Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tighsolas House of Light.


Tighsolas Floor plan as drawn by Norman, most likely.

If anything HASN'T changed much, since 1910, it is the way houses look on the outside. If you flip through the pages of a 1910 magazine your eyes are met by the exact same styles that are being erected today, at least in my neck of the woods. Well, everywhere from what I have seen. A friend, visiting some corner of China, emailed me a pic of a 'new development' and it looked just like the houses they are building here, in Vaudreuil-Dorion Quebec.

Women no longer wear shirtwaists and corsets and skirts to the ground, as they did in 1910. Indeed, there have been myriad female fashion 'looks' over the past century, from flapper shift to little black dress to suit with the big shoulders to mini skirts and go go boots, but house fashion has stayed the same. Indeed, there's a cachet about older homes, despite the fact their infrastructure is iffy and they have not nearly enough electric outlets to accomodate all the modern gadgets in a household.

I personally love the experimental 20th century designs from Frank Lloyd Wright on down, but they never really took off with average people, for whatever reason. You know, homes with natural woods, clean lines and no 'symbolic' or 'anacronistic' decoration, like shutters. Modern suburban houses may be encased in aluminium or some poly-plasticky stuff, but they still look like great grandma's homestead. The Nostalgia Factor is key in home design and that says a lot about us. The movie Fahrenheit 451 may pretty well have nailed the politics of today, but erred on the look of the homesteads people 'of the future' would have - unless, of course, we're talking about Denmark.

The picture above is of Tighsolas floor plan. My husband, who visited there often in the 70's says the sketch is out of proportion. The kitchen on the right was much bigger.

Tighsolas, the house, is a key 'character' in Flo in the City, my novel in progress, based on the letters of http://www.tighsolas.ca/ and being written on this blog. Why? For many reasons.

Tighsolas was much more than a 'shelter' for the Nicholsons who descended from Isle of Lewis crofters who were 'cleared' from their Hebrides homes in the 1800's. It was their source of pride, their anchor, their one asset, as well as the brick albatross around their necks.

I have all the records. Norman Nicholson built Tighsolas for about 2, 700 dollars in 1896, the year Laurier came to power. He inspected every slate shingle, every brick, rejecting more than he kept. (According to family lore only 3 shingles needed changing in 50 years.)

I asked my husband to describe Tighsolas for me, on the inside, so that I could paint a picture of it in my novel.

Like many fine Victorian homes it had a back stairs (off the kitchen) and a front stairway. (In rich homes this was so that servants and their masters wouldn't pass on the stairs.)

The rooms all could be closed off to preserve heat. There were French doors leading to the living room, or parlour, which was used only for guests, the furniture draped in protective coverings.

The doorways were framed in darkly varnished oak mouldings with medallions at the corners, which was very Victorian and the doors were very solid, 'not like the cheap things we have'. This was to keep the house warm in winter.

From the letters I can deduce that the house was cool on hot days in summer, except for during the 1911 heatwave, where it got so hot inside the Nicholsons slept outside on the porch.

There probably was a furnace in the cellar, which was very cramped. The bathroom was upstairs. My husband also recalls that there were hardwood floors with wide slats. (These may have been put in in 1913.)

The style of the house, from what I have learned, is Queen Anne, but less ornamental than the other Queen Anne houses around them. The roof had a number of levels and the porch had fancy ornamentation, but in general, it was not a showy house.

In fact, I believe it perfectly reflects the Nicholsons character, solid, attractive, not too big or too small, gracious but not ostentatious.

One of the first places my husband took me after meeting me in 1984 was to Richmond, to drive by Tighsolas, even though he hadn't been there since January 1977, when he visited his great-aunt Edith, who was 93 years old, blind, and on her death bed. The house was falling apart at the time of our visit, in the early eighties, with no porch at all. I was not impressed, but happy for the two hour drive to Richmond, situated in an area of great beauty in the Eastern Townships.

Tighsolas had fallen out of family hands just a few years before. I have letters from 1905 where son Herb is suggesting the Nicholsons sell Tighsolas, which means House of Light in Gaelic. (Tighsolas had a lot of windows.) They debated that for years, and almost lost the house in the 1910 era which I write about in Flo in the City, but ended up holding onto it. Flo died there, too, in December 1977.