Read CHAPTER VI of The House that Jill Built after Jack's had proved a failure, free online book, by E. C. Gardner, on


“Perhaps Jack will remember,” said Jill, as she prepared to explain her plans, “that we examined not long ago a large number of somewhat pretentious houses, but did not find one that was satisfactory, the defects being usually in what I should call the working department of the house. The large front rooms were often exceedingly charming, elegantly furnished and well arranged.”

“For which reason,” said Jack, “the family seemed to be religiously kept out of them unless they had on their company manners and their Sunday clothes, or wished to make themselves particularly miserable by having a wedding, a sewing society or an evening party.”

“The rear boundary of the dining-room seemed like Mason and Dixon’s line in the old times; once beyond it, we entered a region ’without law or ornament or order,’ a realm of architectural incompetence, confusion and evil work if it is fair to call the arrangements of the domestic part of a house an architectural matter.”

“Certainly it is,” Jack affirmed, “and it’s my opinion that no architect ought to receive his diploma until he has served one year in a first-class family as cook, butler and maid-of-all-work.”

“One would almost be inclined to think that such an experience, with another year at bridge building, had been with certain ’practical architects and builders’ the entire course of study.”

“It was plain enough,” Jill continued, “that these houses were planned by men, who were not only ignorant of the details of housework but who held them in low esteem, as of no special importance. They evidently exhausted their room and their resources on what they are pleased to call the ‘main’ part of the house, leaving the kitchen and all its accessories to be fashioned out of the chips and fragments that remained. It would be a similar thing if a man should build a factory, fill it with machinery, furnish and equip the offices, warerooms and shipping docks, but leave no room for the engine that is to drive the whole or for the fuel that feeds the engine. When ‘we women’ practice domestic architecture, as we surely ought and shall,

“When it’s fashionable.”

“ we shall change all that. If there can be but two good rooms in a house it is better to have a kitchen and sitting-room than a dining-room and parlor. I propose to begin at the other end of the problem in planning our house. It may not suit anybody else, but if it suits Jack and I it will be a model home.”

“That sentiment is a solid foundation to build upon,” said the architect. “I wish it was more popular. Build to suit yourselves, not your neighbors.”

“And now if you will walk into my kitchen, which is not up nor down a winding stair? but on the same level with the dining-room, you shall judge whether it can be made a stern reality or must always remain the ghostly wing of a castle in the air. The approach from outside is through the little entry at the farther corner, where ’the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker,’ the grocer, the fish-man, the milk-man and the ice-man bring their offerings. The other entrance is by way of the lobby adjoining the main staircase hall. This lobby or ‘garden entrance’ is a sort of Mugby Junction, where we can take the cars for the cellar, for the second floor by the back stairs route, for the dining-room or for out of doors, and where we find refreshment in the way of a wash-basin and minor toilet conveniences. Under the main staircase there is also a large closet opening into this same lobby. My kitchen you see has windows at opposite sides, not only to admit plenty of light, for cleanliness is a child of light

“That’s true,” said Jack. “In a dark room it’s hard to tell a dried blueberry from a dried currant.”

“Not only for light, but that the summer breezes may sweep through it when the windows are open, and, as far as possible, keep a river of fresh air rollings between the cooking range and the dining-room. It is long and narrow, that it may have ample wall space and yet keep the distance between the engine and machine shop, that is, the range with its appurtenances, and the packing-room I mean the butler’s pantry as short as possible.”

“I’m glad there’s going to be a ‘butler’s pantry,’ it sounds so stylish. I notice that among people who have accommodations for a ‘butler’ in their house plans, about one in a hundred keeps the genuine article. All the rest keep a waitress or a ‘second girl.’ Sometimes the cook, waitress, butler, chambermaid, valet and housekeeper are all combined in one tough and versatile handmaiden.”

“Well, call it china closet, though it is really something more than that, or serving-room, or dining-room pantry whatever you please. We shall keep two servants in the house, one of whom will wait on the table; consequently I do not want a door from this room-of-many-names to the kitchen. It is much easier to maintain the dignity and order that belong to our precious pottery, our blue and crackled ware, our fair and frail cut glass, if they are not exposed to frequent attacks from the kitchen side. There is, however, an ample sliding door or window in the partition, and a wide serving table before it, on which the cook will deposit the dinner as she takes it from the range. A part of the top of this table is of slate, and may be kept hot by steam or hot water from the range. With but one servant it would of course be necessary to make the route from the kitchen range to the dining-room table more direct.”

“What if you had none?”

“If I had none, my kitchen, dining-room, store-room, china-closet, butler’s pantry and all the blessed facilities for cooking, serving and removing the meals should be within a radius of ten feet. How any mortal woman with a soul above dress trimmings can be content to spend three hours in preparing meals to be eaten in thirty minutes passes my comprehension. When I ‘do my own work,’ as Aunt Jerusha says, there will be no extra steps, no extra dishes, no French cooking, no multiplying of ‘courses.’”

“No cards, no cake, no style.”

“Yes, indeed! The most distinguished and elegant style. Such style as is not possible except where all the household service is performed by the most devoted, the most thoughtful, the most intelligent, if I may say so

“Certainly the most intelligent, amiable, accomplished and altogether lovely member of the family. I agree to that.”

“There will be no pretense of style if that is what you mean, no vain endeavor to conceal poverty or ignorance, but a delightful Arcadian candor and simplicity that will leave the mistress of the house, who is also housekeeper, nurse, cook, dairymaid, butler, waitress, laundress, seamstress, governess and family physician, abundant time and strength for such other occupations and amusements as may be most congenial. It would be a delightful way of living, and I should not hesitate to try it if I felt certain that I had a soul above dress trimmings. I am not willing to be a household drudge, overwhelmed by the ‘work that is never done;’ therefore, to be on the safe side, we will keep two servants.

“The cooking range, whether of the portable or ‘set’ kind, will have a brick wall behind it and at each side, which, carried above, will form a sort of canopy to conduct into the chimney the superfluous heat in warm weather and the steam and smoke from cooking at all times. I suppose some housekeepers would object to separating the two pantries, but they have no common interests requiring close proximity. The kitchen pantry is a store-room and a kind of private laboratory, where the mysterious experiments are made that develop our taste for esthetic cooking and give us an experimental knowledge of dyspepsia. Its operations precede the work of the range to which it is a near neighbor, as it ought to be. It has also the merit of being in the cool northwest corner of the house, with small windows on two adjacent sides, which are better than a single window, for the air of a store-room or pantry cannot be changed too freely in warm weather.

“Do you see the closets at the end of this pantry? One is for ice, which is shoved in through a little door just above the sink where it is brought by the ice-man; the other is for a cold closet and is built in such a way as to get the full benefit of its cold-blooded neighbor. Don’t forget, in making the plan, that the door through which the ice slides must be large enough to take in the largest cakes, and must be so arranged that after being washed at the sink they will slide easily without lifting or banging into their proper places inside.”

“And let me suggest,” said the architect, “that the waste-pipe that carries off the melted ice be allowed to run straight out of doors, without making the acquaintance of the sewer or any other drain-pipe.”

“Please remember that then, as well as the door. The kitchen sink is at the west end of the room, between and under two windows, which must be at least three feet from the floor. It is near to the pantry door, to accommodate the dishes used in cooking; yet not so near that one cannot stand beside it without danger of being roasted or broiled; near to the cellar door, from whence come the Murphys and other vegetables to have their faces washed and their eyes put out. Of course there is a china sink in the china closet, to insure tender treatment for all the table ware, and I should like a sort of window or slide behind the sideboard opening through it. Sometimes it will be convenient for the waitress to arrange the articles to be used on the table within reach from the dining-room side, and save a special journey whenever a dish, or a spoon is changed.”

“It strikes me,” said Jack, “that when it comes to spoons you’re drawing it pretty fine. I suppose these are modern improvements, but how much better will the dinners be than the dinners cooked in my kitchen? Two servants will do all the work for the same wages.”

“Real labor-saving is a religious duty, like all other economy; and if we don’t have better domestic service with better facilities for doing work the fault is our own.”

“But I don’t see that this kitchen is any better than mine.”

“Of course you don’t; you’re a man; but for one thing, your china closet hasn’t even a window of its own. How do you expect glasses to be made clean and silver bright in such a place? Now observe my plan: Not only is the kitchen light, but the entry where the ice comes in, the pantry where the food is prepared, the butler’s pantry, the stairs to the cellar and to the second floor, and Mugby Junction, are all light. There isn’t a dark corner on the premises, and consequently no excuse for uncleanness or accidents.”

“Just think of the flies.”

“Windows are easily darkened. But I am not quite ready to talk over these minor matters. The general plan is the first thing, and I think you will agree with me that it is well begun.”

“According to Poor Richard, then, it is half done. So it’s time for recess.”

“Very well; way of change let us look at the plans of brother Ted’s house in Kansas. Its situation is different from ours, as it stands on a high bluff in a bend of the Missouri, and the parlor looks over the water in three different directions, up and down and across the river. The piazza seems to be arranged to make the most of this situation, and Ted thinks it impossible to contrive a more charming arrangement for hall, parlor and dining-room. They use the parlor as a common sitting-room, and the hall still more commonly, especially in warm weather. Ted doesn’t realize that half the charm of the house lies in its adaptation to the site.”

“That ought to be the case with every country or suburban house.”

“It certainly will not fit our lot, and it seems to me best suited for a summer home or for a warm climate.”

Here Jack was called to his office, and Jill withdrew to attend to some household duties, first requesting the architect to redraw the plans so as to show accurately the construction and details.

“That is to say,” said Jack, “while Jill makes a pudding for dinner and I write a business letter of three lines, you are to lay out in complete shape the plans for a house containing all the modern abominations and improvements, that will cost ten thousand dollars, occupy two years in building and last forever. That’s a modest request.”

“Not extravagant compared with the demands often made upon domestic architects, for it involves no downright contradictions. I am not asked to show how a house worth ten thousand dollars can be built for five, or to break the Golden Rule, or to change the multiplication table and the cardinal points of the compass.”