What Is a Craftsman House?


Across the U.S., a vast array of Craftsman houses exhibit the identifiable style of the early models that became popular on the West Coast but quickly spread throughout the country. Craftsman style is distinct enough to be obvious at a glance, whether the houses are bungalows, cottages, four-squares, cabins, rural farmhouses, urban duplexes or modern bungalow court communities. Some Craftsman homes show details reminiscent of Swiss chalets, while others are clearly aligned with Japanese and oriental styles. From roof to hearth, the distinctive character of Craftsman housing accounts for its enduring appeal.

Origins of an Idea

  • A Craftsman house is as much a design philosophy as a set of blueprints. The style emerged from the Arts and Crafts movement in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, with generous influences from Spanish Mission architecture and spare, elegant Japanese design. The original houses were hand-built of fine woods and materials from nature: large, luxurious and faux-rustic retreats for wealthy West Coast clients, customized to take advantage of each site. But Craftsman style is essentially simple, and developers could offer sample house plans to America's emerging middle class at affordable rates. Gustav Stickley, who lent his name to a furniture style identified with Arts and Crafts, published house plans in his magazine "The Craftsman" from 1901 to 1916, and modest Craftsman houses and bungalows were soon widely reproduced.

Craftsman Curb Appeal

  • A house built in Craftsman style is easily identified, although many variations exist. The one- to two-story homes have low-pitched gabled roofs facing front or side, varied roof planes, dormer windows, large overhanging eaves, exposed support beams and decorative braces below the gables, wide front porches with angled and tapered columns, and stone-covered foundation walls and exterior chimneys. The siding is a variable mix of wood shingles or slats, stucco, and stone cladding. Windows have multi-paned top sashes and single lower sashes; doors and windows may feature inset panes of stained glass, typically with a geometric design. Siding and trim are painted in contrasting earth colors.

Outside in

  • Inside a Craftsman home, the lower floor is usually an open plan, constructed of natural materials with an emphasis on woodwork, built-in cabinets, window seats, bookcases and fine joinery. Rafters, beams and support poles are wood; floors and wainscoting are hardwood; fireplaces and hearths are clad in stone, occasionally brick; windows and sidelights might be decorated with patterned colored glass borders. Baseboards, window casings, interior doors and molding are polished, unpainted wood. Decorative objects, textiles and tile are handmade by artisans in natural materials: clay pottery, handblown glass, handwoven natural fiber upholstery and hand-knotted or woven carpets. Colors are earthy and muted, with plenty of warm tones to complement the wood.

Work-of-Art House

  • The American Craftsman style housing boom peaked in the 1920s, but plenty of examples remain in communities across the country. By the late 20th century, the houses and bungalows attracted a new generation of homeowners who set out to restore the period details and fine finishes of the original buildings. The Gamble House is a classic from the noted architectural team of Charles and Henry Greene, built for the heirs to the Procter and Gamble fortune in Pasadena, California, in 1908. Today, it's a museum, a restored architectural gem that is one of the finest existing examples of pure Craftsman style, with every luxurious embellishment. Restoring your more modest bungalow might be a multi-year labor of love that can draw inspiration from classic Craftsman houses such as the Gamble House, and from volumes of historic and decor material depicting authentic elements of the style.

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