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Chapter VII, "Everyman's House" book, by Caroline Bartlett Crane
Crane, Caroline Bartlett, 1858-1935, author

Western Michigan University

Architecture, Domestic


Better Homes in America

Item Number

Part of Caroline Bartlett Crane "Everyman's House" Collection

collection, text


86 CHAPTER VII WHERE DO WE EAT? IT WOULD be too much to expect that Everyman's. House could escape criticism. I well remember the impressive lady who stood in the middle of our living room, windowed on three sides, and demanded a sun parlour--and something else, I've forgotten what. Perhaps it was a ballroom. Also, there was the less unreasonable lady who wished our chimney on the outside wall, because chimneys are such a feature of beauty on a house. We conceded that, but defended the location of ours on the ground that an outside chimney costs more to build and radiates a considerable percentage of heat into outer space, where it isn't needed nearly so much as in our stairway and the bedroom above. However, these criticisms were as compliments of the day beside that which was pro- 87 WHERE DO WE EAT? nounced by a disgusted man as he shook our dust off his feet at the basement exit. He said: 'It's a hell of a house, without any place to eat!' Note that this indignant man didn't say a word about 'no place to read.' He would have agreed that a little house like that couldn't be expected to have a library or study. You read in the living room, of course. Nor did this man miss a parlour. Nowadays we welcome visitors without embarrassment into the living room. Nor did he voice the need of a nursery. 'Oh, the kids can be around wherever their mother is,' I fancy him saying. 'But a house without a dining room--that's a hell of a place!' Why? As a matter of fact, Everyman's House has a perfectly good room for a dining room, if you want to use it for that. If he had listened to our hostess, or read the printed description he held in his hand, our withering critic would have grasped that fact. Then it would have been for him to decide whether, with the kind and size of family our house was especially designed for, he would want to see that precious room devoted to any purpose 88 EVERYMAN'S HOUSE that utilized it but two hours or less out of the twenty-four. 'But where is the man who can live without dining?' Where, then, do we eat? Not in the kitchen, I hasten to say. The kitchen-alcove idea may do very well for the woman who keeps help. For the woman who does her own work, it steals her little bit of respite from the scene of her tiresome and monotonous labours. If it were only breakfast, it wouldn't be so bad. However, where help is not hired, the breakfast nook has a marked tendency to appropriate luncheon, and even dinner, as well. This is bad for the mother's health and outlook; bad for the family comfort, manners, and self-respect. A place of heat and odours, and usually, of culinary dish-abille, as it were; a place to 'eat and run.' It is better to have a room devoted solely to eating, and do the extra work made necessary thereby, if the kitchen alcove is the only alternative. However, it is not. If we eat to live--the insistence of some people on a dining room at all costs suggests the opposite--but if we eat to live, why not eat in the living room? Let us see how it 89 WHERE DO WE EAT? would work out in a house especially planned for it as is Everyman's House. The preceding chapters have described the close organic connection of the working corner of the kitchen with the window-seat end of the living room. Let us now proceed to convert this end of this room. We first remove from the drop-leaf table in front of the window seat the vase of flowers and the few books or magazines. They may be placed on the desk by the davenport. We then raise the table leaves, lay the table pad and cloth, or the set of doilies, from the tall cupboard at the left of the window seat, restore the vase of flowers to its place, take out the china and silver from the cupboard just mentioned, and set our table. One of the children could be doing this while the mother is in the kitchen, preparing to serve the dinner. As we have seen, she takes the platter and vegetable dishes from the warming closet by the stove, places the cooked food therein, and sets it on a shelf of the four-storied passway; she takes out the warm dinner plates and places them in the passway; gets the bread and the things from the refrigerator and the 90 EVERYMAN'S HOUSE drinking water from the faucet, and places them in the passway. Having thus conveyed to the dining room everything needed, she then goes into the dining room herself and places all the food from the passway upon the table. The meal being served, two of the children seat themselves on the window seat, two (or three) more opposite. Mother, with baby in the high chair, sits at the passway end; Father opposite. You can see, in the picture opposite this page, that nobody is crowded. And how cheerful and pleasant the surroundings--much more interesting and provocative of good talk, don't you think? than a room devoted solely to the mundane business of eating! 'But suppose somebody comes!' you exclaim. Suppose somebody does come? It would be a good thing for us all to live so that we can look any man in the eye and tell him to sit down and have a bite with us. However, Everyman's House reduces you to no such necessity. One of the several functions of our little vestibule is as a place to dispose of miscellaneous business calls without intrusion [Page NA: BLANK] [Page NA] The Everymans at dinner. [photograph: LA03a008] 91 WHERE DO WE EAT? upon family privacy. It isn't often that real visitors ring the bell during meal time. Family privacy need not suffer in any case.[footnote 1] The beautiful tall screen standing on casters by the fireplace is the solution of that problem. As you go to answer the bell, you easily and quickly draw out the screen so as to hide completely the table from the sight of any one entering the front part of the room, yet allowing space to pass back to the table by the farther wing of the screen. The passway and the door to the kitchen being also hidden, the table may be cleared and the room fully restored to its sitting-room character before the screen is again folded. Or suppose the family is entertaining at dinner or luncheon: the table may be set with the screen drawn. Then you fold it back, and find that, in this space, eight or ten persons may be seated uncrowdedly at table: three on the perfectly comfortable window seat seven feet in length, three opposite, and two or [footnote 1] This point needs to be much emphasized. A well-known writer on domestic topics has recently published an article deploring the fact that the much-to-be-desired living-dining room can only be realized at the price of family privacy. 92 EVERYMAN' S HOUSE three at each end. And there are the cheerful hearth fire and books and pictures and all the pleasantest, coziest surroundings your house affords, in which to break bread with your friends! Numerous small criticisms of our living-dining room plan were made to hostesses. 'Children are always dropping food on the rug,' one woman suggested. 'Yes, but the carpet sweeper is so handy in this cupboard. And, besides, you see, this is a small rug under this table. It can be cleaned oftener than the others.' 'Don't you have to move the table, to sit in the window seat?' 'Oh, dear, no! You see, the window seat is seven feet long; the table only four. You easily pass in from the end.' 'I shouldn't think that window seat would be comfortable to sit on.' 'Oh, but it is. Try it. It's just the height, with the cushion, of an ordinary dining chair. . . . No, the windows don't open into your back. They look like casement windows, but they shove up.' 93 WHERE DO WE EAT? 'But I'd want a regular dining room, with arrangements for an electric toaster and grill.' 'Certainly. There is the wall connection right by the window seat. You see you can use it as well here as anywhere. Also, that connection can be used with a vacuum cleaner or a reading lamp. Big Brother can lounge and read there if Father is spread out on the davenport.' 'O-o-oh!' 'Plan your house to fit your everyday needs,' a wise woman advised me when I was planning our first home. 'For the sake of this everyday convenience, be willing to go to some occasional inconvenience, as in the exceptional case of company.' So here is offered another possibility in the way of entertaining in Everyman's House. If Mother wants, once or twice a year, to give a card party with a luncheon of small tables, why not take down the bed in the Mother's Room and stow it in the closet and thus have two rooms for her purpose? The fact is that the separate dining room is a survival of the time when we could build a 94 EVERYMAN'S HOUSE very comfortable house for $2,500, and hired help was no rarity in even the modest home. It has no rightful place today in a small house with a big family and a strained income. It will be forced, at no distant time, to join the procession of the reception hall, the parlour, the library, and the den, and go on into the living room and sit down and be good. And consider this: The general uses of the living room interfere quite a bit with its use as a library by someone who wants to read in peace. Its use as a parlour usually drives out the members of the family not being called upon. But the use of the living room for dining doesn't interfere with anybody or anything. For the room would be simply deserted if the family filed out of it to find a 'place to eat' in another room. Thus, in a house which supports a living room and a dining room the latter is useless twenty-two hours of the day, and the former, the other two hours; which amounts to your supporting in idleness one able-bodied, expensively furnished, heated, and taxed room constantly, from year's end to year's end, in 95 WHERE DO WE EAT? your home! People should ask themselves whether they can afford it. Dozens of families can, for thousands who cannot--and yet do. It is surely a question worth considering. The caster-footed screen which shields the dining table on occasion has many uses. If Mother's darning is littering table or window seat when the doorbell rings, she can draw the screen as she pauses to admit her visitor. Or perhaps Daughter is reading or studying. Or again if Daughter shows in a caller, Mother has the opportunity to make an exit behind the screen through the kitchen into the nursery. It is needless to multiply examples of house-hold exigencies which yield so naturally to this simple arrangement. Haven't you noticed how the living room (sitting room we used to call it) has 'looked up,' since it incorporated the parlour into its precincts? Better furniture is worth considering, and we have it now in everyday use. Comfortable, homey furniture--overstuffed, rattaned, or chintzed, as the family taste may dictate. Who, indeed--if condemned to daily living with it--would ever have 96 EVERYMAN'S HOUSE tolerated black horsehair or frail spindle-legged chairs that crash down if you give them a hard look? Again, haven't you noticed how the living room has benefited by the incorporation of the library? Good books and magazines are the best of furnishings. 'Who hath a book hath friends at hand.' That culture which depends on 'fifteen minutes a day' is to be obtained from the book 'at hand' in the living room. And lastly, have you noticed how the living room has improved with the incorporation of the nursery? You have not. I haven't. Nobody has. Which is one of several reasons for the chapter to come, on 'The Mother's Suite.'

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