Arts and Crafts Architecture

The 19th century Arts and Crafts Movement sparked the Craftsman and bungalow styles.

The term "Arts and Crafts" refers to the early 19th-century British and American movement to revive handicrafts. The movement was also the inspiration behind the Craftsman and bungalow styles.

English reformer William Morris was one of the founders of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the late 1880s. Tired of excessive Victorian architecture and the machine-driven Industrial Age, Morris and his followers wanted to return to a pre-industrial, handmade society. Morris also wanted to make custom furnishings available to the "common man."

When the movement made its way to the United States at the turn of the 20th century, Gustav Stickley, founder and editor of The Craftsman magazine and a well-known furniture maker, became the American leader. Originally, the term "Craftsman" meant a home built from a plan in Stickley's magazine, but it has come to mean homes built in the Arts and Crafts style.

The bungalow was closely associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement. Stickley preached that bungalows would give working-class families the chance to experience "serious architecture." Bungalows melded simple design with handcrafted artistry -- all for about $900 dollars. The style was also easy to build and maintain, and it became the most common type of Craftsman home, cropping up from California to the Chicago suburbs.

Bungalows and Craftsman homes remained popular until they fell out of favor when the casual ranch style emerged after World War II. However, the sleek, timeless style is regaining popularity today.

Key Elements

  • Built of natural materials. Craftsman homes are typically built of real wood, stone and brick.
  • Built-in furniture and light fixtures. Built-ins were the hallmark feature of the Arts and Crafts era. Built-in cabinets allowed the furnishings to be part of the architecture, ensuring design unity and economic use of space. Even the light fixtures are often part of the design.
  • Fireplace. A fireplace was the symbol of family in the Arts and Crafts movement, so most homes feature a dominant fireplace in the living room and a large exterior chimney.
  • Porches. Most homes in the Craftsman style have porches with thick square or round columns and stone porch supports.
  • Low-pitched roofs. The homes typically have a low roof with wide eaves and triangular brackets.
  • Exposed beams. The beams on the porch and inside the house are often exposed.
  • Open floor plan. The Arts and Crafts Movement rejected the small, boxy rooms like those in Victorian houses.

Famous Examples

  • St. Francis Court. In 1909, Sylvanus Marston, an architect who studied at Cornell, assembled bungalows in Pasadena, Calif., around a small "courtyard" to solve the density problem and create the illusion of space.

  • Craftsman Farms. Gustav Stickley's retreat in Morris Plains, N.J., is a perfect example of the Arts and Crafts style. The entire home is furnished with furniture from Stickley United Crafts.

  • The Gamble House. This 8,200-square-foot Arts and Crafts icon is in Pasadena, Calif. It was built in 1908 by Charles and Henry Greene, who obsessively crafted every detail of the furnishings and art.

Practically Speaking: Hassles and Headaches

By definition, a Craftsman home is carefully constructed, open and uses space economically. That means the style is likely to need few repairs if it has been well maintained.

"Craftsman homes have a high quality of design and craftsmanship, so they hold their value," explains David Jensen, an architect from Long Beach, Wash. "They are like the Rolls Royce, or the Robert Redford, of the architecture world."

A Craftsman home's simple, elegant design means it's less likely to look dated. That said, homeowners today typically want a more open floor plan than older Craftsman homes provide. Often the kitchen needs to be updated to add more counter space and room for larger appliances, says Jensen. Also, homes today typically have more lighting and windows.

House Hunting

Ready to bunk up in a bungalow or Craftsman home? The styles are most prevalent in California.

"The West Coast is a hot spot because a lot of the development in the West was happening at the height of the style's popularity," explains Jensen.

California's climate is perfect for the bungalow and Craftsman style, especially the large deck. Pasadena, Calif., has an area known as "Bungalow Heaven," where there are hundreds of historic bungalows.

In Chicago, there's the "Bungalow Belt." Because of the chilly winters, the Chicago bungalows have a sunroom rather than an open porch. Also, take a look at neighborhoods in almost any city that were established between 1900 and 1930, and you're sure to find some retro Craftsman digs.


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