Izba cabin layouts
Last week we started an examination of the archetypal Russian log cabin/house: the Izba a form that can still be found in some rural locations today, albeit modified and modernised according to the taste and needs of individual owners.
Although in its simplest form, the dwelling consisted of one room (and still may), the interior space was divided according to rules that followed traditional place and purpose.
We’ve already considered the mighty stove; the living heart of the house and provider of warmth and sustenance. It was also the waste disposal unit as household rubbish was burned rather than taken out.
There was no “out” place to deposit refuse anyway, and no obliging collection service to remove it! Tradition also dictated that such cast-offs be burnt within the home to (magically?) assimilate the elements (or “energy”) back into the structure for its benefit and the welfare of the inhabitants.
The placing and orientation of the stove determined the functional layout of the floor area, with each corner allocated a special purpose of its own and the respective roles acknowledged by family and visitors alike.
It makes sense intuitively that in a single-roomed, open plan structure: such dedicated areas would be established to preserve order, purpose and functionality – otherwise domestic chaos may ensue!
Adjacent and in front of the stove was (logically) ‘Stove Corner’, territory under the control of the house’s matriarch.
Yes, traditional roles defined men and women’s respective duties and places in life: even in terms of physical location within their homes. To delineate and separate this female domain, the corner was usually hidden behind a curtain (or wooden partition), beyond which, men (even within the family) were not permitted.
Cooking utensils, laundry equipment and needlecraft tools were stored -and utilised- here, though the corner also saw far more intimate female pursuits: nursing children and even giving birth, for example.
Diametrically opposite this female domain sat the ‘male’ corner, the domain of the head of the household. Here, the tools for traditionally male jobs (repairing, constructing, labouring etc) were stored alongside a large, wooden bench where the ‘mens-work’ was carried out -and upon which the house master slept.
Opposite the stove, again -but in the other far corner- sat the most revered location of the household; kept the cleanest and granted the most light (with the invention of windows).
This ‘Red’ corner housed sacred icons of the Russian Orthodox faith, decorative (and traditional) embroidery, plus the large family table where meals were held. “Red”, incidentally has been used throughout Russian history as a synonym for “beautiful”, hence Red (beautiful) Square or te Red (beautiful) corner.
The only escape from the immediate, regimented interior was an external porch that sheltered the entrance, and where family members could meet to relax, play music, sing together etc. Freedom!
More next time.