Chapter XV, "Everyman's House" book, by Caroline Bartlett Crane Creator
Crane, Caroline Bartlett, 1858-1935, author Institution
Western Michigan University Subject
Architecture, Domestic Subject
Better Homes in America Item Number
Part of Caroline Bartlett Crane "Everyman's House" Collection Type
collection, text Format
THE ADAPTABLE HOUSE
TAKING my young daughter to the shoe store and failing to find the sensible style of shoe to which she was accustomed, we were about to depart when the clerk, anxious to make a sale, said to me, holding up the conventional last:
'Why not try these, madam? The little girl's foot will soon adapt itself to this shoe.'
Knowing this all too well, I hastened my departure.
Now all feet are used for the same purpose and have the same number of toes on the same end. To be sure, Nature has given us some variety, and there's a constant effort to improve upon Nature; to transform the bungalow type, for instance, into the Colonial. However, the shoe-fitting problem is simple beside that of fitting the family with a new house. Especially, if we do not know what
we want in the way of a house, nor how we want to wear it when we get it.
And besides, shoes, ill-fitting or otherwise, wear out fast enough, and you get new ones. But a house is built for one or more lifetimes.
Do we want a small house really to suit the particular needs of our family? We have helps at hand which were unheard of a generation ago. Able architects, especially since the post-war period of high prices, have devoted themselves to developing the possibilities in small, inexpensive houses. The Architects' Small House Service Bureau broadcasts its economical, artistic, and practical designs to millions of newspaper readers all over the United States. The Division of Building and Housing of the United States Department of Commerce offers you its many valuable bulletins. The National Housing Association, and the books of its head, Lawrence Veiller, are powerful assets to good housing for all classes.
Such magazines as Country Life and the House Beautiful, and trade journals, like the Building Age, the American Builder, the National Retail Lumber Dealer, are prodigal of help to the builder of the small home.
THE ADAPTABLE HOUSE
'Better Homes in America' came into being with the one mission, to help the builder of the small home to a better home.
And yet--if you want a little home really to suit you and your needs, the only way I know of is to visualize, as well as you can, the daily life of the family in a new home, and decide very definitely about certain things before you visit the architect or begin looking over portfolios of house plans at all. And the smaller the amount of money one has to invest in a home the more vital it becomes not to be led into pitfalls by pictures of attractive houses, particularly attractive exteriors, which are really not for you and your family.
By deciding in advance about certain things, I do not mean necessarily the actual plan. I mean, for instance, whether you will, or will not, sacrifice a separate dining room for any paramount need. Whether a vestibule or some sort of hall entrance is the neces-sity to your little home that I think it is. With half-a-dozen 'conditions precedent' well in mind (better still, written down in black and white), you are enabled to test house plans, for positive or negative reaction
to your needs. If you have no such criteria, you will find that the family must adapt itself to the house, as the child's foot to the shoe. With this difference, that, as I have said, shoes wear out and you buy new ones. But there's a sorrowful finality about a house built or purchased which is presently found to be a misfit for its inhabitants.[footnote 1]
Everyman's House is the moral to adorn this tale. We knew accurately its possible uses and adaptations, because of thought expended in advance, not only on the house plan, but upon the art of living in that house, by our chosen hypothetical family.
We could not expect people to perceive the adaptability of Everyman's House at a glance. That is the reason we gave to each visitor a detailed printed description of the house and its special features and uses.
But we did much more than this in the way of interpreting the house. One of the most impressive features of our Demonstration Week was the corps of gracious and carefully instructed hostesses, eighty-five in number,
[footnote 1] Though one should not despair. Read the last chapter, 'You and Your House,' and cheer up.
THE ADAPTABLE HOUSE
who presided, one in each room, at each period of each day and evening. They were there to explain and interpret Everyman's House to the never-ceasing throng of visitors.
Our house, for purpose of demonstration, had been furnished and equipped for a family consisting of a father and mother, two boys and two girls of school age, and a baby. This fact, and our having proudly said that it was a house built around a mother and her baby, made us a bit anxious lest some unimaginative visitors, seeing no more than they saw, would get the idea that the house required a baby in order to function satisfactorily. That would never do. For even if you start out all right, why, 'Skeeks' is the only baby that doesn't grow up--and then where are you!
But our hostesses were equal to every occasion, and never showed to better advantage than when explaining about that baby.
I would like, now, with the help of the hostesses, to show you that Everyman's House, built just as it is, is a house capable of adaptation to many and various types of family. In the next chapter I wish to show
that the plan is one which, without sacrifice of its fundamental features, readily admits of enlargement or alteration to suit some quite exceptional needs, including those of the family on a small farm.
Let us listen, now, to the hostess in the Mother's Room. Here, in the crowd, is a young mother with her baby. The hostess takes the baby and lifts him to the little bed suspended over the foot of the mother's bed, and bids the mother vision herself sitting comfortably and tending her baby at night. She calls her attention to the convenience of the adjacent bathroom; of the built-in bathtub. 'Consider,' she says, 'what this suite would mean to any family in case of illness. And note the kitchen so near at hand, so that while bathing and caring for your baby you can at the same time have an eye on the baking, and answer the front door, or back door, or the telephone, without running downstairs to do it. And how nice to have your baby so near, and yet not underfoot in the steamy kitchen where most accidents, such as scalding and burning, happen to children. And, you
THE ADAPTABLE HOUSE
see, Father and the other children don't come home to find the living room cluttered up, either.' The little mother nods, convinced.
'But,' says another mother in the group crowding around the demonstrator, 'I have three-year-old twins and a baby besides. I don't see that your house would do for me at all.'
'Oh, yes, indeed!' smiles the hostess. 'It seems to be more especially for you. A mother with two or three babies needs a nursery worse than anybody. A whole room for just a nursery, I mean. There shouldn't be any bed in here except the little bed for the baby's use by day; and a couch for the twins to take their naps on. The children and you have this little suite of nursery and bathroom all day, and you keep all your clothes and all the children's clothes down here, and wash and dress and care for the children down here right next to the kitchen work. Then, when Father comes home from work at night, he will carry the children upstairs, where you will all sleep. And the most you will have to do is to carry the one baby,
that can't walk, downstairs once a day.'
The mother of three babies is convinced that the house was planned especially for her.
Then a middle-aged lady remarks with considerable energy that, for her part, she'd never live in a house without a dining room; the house doesn't suit her at all!
'What is the size of your family?' sweetly inquires the hostess.
'Just myself and my husband.'
'Then why shouldn't you use this room for a dining room? See how the kitchen opens off it. And your passway should be here, where the clothes closet is, instead of into the living room. In fact, this little house seems particularly suited to you and your husband; and you have a guest room, besides.'
'O-o-oh!' says the enlightened lady, an unwilling smile overspreading her countenance.
Or suppose the visitor is a lady who mentions that her 'child' is an aged father or mother, or an invalid aunt, or a crippled sister. Here is a wonderful opportunity which no hostess will neglect.
For have you ever thought, my reader, of the
THE ADAPTABLE HOUSE
hardships and weariness of soul of being virtually a prisoner in one room in a remote part of the house, because--you haven't strength to go up and down stairs! What countless numbers of invalids and crippled people and frail, aged people are thus shunted to one side, to loneliness, to idleness, perhaps to bitter-ness and desire for death--because of stairs![footnote 1] Perhaps you are one of these. Then, I'm glad you know that Everyman's House thinks of you. For you feel that not so very many people outside the family circle do think of you any more. At least, few enough of them take the trouble to climb those stairs to see you.
And, for that matter, you'd almost as soon they didn't. What person--what half-helpless person--can always keep one's only room presentable? But there comes Mrs. Brown to see Daughter. Surely she will come up to see you, too. You pat the pillows and put the wash cloth out of sight, and sit expect-
[footnote 1] Bungalows are blessed things for such as these. But the one-story bungalow, with its large foundation and roof, is by no means a cheap form of building, and hence scarcely practical for a large family of small means.
antly--till you see Mrs. Brown departing. Later you learn that she sent you her love. (Like as not Daughter just made that up.) Well, 'out of sight, out of mind.'
Oh, they can't imagine how lonely you are--not so much to talk to anybody--you're willing to be mostly a listener, an observer. But how you long to be back in--and of--the family circle; to hear the friendly gossip about this and that and the other matters that never seemed important until you found yourself shut out and losing track of your little world's affairs.
And how duller than a fish's eye it is to have to eat alone! No wonder if you grow irritable. 'They're always forgetting the salt--or something!' And, oh! if you could just make yourself a dish of hot milk toast!
And then you think how hard it is for Daughter--so many trips upstairs in a day! She's wearing herself out for you! And then fall the most pitiable of human tears--the tears of the helpless aged who feel themselves a uselessly enduring burden on the ones they love.
On Sundays and holidays perhaps you do
THE ADAPTABLE HOUSE
get down. But the excitement and the sudden impact of a whole hilarious family are too much for you, who 'have come to the quiet time of life.' You creep back to your room, and they note that you 'never seem to enjoy it for long downstairs.'
But, oh! if you only had a room to yourself downstairs--a quiet room with a vestibule and stairway between you and the too robust living! With the bathroom adjoining. And the kitchen, where you could slip out and look around and feel at home, and do little odds and ends of things you ache to do. Wouldn't you like it? Oh, you would! To have the freedom of the house, and the children, yet be always close to the refuge of your own room. And that bell beside your bed to call Daughter, if you need her, day or night.
Oh! the joy of being able, on your 'good days,' to call your old friends up by ?phone. To venture little exciting walks outdoors, and sometimes to be asked to ride! To smile and nod at passing people who never used to see you wearily watching at that upper window.
And to go to the table and eat with the
family and say, as independently as the next person, 'Please pass the salt.'
'But,' says someone to the hostess, 'a woman could not have her old mother and her baby, too, in this room.'
'No,' the hostess replied. 'But, you see, our mothers aren't apt to be old until our babies are pretty well grown up.'
I think the loveliest use of all for this room--barring, of course, its use for a mother and her little baby--would be for a loving old couple together.
Remembering, Mr. and Mrs. Everyman, that to this condition do we come at last--if we live long enough--isn't it worth while (if you can spare no other downstairs room) to sacrifice that separate dining room? Not sacrifice it, but sanctify it, to the comfort and happiness of an aged parent, or whoever it is that looks to you for help along the little remnant of life's way. I think you will say, it is worth while.
And remember this, too: For your own sake, you have as much need of the Mother's Suite to care for and cheer a second childhood, as a first.
THE ADAPTABLE HOUSE
We have coined a phrase for the family invalid: the Shut-in. 'Shut-in' is not half bad. Don't let them be shut out of the family life, because shut up! Up a cruel flight of stairs!
We have alluded to this Mother's Suite as a godsend in time of illnesses such as visit almost every family--especially any family with children to go through the usual roster of 'children's diseases,' so called because a child can hardly manage to grow up without exposure to them. Whoever the patient is, and whatever the illness, the natural isolation of this room, its connection with the bath, and nearness to the place for serving food, are conveniences which can be appreciated only by a woman who has had to struggle through her housework and take care of a case of illness above-stairs.
If it be the mother herself who is ill, she will not worry half so much if she can know how things are going on in the kitchen. Also, she will be glad if she is so situated as to resume gradually the direction of affairs during her convalescence.
Still another point of adaptability: We have seen how Everyman's House adapts itself to the changes which time brings to a family; the changing needs of babies grown to childhood; of children grown to young manhood and womanhood, so that Father and Mother have that downstairs room quite to themselves. But there is one more point to be mentioned. Suppose all the children are grown up and gone, and the parents have the whole house to themselves; or suppose a young couple with a baby do not need the 'upstairs,' as yet: in either case the two floors become, if you desire, two separate flats with no necessary contacts except at the front vestibule entrance.