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Thursday, April 30, 2009

The House: Situation and Arrangement

From the beginning it must be understood that what is written here applies chiefly to country homes. The general principles laid down are applicable with equal force to town or city life; but as a people we dwell mostly in the country, and, even in villages or small towns, each house is likely to have its own portion of land about it, and to look toward all points of the compass, instead of being limited to two, as in city blocks. Of the comparative advantages or disadvantages of city or country life, there is no need to speak here. Our business is simply to give such details as may apply to both, but chiefly to the owners of moderate incomes, or salaried people, whose expenditure must always be somewhat limited. With the exterior of such homes, women at present have very little to do; and the interior also is thus far much in the hands of architects, who decide for general prettiness of effect, rather than for the most convenient arrangement of space. The young bride, planning a home, is resolved upon a bay-window, as large a parlor as possible, and an effective spare-room; but, having in most cases no personal knowledge of work, does not consider whether kitchen and dining-room are conveniently planned, or not, and whether the arrangement of pantries and closets is such that both rooms must be crossed a hundred times a day, when a little foresight might have reduced the number certainly by one-half, perhaps more.

Inconvenience can, in most cases, be remedied; but unhealthfulness or unwholesomeness of location, very seldom: and therefore, in the beginning, I write that ignorance is small excuse for error, and that every one able to read at all, or use common-sense about any detail of life, is able to form a judgment of what is healthful or unhealthful. If no books are at hand, consult the best physician near, and have his verdict as to the character of the spot in which more or less of your life in this world will be spent, and which has the power to affect not only your mental and bodily health, but that of your children. Because your fathers and mothers have been neglectful of these considerations, is no reason why you should continue in ignorance; and the first duty in making a home is to consider earnestly and intelligently certain points.

Four essentials are to be thought of in the choice of any home; and their neglect, and the ignorance which is the foundation of this neglect, are the secret of not only the chronic ill-health supposed to be a necessity of the American organization, but of many of the epidemics and mysterious diseases classed under the head of "visitations of Providence."

These essentials are: a wholesome situation, good ventilation, good drainage, and a dry cellar. Rich or poor, high or low, if one of these be disregarded, the result will tell, either on your own health or on that of your family. Whether palace or hut, brown-stone front or simple wooden cottage, the law is the same. As a rule, the ordinary town or village is built upon low land, because it is easier to obtain a water-supply from wells and springs. In such a case, even where the climate itself may be tolerably healthy, the drainage from the hills at hand, or the nearness of swamps and marshes produced by the same cause, makes a dry cellar an impossibility; and this shut-in and poisonous moisture makes malaria inevitable. The dwellers on low lands are the pill and patent-medicine takers; and no civilized country swallows the amount of tonics and bitters consumed by our own.

If possible, let the house be on a hill, or at least a rise of ground, to secure the thorough draining-away of all sewage and waste water. Even in a swampy and malarious country, such a location will insure all the health possible in such a region, if the other conditions mentioned are faithfully attended to.

Let the living-rooms and bedrooms, as far as may be, have full sunshine during a part of each day; and reserve the north side of the house for store-rooms, refrigerator, and the rooms seldom occupied. Do not allow trees to stand so near as to shut out air or sunlight; but see that, while near enough for beauty and for shade, they do not constantly shed moisture, and make twilight in your rooms even at mid-day. Sunshine is the enemy of disease, which thrives in darkness and shadow. Consumption or scrofulous disease is almost inevitable in the house shut in by trees, whose blinds are tightly closed lest some ray of sunshine fade the carpets; and over and over again it has been proved that the first conditions of health are, abundant supply of pure air, and free admission of sunlight to every nook and cranny. Even with imperfect or improper food, these two allies are strong enough to carry the day for health; and, when the three work in harmony, the best life is at once assured.

If the house must be on the lowlands, seek a sandy or gravelly soil; and avoid those built over clay beds, or even where clay bottom is found under the sand or loam. In the last case, if drainage is understood, pipes may be so arranged as to secure against any standing water; but, unless this is done, the clammy moisture on walls, and the chill in every closed room, are sufficient indication that the conditions for disease are ripe or ripening. The only course in such case, after seeking proper drainage, is, first, abundant sunlight, and, second, open fires, which will act not only as drying agents, but as ventilators and purifiers. Aim to have at least one open fire in the house. It is not an extravagance, but an essential, and economy may better come in at some other place.

Having settled these points as far as possible,—the question of water-supply and ventilation being left to another chapter,—it is to be remembered that the house is not merely a place to be made pleasant for one's friends. They form only a small portion of the daily life; and the first consideration should be: Is it so planned that the necessary and inevitable work of the day can be accomplished with the least expenditure of force? North and South, the kitchen is often the least-considered room of the house; and, so long as the necessary meals are served up, the difficulties that may have hedged about such serving are never counted. At the South it is doubly so, and necessarily; old conditions having made much consideration of convenience for servants an unthought-of thing. With a throng of unemployed women and children, the question could only be, how to secure some small portion of work for each one; and in such case, the greater the inconveniences, the more chance for such employment. Water could well be half a mile distant, when a dozen little darkies had nothing to do but form a running line between house and spring; and so with wood and kindling and all household necessities.

To-day, with the old service done away with once for all, and with a set of new conditions governing every form of work, the Southern woman faces difficulties to which her Northern or Western sister is an utter stranger; faces them often with a patience and dignity beyond all praise, but still with a hopelessness of better things, the necessary fruit of ignorance. Old things are passed away, and the new order is yet too unfamiliar for rules to have formulated and settled in any routine of action. While there is, at the North, more intuitive and inherited sense of how things should be done, there is on many points an almost equal ignorance, more especially among the cultivated classes, who, more than at any period of woman's history, are at the mercy of their servants. Every science is learned but domestic science. The schools ignore it; and, indeed, in the rush toward an early graduation, there is small room for it.

"She can learn at home," say the mothers. "She will take to it when her time comes, just as a duck takes to water," add the fathers; and the matter is thus dismissed as settled.

In the mean time the "she" referred to—the average daughter of average parents in both city and country—neither "learns at home," nor "takes to it naturally," save in exceptional cases; and the reason for this is found in the love, which, like much of the love given, is really only a higher form of selfishness. The busy mother of a family, who has fought her own way to fairly successful administration, longs to spare her daughters the petty cares, the anxious planning, that have helped to eat out her own youth; and so the young girl enters married life with a vague sense of the dinners that must be, and a general belief that somehow or other they come of themselves. And so with all household labor. That to perform it successfully and skillfully, demands not only training, but the best powers one can bring to bear upon its accomplishment, seldom enters the mind; and the student, who has ended her course of chemistry or physiology enthusiastically, never dreams of applying either to every-day life.

This may seem a digression; and yet, in the very outset, it is necessary to place this work upon the right footing, and to impress with all possible earnestness the fact, that Household Science holds every other science in tribute, and that only that home which starts with this admission and builds upon the best foundation the best that thought can furnish, has any right to the name of "home." The swarms of drunkards, of idiots, of insane, of deaf and dumb, owe their existence to an ignorance of the laws of right living, which is simply criminal, and for which we must be judged; and no word can be too earnest, which opens the young girl's eyes to the fact that in her hands lie not alone her own or her husband's future, but the future of the nation. It is hard to see beyond one's own circle; but if light is sought for, and there is steady resolve and patient effort to do the best for one's individual self, and those nearest one, it will be found that the shadow passes, and that progress is an appreciable thing.

Begin in your own home. Study to make it not only beautiful, but perfectly appointed. If your own hands must do the work, learn every method of economizing time and strength. If you have servants, whether one or more, let the same laws rule. It is not easy, I admit; no good thing is: but there is infinite reward for every effort. Let no failure discourage, but let each one be only a fresh round in the ladder all must climb who would do worthy work; and be sure that the end will reward all pain, all self-sacrifice, and make you truly the mistresses of the home for which every woman naturally and rightfully hopes, but which is never truly hers till every shade of detail in its administration has been mastered.

The house, then, is the first element of home to be considered and studied; and we have settled certain points as to location and arrangement. This is no hand-book of plans for houses, that ground being thoroughly covered in various books,—the titles of two or three of which are given in a list of reference-books at the end. But, whether you build or buy, see to it that your kitchens and working-rooms are well lighted, well aired, and of good size, and that in the arrangement of the kitchen especially, the utmost convenience becomes the chief end. Let sink, pantries, stove or range, and working-space for all operations in cooking, be close at hand. The difference between a pantry at the opposite end of the room, and one opening close to the sink, for instance, may seem a small matter; but when it comes to walking across the room with every dish that is washed, the steps soon count up as miles, and in making even a loaf of bread, the time and strength expended in gathering materials together would go far toward the thorough kneading, which, when added to the previous exertion, makes the whole operation, which might have been only a pleasure, a burden and an annoyance.

Let, then, stove, fuel, water, work-table, and pantries be at the same end of the kitchen, and within a few steps of one another, and it will be found that while the general labor of each day must always be the same, the time required for its accomplishment will be far less, under these favorable conditions. The successful workman,—the type-setter, the cabinet-maker, or carpenter,—whose art lies in the rapid combination of materials, arranges his materials and tools so as to be used with the fewest possible movements; and the difference between a skilled and unskilled workman is not so much the rate of speed in movement, as in the ability to make each motion tell. The kitchen is the housekeeper's workshop; and, in the chapter on House-work, some further details as to methods and arrangements will be given.

Taken from:

Adapted to Domestic Use or Study in Classes

Copyright 1903
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