which of course was founded on the Georgian. In the south and southwestern parts of this country a modified Spanish type may be used in place of Tudor, which does not give the feeling of cool spaces so necessary in hot climates. The bungalow type is also popular in the South.

There are many architects in this country who understand thoroughly the plan and spirit of Colonial times, and who succeed in giving to the comforts of modern days the true stamp of the eighteenth century. The style makes most delightful houses, and with the great supply of appropriate furniture from which to choose, it would be hard to fail in having a charming whole.

The house and garden should be planned together to have the best effect. Each can be added to as time goes on, but when a plan is followed there is a look of belonging together which adds greatly to the charm.

In an all-the-year country house a vestibule is a necessity as much as in a town house, and the hall should be treated with the dignity a hall deserves, and not as a second living-room. In many English houses of Tudor days the stairs were behind a carved screen, or concealed in some manner, which made it possible to use the hall as a gathering place. Our modern hall is not a descendant of this old hall of a past day (the living-room is much more so), but is really only a passage, often raised to the nth power, connecting the different rooms of the house, and should be treated as such. The stairs and landing and vista should be beautiful, and the furnishing should be dignified and in perfect scale with the rest of the house. Marble stairs and tapestry and old carved furniture and beautiful rugs, or the simplest possible furniture, may be used, but the hall should have an impersonally hospitable air, one which gives the keynote of the house, but reserves its full expression until the privacy of the living-rooms is reached.

The average country house is neither very magnificent nor very simple, but strikes the happy medium and achieves a most delightful home-like charm, which at the very outset makes life seem well worth living. It is rarely furnished in a period style throughout, but has the modern air of comfort which good taste and correct feeling give. For in-stance, the hall may have paneling and Chippendale mirror, a table, and chairs; the living-room furnished in a general Colonial manner mixed with some comfortable stuffed furniture, but not over-stuffed, lovely chintz or silk hangings, and a wide fireplace; the morning-room on something the same plan, but a little less formal ; and the drawing-room a little more so, say in Adam or simple Louis XVI furniture. The library should have plenty of comfortable sofas and chairs, and a large table (it is hard to get one too large), some of the bookcases should be built in to form part of the architectural plan of the room, and personally I think it is a better idea to have all the space intended for bookcases built in in the first place, as this insures harmony of plan. Another important thing in a library is to have the lights precisely right, and the window-seats and the fire-place should be all that their names imply in the way of added charm and comfort to the room. The dining-room should be bright and cheerful and in harmony with the near-by rooms. A breakfast-room done in lacquer is very charming.

The bedrooms should be light and airy, and so planned that the beds can be properly placed. They may be furnished in old mahogany, French walnut in either Louis XV or XVI style, or in carefully chosen Empire; painted Adam furniture is also lovely, and willow furniture makes a fresh and attractive room. The curtains should be hung so they can be drawn at night if desired, and the material should be chosen to harmonize in design with the room.

The children's rooms should be sunny and bright and furnished according to their special tastes, which if too, astounding, as sometimes happens, can be tactfully guided into safe channels.

The servants should be given separate bedrooms, a bath-room, and a comfortable sitting-room beside their dining-room. Making them comfortable seems a simple way of solving the servant question.

The bungalow type of small country house is usually very simply furnished, and the best type of Mission furniture or willow is especially well suited to it. Bungalows are growing more and more in favor, and, although they originated in America in the West, we find delightful ones every-where, on the Maine coast and in the woods and mountains. They are a tremendous advance over the small and elaborate house of a few years ago.

Cretonne and chintz can be used in all the rooms of a country house with perfect propriety, and is a really lovely method of furnishing, as it is fresh and washable, and comes in all gradations of price. Willow furniture with cretonne cushions makes a pleasant variety with mahogany in simple rooms.

Fresh air and sunlight, lovely vistas through doors and windows of the garden beyond, cool and comfortable rooms furnished appropriately, and with an atmosphere about them which expresses a hospitable and charming home spirit, is the ideal standard for a country house.

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