Craftsman Homes: ‘Simple Living and High Thinking’
“It comes to me every day of my life that a home spirit is being awakened amongst us, that as a nation we are beginning to realize how important it is to have homes that we like, that we have been instrumental in building.”
In these down-home phrases, Gustav Stickley, editor of The Craftsman magazine, promoted the Craftsman bungalow with its cedar shingle siding, deep roof eaves, ample porches, ground-hugging horizontal lines and dark, redwood interiors that swept Southern California between 1890 and 1920.
The Craftsman style “established an American architecture so fresh that it spread from Pasadena to all of Southern California, and then all over the country,” Esther McCoy wrote in “Five California Architects.”
At the height of its popularity the Craftsman house was so much in demand across the United States that some local architects set up lucrative mail-order operations that offered sets of plans for $1 “direct from Bungalow Land,” as they called Southern California.
The most famous Craftsman houses of Pasadena were designed by brothers Charles and Henry Greene. So many Greene and Greene houses--the Gamble, the Blacker and the Duncan-Irwin--were built along the Arroyo Seco that they were given their own name, the Arroyo style.
Besides the Greenes, other architects who led the Craftsman movement in Southern California included Myron Hunt and his partner, Elmer Grey; Sylvanus Marston, Louis B. Easton, Arthur and Alfred Heineman, Frederick L. Roehrig and George Harris.
The Craftsman bungalow embodied the ideal of “simple living and high thinking” popularized by the late-Victorian Arts and Crafts movement in the United States and Britain.
The Arts and Crafts movement appealed to genteel middle-class people who, repelled by the whole idea of the noisy, dirty, intrusive Industrial Revolution, yearned to live a life of semi-rustic simplicity.
In the Arts and Crafts ideal, self-reliant family groups communed with nature or gathered around the fireplace in the evening and read poetry, played the piano, wove cloth or crafted timber for the houses they helped build with their own hands.
“The simple shingled bungalow, enriched with the most discriminating taste in painting and hand-crafts, was built by intellectuals . . . folksy in their attitudes toward family and the good life,” historian Robert Winter wrote in “California Design 1910.”
Retreating into the safe, warm cave of the family home, the breadwinner would find refuge at the hearth from the labors of the day out in the brutal working world.
“The little lady would be busy in the efficient white kitchen at the back of the house, concocting healthful dinners from garden-grown vegetables,” Winter wrote.
“When she’d fed the family, she and her daughters might entertain the head of the household with an aria from Puccini, or a medieval madrigal, to soothe his soul.”
Modest to Grand
The Craftsman bungalow --a word derived from the Hindi bangla, a house in the Bengal style-- ranged from the modest to the grand.
Many bungalows were designed and partly built by their owners. They were inspired by Stickley’s belief that “Homes must be honest dwellings . . . (in which) every man has the right to think out the plan for his house to suit himself.”
Charlotte Dyer, in a 1912 article titled “How I Built My Bungalow,” declared:
“I decided not to engage an architect. I knew exactly what I wanted, and so often an architect will insist on incorporating his own ideas, and I just wanted us, my husband and myself, in the ‘thought’ of our home.”
Tile maker Ernest Batchelder, whose ceramics graced almost every classic Craftsman house built before World War I, also designed and built his own home at 626 S. Arroyo Blvd., Pasadena, in 1909.
Used Arroyo Stones
Batchelder was attracted to the site by its mature trees and its location on the edge of the Arroyo Seco. The front porch frames a view of the magnificent 100-year-old oak that spreads its protective canopy over the low-pitched tar-paper roof.
Batchelder crafted a cedar-shingled bungalow graced by round river stones from the arroyo. A second-story porch was designed to catch the sweet breezes wafting in from the San Gabriel Valley’s orange groves.
The living room, with its board-and-batten redwood wainscotting and Douglas fir sloped ceiling, is centered on the tiled chimney breast. The chimney is guarded by a pair of ceramic icons--a trademark St. Mark’s lion for Batchelder and a harp for his musician wife, Alice.
The light from the windows on either side of the fireplace is softly muted. Chairs designed by Gustav Stickley sat waiting by the hearth for the evening family gatherings.
“I don’t know why the Craftsman interiors were so dark,” said Winter, who bought the Batchelder house in 1972. “Maybe it was as a relief from the bright Southland sunshine?”
One of the reasons Craftsman houses were dark was the influence of Japanese domestic architecture on West Coast house design. At the turn of the century the “Japanesque” mode was all the rage.
The Japanese influence on Craftsman architecture was also evident in the widespread use of wood inside and out, and in the way the wood was detailed.
Massive fireplace mantles, often marked by the strokes of the adze, sported prominent dowels and lapped joints. The use of deep, overhanging eaves with curving ends was also Oriental in origin.
Other Variant Styles
The Japanesque was not the only, or even the most dominant, variation of the Craftsman style. More popular among design-it-yourself homeowners was the Swiss Chalet--a blown-up version of the cuckoo clock. Other Craftsman homes followed the English Tudor or Cotswold tradition, or imitated Bavarian hunting lodges with their half-timbered stucco walls and steep, shingled roofs.
The fact that wood was scarce in Southern California, and very vulnerable to termites and dry rot, did not hinder its popularity. The warmth of redwood, cedar and Douglas fir was too attractive and too “natural” to be resisted by the devotees of Arts and Crafts.
Today, all Craftsman houses need to be inspected annually for signs of termite attack or dry rot erosion. In many, the timber foundation posts are so eaten away they “float on a sea of termites,” according to one Pasadena builder.
Landscaping was an integral part of every Craftsman house, modest or grand.
“The charm of the garden is not the monopoly of the rich,” Eugene Murmann wrote in his 1914 monograph “California Gardens.”
Garden Suit House Style
“It is not secured merely by the expenditure of money; it comes from the exercise of good taste and correct judgement in using the natural beauty to the greatest advantage.”
Murmann insisted that the design of the garden suit the style of the house. The Japanesque bungalows demanded landscaping with stone lanterns and meandering ponds. The Tudor style of Craftsman house needed an English rose and lily garden to complement its architecture.
The Craftsman style began to fade in popularity in the 1920s. In that era of postwar prosperity and Jazz Age extravagance, sheer ostentation drove out the ostentatious simplicity of the Arts and Crafts movement.
Even the women’s magazines, such as The Ladies Home Journal, which had done so much to spread the doctrine of the Arts and Crafts movement across middle-class America, abandoned the style in favor of the elaborate period revival modes that swept the country.
Ideas Lived On
The woodsy self-reliance of “simple living and high thinking” was replaced by the urbane luxuriance of neoclassical and Regency domestic architecture or the romantic Mediterranean amplitudes of the Spanish Colonial Revival.
But the ideas that generated the Craftsman home lived on, reincarnated in the popular 1920s and 1930s California Bungalow, and in the post-World War II ranch house styles.
The Craftsman ideal, if not the style, prefigured much of the moralistic thrust of Modern architecture as practiced by Bauhaus-influenced Southland designers such as Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra.
The houses Schindler and Neutra designed for themselves and for early Southern California health-conscious types as Dr. Phillip Lovell in the 1920s and ‘30s, were also founded upon the open-planned interiors and the indoor-outdoor integration with nature that distinguished the Craftsman homes.
For the early Modernists, as for the devotees of the Arts and Crafts movement, Stickley’s famous credo served equally well:
“It is my wish, my own final ideal, that the Craftsman house may . . . establish in America a higher ideal, not only of beautiful architecture, but of home life.”
HOW TO RECOGNIZE A CRAFTSMAN HOUSE Usually single story under low-pitched composition or tar-paper roofs with gabled ends, deep eaves and exposed timber joists.
Porches and pergolas link the bungalow to its garden.
Exteriors covered with cedar shingle siding.
Prominent chimney stacks, usually brick or rough stonework.
Interior walls lined with redwood board-and-batten wainscotting topped by a horizontal timber frieze.
An open-plan interior with few divisions between the main living and dining room areas.
Many built-in cabinets and fittings to reduce the clutter of free-standing furniture.
Second-story sleeping porches or pool rooms, often later converted to enclosed bedrooms.
Copper and stained-glass Japanese/Art Nouveau lamps and lanterns hung on wrought-iron chains.
Stained-glass Art Nouveau door, screen and window panels in the more expensive bungalows.