Baillie Scott: The Artistic House by Diane Haigh
(Academy Press, 1995, 128 pages)
This book includes some good photographs of Baillie Scott’s Arts and Crafts houses. However, it was published in 1995, before some of these homes underwent significant restoration projects. The best part of the book is the diverse collection of essays. They cover biographical elements of Baillie Scott’s life, the history of particular homes that he designed, and in depth discussions of the various design techniques and materials that he used. One of the most interesting portions is a reprinted essay by John Betjeman, former Poet Laureate of England. It is a “personal reminiscence” of the young poet’s relationship with the architect. Also of interest is a section of “Advice for Baillie Scott House-Owners,” which counsels owners on the best ways to repair, improve, and add-on to these homes while maintaining their original integrity. The fact that many have since been restored, and some opened up to the public, is testament to value of the book, particularly at the time of its original publication.
Arts and Crafts Master: The Houses and Gardens of M. H. Baillie Scott
by Ian MacDonald-Smith
(Rizzoli, 2010, 240 pages)
This book is a beautiful collection of M. H. Baillie Scott’s (1865-1945) Arts and Crafts style homes. These homes, mainly located in the U.K., are characterized by their tiled fireplaces, large halls, and simple use of local materials. The Arts and Crafts movement recovered elements of a medieval aesthetic and emphasized skill of craftsman. These emphases are obvious in the beautiful wood and stonework displayed in these homes.
Baillie Scott’s homes were designed mainly for middle class families in an attempt to make beauty, excellence, and simplicity in design more widely available. In his introductory essay, MacDonald-Smith quotes Baillie Scott’s principle that
“there should be no arbitrary division between construction and decoration…Everywhere construction is decorative and decoration constructive, and when the builder’s work is done the paperhanger and painter only help, by pattern and colour, to put finishing touches to a construction which has already gone far to make the building beautiful.” (8)
This principle is clearly displayed in the homes featured. The natural materials used in the construction are showcased in beamed ceilings, colorful plaster, and intricate tiles. Much of the furniture is even built-in – mainly in the form of the “inglenooks.” These recessed fireplaces with built-in wooden benches serve as living spaces adjacent to larger rooms, and they are found in many of Baillie Scott’s homes. MacDonald-Smith’s helpful essays and wonderfully executed photographs serve these homes well.
The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton
(Vintage, 2008, 288 pages)
Can encounters with beauty make us better people? Can well designed and constructed built environments make our lives more satisfying? These are the sorts of questions that Alain de Botton explores in The Architecture of Happiness. The book is an introduction to architectural aesthetics, and it includes lots of photographs that illustrate the various principles that are discussed. Here is a passage that illustrates de Botton’s core convictions about the importance and possibilities of good architecture:
“Belief in the significance of architecture is premised on the notion that we are, for better or for worse, different people in different places – and on the conviction that it is architecture’s task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be.” (13)
De Botton draws out the ways that we inevitably personify objects, and makes the claim that this tendency requires that we be conscience of and intentional about the character and qualities that we endow our buildings with. He eschews hard and fast rules about what makes a building or a city beautiful, but neither does he allow complete subjectivity. Instead, he offers principles, or “virtues” that should characterize what we build, including order, balance, elegance, coherence, and self-knowledge.
It is easy to move through day to day-to-day life without paying much attention to the built environments we inhabit. De Botton does an excellent job of making the case that, regardless of how much attention we are paying, our surroundings exert considerable influence on the quality of our lives.
The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton
(Vintage International, 2008, 280 pages)
The Architecture of Happiness is one part philosophy, one part architectural history, and one part personal nostalgia. Through a learned view of different major architectural monuments of the past, and the retelling of individual personal stories of residency, this book examines the way in which architecture defines our identities. The author refutes the idea that to engage in meaningful relationships with our things, and homes, is frivolous; and states that our dwellings are a reflection of who we are, or who we want to be. Identity, Botton says, is the most profound purpose of architecture. Peppered with beautiful quotations on the self and architecture from a plethora of scholarly and culturally diverse sources, this book is a true gem; one that I would surely place on a shelf in my home… a small expression of my own version of beauty.