from Cottage Residences (1842)
n 1842 Downing followed his landscape study with Cottage Residences, a book devoted to architectural design and one that began his famous collaboration with the architect Alexander Jackson Davis (1803-92). It was a marriage of talents made in heaven. Davis had honed his architectural skills in New York City in the 1820s and in 1829 he formed a partnership with Ithiel Town, which would soon become one of the most prominent architectural offices in the country specializing in the classical style. Despite its success, Davis broke up the partnership in 1835, in part because his interests had veered away from classicism through his own deepening appreciation for the undisturbed American landscape. He now became a residential designer in search of an American style, and in 1836 (in renovating a country estate for Robert Donaldson) he wrapped a veranda around three sides of an existing house to frame and feature the view out toward the Hudson River. When Downing visited the residence a few years later in search of new ideas, he was impressed with the informal sensitivity of the architect and traveled into New York City to meet him personally.
The result of their first collaboration - Cottage Residences - was an extremely popular ''how to'' manual for residential design for which Davis prepared the drawings (and two very important designs) and Downing supplied sketches for designs and provided the text. The book opens with the chapter ''Architectural Suggestions,'' in which Downing now elaborates upon his three principles of good residential design and offers a wealth of ideas on how best to make a home both functional and expressive of the sentiments of the occupants. The preface, which is reprinted here, offers an overview of his broader intentions. The great American love affair with a single-family house set within a suburban landscape begins here, and the formula would prove congruous with the geographic conditions of the United States.
A hearty desire to contribute something to the improvement of the domestic architecture and the rural taste of our country, has been the motive which has influenced me in preparing this little volume. With us, almost every man either builds, or looks forward to building, a home for himself, at some period of his life; it may be only a log-hut, or a most rustic cottage, but perhaps also a villa, or a mansion. As yet, however, our houses are mostly either of the plainest and most meagre description, or, if of a more ambitious, they are frequently of a more objectionable character - shingle palaces, of very questionable convenience, and not in the least adapted by their domestic and rural beauty to harmonize with our lovely natural landscapes.
Now I am desirous that every one who lives in the country, and in a country-house, should be in some degree conversant with domestic architecture, not only because it will be
Andrew Jackson Downing, from Cottage Residences (1842), reprinted in Victorian Cottage Residences. New York: Dover, 1981, pp. vi-x.
likely to improve the comfort of his own house, and hence all the houses in the country, but that it will enlarge his mind, and give him new sources of enjoyment.
It is not my especial object at this moment to dwell upon the superior convenience which may be realized in our houses, by a more familiar acquaintance with architecture. The advantages of an ingeniously arranged and nicely adapted plan, over one carelessly and ill-contrived, are so obvious to every one, that they are self-evident. This is the ground-work of domestic architecture, the great importance of which is recognized by all mankind, and some ingenuity and familiarity with practical details are only necessary to give us compact, convenient, and comfortable houses, with the same means and in the same space as the most awkward and unpleasing forms.
But I am still more anxious to inspire in the minds of my readers and countrymen livelier perceptions of the beautiful, in everything that relates to our houses and grounds. I wish to awaken a quicker sense of the grace, the elegance, or the picturesqueness of fine forms that are capable of being produced in these by Rural Architecture and Landscape Gardening - a sense which will not only refine and elevate the mind, but open to it new and infinite resources of delight. There are perhaps a few upon whose souls nearly all emanations of beauty fall impressionless; but there are also many who see the Beautiful, in nature and art, only feebly and dimly, either from the want of proper media through which to view her, or a little direction as to where she is to be found. How many, too, are there, who even discover the Beautiful in a picture or a statue, who yet fail to admire her, rounding with lines of grace, and touching with shades of harmony all common nature, and pervading silently all material forms! "Men,'' says Goethe, "are so inclined to content themselves with what is commonest, so easily do the spirit and the sense grow dead to the impression of the Beautiful and the Perfect, that every person should strive to nourish in his mind the faculty of feeling these things, by everything in his power, for no man can bear to be wholly deprived of such enjoyment; it is only because they are not used to taste of what is excellent, that the generality of people take delight in silly and insipid things, provided they be new. For this reason, every day one ought to see a fine picture, read a good poem, hear a little song, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.''
It is in this regard that I wish to inspire all persons with a love of beautiful forms, and a desire to assemble them around their daily walks of life. I wish them to appreciate how superior is the charm of that home where we discover the tasteful cottage or villa, and the well designed and neatly kept garden or grounds, full of beauty and harmony, - not the less beautiful and harmonious, because simple and limited; and to become aware that these superior forms, and the higher and more refined enjoyment derived from them, may be had at the same cost and with the same labor as a clumsy dwelling, and its uncouth and ill-designed accessories.
More than all, I desire to see these sentiments cherished for their pure moral tendency. "All beauty is an outward expression of inward good,'' and so closely are the Beautiful and the True allied, that we shall find, if we become sincere lovers of the grace, the harmony, and the loveliness with which rural homes and rural life are capable of being invested, that we are silently opening our hearts to an influence which is higher and deeper than the mere symbol; and that if we thus worship in the true spirit, we shall attain a nearer view of the Great Master, whose words, in all his material universe, are written in lines of Beauty.
And how much happiness, how much pure pleasure, that strengthens and invigorates our best and holiest affections, is there not experienced in bestowing upon our homes something of grace and loveliness - in making the place dearest to our hearts a sunny spot, where the social sympathies take shelter securely under the shadowy eaves, or grow and entwine trustfully with the tall trees or wreathed vines that cluster around, as if striving to shut out whatever of bitterness or strife may be found in the open highways of the world. What an unfailing barrier against vice, immorality, and bad habits, are those tastes which lead us to embellish a home, to which at all times and in all places we turn with delight, as being the object and the scene of our fondest cares, labors, and enjoyments; whose humble roof, whose shady porch, whose verdant lawn and smiling flowers, all breathe forth to us, in true, earnest tones, a domestic feeling that at once purifies the heart, and binds us more closely to our fellow-beings!
In this volume, the first yet published in this country devoted to Rural Architecture, I am conscious of offering but a slight and imperfect contribution to this important subject, which I trust will be the precursor of more varied and complete works from others, adapted to our peculiar wants and climate. The very great interest now beginning to manifest itself in rural improvements of every kind, leads us to believe and to hope, that at no distant day our country residences may rival the ''cottage homes of England,'' so universally and so justly admired.
The relation between a country house and its ''surroundings'' has led me to consider, under the term residences, both the architectural and the gardening designs. To constitute an agreeable whole, these should indeed have a harmonious correspondence, one with the other; and although most of the following designs have not actually been carried into execution, yet it is believed that they will, either entirely or in part, be found adapted to many cases of every-day occurrence, or at least furnish hints for variations suitable for peculiar circumstances and situations.
Was this article helpful?
Character-Building Thought Power by Ralph Waldo Trine. Ralph draws a distinct line between bad and good habits. In this book, every effort is made by the writer to explain what comprises good habits and why every one needs it early in life. It draws the conclusion that habits nurtured in early life concretize into impulses in future for the good or bad of the subject.