Craftsman Style: 1905 – 1930

by Hänsel Hernández-Navarro (photo by Photo Dean)

If there’s one thing we love about CIRCA, it’s the chance to “tour” the great vernacular architecture that makes America wonderful. We have a lot of Craftsman fans out there, and today Hänsel is teaching all that style!
Good grief! When I started researching this style what most surprised me was how many terms have been used to refer to it. There’s “bungalow”, “craftsman bungalow”, “craftsman cottage”, “Arts & Crafts house”, “Arts & Crafts bungalow”, “Arts & Crafts cottage”… I think you get the picture. To make matters worse, I remember a historian who once declared: “the bungalow is a type, not a style.” Still confused? Let’s approach this logically.

The word banggolo comes from the Bengali language of South Asia, and it refers to a generic, one-story, vernacular dwelling. This building is the most frequently adapted one in the world. But it turns out that it is also the most popular residential building in American architecture, with the ranch being its closest contender.
The emphasis is on craftsmanly display (real or reproduced) of construction materials and methods. Hence “craftsman bungalow” in American architecture refers to both the stylistic residential building and the “domestic revival” movement. This is one formula to understand it all better:

The Arts & Crafts Movement

It was primarily Elbert Hubbard and Gustav Stickley who advocated and spread the theory and design of the English Arts and Craft movement in the US. Soon utopian Arts and Crafts production communities and workshops were created across North America. Hubbard created the Roycroft community outside of Buffalo, NY. Stickley not only wanted to produce simply-made yet artistic furnishings and products for the home, but also tried to make artistic but moderate house designs available to the average American; houses that were designed as unified wholes, including furniture and fittings.

Two 1909 pages from Stickley’s The Craftsman magazine. Images courtesy of Laurelhurst Craftsman Bungalow.

Starting in 1901, Stickley’s The Craftsman magazine featured designs for houses and interiors, which epitomized his craftsmanship philosophy. Furthermore, he also published plans and construction drawings of compact single-family houses especially designed for the magazine. Subscribers could receive full working drawings of the houses. Stickley came to have a very strong influence in the development of the American crafts cottage, or bungalow in domestic architecture, due in great part to the magazine’s influence and readership, and the dissemination of those house plans.

The Craftsman Style

Craftsman was the dominant style for smaller houses built throughout the country during the period from about 1905 until the early 1930s. The style originated in Southern California and most landmark examples are concentrated there. Like vernacular examples of the contemporaneous Prairie Style, it quickly spread throughout the country by pattern books and popular magazines. The style faded from favor after the mid-1920s and few were built after 1930.

The Blacker House, Pasadena, California, by Charles and Henry Greene, 1907. Photo by studyblue.

These Craftsman style houses were inspired primarily by the work of two California brothers: Charles and Henry Greene, who practiced mostly in Pasadena from 1893 to 1914. In 1903 they started designing a simple California bungalow in Craftsman style; but by 1909 they had accomplished a series of exceptional examples of the style known as “ultimate bungalows”: the Blacker House (1907, above), and the Gamble House (1908, below).

The Gamble House, Pasadena, California, by Charles and Henry Greene, 1908. Photo by Mr. Exuberance.

Among the Greenes’ influences were: the English Arts & Crafts movement, a keen interest in Asian wooden architecture, as well as their early training in the manual arts back east. Their intricately detailed buildings received a lot of coverage in trade publications, and it was this type of publicity which familiarized the rest of the US with the style. Subsequently, a great number of pattern books appeared which featured plans for Craftsman style bungalows; as well as pre-cut packages of lumber and detailing which could be assembled by your local contractor.
The one-story Craftsman house became very popular and fashionable; it was an affordable, stylish small house, perfectly suited for city or suburbia. But high-style two-story examples are mostly found in California. In the rest of the country the one-story vernacular is more prevalent, and it is often called a “bungalow.”

In the early 20th century, Sears provided middle class Americans with Craftsman style house. This advertisement is from 1916. Photo courtesy of Sears Archives.


How to Identify the Craftsman Style


Distinctive Craftsman Features

Distinctive of the Craftsman style are the columns supporting the porch roofs. They are typically short and square at the top and they rest on larger, massive piers or on a solid porch balustrade. The columns and piers generally have sloping sides and these, as well as the balustrades, could be in stone, clapboard, shingle, brick, concrete block (cast-stone), or stucco; and these are often combined.

A Craftsman house in San Jose, California. Construction date unknown. Photo by David Sawyer.

One key element of the style is the roof-to-wall junctions; these are never boxed or enclosed. The Craftsman roof has a wide eave overhang, and along the edges the rafter ends are exposed; sometimes these are added for effect and cut into decorative shapes. Also common are principal roof purlins and rafters extending through the wall to the roof edge.

Greene & Greene’s 1908 Duncin-Irwin House in Pasadena, California. Photo by The Estate of Things.

The more prevalent wall cladding material is wood clapboard, or wood shingles, but also stone, brick, concrete block, and stucco are used. Peculiar and infrequent Swiss balustrades or Japanese-like roofs are sometimes found.

A Craftsman house in Lancaster Ohio with stone columns and a fanciful Japanese-inspired roof. Construction date unknown. Photo by Dan Stiver.


The Craftsman Interior

The Craftsman interior displays freer, more open plans and artisan details that find aesthetic merit in the display of natural materials and structural features. Furniture is frequently built-in, either to enframe fireplaces conveying the house’s association of hearth and home, or featuring built-in bookcases as room dividers or at edges in order to free up usable space for family activities. Living rooms are oriented to fireplaces, windows, or inglenook bays. Dining rooms provide communal space for meals, conversation, and family interaction.

The interior of Greene & Greene’s 1908 Gamble House. Photo courtesy of CA Dreamin’.


Hänsel Hernández-Navarro is an architectural conservator specializing in the preservation and rehabilitation of historic buildings and monuments, and cultural resource management. He received his Masters in Historic Preservation from Columbia University. He lives in New York City and has worked for the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Getty Conservation Institute, the National Park Service, The American Academy in Rome, and the Museum of the City of New York.



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