NOW IT CAN BE TOLD
IF you have stuck to this story up to this point, I hope you have followed me. Perhaps you are a mile ahead of me, but anyway, to add it all up, what I have been trying to tell you is that you can have a house like mine just as easily as you can have a modern type house. Our house is no different from other houses, except that it is an authentic reproduction of an early New England farm-house with every modern convenience that we could afford. It is the first house we have ever built that satisfied us completely. House-building can be a nightmare or it can be a wonderful adventure. If we were to build another, except for a few details, we should build exactly the same type. But let me warn you now. If you start making concessions because some builder or architect doesn't share in your enthusiasm for houses of this type, you are lost. You can't have bay windows or picture windows or gew gaws. If you still have a hankering for the red tiled, stuccoed type, don't deceive yourself by thinking that you are getting a Colonial house simply because you put an old-fashioned knocker on the front door. Just build the other type and in a few years you will have it for sale. But you will never want to sell my type of house any more than you want to sell your right eye. And if you ever do sell it, someone will come along and buy it because he too loves beautiful and restful things, and will instantly detect and appreciate the thought and prayer and love that you put in the house when you built it.
The big idea is to follow the same general treatment found in old houses in order to make it a complete job. They used wooden gutters in old days. Naturally copper or galvanized gutters would not be appropriate on such a house. Frequently the leaders ended in a rain barrel at the corners of the house. That isn't necessary unless you want it. The old timers did not use concrete at all. Both brick and stone walls serve the same purpose.
Modern houses need modern plumbing. But even the latest types of fixtures do not seem out of place if the setting is right. The kitchen and baths are naturally the places where modernism is evident to the greatest degree. It would be foolish to sacrifice any of the comforts that these things provide merely to keep to an ideal. There is no particular point in our living in 1931, unless we take advantage of its comforts. But we can still do this and not be cursed by some of its architecture.
Johnson said that colonists burrowed themselves in the earth until they could build houses. I have been describing the kind of houses they built. To-day under similar conditions, we would immediately stake out a town. Then we would first build the kind of houses you can see in any Western boom town. They would have galvanized iron sides and tar paper roofs. They would be so hideous that anyone who loves the beautiful shudders at the sight of a new town. And, very soon on Main Street would appear the hot dog stands, the bill boards, the filling stations, the red-front chain store, and then the miles of two-family houses with a double deck porch that looks more like a crouching grasshopper about to spring than a place where anyone is expected to live. That is the modern American town. You can't escape it.
There are undoubtedly some exceedingly beautiful developments near our big cities. They are amply financed. They are carefully designed and planned by real architects. The homes are wonderful adaptations of the Colonial, the Tudor, the Spanish and other types. But for every real development you show me, I will show you a dozen that are a positive blot on the face of nature. Take any mill town, for example, or the approach to any big city where a polyglot population lives. Can you imagine anything more hideous?
We have become so accustomed to these things that we almost regard them as necessary, tenements, railroad sidings, sheds and hovels and squalor and filth. Do you think anyone will some day write a book on the golden age of 1931?
Strange as it may seem, good taste costs nothing. A simple house like ours costs less than houses of equal size with bays and gimcracks and grilles. You can't reduce any house to simpler proportions than those of a box with a roof on it. The economy of simplicity is a fundamental of architecture.
Those of us who live or work in the cities are amazed at the changes in design that even a few years have brought about. Huge office buildings and hotels that were considered the last word, twenty years ago, are razed to make room for more modern buildings. Just a few years ago, they tore down Stanford White's masterpiece, Madison Square Garden, and consigned the golden Diana to a museum. Later they ripped down the old Tammany Hall and sent the Indian Chief Tammany to the junk pile, because instead of being pewter as many believed him to be, he was only spelter. Now down has come the stately Waldorf Astoria, probably America's most famous hotel.
But the houses of millions of people who are so fortunate as to live in the suburbs remain just as ugly as they were twenty-five years ago. Garish, bestuccoed and be-painted things with the added insult of a garage more hideous than the house itself.
There is a distinct effort manifesting itself to-day toward lawns and shrubbery. Even the simplest houses now have their bit of privet hedge, their crimson rambler, their blue spruce. What this country needs is a law. (Everyone has one pet law that the country needs). Mine is that no house, barn, woodshed, garage or hot dog stand can be built anywhere by anyone, until some architect or committee passes on the design. They will find their job a lot simpler if they first spend a few winter evenings revising the plans now supplied by mail-order and ready-cut catalogs.
Down on the Atlantic coast from Sea Bright to Long Branch, New Jersey, are hundreds of seashore mansions built about fifty years ago. This was when we were right in the midst of the spasm of ornate and garish house designs. Probably even in those days these houses cost a fortune. The extent of decorations and the striving for effect were almost unbelievable. Moorish towers, and minarets and frets and grilles and bays and lace-work have run riot. It would give an architect a lifetime of work even to place the period of these houses, or to guess at what they were intended to represent.
I made this trip shortly after a similar seashore trip out Cape Cod to Provincetown, where many of the houses of early America are still standing. It was like leaving a shaded bank of some trout stream and going into a boiler factory. How the descendants of those early settlers could ever have turned their backs so completely on the simple traditions of their ancestors will always remain a mystery.
We are nearing the end of this story. If I have omitted any essential points, you can write me in care of my publishers.
If you are ever in Denville, New Jersey, we shall be glad to show you the little house with the big chimney. You can judge it for yourself. But the chap I especially don't want to hear from, is the one who writes to tell me that I shouldn't have had wall paper of a certain pattern, because that pattern wasn't made until after the War of 1812, or that I am all wet on my garage hinges, because they are not really early American, but were stolen, lock, stock and barrel from the early Russian of Ivan the Terrible.
Everything is borrowed from someone else, in my opinion. My Palladian window at the head of the staircase (the pride and joy of hundreds of New England homes) is a direct "Gimme" from the Italian. But who, pray tell me, borrowed the red stucco and tiled monstrosities with beveled glass front doors and antique oak stair rails that we see to-day? Who is borrowing those huge porches that serve no real purpose but to darken windows and to provide a garage for the baby carriage. If they borrowed them from me, I would hope they would never return them.
If you have any desire to have a house like ours, why not talk it over with an architect. Houses of this type are the most economical you can build — that is if you outlaw concrete blocks and patent paper shingles.
Some day, I hope a philanthropist will come along and stop at my door and, after we have a little talk, will help me to establish a real early American village near New York. But whoever it is, he will earn the undying gratitude of the millions who love our history and its traditions. And, incidentally, he will make money in the bargain.
Our village will be called the Plymouth Colony of New Jersey. It will have a big village green in the centre with a community church at one end (a replica of that one in Concord would be a peach). And then the post office and the garage will be in keeping, and maybe a copy of the Wayside Inn at Sudbury will serve for our hotel. For our little houses where the chaps live who catch the 5:15 and manage to get in a few holes of golf before dinner, we would have little gardens and lawns and picket fences so that if you wanted to grow hollyhocks, and I wanted to grow Plymouth Rock chickens, we would have mutual protection. We wouldn't have many local laws. One would be that Freddie Gaga couldn't come to live in our midst. We would try to contrive some place where there would be an old swimmin' hole.
Oh, I nearly forgot the most important rule. No one could play the saxophone after nine o'clock, or have cats at any time, because the sort of people who would like my village would also like song-birds better than cats, and you can't have both. Besides that, I still have my two little doggies.
My early American village would have to be near New York, because, unless this book happens to be a best seller and a flock of editors, hat in hand, are clamoring for me to write some more on this subject, I shall still be forced to earn my living in the big city.
If this early American village could have some local industry like a furniture factory, for example, dedicated to making authentic reproductions of some of the treasures of the past, it would not need to be near a metropolis. The colony would be self-supporting. The world would make a beaten path to its door.
The Plymouth Colony! That's not such a bad idea after all. It may happen. Who knows?