The Country House/Chapter 8

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AT length I have sent my notions on the site, and generally as to the house with which I trust you are satisfied. Now that I come to more particular description, and to speak of my design in detail, my confidence is somewhat abated, it being exceedingly problematical how far my ideas will accord with your own wishes and expectations. To the best of my ability I have endeavoured to meet both; to fulfil the conditions belonging to the particular subject and occasion; for be it remarked, every production of art is like every poem, a composition on some particular occasion or theme; and if it fails of its purposed aim as such, it may be said to be a failure altogether, and doomed to oblivion; or rather, in my case, to be stuck up as a monument of my ignorance. All that I dare hope as yet, is that the drawings have not been met with a hasty and decided "It won't do;" but that you at least suspend your judgment until I explain more fully my ideas and the motives which have guided me.

The principal sitting-rooms face the south, by which means they will have not only the most favourable aspect, but as it so happens, the best prospect also; therefore, so far you are not likely to start any objection; neither, I presume, will any exception be taken at the situation and aspect of the dining-room, which is towards the east; which last circumstance has induced me almost, as a matter of course, to place the entrance at the west, or opposite end of the house, it being on many accounts objectionable; (with regard to quiet and privacy,) to make the corridor, or inner vestibule running behind and serving as the communication between the principal apartments immediately connected with, or in continuation of the first entrance into the house from the open air; for one reason, because it is hardly possible in such case to prevent a continual current of cold air through the whole of that part of the building. Another point here attended to, is to place the dining-room beyond the other sitting apartments, so that it shall be the last and the most distant from the entrance. Attention to these circumstances have led to that arrangement of the space afforded by the plan which I have adopted. In order both to give some play to that part of the plan, and to avoid all sky-lights, I have broken the north side of the plan by a small court; surrounded on three sides by the house, in such manner that from the corridors, &c. turned towards it, a free prospect of the court and grounds shall present itself from various points of view; whereby an architectural foreground, and the natural scenery beyond it are combined; so that you feel yourself in every part of the house quite in the country.

Permit me now to receive you at the entrance, and be your cicerone over the building; in which character I must, before we proceed further, call attention to the exterior of this part, as you will have perceived by the designs it is carried up loftier than the rest, for the purpose of breaking the outline, and of providing a conspicuous and important feature in a distant view of the building. This tower-like portion of the structure does not carry with it any formidable appearance; it has neither battlements nor watch-turrets, for which there exist no historical grounds. On the contrary, crowned by a rich cupola roof, and ornamented with statues, it serves to announce that the house belongs to a lover of the arts and muses, who may be supposed here to enjoy at once, the refinements of literature and art, and the beauties of cultivated nature. The ground floor of this mass of the building is occupied by the entrance vestibule, which has a vaulted ceiling whose arches descend rather low, and which is lighted directly, by only a single small window at some distance from the floor, but which receives a strong reflected light through the doorways. It is highly desirable that a vestibule, entered immediately from the open air, should be moderately lighted, in order that the eyes may not be too much strained at first, but accustom themselves to in-door light; and also that the other rooms may derive additional effect from the contrast. Most assuredly too, a subdued degree of light will suffice for a vestibule which is not intended for a sitting-room, nor for reading, writing, or any other occupation, consequently, it very properly admits of a kind of Rembrandtish effect, which here becomes rather a merit than a defect; especially as it tends to set off all that follows. A group of statues against the wall facing the entrance, would here produce a good effect on account of the stream of light which would fall upon it from the window, and would make a pleasing impression on the visitor as soon as he had crossed the threshold. Instead of seeing from this vestibule any of the other parts of the house, the situation of the rooms, or those who may be passing through the corridors, we have first to turn to the left, where we perceive the staircase, not however exposed to full view, but merely so as to allow the upper part of it to be seen through a screen, formed of columns placed upon a lofty stylobate; which I conceive would produce a more than ordinary picturesque bit of interior architecture. We do not, however, enter the staircase, but pass on to the hall or inner vestibule, which affords immediate access to the sitting-rooms. Perhaps I may as well mention here, that the servants' hall, &c. for the men-servants would be in the basement at this end of the house, consequently would be just by the entrance.

The hall or inner vestibule is a spacious room overlooking the small flower-court above mentioned, the avenue leading to the stables, and the larger trees on the north side of the house. A small door opens into the court, while one of rich architectural character forms the entrance to the suite of rooms occupying the south or water front of the building. This last mentioned doorway leads into a small anti-room, right and left of which are two moderate sized drawing-rooms, capable of being used as one when the company is numerous. The folding doors being thrown open, and the smaller intermediate room becoming the centre-piece of the triple apartment thus formed. In front of these three rooms is an open loggia on a somewhat lower level, there being a descent to it of four steps, looking immediately upon the water; this loggia would form a sheltered terrace immediately connected with the sitting-rooms which it would also serve to screen from the sun.

The library, which, according to your wishes, is made one of the principal suite of rooms, is the last of those in this front, it being on the south-east angle. It has an alcove or deeply recessed bay with a window in it, which not only affords a very agreeable little snuggery, bower, or whatever else you may term it, for reading or studying, or meditating in apart, but also gives additional spaciousness and variety to the whole apartment. From this room a jib or concealed door opens to the small private staircase, and another of the same kind leads into the flower garden. The larger door on the north side of the room, is that by which we enter the dining-room, to which, as it is upon a lower level, there is a descent of a few steps. The reason for this difference of level is that the room being more spacious requires to be of more height than the others, and also that it may be upon the same level as the terrace looking out upon the flower garden.

Beyond the dining-room, is the serving room, and behind that the kitchen, which, however, does not form part of the body of the house, but is included in the same range of buildings as the stables, being under the same roof. Attached to it is a kitchen court, and it is connected with the rest of the house by the servants' staircase, which last leads both down to the cellars and rooms in the basement, and to those above for the female domestics, to the childrens' rooms, &c.

The stables and conservatories call for no other explanation than what the drawings themselves supply; we will therefore now return to the principal staircase, on one side of which are two rooms not yet mentioned, one of which may be used as a business room.

On ascending the stairs, we have first two stranger's rooms on the left, on the right a billiard-room in the tower, and an upper hall or corridor over that below, and of the same size though not so lofty; this would serve for the children to play in and exercise themselves in winter or bad weather. On the south side of this are two sleeping, and two sitting-rooms, the larger of which might be used as a winter breakfast-room. The larger of the two sleeping-rooms, namely, that over the library is the one you would yourself occupy, it being adjoining the private staircase. On the south side of it is an alcove, raised a few steps above the rest of the floor; and on the east a small dressing-room looking out upon the flower garden. The upper part of the tower contains two other handsome sleeping-rooms, which, as they command a fine prospect, may be appropriated either to visitors or to the grown up members of your family.

It has been my endeavour to give an agreeable variety, play and contrast to the different parts of the interior, which I hope will not displease you; and I trust that the drawings and descriptions of the several apartments, their architectural character and decoration, which will form the subject of my next letter, will shew that while I have adhered to one uniform style throughout, I have neglected neither the variety in the individual parts, nor harmony and unity of expression in the ensemble, but have reconciled together those two, somewhat contrary, yet highly desirable qualities.[1]

Yours, &c.
A. C.

  1. N.B. The Plates II. III. and IV. shew the south, north, and east elevations.

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