If late-19th century Victorian homes were built to show off the advances of American manufacturing and the innovation of industry (with their over-the-top details in every direction), then the Craftsman movement that followed was a direct counter response to that, emphasizing hand-worked goods and buildings over the mass-produced. At the turn of the 20th century, the American Craftsman architectural movement spun out of the British Arts and Crafts movement, a similar response to the Industrial Revolution in Europe, which proponents felt devalued human labor.
According to Grant Marani, a partner at New York’s Robert A.M. Stern Architects, a considerable amount of credit for the popularity of the Craftsman movement must be given to Gustav Stickley, a “furniture maker turned promoter of the English Arts and Crafts movement in America who popularized the style through his influential magazine The Craftsman in the early twentieth century.”
Stickley’s furniture—and the magazine—emphasized simplicity in form, use of local materials, and honesty in construction. The Craftsman began publishing and selling house plans that embodied these characteristics, which made what Stickley considered to be superior home design available to the masses. Initially, the specific home plans in Stickley’s magazine were called “Craftsman homes,” but eventually, the moniker was given to the increasingly popular style at large.
What makes Craftsman homes so popular?
Craftsman homes have several common features that make them recognizable and just as popular today as they were more than 100 years ago. In stark contrast to the verticality of Victorians, Craftsman homes emphasize horizontal lines, with low-pitched gable (triangular) roofs that extend far out past the home’s exterior walls, often with exposed beams or rafters. Craftsman homes “showcase hand-worked local materials with decorative elements such as brackets, lintels, and rafters,” Grant says, “and display an artisanal approach to surface decoration.”
The over-extended eaves of Craftsman roofs lend themselves to having spacious porches on the front of houses, which featured thick, tapered columns along the perimeter. Typically, the exterior of these homes had painted wood siding, but accents of stucco or stone were used fairly often as well—the common theme being an emphasis on earthy tones.
The interiors of Craftsman homes are just as distinct and important to the builder as the exterior. Wooden features abound: thick trim around doors and windows, built-in bookshelves and window seats, boxed beams along the ceiling, etc. A prominent fireplace (or two) is also a key feature inside Craftsman homes. Smaller Craftsman homes, with their distinct, cozy rooms, are a favorite to convert to “open-concept floor plans” on home renovation shows, which quite frankly can strip these historic structures of many of the features and charm that first made them so desirable.
Are bungalows and craftsman homes the same thing?
Craftsman style is often associated with bungalows, a style of house with origins in the Bengal region of India. A bungalow refers to a simple, small (typically only one or one-and-a-half stories) house with a sloping roof and wide porch along the front. While the Craftsman bungalow is a very popular pairing, the two are not necessarily linked. For example, Spanish Colonial Revival bungalows were quite popular during the 1920s and 30s, and grander displays of Craftsman architecture are also common.
The Craftsman architectural style that gained a strong foothold in California thanks to architect brothers Henry and Charles Greene. “The houses of the architects Greene and Greene of Pasadena, responding to both local building traditions and the influence of Japanese architecture, stand as paragons of Craftsman style,” Grant explains. One of their most well-known residences is the Gamble House (pictured below), which brilliantly shows off their take on Craftsman style, with heavy Japanese influence.
“Though mostly found in California, Craftsman houses appeared throughout the United States in the early twentieth century, thanks to pattern books and the popular press,” Grant says, meaning these well-constructed homes are still widely prevalent across the country, even at 100 years old. They also continue to be an architectural style new construction homes are built in today, especially in areas that value connections to the mountains and forests.
Follow CQ on Instagram.