Thursday 21 April 2016

The First Floor (Wivenhoe House)

Americans don't share the same language as English people. A North Carolinian recently tried to explain to me what a "biscuit" is. It looks like a heart attack in a giant scone, not a biscuit.

Americans also confuse the "ground floor" with the "first floor". I would like to explain what a ground floor is, and finally settle this matter of confusion for our brothers beyond the Atlantic.

This is a picture of Wivenhoe house. You can see the ground floor, tucked under the stairs. The ground floor is where the kitchens are and where the servants work. The Englishman' castle of a home would have a ground floor, but he would rarely set foot in it.

The first floor is at the top of that magnificent flight of steps. It is the first place he will step when he
enters his castle (unless it is raining, in which case he might enter via the stables, but that is another matter). You will notice that the height of the first floor is grand. Here are the rooms vulgarly called "reception" rooms today: the smoking room (where one has a smoke whilst waiting for the ladies), the lounge, usually a dining room, and a drawing room for (withdrawing at the end of the evening).

Above that is the second floor. Here are the bedrooms for the Englishman and his guests: sizable rooms, grand decor, and with picture-windows large enough to show off the splendour of his land to his guests that they might be impressed by his grandeur.

The floor above that, the third floor, is where the children and their nanny live. In some homes some of the staff may share this floor. However most of the servants are accommodated in attic rooms above that.

The concept of a ground floor is perhaps alien to the modern American architect. However, it is not a cellar (I believe you call them "basements", to set them apart from "apartments") as it is not underground. Cellars are for coal, and for storing food and wine. Especially wine. The ground floor is not a cellar, nor is it the first floor, so it is perhaps understandable that Americans have failed to grasp why our buildings have a ground floor.