Craftsmanship Shapes Arts and Crafts Style Homes

The Old House Web

by Allison E. Beatty

Walk into an Arts and Crafts style home and you'll notice the simple lines and fine details. The three piece crown molding. The hand carved staircase railing. The built-in dining room wall cabinet.

These homes, built around the 1900s, are filled with a quiet type of charm, a feeling of warmth and coziness. Following on the heels of the more ornate Victorian era, the Arts and Crafts movement was a response to changing lifestyles and priorities.

Defining Arts and Crafts Style Homes

The days of the fancy reception rooms and furniture-filled parlors were ending, as the rising middle class looked for houses they could live in comfortably. Many middle class families could not afford the servants and large entertaining spaces that characterized Victorian homes. They wanted more functional housing designs with living rooms and smaller kitchens.

The Arts and Crafts movement focused on a return to the fine craftsmanship that shaped homes, furniture and other household products before the advent of factories. This movement started in England in the middle 1800s and was then adapted by American builders and architects. The intent was to bring beautiful, well-made objects to the lives of ordinary people.

Exterior Architecture

The outside of an Arts and Crafts home demonstrates the clean architectural lines of this housing era. The homes typically have low-pitched gable roofs with decorative beams under the gables. The roofs sit on wide eave overhangs that add an interesting architectural detail and provide added shelter from the elements. Arts and Crafts homes often were built of brick or stucco.

Home Improvement Challenges

While cozy floor plans are part of the charm of a 1900's era house, they present design challenges for today's home owners. Many home improvement dilemmas center around the desire to balance the original housing design with a need for larger kitchens and family rooms -- and more bathrooms!

When pursuing any type of old house renovation, look for a contractor who has expertise in this area and will work to blend the old with the new. The contractor should be aware of the following details found in many Arts and Crafts homes:

  • Simple architectural lines with little ornamentation
  • Copper and pewter -- for window handles, door knobs and fireplace accents
  • Handmade detailing -- in molding, cabinetry and accents
  • Tall baseboards and crown moldings
  • Enclosed sleeping porches and sunrooms

A Look at Porches

During this time, the open front porch went by the wayside, replaced by fully or partially enclosed front, back or sleeping porches. Porches were designed as an integral part of the indoor living space and featured exterior porch supports that were both decorative and cohesive. They were designed to mirror other architectural elements around the house. The porch supports often were square or slanted inward.

Floor Plan Issues

The layout of many Arts and Crafts homes was well suited to the more sedate lifestyle of families living around the turn of the century. The segregated kitchen, family room and living arrangement, however, does not bode as well for many of today's home owners. This is where old house renovations get tricky, as owners try to open a floor plan while keeping proportions that remain true to the architecture.

There are also functional issues to consider when renovating an Arts and Crafts home. Because many of these homes were built shortly after indoor plumbing reached the masses, bathrooms were considered a luxury. Many homes were built with only one bathroom, which presents obvious home improvement challenges for today's home owners.

Oftentimes, contractors try to "steal" space for a powder room from a kitchen pantry or the area under the staircase. This type of solution helps retain the coziness of the old house, while giving home owners the modern conveniences they seek.

Bringing in Light

Windows are another important architectural feature in Arts and Crafts homes. Many homes feature large wood windows designed to bring in plenty of light. As windows are replaced, however, owners debate whether to buy wood or go with other materials that require less maintenance.

Craftsman and Bungalow Designs

Among the most popular Arts and Crafts variations are the Craftsman and Bungalow. The Craftsman often was bigger than the bungalow and had two stories instead of one or one and one-half. Craftsman homes often made extensive use of stone and wood, including dark wood panelling, to show the importance of nature. Bungalows often were marketed to new homeowners, as they were smaller and more affordable.

Prairie Influences

Many Arts and Craft homes also include Prairie influences drawn from famed Chicago architect Frank Lloyd Wright. His homes were built with low stretching rooflines, designed to imitate the Midwestern prairie.

The true Wright designs, however, were expensive to build and required on-site architects and specific building plans. Thus, they typically were reserved for upper income residents. The Arts and Crafts movement marked an important turning point in modern architecture. This was a time when housing enthusiasts rallied around the concept of craftsmanship and simplicity. You no longer had to buy a busy, ornate Victorian to display character and charm.

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