Once upon a time, grown-ups were common; you might find a grown-up at home, at school, on television or in media, in government or in sports. At 65 years, I can report that, “yes, at one time, grown-ups were everywhere”; you could find a couple grown-ups in most every house on most every street. You could recognize the grown-up houses; the lawn was mowed, things were well placed, cared-for and tidy, the house was clean, was painted, was polite to neighbors, open to friends, welcoming to strangers. The more grown-up, the more traditional was the house; fads were the fashion of children, singularity was reserved for the piteous.
Yes, of course there was innovation, innovation within tradition. Tradition more than innovation allows commonality between persons, commonality of persons differing in ability, income, status; tradition allows community between groups differing in interests, intentions, hopes; maturity allows growth, as in the full earth’s regulated rhythms, each thing to its time, place, season. Nothing grows from nothing, only in tradition can a thing grow.
Once upon a time, children grew up to adulthood, to responsibility for sustaining tradition into next generations. The visual history of our nation, generation into generation, can be seen in the houses we grew into, house styles that expand within tradition. You will notice that your parents’ parents had good taste, and their parents, better, neither class, race, nor political-opinion separated grown-up agreement in taste.
Always (well, since Jefferson), the grown-up house featured division of public and private space, active and leisure space, an arrangement of rooms through the measure of the day, neither more space nor less space than was suited to expense and means, neither more space nor less space than was suited to body’s need and mind’s requirement. The grown-up house was seldom ostentatious, unless an advertisement of frivolous status; the grown-up house was seldom peculiar, unless a peacock display of the insecure; the grown-up house was easy in confidence, quiet in authority, simple in beauty, well mixed of feminine and masculine, balanced in its face, and balanced upon the street.
Always, the grown-up house allowed a pride in family, reserved, measuring its worth against its worthy neighbors; always, the grown-up house allowed a pride of inheritance, restrained, tempering excesses of style in respect to neighbors; always, the grown-up house regarded itself by behaving like an adult, rationally, with restraint, responsible to itself, responsible for civilization.
On my street, grown-up houses were of many styles from many places, as the people of my street were from many places of many traditions: Ireland, Lebanon, Nigeria, Germany, San Juan, Boston, Israel, England, Kentucky, Poland (best I remember). The house style might be Tudor, Spanish, Ranch, Georgian, Italian though always dressed as Americans of these united states, in fellowship, even when not in perfect agreement. These were grownups growing into American liberty with respect in themselves, and consideration of others.
You will notice that the grown-up house does not brag a two-story foyer then sneak into a one-story behind; does not shout with a dozen gables when one will do; does not bully its neighbor; does not wear a dress, a tuxedo, a bikini and mittens, at the same time; does not pretend to be a castle or spaceship when it is merely the house next door.
Yes, grown-ups are rare, these days. Yes, house-builders seduce with a candy-counter of sweets. Yes, youth tends to be bold in ignorance, poor in wisdom, bankrupt of culture, indifferent to tradition. And yet, upon occasion, youth grows to achieve wisdom in humility, to find richness in civilization, respect for neighbors, respect for tradition. You have noticed, I expect, a return to traditional houses, to traditional homes in almost equal measure to the excess of progressive entertainments in media, of forceful corporate pressures, of a bossy government that will manage, treat, and instruct citizens as though we were children.
Tradition is so very large that it tends to dissolve variations into itself, as now again we see tradition do. Next time, the second part of this consideration will lend particular advice on how to grow up each room of a house, either in decoration, in renovation, or in construction. Later this month, The Beautiful Home begins its graphic, American House Styles, which will picture the growth of each and every major period and regional house style.
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