Monday, 4 April 2011

Fine Dining

Excerpt from Robert Kerr's The Gentleman's House (1871) detailing the rooms in an excellent property, fit for a Victorian gentleman.


Defined.—Aspect.—Light; Prospect; use of Bay Windows.—Arrangement and dimensions. — Furniture, &c. — Fireplace. — Heating Apparatus. — Doors. —Dinner-route and service.—Hatch; Lift-table — Service-room. —Intercommunication as a Waiting-room.—Closets.—Spaciousness, &c.—External position. —Approach internally and Drawing-room route.—Classic and Mediaeval styles. -Illustrations passim.
IN a house of very good class this apartment is used almost exclusively for serving luncheon and dinner, and perhaps breakfast; and the characteristics of such a room are so different from those of the corresponding room in more homely form, which is made to serve also as a Sitting-room for the family, whether during the day or in the evening, that it seems most convenient to treat of the latter in special terms, which will be done in a separate chapter, under the name of Parlour Dining-room.
    The proper Dining-room is a spacious and always comparatisely stately apartment, of which the chief characteristics ought to be freedom from the heat and glare of sunshine at those hours when it is in use, and a certain sort of seclusion as respects its situation, both internally and externally.
    The best Aspect will obviously be Northward,—say due North or North-East. It is true the North may be gloomy, and the North-East is in some degree exposed to cold bleak winds; but North-West windows in the summer evenings begin as early as five o'clock to admit the rays of the setting sun ; and to dine in inch circumstances, or with blinds drawn, may be unpleasant. The North also is the quarter where evening twilight lingers longest; and twilight, over dessert for instance, is better than candles. East is generally unobjectionable. Any aspect from South-East to South admits the sunshine strongly, although diagonally, at the hour of luncheon. A South or South-West aspect, it need not be said, may give a Dining-room the character of an oven. (See Aspect-Compass, p. 81.)
    The Windows ought, as a rule, to occupy one side (a Dining-room of any size being almost necessarily oblong), rather than one end. A room lighted from the end alone cannot be so cheerful as it might be, especially if looking Northward ; it will also be comparatively close ; and when daylight is waning it will become unpleasantly dark in one part, whilst sufficiently illuminated in another. When light, however, can be obtained at one end in addition to the side windows, this, in a large apartment, is very pleasant. The aspect of such End-light ought of course to be Eastward rather than Westward.
    When the Dining-room is to be used for breakfast, it is specially worth while to have a more Eastward aspect, for the sake of the always delightful morning sun ; or an Eastward end-light will in this case be sufficient—often even preferable. (See Breakfast-room.)
    When any special purpose of Prospect has to be provided for, it as undesirable in the case of a Dining-room as in any other, that this should be allowed to affect the aspect of the principal or side windows ; end windows ought to be at once resorted to ; and it is plain that these may be contrived so as to meet almost any possible demand of prospect. Even still, however, we must duly weigh whatever disadvantages may remain ; because, in a really good Dining room, these may be of great moment ; and against such considerations the value of the prospect ought not to be over-estimated. Ingenuity of arrangement may do much ; but suppose, for example, that in order to command an expansive view due Westward, the end wall is largely opened up in windows, it must never be forgotten that the amount of heat admitted during the afternoon and at the very hour of dinner may become very embarrassing, and this in spite of any attempt at its exclusion by opaque blinds, by which, of course, the cherished landscape also would be shut out.
    Bay-windows, of various forms and sizes, are one of the most useful and pliant of all contrivances in respect of the more ordinary questions of prospect ; and it may be almost said that in no case ought a sacrifice of aspect to be resolved upon until every effort has been made in this way to avoid the necessity. Instances of the application of the bay-window are given on the margin.
    The internal arrangements of a Dining-room have to be based upon the primary idea of accommodating a given maximum number of persons at table, and in a given style. Taking the width of the dining-table, with the proper addition on each side for the company seated, and allowing free passage behind them for the servants, we obtain, according to the style of dining dictated, the requisite width for the apartnent; bearing in mind, of course, chairs left unoccupied at the walls, hearth-rug and screen, sideboard and dinner-waggons, so far as any of these may affect the question. The length is then determined simply by the number of persons to sit down, adding a sufficiency of clear space at the ends for service. The sideboard, if at one end, as it ought to be, and the fireplace, if this be at one end, as it very frequently is, must also have abundant space. A small Dining-room ought never to be less than 16 feet wide ; from 18 to 20 feet is a full width; beyond this is almost matter of state.     In plotting on plan the Furniture of a Dining-room, allow from 4 to 6 feet for the width of the table; 20 inches on each side for the company seated; from 24 to 30 inches in length as the sitting space of each person; from 2.5 to 5 or 6 feet, clear of furniture, for passage-way behind; from 6 by 2 feet to 10 by 3 feet for the sideboard ; from 4 to 5 feet by 22 inches for a dinner-waggon or cheffonier ; 20 inches from the wall for the projection of a chair; and from 15 to 30 inches for that of a chimneypiece and fender, keeping in view also the hearthrug beyond.
    The proper position for the Sideboard is at one end of the room; at the back, that is to say, of the master's chair. Where it is not so placed, communication with the servants is rendered awkward, especially in smaller rooms. It need not be said also that there is a certain importance about a good sideboard, which demands one end of the room for itself. Indeed, the general practice of forming a special recess in that position for its reception can scarcely be improved upon. The sideboard ought never to be surmounted or even flanked by windows ; because not only are the operations of the servants thus brought into prominence, but when a gentleman does honour to his guests by displaying his plate, its effect may be destroyed by the glare of light. A bay-window at one end, facing the sideboard at the other, with the fireplace in the middle of one side, and the chief light opposite, make an excellent arrangement. (See the second of the recent diagrams.)
     It is true that with English people the Dining-room is often in a great measure used by artificial light ; but this does not require any modification of the above arrangements ; if the room be accommodated to daylight, artificial light is easily accommodated to the room.
     The Style of finish, both for the apartment itself and for the furniture, is always somewhat massive and simple ; on the principle, perhaps, of conformity with the substantial pretensions of both English character and English fare. It need not be sombre and dull, or indeed devoid of cheerfulness in any way ; but so far as forms, colours, and arrangements can produce such a result, the whole appearance of the room ought to be that of masculine importance.
    One feature which has always a substantial aspect in this apartment is the unbroken line of chairs at the wall. Although it is not desirable to make a Gentleman's Dining-room like the Assembly-Hall of a Corporation or the Long-room of a tavern by carrying this principle to an extreme, yet it is not well when other articles of furniture are placed at intervals in such number as to give the apartment the character of a Parlour. In fact, as much as possible, every chair ought to stand at the wall facing its place at the table ; both for convenience and for association with the purpose of the room. With regard to dinner-waggons or cheffoniers, their best position, and most useful, is at the two end corners opposite the Sideboard.
    In very superior rooms it is sometimes the practice to place the chairs, or a portion of them, when not in use, not against the wall, but around the table. If this be done to leave the wall-space free for the display of objects of virtu, it is so far well;. otherwise care has to be taken that there shall be some other sufficient reason apparent. 
    The position of the Fireplace with relation to the door and windows is in perhaps all other rooms a matter of the utmost importance. In a Dining-room, however, used exclusively as such, the only purpose of the fire is to warm the room throughout, and if possible equably, without purposely constituting what is invaluable in a Sitting-room, a comfortable fireside; so that, but for our pardonable prejudices in favour of the open grate, the best mode of heating for the special purpose would be by hot-water apparatus. Consequently, the fireplace has simply to be placed where it shall best warm the room and least scorch the company. To put it in a recess sometimes helps the matter; to bring it forward with a chimney-breast does the reverse. In any room over 30 feet in length two fireplaces are sometimes provided. Both ought to be on the same wall, opposite the windows, unless there be special circumstances to prevent it. If the fireplace should be in the end wall opposite the sideboard, it is satisfactory; if flanked by end windows, there is no objection ; if on the same wall as the door—an arrangement generally fatal to a Sitting-room—the Dining-room need not suffer, provided the distance between the door and fireplace be sufficient.
     With regard to the use of Heating-apparatus, the marginal sketch represents an arrangement adopted in a work of the author's in special circumstances, in an old room which had two radical defects, an end-light and narrow width. The fireplace was built
up, and two recesses formed, one on each side of it, for the dinner-waggons. Under these articles there were placed two small hot-water tables. Where the fireplace had been, a mirror was fixed, extending from floor to ceiling. (The end wall was also opened up into one large window; and the result was that an apartment which had been before in a manner abandoned, as useless, became a light and cheerful Dining-room, fit for the purposes of a man of rank.)
     The Door of a small Dining-room, if there be only one, ought to be placed, for the sake of service, close by the sideboard. (In larger rooms, as we shall see, the case is different.) Then, being hinged, according to rule, on the edge nearest to the fire, this will cause it, in opening, to expose, not the table, but the side-board ; which is as it ought to be. In the best form of an ordinary room it will thus occupy the sideboard end of the blank side wall. (See all the diagrams, p. 93.) Let it be specially made sufficiently wide for two persons to enter together without discomfort ; in good houses the width ought to be 32 feet. It is also worthy of mention again, as specially important, that the door must open sufficiently clear of the sideboard to admit of free entrance ; a principle not always attended to in narrow rooms.
     It is not unusual, and may sometimes be very convenient, to have one of the windows in the form of a Sash-door, when opening on a Terrace or Garden, as in Plate XXVIII. Cases have not been wanting, however, when such a door has provided unhappy facilities for stealing the plate.
     The Dinner-route is a consideration second to none with respect to the position of the Dining-room. In a small house the room will generally have but one door for both entrance and service ; in this case the route to that door from the Kitchen must be as short and convenient as other considerations will permit. Again, as the dishes must be carried to and from the door through the family part of the house,—the Corridor, for example, Staircase, or Vestibule,—it is essential that they shall not cross the track of family traffic, or otherwise be obtruded upon the notice of the inmates or visitors. In both the houses on Plate XXV. this difficulty is avoided, if not fairly encountered. Compare also Plates XXXII. and XXXIV. in this respect. The general question of the dinner-route is treated of under the head of Kitchen.
     A special Service-door is the next step in advance, as in Plates XVI. and XXV. It will of course be close to the sideboard ; it is sometimes put on the other side of this so as to match the principal door. Sometimes, however, and with good reason in larger examples, the latter is placed at the other end of the room, and none but the service-door at the sideboard end. (Many of the plates exemplify well the advantages of this arrangement ; indeed there are only a small minority on the contrary plan.) It is necessary, however, to remember that, if a service-door should communicate with the general Corridor of the Offices, this interferes with the privacy of the room ; besides that it is calculated also to admit the sounds of the Corridor in question. A double door is the remedy ; but the arrangement is still objectionable ; a private Lobby, however small, is much to be preferred.
     Sometimes a small Hatch (the buttery-hatch of old time) is formed at the sideboard, through which the dishes are handed from the Pantry or a Lobby, or a Service-room. (See Plate XXV., the upper example.) This is a plan which is often very useful in small houses; but in a large house it does not answer,—the servants will often, in an emergency, wish it were a door, and the continual interchange of audible communications through the aperture is a thing that can scarcely be prevented from attracting attention.
     Another appliance of recent introduction for Town-Houses, and others which have Basement Offices, is a Lift-table, within the limits of the Dining-room, communicating with a Service-room below. A small dinner-waggon, properly in a recess, is so contrived as to pass bodily up and down in a very simple manner, and the only task for ingenuity to accomplish is the satisfactory closing of the aperture in the floor when the Lift is down. The objections to the hatch still hold good here.
    When the style of living is at all above the average, it is exceedingly convenient to have attached to the Dining-room a Service-room; and, as the rank of the house advances, the development of this useful adjunct becomes more and more important, as the Plates show throughout. -(See also Service-room.) Our immediate concern, however, with this question need not go farther than the proposition that the door, connecting it with fhe Dining-room, will be necessarily close to the Sideboard and ie master's chair. Sometimes it has to be specially so placed s to protect the company from the curiosity of servants, particularly such as are not actually waiting. In very large establishments an Ante-room may have to be formed adjoining the Dining-room, for servants in attendance. On grounds of privacy it is occasionally desirable that this, and indeed a Serving-room no
should communicate with the Dining-room through an intermediate Lobby, however small.
    It is the rule primarily to have no door of intercommunication between the Dining-room and any other of the Family Apartments. The special habits of a family may, however, sometimes require it. Double doors may of course be provided in such a
case for the sake of privacy. The intercommunication will be least objectionable when it connects with the Business-room or Study, Saloon, Library, or Breakfast-room. To communicate with the Drawing-room, except in some very special case, is quite out of order, although by no means so uncommon as we might expect. (See Plates XVII., XXVII., XXX., and others.)
     It is to be remembered that the Dining-room is always subject to be used during the morning as a waiting-room for the gentleman's visitors ; this is a standard necessity in small houses, and no less practically the rule in even the largest ; its position therefore ought to be sufficiently near the Gentleman's-room or Study.
     Closets are generally considered out of character in a good Dining-room ; but there are persons of homely habits who sometimes prefer to have a special Store-closet at hand. (Plate XX.) Dwarf cupboards, it need not be said, are inadmissible, even in small houses ; they are only fit for the "Back-Parlour" of a shopkeeper.
     It is self-evident that a good Dining-room should be lofty ; that the windows should be of full size ; and that ventilation should be cared for, not merely to promote the egress of dinner vapours, but to prevent their further passage into the house.
     The external position of the Dining-room ought not to be such as to connect it with what may be called the ladies' quarter or the Lawn ; neither ought the windows to be so directly overlooked from the quarter of entrance as is frequently the case.
     The approach from the Entrance-door to the Dining-room need not be so direct as that to the Drawing-room. But the Drawing-room route to and from the Dining-room ought to be invariably planned with an eye to facility, directness, and special importance ; inasmuch as where there may be no other ceremoniousness whatever in the habits of a family, there will be at least a little of that quality, if only occasionally, in the act of proceeding to and from dinner. For such a route, therefore, there ought to be spaciousness ; also some extent of length ; and, lastly, directness, or freedom from turnings. A very excellent effect is had when the two doors in question, in a superior house, face each other at the ends of a Hall or Gallery. (Plate XL.) However small the house may be, to pass through a door of intercommunication, or to slip out of one door and in at the other three or four feet off, is always undignified. (Plate XXV.)
     Cases are too frequently to be met with, even in superior houses, where the Dining-room door is accidently situated so close to the Entrance that strangers coming from the Drawing-room to dinner are impressed with the idea of going out of the house: this ought to be provided against. It is an equally great mistake to place the Dining-room at such a distance inwards from the central point of thoroughfare as to create a long special passage thereto : the position of the door ought to be such that the room shall be seen to be one of the group of Family Apartments as much as any other.
     The question may fairly be asked whether any difference of general plan is recognised between a Dining-room of the modern Classic style, and one of the modern Medieval. The answer may safely be given, that any pretended peculiarity whatever of this kind may be taken for affectation in either style, except perhaps in the case of a State-room, which will be spoken of in its place. Any English Gentleman of the present day who would consent to sacrifice the characteristics of a comfortable Dining-room for the sake of imitating the manners, whether of ancient or modern Italy on the one hand, or Gothic or Tudor England on the other, would be charged by his acquaintance with something very much akin to eccentricity. (See further the next chapter on the Parlour-Dining-room; also that on the State Dining-room.)

1 comment:

  1. Dining-room is a open and always comparatively grand apartment, of which the chief quality is ought to be sovereignty from the warm and glare of sunlight at those hours when it is in use, and a certain sort of isolation as compliments its situation, both internally and externally.