Reaching the height of its popularity in the first decades of the 20th century, the
Craftsman style in America was informed by both European and Japanese architectural
design. The Craftsman style and the Arts and Crafts movement, of which Craftsman was
a part, hearkened back to medieval times, when the creative labor of human beings rather
than the constant hum of machinery was the driving force behind the built environment
and craft objects. The Craftsman movement would reinvigorate handicraft, return the
skilled artisan to a position of respect, and serve as a reminder that honest labor could be
joyful rather than dehumanizing. In England the Arts and Crafts movement originated
with such thinkers and architects as John Ruskin, William Morris, C.R.Ashbee, and
M.H.Baillie-Scott. On the Continent, Craftsman buildings tended to use more masonry
than wood, to incorporate tiled roofs, and to use half-timbered exterior ornamentation
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with Tudor overtones. The American Arts and Crafts movement drew on these influences
while adapting itself to liberal capitalism and the varying climates and landscapes of the
United States. The movement and its design principles were popularized through such
publications as Gustav Stickley’s magazine The Craftsman. In contrast to the Victorian buildings that
preceded them, Craftsman structures eschewed applied ornamentation in favor of the
natural beauty of construction materials and a simplicity of line. Perhaps the greatest
irony of this preference for simplicity and honesty of materials was the reality that much
Craftsman joinery, in both architecture and furniture, was extremely elaborate and
difficult to execute.
The Craftsman style reached its fullest expression mainly in domestic rather than
public buildings. The style was characterized by the use of natural building materials,
such as brick, stone, and regionally available woods. A hallmark of Craftsman design was
the use of exposed joinery on both the exterior and the interior of buildings, an art
arguably brought to its most dra-matic realization in the Blacker House (1907) and
Gamble House (1908), designed by Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene in
Pasadena, California. It is in the work of the Greenes that the Japanese influence on the
Craftsman style is most apparent, particularly in the roof supports, lanterns, and reflecting
pool on the rear terrace. In addition to natural building materials and exposed joinery,
Craftsman domestic structures generally featured low-pitched roofs that served to anchor
the buildings to their surrounding landscape. Even the three-story Gamble House appears
relatively low to the ground. In addition the tasteful use of stained and art glass as well as
prominent fireplaces (often incorporating handmade tiles as a decorative element)
surrounded by inglenooks or seating areas were components of the style. The homes
typically (although not universally) worked toward an open plan, minimizing obstacles
between rooms. Craftsman style was also characterized by a belief in comprehensive
design where it was possible. In homes designed for wealthy clients by Frank Lloyd
Wright and the Greene brothers, for example, furniture, lighting fixtures, textiles, and
accessories were all designed as integral parts of the domestic space rather than as
In the United States the work of the Greene brothers is perhaps most frequently
associated with the Craftsman style at its best. Indeed, David P.Handlin (1979) has
argued that California was the most active region of the country for Arts and Crafts
design. The Greenes’ “Ultimate Bungalows” in Pasadena and additional projects
throughout the state, such as the Thorsen House (1908) in Berkeley, provide the bestpreserved
and most fully articulated examples of the style. Peter Davey describes the
Greenes’ style as one “in which complexity was built up from elements of great
simplicity, an architecture of timber in which beam was piled upon beam, rafter upon
rafter to form ordered nests of smooth sticks with great overhanging eaves and projecting
balconies to provide shade from the sun. Every member and every joint is made explicit”
(1980, 212). Craftsman-style buildings on the West Coast tended to draw on the work of
the Greenes and on Stickley’s Craf tsman designs, incorporating more wood than stone, including
shingles, and ample porches enhanced with rough stones or masonry.
In addition to the Greenes, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie style is recognized as a part
of the Arts and Crafts movement despite the visible differences between Wright’s designs
and those of other Craftsman architects. While the Greenes were busy on the West Coast,
Wright was changing domestic architecture in the Midwest. His own home and studio
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(1889) in Oak Park, Illinois, exhibit many of the features described previously, such as
the tasteful use of art glass, prominence of natural woods, and fireplace inglenook.
Further, Wright’s Robie House (1906–09) in Chicago demonstrates the clean horizontal
lines, spectacular woodwork, free-flowing space, and dramatic central fireplace which
were key elements of Wright’s Prairie style. An excellent example of the Craftsman style
applied to a public building is Bernard Maybeck’s First Church of Christ Scientist (1909–
11) in Berkeley. The exposed brackets supporting the low-pitched roof and dramatic
windows exemplify the Craftsman style on a large scale.
With the onset of World War I, the Arts and Crafts movement in America began to
decline in popularity. The ideals that gave rise to the movement were losing their appeal
for many, and the allure of mass-produced housing components made pos sible in part
through the advances of wartime construction became increasingly hard to resist. The
simplicity of the Arts and Crafts movement was gradually replaced by the even more
simplified International Style, with its clean lines and blank facades. Even so, in almost
any town in the country, one can still feel the influence of the Craftsman style and its
domestic architectural ideals.
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