The Simple Home

Charles Keeler, 1895
Charles Keeler, 1895

The Simple Home is the title of a small book written in 1904 by philosopher, naturalist and poet Charles Keeler. It became something of a manifesto of the American Arts & Crafts movement, especially as realized in California. Keeler lived in Berkeley at the time, and was one of the proponents of viewing Berkeley as “the Athens of the West.” This slender volume of 55 pages was published in San Francisco by Paul Elder and Company, and dedicated to Keeler’s “friend and counselor,” Bernard Maybeck.

In this work Keeler puts forward his standards for how one leads one’s life in the ideal home:

“The ideal home is one in which the family may be most completely sheltered to develop in love, graciousness and individuality, and which is at the same time most accessible to friends, toward whom hospitality is as unconscious and spontaneous as it is abundant. Emerson says that the ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.”

He goes on to set his standard of construction:

“In the simple home, all is quiet in effect, restrained in tone, yet natural and joyous in its frank use of unadorned material. Harmony of line and balance of proportion is not obscured by meaningless ornamentation; harmony of color is not marred by violent contrasts. Much of the construction shows, and therefore good workmanship is required and the craft of the carpenter is restored to its old-time dignity.”

Keeler was a major proponent of the use of natural materials, with natural finishes. “Wood is a good material if left in the natural finish, but is generally spoiled by the use of paint or varnish.” Keeler was strong in his opinions, but not without a gently humorous side: “While insisting on abundant sunlight in homes about San Francisco Bay , I cannot overlook the fascination of wide eaves. A house without eaves always seems to me like a hat without a brim, or like a man who has lost his eyebrows.” Sometimes falling into especially florid prose, Keeler still manages to portray a very appealing goal of a life in balance, a home built in harmony with its natural surroundings, and furnished in a pleasing, simple manner.

To read The Simple Home click here.

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