THE COMFORTABLE HOUSE: North American Suburban Architecture 1890--1930 by Alan Gowans

THE COMFORTABLE HOUSE: North American Suburban Architecture 1890--1930

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Superb popular review of American houses in the post-Victorian era and how they embody the times and the people's desires. The styles of a bursting profusion of dwellings are studied: the bungalows and suburban cottages, the foursquares and colonials (Spanish, French, Dutch, German, English), the Mission, Georgian, Cape Cod saltbox, Gothic, Tudor, and Queen Anne styles of the ""comfortable house,"" all of them houses still lived in by millions of people today. For rich and poor alike, these were the tasteful houses of democracy on its way to fulfillment. Officially, the country was ""dedicated to the propertied family, to the sanctity of traditional marriage. These two could not ultimately survive together""; democracy was producing too many false notes. The family was actually collapsing; democratic equality was producing ""sequential polyandry or polygamy predicated on the waxing and waning of physical attraction between two absolute legal equals."" The rising divorce rate, from 1850 onward, was blamed on birth control, too much female education (""they're overeducated for homemaking""), automobiles, and promiscuity ""that makes [women] chafe in the marriage bond later."" Such unsettled times gave the Comfortable House--often available directly from Montgomery Ward, Sears, and Aladdin catalogs--its character of solid workmanship and materials, open and sunny layout, and central heating with several other built-in amenities. Gowans says three basic, comfortable qualities were being projected: "". . .security in the sense of defense against the world; roots in the past, especially a colonial and English past; and virtue in the sense of family stability. In sum, it projected that 'unspeakable comfort' promised by Calvinist tradition to the Elect, now secularized."" In its way, the Comfortable House was a bulwark against time, available to all, but really a castle in the sand. Nicely illustrated with architects' plans and photographs of common houses still with us from the old days.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1986
Publisher: MIT Press