Craftsman Style Architecture

Craftsman Architecture, Home Building & House Exteriors

From Gustav Stickley´s "Craftsman Homes", an essay on the type and characteristics of Craftsman style architecture and house building, both in the interiors and exteriors :

"The Art of Building A Home"

¶ As a nation we do not easily submit to coercion. We want a hand in the government, national or local. We are pretty direct if we do not like a senator or a governor, and express our opinion fully of our ministers and college presidents. In more intimate matters of courtship and marriage we regard ourselves as more independent than any other nation. We marry usually whom we please, and live where we please, and work as we please but when it comes to that most vital matter of building a home, individuality and independence seem to vanish, and we are browbeaten alike by architect, builder, contractor, interior decorator, picture dealer and furniture man. We live in any old house that anyone else has discarded, and we submit to all manner of tyrannies as to the size, style and finish of our houses, impertinences ihat we would not permit in any other detail of life. We not only imitate foreign ideals in our architecture, but we have become artificial and unreal in all the detail of the finish and fittings of our homes. How many of us would dare to rise up and assert sufficient individuality to plan and build a house that exactly suited our personal ideal of comfort and beauty, and represented our station in life?

Craftsman Interior Architecture
Craftsman Interior Architecture.
Craftsman living room showing recessed window seat, overhead beams and girders and high wainscot built with recesses to hold bits of metal or pottery. The use of lanterns hanging from the beams shows the favorite craftsman method of lighting a room. The craftsman piano exactly corresponds with the woodwork so that it seems to be a part of it.

¶ And to what extent can we hope for finer ideals in a country that is afraid to be sincere in that most significant feature of national achievement, the home. We are a country of self supporting men and women, and we cannot expect to develop an honest significant architecture until we build homes that are simple, yet beautiful, that proclaim fine democratic standards and that are essentially appropriate to busy intelligent people.

¶ That this same state of affairs prevails somewhat in other lands (though nowhere to the same extent as in America) we realize from the writing of two well known English architects, Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin, who in a series of lectures published under the title of "The Art of Building a Home" have entered a plea for greater honesty in architecture and greater sincerity in decoration which ought to strike a responsive chord in the heart of every American who has contemplated the foolish, unthinking, artificial structures which we have vainly called homes.

¶ In the introduction to this vital valuable little book Messrs. Parker and Unwin take up the question of lack of thought in architecture in so simple, straightforward and illuminating a fashion that it has seemed wise to present it to the readers of "Craftsman Homes" as expressing our creeds and establishing more fully our own ideals!

¶ The way we run in ruts is wonderful: our inability to find out the right principles upon which to set to work to accomplish what we take in hand, or to go to the bottom of things, is simply astonishing: while the resignation with which we accept the Recognized and Usual as the Right and Inevitable is really beautiful.

¶ In nothing is this tendency more noticeable than in the art of house building. We begin by considering what, in the way of a house, our neighbors have; what they would expect us to have; what is customary in the rank of life to which we belong; anything, in fact, but what are our actual needs. About the last thing we do is to make our home take just that form which will, in the most straightforward manner, meet our requirements.

¶ The planning having been dictated by convention, all the details are worked out under the same influence. To each house is applied a certain amount of meaningless mechanical and superficial ornamentation according to some recognized standard. No use whatever is made of the decorative properties inherent in the construction and in the details necessary to the building. These are put as far as possible out of sight. For example, latches and locks are all let into the doors leaving visible the knobs only. The hinges are hidden in the rebate of the door frame, while the real door frame, that which does the work, is covered up with a strip of flimsy molded board styled the architrave. All constructional features, wherever possible, are smeared over with a coat of plaster to bring them up to the same dead level of flat monotony, leaving a clear field for the erection of the customary abominations in the form of cornices, imitation beams where no beams are wanted, and plaster brackets which could support, and do support, nothing. Even with the fire the chief aim seems to be to acknowledge as few of its properties and characteristics as possible; it is buried as deep in the wall and as far out of sight and out of the way as may be; it is smothered up with as much uncongenial and inappropriate "enrichment" as can be crowded round it; and, to add the final touch of senseless incongruity, some form of that massive and apparently very constructional and essential thing we call a mantelpiece is erected, in wood, stone or marble, towering it may be even to the ceiling. If we were not so accustomed to it, great would be our astonishment to find that this most prominent feature has really no function whatever, beyond giving cause for a lot of other things as useful and beautiful as itself, which exist only that they may be put upon it, to "decorate" it.

¶ The essence and life of design lies in finding that form for anything which will, with the maximum of convenience and beauty, fit it for the particular functions it has to perform, and adapt it to the special circumstances in which it must be placed. Perhaps the most fruitful source whence charm of design arises in anything, is the grace with which it serves its purpose and conforms to its surroundings. How many of the beautiful features of the work of past ages, which we now arbitrarily reproduce and copy, arose out of the skilful and graceful way in which some old artist craftsman, or chief mason, got over a difficulty! If, instead of copying these features when and where the cause for them does not exist, we would rather emulate the spirit in which they were produced, there would be more hope of again seeing life and vigor in our architecture and design.

¶ When the architect leaves the house, the subservience to convention is not over. After him follow the decorator and the furnisher, who try to overcome the lifelessness and vapidity by covering all surfaces with fugitive decorations and incongruous patterns, and filling the rooms with flimsy stereotyped furniture and nick nacks. To these the mistress of the house will be incessantly adding, from an instinctive feeling of the incompleteness and unsatisfactoriness of the whole. Incidentally we see here one reason why the influence of the architect should not stop at the completion of the four walls, but should extend to the last detail of the furnished house. When his responsibility ceases with the erection of the shell, it is natural that he should look very little beyond this. There is no inducement for him to work out any definite scheme for a finished room, for he knows that if he had any aim the decorator and furnisher would certainly miss it and would fail to complete his creation. If, when designing a house, the architect were bearing in mind the effect each room would have when finished and furnished, his conceptions would be influenced from the very beginning, and his attitude toward the work would tend to undergo an entire change. At present he but too readily accepts the popular idea of art as a thing quite apart from life, a sort of trimming to be added if funds allow.

¶ It is this prevalent conception of beauty as a sweetmeat, something rather nice which may be taken or left according to inclination after the solid meal has been secured, which largely causes the lack of comeliness we find in our houses. Before this idea can be dispelled and we can appreciate either the place which art should hold in our lives or the importance of rightly educating the appreciation of it, we must realize that beauty is part of the necessary food of any life worth the name; that art, which is the expression of beauty as conceived and created by man, is primarily concerned with the making of the useful garments of life beautiful, not with the trimming of them; and that, moreover, in its higher branches art is the medium through which the most subtle ideas are conveyed from man to man.

¶ Understanding something of the true meaning of art, we may set about realizing it, at least in the homes which are so much within our control. Let us have in our houses, rooms where there shall be space to carry on the business of life freely and with pleasure, with furniture made for use; rooms where a drop of water spilled is not fatal; where the life of a chill is not made a burden to it by unnecessary restraint; plain, simple, and ungarnished if necessary, but honest. Let us have such ornament as we do have really beautiful and wrought by hand, carving, wrought metal, embroidery, painting, something which it has given pleasure to the producer to create, and which shows this in every line the only possible work of art. Let us call in the artist, bid him leave his easel pictures, and paint on our walls and over the chimney corner landscapes and scenes which shall bring light and life into the room; which shall speak of nature, purity, and truth; shall become part of the room, of the walls on which they are painted, and of the lives of us who live beside them; paintings which our children shall grow up to love, and always connect with scenes of home with that vividness of a memory from childhood which no time can efface. Then, if necessary, let the rest of the walls go untouched in all the rich variety of color and tone, of light and shade, of the naked brickwork. Let the floor go uncarpeted, and the wood unpainted, that we may have time to think, and money with which to educate our children to think also. Let us have rooms which once decorated are always decorated, rooms fit to be homes in the fullest poetry of the name; in which no artificiality need momentarily force us to feel shame for things of which we know there is nothing to be ashamed: rooms which can form backgrounds, fitting and dignified, at the time and in our memories, for all those little scenes, those acts of kindness and small duties, as well as the scenes of deep emotion and trial, which make up the drama of our lives at home.



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