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ON THE Principles of Design, Harmony of Form and Proportion in Architecture.
NATURE, in all her wondrous productions, has faithfully and accurately adhered to the Divine law of harmony, both in form and true proportions of parts. In no place should there be a closer adherence to the fundamental principles nature has laid down for us than in the design and construction of our houses.
A perfect house should look as if it had grown where nature intended it should, and in strict accordance with her perfect laws. It should be as finely and accurately finished in every part as a nicely proportioned and handsomely designed piece of furniture. It should not have that shabby and unfinished appearance so common with our present style of structures. It is just as easy and just as cheap for a builder to erect a well proportioned and handsomely designed house—if the plans call for it—as to construct one of faulty and ungainly appearance.
A man will look at an elegant house, or a drawing of it, and remark dubiously: "I cannot possibly afford such a costly house as that. I must build on a cheaper plan." He does not know that it is the style and proportions of a house that give it the appearance of costliness, while in reality it costs no more than the shabby, ill-proportioned structure he contemplates building.
A perfectly and handsomely designed house or cottage has the appearance of costing from one hundred to several thousand dollars more than it in reality costs, while a poorly formed cottage, where no taste has been displayed either in design or construction, shows exactly the reverse. It is plainly observable then, that a tasty, finely constructed building, though costing a trifle more than an ordinary, commonplace affair, is of far greater value to the owner, raising the price of his property, and causing it to sell more readily, also enhancing the value of property in the neighborhood.
In building, do not get the poorest mechanic (i. e. a poor workman) that you can find, simply because he will work cheap. It is poor economy, as poor workmanship is always expensive.
A house is something you will either enjoy or be disgusted with as long perhaps as you live. Then do not slight or leave out a single thing that is necessary to make a perfect home. Its proportions may be small, but with its outer and inner appointments in perfect harmony of style, it will be a palace of beauty and elegance.
Before you begin to build, be sure you have secured the very best plan and design that you can obtain for the price. Correspond with architects and designers until you have found just what you want. Do not be afraid of offending some one. When you have secured your plans and perfected your details, get the best mechanic you can find to do the work. Not the cheapest, but the best, as you would call in the best physician in case you were seriously ill, or the most trusty surgeon if dangerously wounded. Mechanics generally seem to forget that the chief object of a dwelling is the comfort and convenience of its occupants.
A few more words in regard to true proportion and harmony of form as applied to architecture.
We will give you an example.
In music we must have harmony of tone. This is music. But to add to the sweetness of this harmony we must have perfect time. This gives to music dignity. But to still add to this we must have expression, which every one understands in music is its life.
Harmony is as essential in color and form as in music. Proportion in a building consists in having its dimensions or body parts in perfect relation to each other, the length to the breadth, and these to the height. They must all be happily proportioned, and the roof—the most important part of the whole structure—should have its height, steepness of pitch, projection of cornice, and its broken outline against the sky, thoroughly studied and most carefully arranged.
Towers, verandas and bay windows are all large parts of the design, and should be in such exact proportion with the rest of the building, that it would seem impossible to dispense with either one of them without injuring the effect of the entire structure.
Proportion is to architecture what harmony is to music—the first thing to be considered, without which all else is a failure.
We can have music in harmony of tone, without time. So we can have a house of elegant appearance if properly proportioned, without ornamentation.
Ornamentation is the same to architecture as time is to music. It gives to its already handsome proportions, life, expression and dignity that it could not possibly have without it. But this ornamentation must be properly applied—applied in a finer sense of the word proportion than has been considered necessary in the structural part of the design.
Each ornament must in itself be a proportional gem, and they equally and artistically distributed over the entire structure, not crowded or jammed into clusters to be unsightly or unmeaning in their positions. There is, perhaps, more skill or tact required in arranging ornamental work properly than in any other part of the design. Each tiny ornament should peek out at you from its allotted position on the building with all the dignity and importance of its absolute necessity in the make up of the structure; a necessity as imperative as that of a letter in forming the completeness of a word.
How many houses do we see around us with their ornaments nailed about them in the most unsightly and inartistic manner imaginable ? This is not architecture. The beauty of the structure is ruined by such defacement.
A bracket under the corner of an overhanging roof or other place where weight is supposed to come, should appear to be exactly equal to the occasion—that of holding the load with all ease—not to look as if it was straining itself to bear up under the mighty burden, nor as if its footing was insecure, presenting the appearance of constantly trying to hold itself in position. This appearance gives the observer from below a tired and uneasy feeling, being anxious to relieve the support from its unnatural position.
If every feature of the structure is properly proportioned, the observer will be led to exclaim:
"What a beautiful structure!" without even knowing why it is so.
The next important feature necessary in the principles of good designing is harmony of form. This, as applied to the finished structure, is the same as expression in music.
Expression is applied to music to give it a fine quality and a perfection of grace and beauty that shall be so complete in itself, that nothing farther can be added for its improvement.
Harmony of form is to be applied almost exclusively to the ornamental details of the design. What we mean by harmony of form is the naturally graceful relation curved and straight lines bear to each other, where they come in contact.
It is of the utmost importance that these principles should be thoroughly known and understood by the designer, or the best results will not be attained.
In the contour or outline of detail ornament, is where this principle of harmony of form is of the most importance.
[The placing of these ornaments upon the building after they are made, comes under the head of proportion.]
The outlines of brackets, for instance, must have their curved and straight lines so related to each other as to appear restful and pleasing to the untrained eye.
It is impossible in so small a space to give any examples or practical lessons on this important branch of the subject.
The subjects under discussion are natural principles, and are as mathematically true as any branch of mathematics, and in order that the designer may be master of them, he must be created with a talent for such things. How many times have we seen an architect trying to design a scroll, with only the most unsatisfactory results.
We have spoken of design—but what is design ? It is, in one sense of the word, the materialization of a thought, or a train of thoughts; a premeditation—something thought of and then worked out.
We have seen architects, when wanting a design for a bracket or scroll, find the dimensions, place the pencil on the paper at the desired point, and push it across the sheet in an irregular, zigzag line that was totally unmeaning in character. Yet it was called a design and admired as such.
This is where we get so many of our poor designs. They are carelessly drawn, without the least knowledge of the true principles of designing.
Carpenters are usually careless in their methods of designing, and that is why there is such a vast difference between their designs and those of a trained and careful architect. The works of the former are lacking in the true principles of grace and beauty that are everywhere so noticeable in those of the latter.
An architect must be a production of nature, in order to be successful in the truest sense of the word.
Bear this in mind: A beautiful and correctly proportioned house will cost you no more, if you start right, than an unsightly, illy proportioned one. All that is necessary is to choose between a practical architect and a bungler. If a $30.00 suit of clothes fits you with faultless precision, you are much better satisfied with it than you would be with an ungainly, ill-fitting suit at the same price. The same may be said in regard to architecture.
There is no excuse for building an ungainly, shabbily proportioned edifice. Go at the work in the proper manner. Secure the best designer, pay him his price, get the best workmen, and enjoy the perfection they have called forth by their united efforts, with a contented and happy heart.
The musician who can arrange the musical octave upon the staff in the best relation for the most perfect harmony, has succeeded in producing the sweetest and most exquisite music. The designer, likewise, who can arrange lines in the most perfect manner relative to each other as required by the true laws of harmony of form, has succeeded in producing the finest and most perfect object in his class of studies—a building ever attractive to the eye of the beholder, ever new and pleasing, and instead of growing old and unsightly by constant association, it will call forth fresh emotions of admiration at every recurring visit.
A building lacking in the true principles of harmony and proportion will become tiresome and uninviting by age.
In regard to the planning of houses for the different sections of country, I wish to say that I have had several years of personal practice in the West, and especially in the North, in the vicinity of Chicago, and have lately had two years experience in traveling over the South, from the Ohio River to the Gulf of Mexico, planning, arranging and designing residences for every class of people, thus gaining a very clear knowledge of the various requirements of house planning for any section of the country.
One great trouble with Northern books and periodicals on architecture, is the lack of plans suited to Southern requirements. Enquiries like this are constantly coming in:
"Can you not get us up something suited to our peculiar wants?"
It is therefore the aim of this work to give designs suitable to any and all sections of the country, according to their various requirements.
There are many peculiar features in Southern house-planning that cannot be described, and can only be known by actual experience and long and careful study. With many of the designs in this book I have given plans for both North and South, but in this the true principles cannot be shown.
In all of my working drawings I have incorporated the principles required in any section of the country, and am not able to practically demonstrate it in any other way, as it is something that cannot be satisfactorily explained. How well I have carried out the foregoing principles in the work shown in this volume, I leave each reader to judge for himself.
THE plans and designs of cottages and houses presented in this volume have all been arranged with special care for convenience and economy of floor plans, with pleasing exterior design, the three things so eagerly sought by the intelligent and enterprising people of the day. To provide ample closet and cupboard room has been a leading thought in arranging each plan, knowing so well the great necessity and convenience of such rooms. When possible a bed room, with closet and bath room, has been arranged on the first floor, a bed room below being a great convenience in nearly every family.
There are many important features which ought to be included in the building of every house, but as they are not generally known by the parties intending to build, I have here given a few brief
HINTS TO HOME-BUILDERS.
A dry, well-kept cellar is healthier to live over than no cellar at all. Always drain your cellar with a good 4-inch to 6-inch tile, laying it around on the outside and a little below the wall, following the angles. This carries off the water before it can get into the cellar. With this tile should be connected all water from the eaves not wanted in the cistern. Traps should be used whenever necessary to prevent the inflow of gases.
Build all chimneys from the cellar bottom, and have ash pits. Dump all ashes below and clean out once a month or as often as necessary. The fire place will not draw unless the door opening in the ash pit in the cellar is kept closed tight. Use an iron door. It is not necessary to have an expensive mantel in order to have a good fire place.
Always try a chimney of any kind before the masons leave it, by burning paper or other matter in it to see that it draws well.
A smooth wall is necessary for a good job of papering. When two coats of brown mortar is used have last coat troweled down smooth, or go over it with a skim coat to smooth it up. Brown mortar left under as smooth floating as possible is best for painting upon. Painting can be done any time within two to three weeks after plastering is dry.
Always use double thick glass in all windows when other glass is not wanted, as single thick is too crooked for any use.
Never use oak for a kitchen floor, as it stains too easily by setting wet articles upon it. Ash is good; maple is best of all.
The outside dimensions of a house are taken in estimating siding, lath and plastering, stone and brick work. Corners of masonry are counted double, chimneys solid. Door and window openings are not counted out in estimating any of the above work, but in some localities it is customary to count out half the openings.
Brick veneered walls for outside purposes are cooler in summer, warmer in winter, forming dryer and stronger walls for ordinary buildings than any other class of materials I know of. It is a little more expensive than wood and cheaper than solid brick.
A slate roof at $8.00 per square—the price at which slate is figured in this work—costs about $3.00 per square more than shingled roofs.
Hardwood for interior finish costs about double that of paint work.
The gas piping of an ordinary cottage in this book costs from $5.00 to 8.00, and for the larger ones from $12.00 to $25.00. Gas light is cheapest and best when it can be had.
The expense of putting in a steam heater is about double that of a hot air furnace; their running expenses about equal.
The cost of erecting any of the houses given in this work in the South is from 5% to 8% less than the prices given.
Write to us concerning any changes wanted in plans, and keep writing till you get just what you want. Don't be afraid of writing too often. We are not easily offended.
Quite a number of fireplaces are shown in each floor plan in this work—only to give their location in case they are wanted—but to be omitted and their places supplied with sliding or other doorways, when they are not required.
INFORMATION CONCERNING OUR ESTIMATES, WORKING DRAWINGS, &C.
The estimates for the designs given in this book were made from the schedule of prices given on page, 167 and were prepared by Mr. W. C. Robinson, of Knoxville, Tenn., a native of Connecticut. He is a successful, practical contractor and builder of many years experience, and within the last eighteen months has erected from my plans the buildings shown on pages 14, 21, 82, 100, 118, 120, 122, (besides a number of others), to the entire satisfaction of the owner, the architect and himself. He is thus well prepared to judge of my drawings, and to know what and how to estimate to be as correct as it is possible to be. Under these circumstances I employed Mr. Robinson to give me a correct estimate on all the designs in this work, figured from scale drawings. The prices given for materials, &c., are intended to be an average for this country, and the estimates will be found to be right or full high for a majority of places; yet there are localities in which the estimates will be considered low; but a comparison of their local prices with our scheduled prices will show at what price any particular design can be executed. It is impossible in this work to give estimates to suit every individual want, each one being at liberty to include such extras as are most desirable.
Excerpted from Victorian Cottage Architecture by George F. Barber. Copyright © 1982 Michael A. Tomlan. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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