During the Civil War, a New York lawyer, R. B. Roosevelt was checking out options of getting a house erected on his new country plot in Flushings, New York. He writes:
...the first thing to do toward building my intended house was to prepare the plans. A large house--a huge pile of wood or brick--is an abomination, and it costs so outrageously (the profit of loss was never out of my mind); but there seems to be a limit in reduction of size that can not be surpassed. I at once proceeded to lay out an admirable plan for a house twenty-four feet square, a neat, nice, cosy, comfortable little cottage; and this is an economical size, because it requires precisely two lenths of board. I arranged for a grand hall through the centre, and a piazza round three sides; there were four rooms on each floor, and it would have been perfection had not the parlor and dining-room proved to be only about seven feet by twelve, which, after some careful measurements, was determined to be rather small.
However, the plan had so many recommendations that I determined to make an effort with it. In my younger days I had passed much time in Connecticut, and had there seen houses of the nicest kind, attractive inside and out, and which were said to cost only a few thousand dollars apiece.
A friend of mine, residing on Long Island Sound, had imported one, which came to him cut out, sawed and marked, ready to be put up. So, having determined to try something of the same nature, I inquired the name of the maker, and sent him my plan, requesting an estimate. Instead of returning me an estimate by which I could readily calculate for a little increase of size, the stupid fellow replied that he would come to New York and show me some plans of his own. I wrote a severe letter in answer, saying that I wanted an estimate, not a plan. Since then I have not heard from the gentleman, and believe he is still studying out the beauties of my arrangement, and will, one of these days, come before the world as a great architect on the strength of my abilities.
Not to be put down or deterred, however, I made other plans, some of which had the kitchen outside, some in the basement, and others on the first floor. In one there was a piazza on all sides, in another there was no piazza whatever; some had the servants in the garret, others placed them in the cellar. I was ready to erect an entirely new house, or to convert an old barn that was near the premises into two or three houses. There was nothing that my resources were not equal to, and the drawings would have furnished quite a new stock in trade for a young architect.
My friends gave me their advice. They respectively assured me that I could not live with my kitchen in a wing, and could not exist if it were any where else; that I would be robbed if the servants were in the attic, and robbed and murdered if they were on the ground floor; that no house was worth building unless it were filled in with brick, and that brick filling was a mere waste of money; that it would be hot as an oven if it was not double boarded, or if it was double boarded and not double plastered ; that every floor must be deafened, or that the noise overhead would be unendurable, and that deafening would be of no use whatever; that the roof must be of gravel, or it would leak, and if made of gravel it would break the entire building down; that oiling was the true mode of protecting the woodwork, and that nothing whatever but paint would answer ; that the natural wood was the most beautiful trimming, and that only stained or painted woodwork was decent; that the proper way was to paper the walls, and that no paper would stick on fresh walls. There was much more equally valuable advice, for which I was exceedingly grateful, and desire again publicly to thank my friends.
While ruminating over these statements and my various different projects, I was struck with the appearance of a neat little house in one of the streets of the village. It was a parallelogram, which is the most practical and economical shape for a house, and had a modest little piazza in front, and a pretty French roof above. The internal arrangement, with such modifications as my superior experience immediately dictated, was absolute perfection. The building was only twenty-four feet by thirty-six, yet there were seven comfortable rooms on the first and second floors, the parlor moderately large, the dining-room long and narrow to suit a dinner-table, and the bedrooms of admirable proportion. I determined at once, with the heroism of self-control, to abandon my own fancies, and to look and think no farther; but, having completed my modifications, gave them to a draughtsman, to be expressed in builders' signs and particularized with specifications. This event suggested the following beautiful sentiment: It often happens that, while we are roaming over the world to gratify our desires, the precise article for the purpose is at our very doors.
The drawings and specifications were soon made out in gorgeous style; there was a beautiful picture of what the house would look like, with an amount of finish and moulding that did the draughtsman great credit, showing the inside and outside, sections and ground plans, stairs and closets; and the specifications provided how every nail was to be driven, and were completed with a minuteness that would set imposition at defiance. When finished, they were submitted to several builders for estimates.
This happened at a time when, although the inflation of gold had passed its culminating point, labor and materials were at their highest. The builders, smarting under the recollection of unprofitable contracts made on a rising market, were deaf to my eloquent observations on the certainty of a rapid fall in the value of articles at a time when the war was manifestly drawing to a close. They had lost faith not only in the ninety-days' theory of our leading modem statesman, but that the rebellion would die other than a lingering death, and refused obstinately to be convinced. Some of them offered to oversee the work on a commission, by which ingenious arrangement the more they wasted the more they would make. Others charged nearly double what was the fair value, insisting upon allowing for a farther rise in prices. One man was so entirely overcome that, after keeping the plans a month, he returned them secretly, ran away, and was never heard of afterward....
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