“The home must suggest the life it is to encompass.”
THE AVERAGE MODERN AMERICAN HOME is a reflex in miniature of the life of the people. It is quickly made and lightly abandoned. If it were constructed like the Japanese house of bamboo and paper, or like a native but of thatch, it might charm from its simplicity and lack of ostentation; or if, like the homes of our ancestors, it were made of mortised logs chinked with mud, it would have a rude dignity and inevitableness which would put it in harmony with the surrounding nature. But these things no longer satisfy. We must all have palaces to house us—petty makeshifts, to be sure, with imitation turrets, spires, porticos, corbels and elaborate bracket-work excrescences—palaces of crumbling plaster, with walls papered in gaudy patterns and carpets of insolent device—palaces furnished in cracking veneer, with marble mantels and elaborate chandeliers. It is a shoddy home, the makeshift of a shoddy age. It is the natural outgrowth of our prosperous democracy. Machinery has enabled us to manifold shams to a degree heretofore undreamed. We ornament our persons with imitation pearls and diamonds; we dress in felt wadding that, for a week or two, looks like wool; we wear silk that tears at a touch, and our homes are likewise adorned with imitations and baubles. We botch our carpentering and trust to putty, paint and paper to cover up the defects. On Sundays we preach about the goodly apple rotten at the heart, and all the week we make houses of veneer and stucco. Our defense is that we do not expect to tarry long where we are encamped, so why build for the grandchildren of the stranger?
Happily, a change is coming into our lives. From small beginnings it has spread slowly at first, but soon with added momentum. The thought of the simple life is being worked out in the home. In the simple home all is quiet in effect, restrained in tone, yet natural and joyous in its frank use of unadorned material. Harmony of line and balance of proportion is not obscured by meaningless ornamentation; harmony of color is not marred by violent contrasts. Much of the construction shows, and therefore good workmanship is required and the craft of the carpenter is restored to its old-time dignity.
Blessed is he who lives in such a home and who makes life conform to his surroundings, who is hospitable not only to friends, but to the sweet ministration of the elements, who holds abundant intercourse with sun and air, with bird voices sounding from the shrubbery without and human voices within singing their answer. In such a home, inspiring in its touch with art and books, glorified by mother love and child sun-shine, may the human spirit grow in strength and grace to the fullness of years.
Those words are not mine. They are Charles Keeler’s, from his 1906 book, “The Simple Home,” and they struck me as particularly apt for our own time. While it is saddening to realize that, almost 100 years after he wrote them, Americans are still erecting imitation palaces that we now call “McMansions,” it is heartening to see that Keeler’s ideal of the simple home, with its restrained tone and harmonies of line and color, has continued to gain champions. His hope that the human spirit will grow in strength and grace through the dignity of good workmanship has been revived and now burns brighter than ever—fueled and kept alive by you, our readers.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
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