Monday, December 5, 2011

"a thing of trifling importance"

"Bagatelle" Home of Architect Thomas Hastings.
From American Country Houses of Toady, 1915
THE DETAIL OF THE FRONT ENTRANCE WITH ITS INTERESTING DECORATION The portal is graceful. An interlacing arabesque decoration in color adds interest to vault overhead.
Here, in the birthplace of William Cullen Bryant's "Thanatopsis", we find the home of another, swayed by the love of the beautiful, the ideal. So closely is the house of Mr. Thomas Hastings snuggled up to the native woods near Roslyn, L. I., that it is well-nigh impossible to get an uninterrupted view of the southern frontage. We have to dodge under the great oaks on the terrace to see it at all in certain lights. It is some few years since Mr. Hastings built his first house in the woods of Roslyn. It was destroyed by fire two years ago and the present house is a rebuilding with some slight changes, but the original plan remains intact. The house is made a little longer by the addition of two porches, one on the east and the other on the west side. The long alley-way of linden trees, possibly the most successfully trimmed linden alley-way in this section of the country, the ivy-covered walling upon the other side of the court and the big oaks on the terrace fortunately remain unimpaired by the fire. The loggia decorations have been changed and repainted. The walls, seriously damaged, had to be pulled down and rebuilt. It is interesting to see that there is not any serious change. The plan remains. It was found to be workable and comfortable. It will always be remembered as the house which an architect built for himself. It is built in the woods without any remarkable view of the distance. The house is adapted to the trees. It is found, by careful study of the property, that a long, open vista opens through the center of the estate. It is this natural opening which has been accepted as the axial line. In a general way, the court runs northeast and southwest, and along that exposure, the outline of which the setting sun illumines so wonderfully, is a retaining wall, some eighteen feet in height.
"The appropriation for a house should be divided into two equal parts, one-half for the house, the other for the gardens, pathways, court, approach, terrace and the rest of it, or, as it might be termed, one-half for the pudding, the other for the sauce," as the architect facetiously said some time ago. Indeed, it seems to have been accepted as the general aim of the architect's office.
The main entrance is in the far corner, and is partly concealed by tall cedars .
It is somewhat foolish to speak of it as a French, English or Italian house. It is a little of each. English, possibly in its enrichment within. The underside of the loggia has the decorative painting, which is French in detail. But the general plan is undoubtedly the product of American needs, American requirements. You feel that as you enter; you feel it as you examine the blue print plan, or as you study it in detail or mass. It is difficult to look at this very delightful entrance, with its central arch, its delicately painted barrel vaulting and slender marble columns, without recalling vividly the loggia to the Pazzi chapel at Santa Croce, Florence, by that indomitable little personality, Filippo Brunelleschi, the enthusiastic comrade 
THERE IS A DELIGHTFUL AIR OF PRIVACY AND PROTECTION IN THE COURT The white light of the picture is the marble fountain, and the arched entrance beyond it
of Donatello and, for a time, of Ghiberti. In its graceful proportion, it recalls not a little the arcade of the portico of Saint Annunziata and Spedale degli Innocenti. There is an Etrurian influence to be seen in the cap and elsewhere. This house is the work of a man who determined to indulge himself in just one little architectural note, and that as infinitely beautiful as he could possibly make it. It is of white marble, an exquisite detail like the little Saint Ambrose chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, but recently completed and dedicated to daily service. It is the accent of the house. The rest of the house is fearlessly, deliciously, almost impertinently bereft of the usual, I might almost say, the too usual trimmings, thought essential to an architectural composition of any moment. It is of hard, well burnt brick.
FROM THE COURT WE GET THE ACADEMIC ACCENT AS WLLL AS THE PICTURESQUE SETTING Here is a delightful study in textures and color. Romance plays an Important part in the planting. The fountain is a relic of old Verona .

ONE OF THE DIFFICULT THINGS TO TREAT IN A HOUSE IS THE STAIRCASE The wrought-iron balustrading is introduced from an interesting old European fragment.

Within, it is full of color. The wall of the hall is blue. It is by means of a red-tile staircase that we climb to the upper story. The balustrading is of wrought-iron, taken from a fragment of old work which Mr. Hastings fortunately found in Europe. The ceiling is an old Italian painter's work of considerable merit, and very beautiful and low in tone. The dining-room is an English example of wall panelling of the eighteenth century. The painting of the ceiling is of a religious significance of the same period. The library, the largest room in the house, is a portion of the original building, 

SHOW ME THE HOUSE AND I WILL INFORM YOU OF THE MAN. The library of a student, alive to the importance of practical affairs, and a lover of beauty.

 which survived the fire. It was rebuilt in part. The owner is fond, among other things, of maps, charts, plans and surveys. Above the books are lockers, an ingenious contrivance whereby the maps may be hauled down or rolled up, as you will, out of sight but forever within reach.
The unfortunate fire, which destroyed so much of the house that it had to be rebuilt from start to finish, gives us a very pleasing side-light upon the skill of the distinguished owner, who happens to have been his own architect. To me it is interesting to see that it was rebuilt, not redesigned, because it shows a confidence in the former judgment and that the house had been excellent, gratifying all expectations. There is a subtle satisfaction in this when we realize how few houses survive the intimate relation of daily life! Do they not too often resemble people, in that while our friendship may be delightful and satisfying for a time, a protracted acquaintance might prove fatal. The qualities that win, sometimes fail to hold. Very prettily do 
THIS SUGGESTS THE COMFORT AND RESTRAINT OF AN ENGLISH DINING-ROOM The accent is the decoration of the ceiling and the painting of Augustus St. Gaudens near window.

certain people attract by the bright sparkle of their wit, oft basking in the sunshine of their own verbosity, as Beaconsfield used to say, while the audience applauds in the offing and things go well and the goose hangs high! But they tire, they weary and even applause bores. Yes, many houses are very much like people of whom we experience sad disappointment.
The accompanying sketch shows that a large portion of the Roslyn estate remains practically in its original condition. Much of it is not even enclosed with a fence. So insidiously has the architect added to the scene a well devised house with accompanying outbuildings and garden that the romance and beauty of the property is unimpaired. The building stands on a small elevated plateau surrounded by dense woods. Look at the sketch. The house court with barn, gardener's cottage and garage are enclosed with a high wall. By the planting of a long pleached avenue of linden trees additional shelter and a strong decorative accent has been given, forming the westerly side of the court.
The views show informal vista from terrace to arbor and general location of things. It reveals pathways and varying levels. Woods are supplemented in places by small trees of their own kind. MR. THOMAS HASTINGS' HOME AT ROSLYN, L. I. 207
 Beyond the terrace pavement, descending some thirty feet or more, are the meadow and vegetable garden you passed as you arrived from the station, only so entertained were you by the extended grape vine covered pergola skirting the roadway that you failed to see it all. Even the observant fail to catch some of the beautiful green things such as the dwarf mountain mugho pine bushes which cover in an irregular fashion the surface of the slope. These effective little evergreens from the mountains of Switzerland are very serviceable, being of the type which clings to the ground, resembling somewhat juniper and enriching without darkening.
The principal rooms are indicated upon the plan. A is the entrance hall, B the living room, C the dining room, D the library. There are two mentions of the letter E, which mark the little loggia at each end of the house. The sketch also shows the southern and westerly terrace and the hedging of box or privet which accents desirable boundaries. Here is the green of the forest, that is, of the natural Long Island woods, plus the acquired green bushes of varying kinds planted between the larger oaks as seemed essential to intensify a certain well-defined climax. It is very peaceful; in color it is green, the green of a thousand palettes, with all the modifications the Oriental mind can conceive, and it is a sunshiny place.
Vases, and wide, open-mouthed pots, low squat tubs with sturdy box, laurel and magnolia trees, jars reminding us of the famous Arabian Nights story of The Forty Thieves, a well head, sedilia and fountain from one of the southern principalities of the energetic King Rene, who strove in the good Renaissance days to restore to art and letters some semblance of the regard in which the ancients had held them, occupy prominent places in the court. They assail our hearts with a thousand memories. Some will recall with delight the Oriental prince who, among many other occupations, was enamoured of the gentle art of gardening, and who, while enjoying the designing of large places whose dignity and inches required the larger frame of nature, clung tenaciously to little inanimate things which to him were ever alive. He treasured these for the messages they whispered to him of old civilizations never far distant. The earthen jar into wich Marjaneh poured the boiling oil so thoughtlessly upon the forty thieves is not only a nursery romance but a decorative note. It strikes a key in the kingdom of the painter as inspiringly as a dandelion-bestarred meadow or the fugitive smile on the countenance of his fair mistress.
In a whimsical mood, Mr. Hastings named the house "Bagatelle" an Italian word absorbed by the French, the true meaning of which is "a thing of trifling importance." And, architect-like, he supplements with a motto —Parva sed apta, "small but fit."

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