Craftsman Style Homes

An American Domestic Architectural Design

Popularized at the turn of the 20th century by architect and furniture designer Gustav Stickley in his magazine, The Craftsman, the Craftsman-style bungalow reflected, said Stickley, “a house reduced to it’s simplest form... its low, broad proportions and absolute lack of ornamentation gives it a character so natural and unaffected that it seems to... blend with any landscape.”

The style, which was also widely billed as the “California bungalow” by architects such as Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene, featured overhanging eaves, a low-slung gabled roof, and wide front porches framed by pedestal-like tapered columns. Material often included stone, rough-hewn wood, and stucco. Many homes have wide front porches across part of the front, supported by columns.

The American Craftsman Style, or the American Arts and Crafts Movement, is an American domestic architectural, interior design, and decorative arts style popular from the last years of the 19th century through the early years of the 20th century. As a design movement, its popularity remained strong until the 1930s, although in the decorative arts it continues to experience numerous revivals until the present day.

A beautiful book celebrating, Craftsman Style celebrates the architecture of Craftsman-style, which prospered in America from around 1895 well into the 1920s. It became more rustic and natural on the U.S. segment of the Atlantic Ocean than on the British side, in carrying on with the robust American frontier nation image. Robert Winter, a national leading authority on the Arts & Crafts development, has provided the enlightening text, which is a complement to the magnificent color photos by Alexander Vertikoff.

British origins

The American Craftsman style has its origins in the earlier British Arts and Crafts movement which dates back to the 1860s. The British movement, which spawned a wide variety of related but conceptually very distinct design movements throughout Europe, was a reaction to the degradation of the dignity of human labor resulting from the Industrial Revolution. In many ways it was a reaction against the over-decorated aesthetic and disregard for the worker of the Victorian era. Seeking to ennoble the craftsman once again, the movement emphasized the hand-made over the mass-produced. While the British movement still contained some of the over-done decoration of its Victorian precursor, it was almost anti-Victorian in philosophy; the movement's founder, William Morris, was a staunch socialist and as such the philosophy behind the Arts and Crafts movement in the UK is clearly part of the materialist dialectic. However, the expensive materials and expensive hand-made techniques meant that the movement was in fact serving the wealthiest clients, a seeming contradiction to its roots in socialist philosophy.

American developments

While the British movement was a Victorian-era phenomenon, its translation to the American setting took place precisely at the moment when that era was coming to a close. It can be said that the American movement was also a design reform movement that encouraged originality, simplicity of form, local natural materials, and the visibility of handicraft, and was concerned with ennobling the more modest home of the rapidly expanding American middle class.

Interior design developments

Boston exhibitions

In the late 1890s, a group of Boston’s most influential architects, designers, and educators, determined to bring to America the design reforms begun in England by William Morris, met to organize an exhibition of contemporary craft objects. The first meeting was held on January 4, 1897, at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) to organize an exhibition of contemporary crafts. When craftsmen, consumers, and manufacturers realized the aesthetic and technical potential of the applied arts, the process of design reform in Boston started. Present at this meeting were General Charles Loring, Chairman of the Trustees of the MFA; William Sturgis Bigelow and Denman Ross, collectors, writers and MFA trustees; Ross Turner, painter; Sylvester Baxter, art critic for the Boston Evening Transcript; Howard Baker; A.W. Longfellow Jr.; and Ralph Clipson Sturgis, architect.

The first American Arts and Crafts Exhibition opened on April 5, 1897, at Copley Hall featuring over 1000 objects made by 160 craftsmen, half of whom were women. Some of the supporters of the exhibit were Langford Warren, founder of Harvard’s School of Architecture; Mrs. Richard Morris Hunt; Arthur Astor Carey and Edwin Mead, social reformers; and Will Bradley, graphic designer.

Society of Arts and Crafts

The success of this exhibition led to the incorporation of The Society of Arts and Crafts, on June 28, 1897, with a mandate to “develop and encourage higher standards in the handicrafts.” The 21 founders were interested in more than sales, and focused on the relationship of designers within the commercial world, encouraging artists to produce work with the highest quality of workmanship and design.

This mandate was soon expanded into a credo, possibly written by the SAC’s first president, Charles Elliot Norton, which read:

This Society was incorporated for the purpose of promoting artistic work in all branches of handicraft. It hopes to bring Designers and Workmen into mutually helpful relations, and to encourage workmen to execute designs of their own. It endeavors to stimulate in workmen an appreciation of the dignity and value of good design; to counteract the popular impatience of Law and Form, and the desire for over-ornamentation and specious originality. It will insist upon the necessity of sobriety and restraint, or ordered arrangement, of due regard for the relation between the form of an object and its use, and of harmony and fitness in the decoration put upon it.


The style incorporated locally handcrafted wood, glass, and metal work that is both simple and elegant. A reaction to Victorian opulence and the increasingly common mass-produced housing elements, the style incorporated clean lines, sturdy structure, and natural materials. The name comes from a popular magazine published in the early 1900s by furniture maker Gustav Stickley called The Craftsman, which featured original house and furniture designs by Harvey Ellis, the Greene brothers, and others. The designs, while influenced by the ideals of the British movement, found inspiration in specifically American antecedents such as Shaker furniture and the Mission style. Emphasis on the originality of the artist/craftsman led to the new design concepts of the Art Deco movement of the 1930s! Several developments in the American domestic architecture of the period are traceable not only to changes in taste and style but also to the shift from the upper- to middle-class patronage. The American Victorian typically took the form of a two-story square house with a hip roof disguised behind a variety of two-storied bays, with an assortment of gables as well as octagonal or round turrets and wraparound porches presenting a complex facade. Typically, the basic square house was also complemented by a back wing complete with its own entrances, and a stairwell that housed the kitchen, pantries, and scullery on the first floor and the servants' quarters on the second. Fitted with inferior-quality woodwork and hardware, and noticeably smaller bedrooms and lower ceiling heights, the Victorian kitchen-servants wing embodied the aristocratic class distinctions of the Old World.

Architectural developments

With the large bays, turrets, and rear wing removed, the front porch simplified, and the ceilings lowered somewhat, it is not difficult to see how the American Foursquare developed from the common American Queen Anne. The middle-class housewife of the era would not have domestic servants (at least not live-in ones) and would be doing much if not all of the housework herself, as well as watching the children. These added roles made it important that the kitchen be integrated into the main house with easy sight lines to the common areas of the main floor (the dining and living rooms) as well as to the back yard. Commonly, the butler's pantry of the Victorian Era was replaced with dining room cabinetry that often consisted of "built-ins", which gave home designers the opportunity to incorporate wood and glass craftsmanship into the public aspects of the home.

Another common design development arising from the class-shift of the time was the built-in "breakfast nook" in the kitchen. The Victorian kitchen of the previous era was separated from the family view and daily routine. It typically had a work table (having the equivalent purpose of the modern countertop) at which the servants would eat after the family meal was served and the kitchen tidied. The Victorian kitchen had no "proper" place for a family member to sit, eat, or do anything else. Again, as the housewife of the Craftsman era was now preparing the family meals, the Victorian kitchen gave way to one designed as the heart of the family's daily life. The breakfast nook often placed under a window or in its own bay provided a place for the family to gather at any time of the day or evening, particularly while food was being prepared.

Renowned architect David Owen Dryden designed and built many Craftsman bungalows in San Diego's North Park area, which is the site of the proposed Dryden Historic District. The Marston House, an Arts and Crafts mansion built in 1905 for George Marston (a prominent San Diegan who was also a founder and first president of the San Diego Historical Society), was designed by San Diego architects William Hebbard and Irving Gill. The Marston House is now a museum located on the border of Balboa Park, and is open to the public.

Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the most important architects of the American home and whose career spanned the Victorian to the Craftsman to the Prairie School, which he in large part founded, is credited with much of the conceptual development of the middle-class home design in the first third of the 20th century.

In the early 1900s, developer Herberg J. Hapgood built numbers of impressive Craftsman-style homes, many from stucco, that comprise the lakeside borough of Mountain Lakes, New Jersey. Residents were called "Lakers." The homes followed signature styles, including bungalows and chalets. Hapgood eventually went bankrupt.

Common architectural design features

  • Low-pitched roof lines, gabled or hipped roof
  • Deeply overhanging eaves,
  • Exposed rafters or decorative brackets under eaves
  • Front porch beneath extension of main roof
  • Tapered, square columns supporting roof
  • 4-over-1 or 6-over-1 double-hung windows
  • Frank Lloyd Wright design motifs
  • Hand-crafted stone or woodwork
  • Mixed materials throughout structure

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See also