There were many different types of housing in this period. The house of a person would indicate their social class and status. Generally, the more rooms that a person had, the wealthier they were. The very very poor people lived on the stairwells in apartment houses. The poor lived in thatched or slate roofed cottages that only contained one room. If the family were slightly better off, they would have a cottage with a kitchen and bedroom. A good dwelling had up to four rooms. The very wealthy had houses with many rooms that included public and private areas as well as areas for the parents, children, and servants.
The wealthy that resided in the city lived in townhouses. In these houses, the kitchen was in the basement. The dining room was on the street level and the drawing room was on the floor above the dining room. If it were a very large townhouse then the dining room and drawing room would be on the same floor. Above the drawing room was the parent’s bedroom and above that were the children’s rooms, and finally above that were the servant’s quarters.
It is very difficult to find much information on houses of the lower classes. Most information is on country houses of the upper class. Since this information was readily available, I focused mainly on country houses. In general country houses contained many rooms including rooms that served no purpose at all. The more rooms and the more decoration that a house contained, the wealthier they were.
The drawing room was the most important room in a country house. This was the domain of the Lady of the house. Here guests called on her, she spent most of her day, and she entertained company at night. This room was the center of family life. It was used for talking, reading, and relaxing. Since this was the room that guests called in, it must always be kept clean. For this reason men were not allowed to smoke in the drawing room and children were not allowed to enter unless dressed in their finest clothes for company. It was important for this room to be sunny, so a southeast orientation was best. It was also important to have a good view.
The dining room was another very important room. It was usually a long, rectangular room with windows on one long side, the fireplace on a short side, and the sideboard on the other short side. This room was never larger than what was necessary to accommodate the family circle. It was preferred for this room to have a southeast orientation as well. In addition, the route from the drawing room to the dining room must be impressive because the guests moved back and forth between these two rooms. The room would also have separate entrances for the gentry and the servants. It was not supposed to face the front door because it was thought rude to sit and watch the guests arrive. In addition, the dining room was used as a sitting room in smaller houses. After dinner, the family would sit around the fire and read or converse.
The library was the man’s area of the house. This was a place for the man of the house to read, write letters, rest, and smoke after dinner if there was no company. The room usually contained a large book collection and therefore needed to have dry walls and good ventilation. The room usually had a bay window on one wall with a table nearby so that the man could work in good lighting. The room was usually located in a remote position, often near the dining room and had an easterly orientation.
Large houses would also have a morning room and breakfast room. The morning room was occupied by the lady of the house in the morning and was sometimes used instead of the drawing room when the size of the family was temporarily reduced. This room was never used for company. Occasionally, the family would eat breakfast or lunch here. The breakfast room was like a second dining room and was used for breakfast and lunch because these were more casual and hurried meals than supper. Both of these rooms also faced east so that they would be sunny during the early day.
Both the lady of the house and the man of the house had their own rooms to retire to in order to tend to personal business. The boudoir was the lady’s room for this purpose. It was usually a small room near the bedroom that was sunny with simple furniture. The male attended to his duties in the business room. It was usually near the front door so that he could receive visitors without them coming into the private areas of the house.
Another important room was the billiard room. This room was considered a luxury and only the wealthiest families had them. Billiard rooms were good for rainy days as there was little else to do in the country on a rainy day. This room was very large and well lit. Often it had a separate entrance so that visitors could enter and leave late at night without disturbing the rest of the family. In addition, it usually had its own cloakroom and lavatory. The room contained a spacious nook with upholstered seats that was on a higher level so that non-players could watch the game.
The hall was a very important statement in a house. It was the transition from the residential area to the connecting rooms. This room served no real purpose other than to impress guests with the family’s wealth. It was a room just inside the front door with doors leading off to other rooms. Due to the fact that it was so close to the front door, it could not be used as a ballroom or banquet hall. The hall was often two stories, but it did not have a staircase leading to the second story because that would be considered opening the public part of the house to the private part (the bedrooms upstairs).
The bedroom was primarily the lady’s domain. It faced a southeast direction. The bed was to be placed so that the occupant did not face the window. This was not always possible, however, because one wall had the fireplace, another the dresser, and another the door. At the very least, the left side of the bed should be closest to the window because this was the female’s side of the bed. Her washstand, dressing table, and wardrobe had to be placed near the window for lighting so it made sense that her side of the bed should be close to the window. There would also be a desk in the room because the woman remained there after waking.
The bedroom was the woman’s domain and the man was seen as a guest in the room. Next to his side of the bed, there was a door leading to his dressing room. Men and women never dressed in the same room. The male dressing room was small and modestly furnished.
Finally, we come to the children’s rooms. These rooms were separate from the rest of the house, usually in a side wing or on the top floor. There was a night nursery and a day nursery because it was believed that the room needed to be aired as much as it was in use. These rooms needed to have a sunny position so that the children would be healthy. The night nursery was a sizable room with two to three children’s beds and a nurse’s bed. The day nursery was also large and was used as a play area for the children. There would also be a schoolroom for the children to have lessons and for the governess to use as a sitting room.
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