May 07, 2012

"The Entrance" by Clarence Cook

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The main hall of the Samuel M. Nickerson mansion. Photo: Hedrich Blessing for the Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

A few words, in the beginning, about the “Hall,” as, in our American love of fine names, we are wont to call what, in nine cases out of ten, even in houses of pretension, is nothing but an entry or passage-way. A hall (aula) must be a large room, large at least in proportion to the size of the house; and such a hall is rare to see in our modern city houses. Our old-fashioned houses had often halls; I remember some in houses about the Common in Boston, and some in old towns like Gloucester and Hingham, that were handsome, and that, seen to-day, give a pleasant idea of the comfort and substantial elegance enjoyed by many not over-rich people in old times, when the population was not so thick as it is to-day. … As in meeting a man or a woman, so in entering a house, the first impression generally goes a great way in shaping our judgment. If, on passing the door, we find ourselves in a passage six feet wide, with a hat-stand on one side reducing it to four feet, and the bottom step of the staircase coming to within six feet of the door-way in front of us, and a gaselier dropping to within a foot of our head, we get an impression of something that is not precisely generosity, and which is not removed … by the fact that the hat-rack was made by Herter, that the carpet on the stairs is Wilton, and that the gaselier is one of Tiffany’s imported masterpieces.

—from Chapter 1 (“The Entrance”) in The House Beautiful: Essays on Beds and Tables, Stools and Candlesticks, by Clarence Cook. New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co., 1878.

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