Wednesday, May 21, 2008

P.S. No. 2.--Unnecessarily appended by John

My Dear Architect,

If we've got to go through the whole establishment on transcendental principles, I shall send in my resignation straight.

Sister Jane's a regular trump; Penelope and queen of Sheba rolled into one. But when the women-folks begin to preach, I always find it best to keep still and consider my sins. I haven't had a chance to say much lately, but I've kept up a tremendous thinking, and when I do get the floor look out for me. How do you happen to know so much about the millennium?

Yours patiently,


Friday, May 9, 2008

PS Surreptitiously enclosed by Mrs. John

Dear Mr. Architect,

Jane has just read her letter to you aloud for John's and my benefit. John listened to the end without moving a muscle. When she wound up with the garden of Eden, he got up, took off his hat (he will keep it on in the house), made a fearfully low bow and said, "Perfectly magnificent, Jane! I begin to feel like old Adam, already." Then he burst out laughing and took himself out of the room, leaving the door wide open, of course, and kicking up the corner of the door-mat. You see he's one of those men who think home isn't home-like unless it's sort of free and easy. He'd be perfectly willing to eat and sleep and live in the kitchen,--if I had the work to do; and though he likes pretty things, and would feel dreadfully if I didn't look about so, has a perfect horror of smart housekeepers, and thinks women who care for nothing else the most disagreeable people in the world.

The trouble with Jane's letter is that she doesn't go into particulars enough, and that's why I want to add a postscript. I wish I could describe the kitchen in the house where she has been living. The people had so much confidence in her judgment, that they just allowed her to fix things as she chose, and it's really quite a study. It mightn't suit anybody else, but it shows what may be done.

She began by taking one of the pleasantest rooms in the house, although 'twas in the basement, and had windows cut to bring them on the south and east sides. Then she had an outside door at the south with a wide piazza over it, which made the room actually just so much larger. Across one side of the room is a wide stationary table,--I suppose men would call it a work-bench,--with a fall-leaf, in front of one of the windows, especially for an ironing-table. Of course it can be used for anything else. One part of it is about eight inches lower than the common height, where ever so many kinds of table-work can be done sitting. Underneath the higher part are drawers and places for all the things that are useful about the laundry-work. Her sink is in the midst of a perfect cabinet of conveniences. There's a hook or a shelf for every identical rag, stick, dish, or spoon that can be used or thought of; shelves at each side, and drawers that never by any possibility will hold what doesn't belong in them. One thing she won't have; and that's a cupboard under the sink for pots and kettles. She says it's impossible to keep such a place clean and sweet. Things are shoved into it sooty and steaming to get them out of the way, and it soon gets damp and crocky beyond all hope of purification. Hot and cold water run to the boilers and kettles, and there's a funny contrivance for sprinkling clothes. The washing almost does itself. The tubs are of soapstone, at the opposite side of the room from the ironing-table. Over the entire stove--she might have had a range, but didn't want one--there's a sort of movable cover with a flue running into the chimney that carries off every breath of steam and smoke from the cooking. One would never guess at the dinner by any stray odors. It is made of tin; the kettles boil quicker under it, and it makes the room a great deal cooler in summer by carrying the extra heat off up the chimney. She has a place for the bread to rise, and a cupboard close by for all the ironmongery belonging to the stove, zinc-cloth and blacking-brush included.

Her pantry I won't undertake to describe. It adjoins both dining-room and kitchen. John says she never does anything in getting dinner but just sit down in an easy-chair and turn a crank. That's one of John's stories, but she certainly will prepare a meal the quickest and with the fewest steps of any person I ever knew. The funniest thing about it is, that I've known eight people at work in the room all at once without being in each other's way one bit. But that's no closer than men work in their shops.

Jane intends to stay with us this winter, and I expect we shall have jolly times, for we're going to board the schoolmaster. If he calls to see you, as I think he will, I want you should read Jane's letter to him. She would take my head off if she knew I mentioned it, but I think he ought to know what's before him.


Mrs. John

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Autobiography and Architecture, Potatoes and Postscripts

From Miss Jane

Dear Sir,

After so long an indirect acquaintance through our mutual friends, it is quite time we were formally introduced. Allow me to present myself: Sister Jane, spinster; native of New England, born to idleness, bred to school-teaching; age not reported, temperament hopeful, abilities average; possessor of a moderate competence, partly acquired, mainly inherited; greatly overestimated by a friendly few, somewhat abused as peculiar (in American idiom "funny") by strangers; especially interested in the building of homes, and quite willing to help Mr. Fred carry out his ambitions in that direction by any suggestions I am able to make.

I've taught school, and I've taught music; sold goods in a store and worked in a factory; run a sewing-machine, travelled with subscription-books, and hired out to do house-work; and I solemnly aver that the only time I was conscious of genuine enthusiasm for my work, or felt that I was doing myself or others any actual good, was while keeping house. In school I was required to teach things I knew little and cared less about, and to punish the dear children for doing precisely what I would have done myself had I been in their places, losing all the while in amiability more than was gained in mental discipline. My experience in a factory was limited to three months. From working with the machines and as they worked, hardly using more intelligent volition than they, I began to fancy myself becoming like them, with no more rights to be respected, no more moral responsibility, and left without even serving my notice. Clerking I tried "just for fun." If all people who came to trade were like some, it would be the pleasantest, easiest work imaginable; if all were like others, the veriest torment. It was an excellent place to study human nature, but made me somewhat cynical. My sewing-machine had fits and gave me a back-ache, so I've locked it up until some one invents a motive-power that can be applied to house-work, washing, churning, mincing meat and vegetables, driving sewing-machines, and--if it only could--kneading bread, sweeping floors, washing dishes, ironing clothes, and making beds. My book agency was undertaken for the sake of travel,--of learning something, not only of the land we live in, but of its people and homes. If I had gone from house to house and with malice aforethought begged an outright gift of a sum equal to my commission on each book, I should have felt more self-approval than in asking people to buy what I had not the slightest reason to suppose they wanted.

Now I'm sure you are beginning to think me one of the disagreeably strong-minded, who think the whole world has gone astray when it's only themselves who are out of tune, but, truly, I'm not; only I don't like to be or to feel idle and useless, nor yet to be constantly striving to do from a sense of duty what is positively distasteful.

Like many other important discoveries, my aptness for house-work was found out by accident. Our next neighbor happened to be thrown, without a word of warning, into one of those dreadful whirlpools in regard to help, to which even the best regulated households are liable. My services, charitably volunteered as temporary relief, were gladly accepted, and the result on my part was two years of pleasant and profitable labor. All I earned was clear profit, and I had the satisfaction of knowing I saved the family many times over what was paid me. I'm converted beyond the possibility of backsliding to this truth: that there is no work so fit and pleasant, so profitable and improving, to the mass of womankind,--rich or poor, wise or unlearned, strong or weak,--yes, proud or meek,--as the care and control of a home; none so worthy of thorough study, none so full of opportunity for exercising all the better bodily and mental powers, from mere mechanical and muscular skill, up through philosophy and science, mathematics and invention, to poetry and fine art.

From potato-washing to architectural design the distance is great, yet there are possible steps, and easy ones too, leading from one to the other. I began with the potatoes and know all their tricks and their manners. The accompanying sketch is the nearest approach to architecture yet attained. A long way off, you will say; but I insist it is worthier of recognition than the plans of amateurs who begin with the parlor and leave the kitchen out in the cold. It is not for Mr. Fred; he must work out his own kitchen. If Mrs. Fred can't help him, more's the pity. I give my notions of general principles; the application of them I leave to you.

My kitchen is not merely a cook-room, nor yet the assembly and business room of the entire household, as in the olden time. It is the housekeeper's head-quarters, the mill to which all domestic grists are brought to be ground,--ground but not consumed. I should never learn to be heartily grateful for my daily bread if it must always be eaten with the baking-pans at my elbow. Indeed, we seldom enjoy to the utmost any good thing if the process of its manufacture has been carried on before our eyes. Hence the dining-room is a necessity, but it must be near at hand. If the kitchen cannot go to it, it must come to the kitchen. If this goes to the basement, or to the attic, that must follow, but always with impassable barriers between, protecting each one of our five senses. The confusion usually attending the dinner-hour should be out of sight; the hissing of buttered pans and the sound of rattling dishes we do not wish to hear; our sharpened appetites must not be dulled by spicy aromas that seem to settle on our tongues; we do not like, in summer weather, to be broiled in the same heat that roasts our beef; while, as for scents, wrath is cruel and anger is outrageous, but who is able to stand the smell of boiling cabbage? Yes; the kitchen must be separated from the dining-room, and the more perfect its appointments, the easier is this separation. The library and the sitting-room are completely divided by a mere curtain, because each is quiet and well disposed, not inclined to assert its own rights or invade those of others; but the ordinary kitchen, like ill-bred people, is constantly doing both. Thomas Beecher proposes to locate his at the top of the church steeple. That is unnecessary; we have only to elevate it morally and intellectually, make it orderly, scientific, philosophical, and the front parlor itself cannot ask a more amiable and interesting neighbor. As the chief workshop of the house, the kitchen should be fitted up and furnished precisely as an intelligent manufacturer would fit up his factory. Every possible convenience for doing what must be done; a machine for each kind of work and a place for every machine. Provision for the removal and utilizing of all waste, for economizing to the utmost all labor and material. Then if our housekeepers will go to school in earnest,--will learn their most complicated and responsible profession half as thoroughly as a mechanic learns a single and comparatively simple trade,--we shall have a domestic reformation that will bring back something of the Eden we have lost.

Respectfully yours,


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Consistency, Comfort, and Carpets

From the Architect

My Dear Fred,

I don't despise the new fashions. I admire them--when they are good. Will you please try to understand that a thing of beauty is a joy _forever_? Whatever is born of truth, whether in art or religion, belongs to eternity; it never goes out of fashion. Will you also remember that modern styles, modes, fashions, inventions,--call them what you will,--are the mere average product of human thought and labor during a few years; the old that abides is drawn from the superlatively good of former countless generations, culled over and over again till that alone remains which has stood the test of your critics and reformers all along down from Adam, or up from the last monkey who wept to find his first-born without a tail and morally accountable.

Certainly it is easier to say what to avoid than what to accept, for there's more of it. Broad is the road of error, and the faults and follies, vices and sins, that wrangle and riot therein, are thicker than crickets on a sandy road in October,--thicker and blacker. You may catch them all day and there'll be just as many left. But the devoted followers of truth you may count on your fingers and carry
them home in your bosom. Besides, the right thing to do cannot be told in detail for another, since every man must manifest his own individuality as he must work out his own salvation. In the millennium I expect we shall find no two houses built or furnished alike.

No; you are not to understand that lath and plaster are unfit for first-class dwellings, but there is no sense in trimming a gingham suit with point lace. A general uniformity of value in the material of which your castle is built is as essential as uniformity of style.

Yes; there is an objection to cheap floors, carpets or not; and now I've gone through your last lot of interrogation-points backward, which brings me where I left off in the former letter.

You propose to carpet the floors and ask to have them made to fit the carpets. Would you also like the walls to fit the paper-hangings, and the windows the curtains? Do you know what kind of carpets you will use in each room; just how long and how wide they will be to half an inch; the width of the borders; how much they will stretch in putting down; how much "take up" in the making (you see I can use interrogation-points)? Do you really know anything about them with certainty? I ask for information, as the same request is often made as to building the house to fit the carpets, and any attempt to comply with it seems to me a great waste of mathematics.

Concerning, the floors themselves,--leaving the yardstick out of the question,--even if they are covered by carpets six inches thick, it will not pay to lay poor ones. They should be double for solidity and warmth, well nailed for stiffness, seasoned for economy, and of good lumber for conscience' sake. Seasoned for economy, I say, since nothing is more destructive to carpets, especially to oil-cloth, than cracks in the floor underneath them. Yes,--one thing; the warped edges of the boards, that sometimes raise themselves,--that are almost sure to do so in spruce, which is never fit for floors, though often used. It's my conviction that spruce floor-boards, two inches thick and one and a half wide, would contrive to curl up at the edges. If you have good floors, furthermore, you will not feel obliged to cover them at all times and at all hazards. I remarked that the houses built when the good time coming comes will not be all alike. I can tell you another thing about them, though you may not believe it; there will be no wool carpets on the floors,--no, nor rag ones either. The people will walk upon planks of fir and boards of cedar, sycamore from the plains and algum-trees, gopher wood and Georgia pine, inlaid in forms of wondrous grace. There will be no moth or _dust_ to corrupt and strangle, neither creaks nor cracks to annoy. It's a question among theologians whether the millennium will come "all at once and all o'er," or gradually. I think the millennial floors must be introduced gradually,--say around the edges,--for I do not suppose you or any one else in New England will give up the warm-feeling carpets altogether. And yet one who has seen a carpet of any sort taken and well shaken, after a six months' service, will hardly expect added health or comfort from its ministration. If your observation of this semiannual performance isn't sufficient, and you are curious to know how much noisome dirt and dust, how much woolly fibre and microscopic animal life, you respire,--how these poisonous particles fill your lungs with tubercles, your head with catarrh, and prepare your whole body for an untimely grave,--you can study medical books at your leisure. They will all tell the same story, and will justify my supposition that you will cover the floors with _dirty_ carpets. Doubtless they will be shaken and "whipped" (they deserve it) two or three times a year, and swept, maybe, every day. The shaking is very well, but though it seems neater to sweep them, yet for actual cleanliness of the whole room, carpet and all, I suppose it would be better at the end of six months if they were swept--not once! For whatever can be removed from a carpet by ordinary sweeping is comparatively clean and harmless,--that which sinks out of sight and remains is unclean and poisonous.

There are two ways of lessening the evil without exterminating the cause. One is to shut the room, never using or opening it, except for the spring and fall cleaning; the other is to lay the carpet in such way that it may be taken up and relaid without demoralizing the entire household. Talk about the carpets fitting the rooms; there should be a margin of two feet--a few inches, more or less, is unimportant--at
each side. Then if you have a handsome floor, the carpet becomes a large rug--no matter how elegant--that may be removed, cleansed, and put back again every morning if you like. You may fancy a border of wood either plain or ornamental, the surface of which shall be level with the top of the carpet. This is easily made, either by using thicker boards around the edges or by laying wood carpeting over the regular floor. One caution concerning fancy floors; don't make them too fanciful. We don't like to feel that we're treading under foot a rare work of art, and I've seen certain zigzag patterns which merely to look at fairly makes one stagger. Thresholds are on the floor, but not of them, nor of anything else, for that matter, and though
somewhat useful in poetry, are often provoking stumbling-blocks in practice. Necessary at times, doubtless, but we have far too many and too much of them. Even where rooms are carpeted differently they are not needed. If you must have them, let them lie low and keep dark.

If you paint or paper the walls, as you will if they are plastered, keep this in mind: the trowel finishes them as far as use is concerned. Whatever is added is purely in the nature of ornament, and must be tried by the laws of decoration. If you enjoy seeing "a parrot, a poppy, and a shepherdess," bunches of blue roses, and
impossible landscapes, spotted, at regular intervals, over the inner walls of the rooms, you will choose some large-figured paper. Perhaps, if the pattern is sufficiently distinct and gorgeous, you will think you need no other pictures; and the pictures themselves will be glad to be left out if they have any self-respect. I'm sure you don't enjoy any such thing. Some of the fancy paper-hangings are artistic and beautiful in design; for that very reason they ought not to be repeated. I would as soon hang up a few dozens of religious-newspaper prize-chromos. The general effect is the point to be considered. Why not have both? Because you can't. When you have a picture so pretty and complete as to attract your attention and fix itself in your memory, the general effect is lost if you discover the same thing staring at you whichever way you turn. 'T is the easiest thing in the world to have too much of a good thing. Sometimes the better the thing the worse the repetition. This general effect which we must have is well secured by a small, inconspicuous figure, or by those vine-like patterns, so delicate and wandering that you don't attempt to follow them. Better than either are the plain tints, which give you, in fact, all you require; a modification of the cold white wall, and the most effective background for pictures and other furnishing. As much ornament as you please in the border at the top, and at the bottom, too, if the rooms are high enough. All horizontal lines and subdivisions reduce the apparent height of the room. Indeed, you may use trimming without limit, either of paper or paint, wood and gilt moldings, provided they are well used. Color, after all, is the main thing. If there is any good reason for putting this upon paper and then sticking the paper to the wall, I've not learned it. It is cheaper, cleaner, and better to apply it directly to the plastering, either in oil or water-colors. Oil is the best; water the cheapest. In any case, the best quality of plastering is none too good. For the
papering it may be left smooth, but for painting, especially with distemper, the rough coarse-grained surface is very much the best. The chief objection to stucco arises from its being a cheap material, easily wrought. It is so often introduced as if quantity would compensate for quality,--a common error in other things than stucco. Though often desirable and appropriate, as a general rule the more the worse. No amount of gilding will give it anything but a frail, often tawdry appearance, that does not improve, but deteriorates, with age.

Wainscoting is always in order; it is a question of harmony, when and where to use it. What you have in mind is really an extended and ornamented base. Of course, it enriches the room, but it begins a work to which there is no limit. It should be supplemented by a corresponding wood cornice at the top of the room, and between the two as much decorative woodwork as you can afford; until "the walls of the house within, the floor of the house, and the walls of the ceilings" are carved with "cherubims and palm-trees and open flowers." A costly wainscot at the base of the walls, with paper and stucco above, seems to me a great lack of harmony. I would spread my richness more evenly. In using different kinds of wood, the raised portions, being more exposed, may be of hard varieties, the sunken portions of softer materials, even lath and plaster, which may be frescoed, covered with some rich colored plain paper, or hung with violet velvet, according to your taste and means. The old-fashioned chair-rail seems to me a sensible institution It occupies the debatable ground between use and beauty, and may therefore be somewhat enriched. The plastering beneath it may be given a different tint from that above, and when the walls are high its effect is good. It is really carrying out the idea of panelling, to which there is hardly a limit in the way of variety.

Some of your questions have led me a little way from the building toward the furnishing, but I've tried to dispose of them categorically, and am now ready for another lot.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Thought Provokes Inquiry

From Fred

My Dear Architect,

In spite of your prohibition, I must pursue one or two of the inquiries already raised, in order to understand the answers given.

What is the objection to cheap floors, if they are always covered with carpets? Am I to understand that you do not approve of lath and plaster for walls and ceilings of first-class dwellings? If so, what would you substitute?

It seems much easier to say what to avoid than what to accept; but that, I believe, is the privilege of critics and reformers.

Why do you despise the modern fashions so heartily? Are the old any better?



Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Fashion and Ornament, Hardwood and Paint

From the Architect

Dear Fred,

The tone of your last message, just received, is hopeful. Conviction of ignorance is the only foundation on which Wisdom, or any other man, ever built a house. But it must be a genuine agony, as I'm sure it is in your case; so you are forgiven for asking more questions in half a dozen lines than I can answer fully in a score of pages. Instead of taking them up separately, I might give you a chapter of first principles, hoping you would then need no special directions; but I find the value of most general observations lies, like Bunsby's, in the application of 'em. It's not enough to say, "Be honest and upright." Each particular falsehood and folly must be summoned, tried, and condemned.

You ask for a style of finish that must be ornamental and modern. But I don't understand your meaning; shall need more definite instruction. Is your house intended for ornamental purposes, as summer-houses, dove-cots, bird-cages, and the like, often are? Is it to be a museum, art-gallery, or memorial hall? Diamonds and pearls are commonly thought ornamental to those who can afford them; from pink plaster images and china vases to bronze dragons and Florentine mosaics, there is an endless variety of ornaments for domestic apartments. I've heard of a woman who was an ornament to her husband, and of a man who ornamented a whole town; but when you ask me to furnish you an ornamental style of finishing your house, I'm obliged to ask for particulars. You may have curious carvings in the woodwork about the doors and windows and on the base-boards; paint pictures, or set bright-colored tile, grotesque and classic, on the flat surfaces; cut a row of "scallops and points" around the edge of the casings in imitation of clam-shells, as I have sometimes seen; or you may build over your doors and windows enormous Grecian cornices supported by huge carved consoles,--regular shelves, too high for any earthly use except to remind you, by their vast store of dust, of your mortal origin and destiny. I hold it to be the duty of the amiable architect to carry out the wishes of his employer as far as consistent with his own peace of mind; and if you insist on having a row of brass buttons around all your casings, and setting your own tin-type, life-size, at every corner, I shall acquiesce; but my sober advice is that the interior work be simple and unobtrusive. The most perfect style in dress or manner is that which attracts the least attention; so the essential finish should not, by its elaborate design, challenge notice and thus detract from the furnishing and true ornamentation of the room. Avoid fine, unintelligible mouldings, needless crooks and quirks, and be not afraid of a flat surface terminating in a plain bead or quarter round. Stairways and mantels are not strictly a part of the essential structure, and may be treated more liberally. The doors, too, should be of richer design than the frames in which they are hung; while on the sideboard, bookcase, or other stationary furniture you may, figuratively speaking, spread yourself, always provided you do not make, in the operation, a greater display of ignorance than of sense.

Rich woodwork throughout, carved panels upon the walls, inlaid floors, and elaborate ceilings, each separate detail a work of art, intrinsically beautiful apart from its constructive use, would require a corresponding treatment in the setting of the doors and windows; but the most of what is commonly considered ornamental work, in such cases, is wholly incongruous with walls and ceilings of lath and plaster and floors of cheap boards. I know you will paste mouldy paper to the walls and spread dirty carpets on the floors (beg your pardon, I mean the paper will be mouldy before you know it, and if you ever saw a wool carpet that had been used a month without being, like Phoebe's blackberries, "all mixed with sand and dirt," your observation has been different from mine); perhaps "run" stucco cornices around the top of walls, and "criss-cross" the ceilings into a perfect flower-garden of parallelograms with round corners. But the inharmony remains all the same. Any great outlay of labor or material on the casings of doors and windows or the bases, when there is no other woodwork in the room, is surely out of place.

These are my sentiments, in general, upon the ornamental; of the merely fashionable you already know my opinion. Not that this most fitful dame has no rights that deserve respect, but her feeble light is a black spot in the radiance of real fine art. When you can give no other reason for liking what you like than that Mistress Fashion approves, beware! beware!--trust her not. The time will come when you will wish even the modest handmaiden Economy had blessed it. And if a thing is really beautiful, what difference whether it was introduced by Mrs. Shoddy last spring, or by Mrs. Noah, before her husband launched his fairy boat? Nor is fine art unattainable, even in the door-casings. It does not imply fine work. The size, shape, and position of the doors and windows, and the relative proportions of the work about them, is the first thing to be studied. Then have a care that such mouldings as may be needed are graceful, and you cannot go far wrong.

You propose to finish with "hard" wood, and ask my opinion. It depends: if it's the hardness you want, should recommend lignum-vitae and ebony; if the wood, economy would suggest that white-pine, and certain other softer sorts, be not overlooked. To answer according to the spirit of your inquiry, I should say, by all means (if you do not mind the cost) use wood instead of putty. With all respect for white paint and striped paint and all other kinds of paint, there is nothing more enduringly satisfying than the natural tint and grain of the different kinds of wood suitable for building, of which we have such great variety in style and color, from the overestimated black walnut, to the rarely used white-pine,--rarely used without having its natural beauty extinguished by three coats of paint. What I wish to say is, that finishing your woodwork without paint does not, necessarily, require the said wood to be of the kinds commonly called "hard." Any wood that is not specially disposed to warp, and that can be smoothly wrought, may be used. Those you mention are all good; so are half a dozen more,--the different kinds of ash, yellow-pine,
butternut, white-wood, cherry, cedar, even hemlock and spruce in some situations. There are several important points to be religiously observed if you leave the wood, whatever the variety, in its unadorned beauty. It must be the best of its kind; it must be seasoned to its inmost fibre; it must be wrought skilfully, tenderly cared for, and, finally, filled and rubbed till it wears a surface that is not liable
to soil, is easily cleaned, resists the action of moisture, and will grow richer with age. Hence, I say, by all means finish with unpainted wood, if you are not afraid of the expense, and yet paint and varnish are good, and putty, like charity, covereth a multitude of sins. Nothing protects wood better than oil and lead, and by means of them you have unlimited choice of colors, in the selection and arrangement of which there is room and need for genuine artistic taste. Yes; good honest paint is worthy the utmost respect. When it tries to improve upon nature's divine methods and calls itself "graining," it becomes unmitigated nonsense,--yes, and worse. It is
one of the sure evidences of man's innate perversity that he persists in trying to copy certain beautiful lines and shadings in wood, not as an art study, but for actual use, when he may just as well have the perfect original as his own faulty imitation. What conceit, what blindness, what impudence, this reveals! What downright falsehood! Not in the painter,--O, no, skill is commendable even when unworthily employed,--but in him who orders it. You may buy a pine door, which is
very well; pine doors are good; you tell every man that comes into your house it's black-walnut or oak or mahogany. If that isn't greeting him with lying lips and a deceitful heart, the moral law isn't as clear as it ought to be. You may think it's of no consequence, certainly not worth making a fuss about, but I tell you this spirit of sham that pervades our whole social structure, that more and more obtrudes itself in every department of life, comes from the bottomless pit, and will carry us all thither, unless we resist it, even in these milder manifestations, as we would resist the Father of Lies himself. Truth and falsehood are getting so hopelessly confused that we can scarcely distinguish one from the other.

One other suggestion in this connection. Without either painting or graining you may get a most satisfactory effect, both in looks and utility, by staining the less costly kinds of woods; using a transparent stain that will not conceal but strengthen the natural shading, and at the same time change its tint according to your fancy. This is an honest and economical expedient. It only requires that your
lumber shall be sound, tolerably clear,--a good hard knot isn't alarming,--seasoned, and put up with care. The cost is less than common painting, and the effect as much better than graining as nature's work is more perfect than ours.

Don't ask me any more questions till I've disposed of these already on hand.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Experience Keeps a Dear School

From Fred: Experience Keeps a Dear School

My Dear Architect,

We will let the sliding-doors slide, but hold on to the bay-windows. I've acted upon your suggestion, and called on Miss Jane to help me through the kitchen. She is studying the matter and will report to you soon. Meantime, will you give directions about other inside work? I want it to be ornamental and modern in style. Shall finish mostly in hard wood,--oak, walnut, or chestnut, perhaps mahogany and maple. Please give me your opinion on that point. What do you think of graining where hard wood is not used? Shall probably carpet throughout, and hope you will not change dimensions of rooms to spoil the fit of them. What about wainscoting halls or any of the rooms? Suppose common floors will answer, and common plastering for the walls, if I paper; but shall I,--or do you recommend frescoing; and what do you say to cornices and other stucco-work?

I've no time to go over all the points in your last. Some of them seem well put, others a little wild. But I give them a fair hearing and suppose you won't insist upon my adopting them. Am beginning to think I've a good deal to learn, and ought, I suppose, to be well satisfied to learn, in some other school than that of experience.