OPEN HOUSE by Merritt Ierley


A Guided Tour of the American Home, 1637-Present
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A guided tour of the floor plan of American civilization, noting the evolution of the American home—from structure to function, from heating to plumbing, and from colonial times to today. Despite social historian Ierley’s (Traveling the National Road, not reviewed, etc.) technical expertise, one does not need a degree in drywall to appreciate his down-home view of American culture. Here, for example, is the author’s functional prose on one of the most characteristic symbols of our traditional cultural openness: “Veneration of Mount Vernon, and its great piazza, was clearly an important element in the popularization of the front porch.” He gives us a chronology of entire homes, beginning with “arguably the oldest living relative of the American house,” the Fairbanks House of Dedham, Mass. (1637). Even though the house was built shortly after the Pilgrims arrived, this two-story, four-room home is described as nearly “modern,” despite its lack of indoor plumbing and electricity. With the large room near the hearth for cooking, and the spinning wheel for working (few people seemed to have commuted to work in the 17th century), the origin of the “living” room becomes clear. Guests were brought to a “best room,” which evolved into a dining room and parlor; we are also made privy to the location of the outhouse. According to Ierley, basements were once the closest things to refrigerators, although two vises and a turning lathe attest to the antiquity of the cellar workshop. More than 200 photos and line drawings illustrate the many architectural styles and features that the layperson has seen but often cannot identify. A time line, source notes, and bibliography prove just how solid a foundation Ierley has dug for this book. For anyone excited by the wood, brick, stone, and mortar of how Americans have expressed themselves in their choice of shelter, this multistory book is zoned for pleasure. (First serial to American Heritage)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8050-4847-5
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1999


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