Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Pinterest: Fear of the “Female Ghetto”

Mrs. Blakeley is exasperated.

“Wentzell’s took the couch a month ago and they said it would take only two weeks to make the slipcovers.”

“Well, if you can’t get it, you can’t,” Blakeley said… He put his hand on one of the large sliding panels of glass that made up the whole south side of the house and gave it a playful push. It responded with a quick, easy movement that made him smile with satisfaction.

In this brief opening exchange in Esther McCoy’s 1948 New Yorker short story, “The Important House,” we learn a lot about gender politics and the American home. While Mrs. Blakeley fusses powerlessly over décor (slipcovers which, we later discover, have a design of cornflowers, petunias, and primroses), Mr. Blakeley receives satisfaction from his sliding door, a integral part of the new California domestic architecture. Throughout the rest of the story, an account of a photo shoot for “House & Garden,” Mrs. Blakeley keeps trying to make her mark on the interiors, while her husband is free to admire the built-ins: “He was an aircraft engineer, and he liked the way the house worked.”