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Understanding Craftsman Architecture

By Karen Hoeve Published 02/6/2008 | Real Estate

Many older homes in cities today have their roots in the Arts and Crafts movement. With their squared, low-lying layouts and sturdy construction, these homes are often easy to spot, but generally not as widely recognized or studied as Victorian homes from the same era - they simply remain unclassified or incorrectly identified as ranchers. As years progress, however, the homes, properly known as  "Craftsman" buildings, are outlasting most Victorian buildings, and finding more recognition among preservationists and historic home buyers who want to ask for them by name.

In some ways it's remarkable that Craftsman-style homes were so attractive, given the round-about way they were conceived. Rather than emerging simply as a new architectural form, Craftsman homes developed as part of the Arts and Crafts movement, which in many ways was a reaction against the over-decorated and fragile aesthetics of the Victorian era, as well as the lack of personal touch in many modern-era buildings. Given those prerequisites, one might have expected an unfocussed, impressionistic style to emerge, rather than the refined, often symmetrical building shapes for which Craftsman style homes are known. These homes can generally be identified by their front entrances featuring  a large raised porch with columns on either side, a central door, and a single second story window in the second floor gable. Roofs in this style are generally hipped, with overhanging eaves on all four sides. Other common Craftsman features include extensive stonework, rough-hewn wood, and stucco exteriors.

The popularization of Craftsman homes is largely credited to designer Gustav Stickley, a turn of the century architect who often featured these homes in his magazine, The Craftsman. Stickley famously referred to Craftsman style as "a house reduced to its simplest form," wrote lengthy reviews on home and furniture originals by designers Harvey Ellis, the Greene Brothers, and others. Large numbers of Craftsman homes began appearing in San Diego in the early 20th century, which eventually led to the term "California Bungalow" for these types of homes.

Craftsman-style homes worked as well for families and middle class as they did for designers and artistic activists. One of the most significant advances made by these homes was the way they re-aligned the kitchen area with the rest of the main floor - instead of having a segregated kitchen with a formal dining room, Craftsman homes often had a built-in "breakfast nook" so that families could eat closer to the kitchen, which then became the center of activity on the upper floor.

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