Arts & Crafts Movement, Craftsman Style Bungalows

Arts & Crafts Movement,
Craftsman Style Bungalows
and the Ragtime Era

Arts & Crafts Movement Resource Directory.

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Craftsman Styles

Craftsman Style Bungalows (ca: 1905-1929)
My strongest interest is the Craftsman or Bungalow Style and mission antiques. Culturally, it was a dramatic rebellion against the formality and the excesses of the Victorian period, socially it was a period of growth for the middle class, stylistically it marks the advent of modern industrial design (disguised as a return to nature!), politically it was a period of Nationalism as the United States began its ascendency as a world power.

While the Victorian styles consciously referred to England (if not ancient Greece), we don't have an Edwardian style as a typical architecture, although it is fun to find examples here and there! Perhaps in America we should call this the Ragtime Era, as it was a bit later than the continental Arts & Crafts period; the architecture of the houses is usually defined as Craftsman Style.

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Gustav Stickley and The Craftsman Home--Ray Stubblebine

Historical Background

The Arts & Crafts Movement dating from the 1880's in England (John Ruskin, William Morris, Oscar Wilde, fomented artistic revolutions across Europe and America: Art Nouveau in France, The Secession in Vienna, Style Moderne in Russia, Gaudi in Spain, the fantastical plant forms of the Jugenstil in Germany (see The American Success Story, bad movie, spectacular house!), the Mission furniture and Craftsman Architecture of Gustav Stickley in New York. The American form followed the blocky stylization of the English more than the sensual "hair fetish" of the continental Art Nouveau.

While we are more familiar with Art Nouveau, the other continental styles are well worth looking into. The Jugenstil in particular is less feminine and more naturalistic if not earthy and animalistic. The Liberty silver designers in England went the other direction into more square geometric forms with Celtic references.

Craftsman Style

When you walk into a Craftsman Bungalow the sense of space, the openness of the rooms, and the rustic or bold-square styling feel completely different from the Victorian houses still being built into the 1910's.

The Victorian excesses referred to included "useless" ornamentation and gingerbread, living with a mish-mash of inconsistant patterns and style and copying "foreign" styles. The primary inspiration for the Craftsman style was to look to nature, local materials, local (nationalist or native) building traditions and to design and construct after the manner of honest craft traditions: iron and copper blacksmithing, pottery, coarse weaving and rough hewn materials. One problem in the United States was the short history; there was no medieval architecture or Cotswald cottage to return to. No matter, there were colonial log cabins, the Spanish missions of the Southwest, and even Native American rugs and pottery.

The Craftsman Bungalow style was the first step toward the modern Ranch home in several senses. The house layout emphasizes the horizontal, rather than multiple stories, and the philosophy is very middle class in a contemporary sense without space for maids and servants. The "man" of the house still had the library, but the "woman's" workspace became more functional, and the fireplace or the hearth became the family center to a degree that was almost mythical.

The Craftsman bungalow is typically one to one-and-a-half stories, with a long sloping roof line and a wide, sheltering overhang that makes the house appear to nestle into the earth. This tie to the earth is often exaggerated by using a foundation and porch pillars that broaden at the base. The porch is wide enough to feel like an outside room. The woodwork is still heavy and dark, but is usually square or simple rather than ornately built-up in layers or with gingerbread and spindles as in Victorian times. High style and less derivative versions of the Bungalow often have beamed ceilings, oak wainscotting in the dining room, built-in buffets with hand wrought iron or dark-patinated brass hardware, cozy yellow lanterns hanging from the ceiling wood work or as sconces on the porch or hallway walls.

Since the fireplace and hearth were so important as the center of the home and family, it received special attention. Made of brick, tile or rustic river stone the fireplace was often framed by symmetric bookshelves or even benches to create a cozy inglenook.

Due to the Tuberculosis epidemic and health philosophy of the times, many houses were built with "TB rooms" or sleeping porches that are completely surrounded by windows so that fresh, "healing" air can circulate freely. Boulder and Colorado Springs in particular saw much growth from immigrants seeking hospital care or a healthy climate for their lungs.

Master architects of the period include:
Gustav Stickley, who was the premier design maven of the period. His magazine The Craftsman proselytized the Arts & Crafts philosophy, sold house designs, and offered dictates for good living (See the article by Ray Stubblebine: Gustav Stickley and The Craftsman Home),
Frank Lloyd Wright, who deserves his own category--unfortunately Denver has very little that could be considered Prairie Style, and
the brothers Greene and Greene, who designed Japanese inspired "ultimate Bungalows" in Pasadena and other parts of California.
Bernard Maybeck, who built many houses in the Berkely, California.

These architects designed the interior furniture as well as the house in order to create a unified design. The mission furniture of Gustav Stickley, while looking blocky and square by itself, in the context of a Craftsman Bungalow completes the design at the human scale.

House construction in Denver was very much the arena of local contractor/builders who would often develop a block of houses leaving details that indicate the handiwork of one designer. The craftsman style was a few years later than on the East coast, not really beginning until 1910. It is exciting to find earlier examples, as they would have been built by only the most up-to-date homeowners.

World War I brought to an end the positivism and the philosophical themes of the Arts & Crafts era, although houses continued to be built in that style. Many seem a bit derivative, but on the other hand building techniques were improving and Craftsman style bungalows from the later period are well-built and have better foundations and basements.

Architectural Police Tips:
The most common renovation mistake is for someone to think they have a Victorian house and proceed to polish or replace all the dark brass, add shiny brass lanterns to the doorway and a Victorian chandelier over the dining room table. The owners of one remuddling that I viewed proudly described how they took out the "ugly" inglenook and put in a marble victorian fireplace.

The dark woodwork and the wide, overhanging eaves leave the interiors fairly dark by modern standards. But, painting the woodwork will destroy the attraction to a real lover of the style and have a strong negative, effect on the house value. One way to get past this psychological difficulty is to learn to appreciate "pools" of light and to remember romantic candlelight dinners.

My own personal cross to bear is that my Grandfather was in the business of renovating "old fashioned" and dark Craftsman-style homes into modern neo-Colonials by taking out the rustic details and painting the woodwork.

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