If you think today’s tiny house movement is a new idea, think again. As our "Rare Book of the Month" for May shows, people have been thinking about how to get the most out of small spaces for a long time.
Published in Rome in 1689, Nuovi ritrovamenti (New Discoveries) is appended to a much larger book about improving the Tiber River. The author, a Dutch engineer named Cornelius Meyer (1629-1701), used both works to promote various ideas he had come up with. Though his main interest was hydraulics, Meyer also designed a one-room apartment perfectly suited for a seventeenth-century virtuoso—a term used at that time to refer to someone who was highly accomplished in any field of the arts and sciences, not just music.
Four illustrations depict each of the room’s four walls. A virtuoso, Meyer argued, ought to have all of his possessions within easy reach rather than scattered across multiple rooms. It is a concept that Thomas Jefferson, one hundred years later, took into consideration when designing Monticello, where he placed his bed in an alcove connecting his dressing room and study.
The first wall contains several built-in bookcases and cupboards, a letter file, and speaking tubes for calling servants. A bed is tucked into the second wall, along with additional closets (including one for daggers and pistols), a chamber pot, a thermometer, a night clock with iridescent hands, and a camera obscura that projects an image of the outside street onto a screen. The third wall contains a telescope, a microscope, and a periscope, continuing the theme of observation. There is also a globe, a solar clock, various mathematical instruments, two birdcages, and a trap door leading to the wine cellar. The fourth wall is the kitchen and chemistry lab. It features a fireplace and oven, sinks for hot and cold water, a folding table, more cupboards and drawers, a press for keeping napkins and tablecloths wrinkle-free, and a comfy chair.
It’s an apartment where everything has its place. The Enlightenment passion for bringing order to chaos meant that even the owner’s puppy got its own cubbyhole.
To view Meyer's book in person, feel free to stop by the library's Special Collections in the Anderson Reading Room of Zimmerman Library.
Michael Taylor, Public Services Librarian