Crafted to Sell

The Craftsman style defines the term 'home sweet home' for buyers who appreciate simple pleasures.

January 1, 2005

Inviting from the street and cozy inside, Craftsman houses have welcomed Americans home after a day's work for more than a century. The style has its roots in the Arts & Crafts movement that emerged in England during the 1880s, countering the formality and excess of the Victorian period and the dehumanizing effects of the Industrial Revolution.

Gustav Stickley, an accomplished furniture designer, popularized the Craftsman style in the United States in the early 1900s. His magazine, The Craftsman, espoused simplicity, functionality, quality, and artistry in home building, furnishing, and decoration. What's more, he published house plans that encouraged average citizens to undertake construction of their own dwellings in the Craftsman style.

The style flourished in the United States from 1900 to 1930. Today, prospective buyers will still be attracted to the sensible floor plans and charming curb appeal of the Craftsman style. Indeed, this enduring style can be seen in new residential developments that have made it their main theme. Whether your new listing is a Craftsman or your buyers are looking for one, here are some points to know about the style.

Craftsman Characteristics

The first thing to recognize about Craftsman homes is their use of natural building materials. Found in nearly every part of the United States, each region has put its own stamp on the style by using local materials. On the West Coast, look for stucco and wood. The Midwest often favors brick, while shingles are employed freely the farther you travel east.

But whatever the exterior finish, all Craftsman homes share a unifying design approach:

  • A low pitched roof, gabled or hipped
  • Deep, overhanging eaves
  • Exposed roof rafters or beams, sometimes with decorative braces
  • Windows featuring many small panes
  • Full- or partial-width porches featuring battered, square columns
  • One or one-and-a-half stories tall

The style is characterized by simplicity and an easy informality. Craftsman houses emphasize the horizontal rather than the vertical. Those long sloping rooflines and wide overhangs seem to nestle the homes into their surroundings. Porches blur the difference between indoors and out.

Casual Comforts Await You Inside

Step inside to find spaces that are open and beautifully detailed. Floor plans feature rooms that flow freely from one to another while built-in furniture maximizes space and lends utility. The overall feeling is one of casual comfort, with a sense of handmade rather than mass production.

Interior hallmarks of the Craftsman style include:

  • Prominent fireplace, often framed with bookshelves and benches to create an inglenook
  • Dining room with built-in China cabinet and buffet
  • Built-in furniture throughout the house, especially cabinetry and shelving
  • Wainscoting and wood floors
  • Simple, built-up moldings
  • Leaded and stained glass in doors, cabinets, and windows
  • Decorative elements incorporating ceramic tiles and metalwork

Light is an important aspect of this style, flooding rooms or concentrating in pools for dramatic effect. Bands of windows may be placed high on walls to create a ribbon of glass that admits light yet protects privacy. Partial, rather than floor-to-ceiling, walls separate many rooms and allow light to be shared from space to space. Frequently, these faux walls are comprised of chest-high cabinetry topped by square, tapered pillars reaching to the ceiling.

A Style That Goes From Simple to Sublime

America's comparatively short history left us with few traditions upon which to draw influences for our own interpretation of the Arts & Crafts credo. Nevertheless, American designers put to good use the principles of Shaker, Spanish missionary, and Native American themes.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie Style was the premier version of Craftsman design. Running a close second was the architecture of Bernard Maybeck around Berkeley, Calif., and the spectacular homes by Greene and Greene in Pasadena, Calif. All added a measure of Japanese sensibility to the underlying Craftsman style.

But the most prevalent example of the Craftsman style is found in modest bungalows everywhere—from city neighborhoods to small country towns. Their human scale, lack of pretension, and quality construction make them just as desirable to buyers today as they were when first built.

Learn More:

Architecture Guide: Craftsman

Craftsman Perspective

American Houses: A Field Guide to the Architecture of the Home by Gerald L. Foster (Houghton Mifflin Co., 2004)

Bungalows: Design Ideas for Renovating, Remodeling, and Building New (Updating Classic America Series) by M. Caren Connolly and Louis Wasserman (Taunton Press, 2002)

Craftsman Homes by Gustav Stickley (The Lyons Press, 2002)

freelance writer

Linda Legner is a freelance writer in Burr Ridge, Ill., who covers design, engineering, construction, and real estate topics for newspapers, magazines, and businesses. She can be reached at LLwritebiz@aol.com.

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