Arts and Crafts Architecture in America

craftsman architecture

There are some very notable distinctions that set houses from the Arts and Crafts period apart from those from other periods. Bungalows are the most famous style of the period, followed by Craftman style, Mission style and Prairie style.

Bungalows were modeled after the small, open, airy houses built by the British in colonial India during the late 1800's, and were the inspiration behind the modern ranch house (invented, or at least refined and made popular, by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1940's). The British designed the bungalow as a low, one-story cottage that was open to allow air to circulate freely and dispell the heat. as such, it was the perfect design for California. It was not the perfect design for places like Buffalo, NY.

Although you can find bungalows across America, other house styles were designed to better reflect the climate and environment they were in. In the Midwest, Frank Lloyd Wright invented the Prairie style. Although this style featured two or more stories, its use of straight, horizontal lines gives one the impression of a low, flat house that mimics the flatness of the plains and prairies of the Midwest.

Further east, cold weather and hilly terrain made the bungalow less practical and the prairie homes less popular. Many areas of the eastern United States were already populated with Victorian houses and farmsteads that were built with the climate in mind. However, Craftsman Guild founder Gustav Stickley (living outside of Syracuse, NY), found news ways to express the Arts and Crafts ideals with house plans based on existing Four Square, Colonial, Cottage and Stick styles.

Mission Style homes were inspired by the adobe structures built in the southwestern U.S. by Spanish missionaries. They were not truly considered part of the Arts and Crafts movement, but their popularity in some parts of the western U.S. merit mention because Mission architecture followed the ideals of the Movement by being made of natural, indiginous materials and fit the character of the environment very well.

All of these styles generally feature wide eaves, exposed rafter tails and joists along the roof line, and an emphasis on wood and natural materials. Interior feature on many of these homes included art glass, built-in cabinetry and wood details.

Unfortunately, many homes from this period (1895-1920) have undergone serious renovation over the years and their original appearance may have been sometimes dramatically altered. For instance, the original boxed wood gutters (gutters that are built into the house itself) have often times rotted and been replaced with newer aluminum gutters that are attached to the edge of the roof. In some cases, the old inlaid gutters were removed altogether, thus shortening the broad overhanging eaves that are the hallmark of Craftsman homes. Many times the house has been covered in siding and soffit and facia, which hides any exposed rafter tails, along with the once beautiful shingles or stucco upper-floor construction. And, as outdoor activities shifted from the front of the house to the rear, it is not unusual to find Foursquares that have had the front porch turned into a sunroom or den -- robbing it of its original character.

However, if you take these modifications into account, it is still possible to detect Arts and Crafts homes hiding beneath the renovations.

For a quick primer on Arts and Crafts architecture -- the ideas that drove the designs and the various styles that define the period -- please check out the "Styles " section. Then discover the beauty and diversity of Craftsman Architecture with over 230 photographs of houses taken across the U.S. with a few from Canada for good measure. Select a region on the menu to the left and begin your virtual tour of houses from around the country.

Craftsman Perspective is created and copyrighted by Ken Lonsinger. © 1997-2010. All rights reserved.

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Page last updated: April 6, 2010

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