Arts & Crafts Architecture c.1895 – c.1940

Arts and Crafts Architecture 

The 19th century Arts and Crafts Movement sparked the Craftsman and bungalow styles. 

The term “Arts and Crafts” refers to the early 19th-century British and American movement to revive handicrafts. The movement was also the inspiration behind the Craftsman and bungalow styles.  

English reformer William Morris was one of the founders of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the late 1880s. Tired of excessive Victorian architecture and the machine-driven Industrial Age, Morris and his followers wanted to return to a pre-industrial, handmade society. Morris also wanted to make custom furnishings available to the “common man.”  

When the movement made its way to the United States at the turn of the 20th century, Gustav Stickley, founder and editor of The Craftsman magazine and a well-known furniture maker, became the American leader. Originally, the term “Craftsman” meant a home built from a plan in Stickley’s magazine, but it has come to mean homes built in the Arts and Crafts style.  

The bungalow was closely associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement. Stickley preached that bungalows would give working-class families the chance to experience “serious architecture.” Bungalows melded simple design with handcrafted artistry — all for about $900 dollars. The style was also easy to build and maintain, and it became the most common type of Craftsman home, cropping up from California to the Chicago suburbs.  

Bungalows and Craftsman homes remained popular until they fell out of favor when the casual ranch style emerged after World War II. However, the sleek, timeless style is regaining popularity today.  

Key Elements  

  • Built of natural materials. Craftsman homes are typically built of real wood, stone and brick.  
  • Built-in furniture and light fixtures. Built-ins were the hallmark feature of the Arts and Crafts era. Built-in cabinets allowed the furnishings to be part of the architecture, ensuring design unity and economic use of space. Even the light fixtures are often part of the design. 
  • Fireplace. A fireplace was the symbol of family in the Arts and Crafts movement, so most homes feature a dominant fireplace in the living room and a large exterior chimney. 
  • Porches. Most homes in the Craftsman style have porches with thick square or round columns and stone porch supports.  
  • Low-pitched roofs. The homes typically have a low roof with wide eaves and triangular brackets.  
  • Exposed beams. The beams on the porch and inside the house are often exposed.  
  • Open floor plan. The Arts and Crafts Movement rejected the small, boxy rooms like those in Victorian houses. 

Famous Examples  

  • St. Francis Court. In 1909, Sylvanus Marston, an architect who studied at Cornell, assembled bungalows in Pasadena, Calif., around a small “courtyard” to solve the density problem and create the illusion of space. 
  • Craftsman Farms. Gustav Stickley’s retreat in Morris Plains, N.J., is a perfect example of the Arts and Crafts style. The entire home is furnished with furniture from Stickley United Crafts. 
  • The Gamble House. This 8,200-square-foot Arts and Crafts icon is in Pasadena, Calif. It was built in 1908 by Charles and Henry Greene, who obsessively crafted every detail of the furnishings and art. 

Practically Speaking: Hassles and Headaches  

By definition, a Craftsman home is carefully constructed, open and uses space economically. That means the style is likely to need a few repairs if it has been well maintained.  

“Craftsman homes have a high quality of design and craftsmanship, so they hold their value,” explains David Jensen, an architect from Long Beach, Wash. “They are like the Rolls Royce, or the Robert Redford, of the architecture world.”  

A Craftsman home’s simple, elegant design means it’s less likely to look dated. That said, homeowners today typically want a more open floor plan than older Craftsman homes provide. Often the kitchen needs to be updated to add more counter space and room for larger appliances, says Jensen. Also, homes today typically have more lighting and windows.  

House Hunting  

Ready to bunk up in a bungalow or Craftsman home? The styles are most prevalent in California.  

“The West Coast is a hot spot because a lot of the development in the West was happening at the height of the style’s popularity,” explains Jensen.  

California’s climate is perfect for the bungalow and Craftsman style, especially the large deck. Pasadena, Calif., has an area known as “Bungalow Heaven,” where there are hundreds of historic bungalows.  

In Chicago, there’s the “Bungalow Belt.” Because of the chilly winters, the Chicago bungalows have a sunroom rather than an open porch. Also, take a look at neighborhoods in almost any city that was established between 1900 and 1930, and you’re sure to find some retro Craftsman digs.  

Arts and Crafts Architecture in America 

There are some very notable distinctions that set houses from the Arts and Crafts period apart from those from other periods. Bungalows are the most famous style of the period, followed by Craftsman style, Mission style and Prairie style. 

Bungalows were modeled after the small, open, airy houses built by the British in colonial India during the late 1800’s and were the inspiration behind the modern ranch house (invented, or at least refined and made popular, by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1940’s). The British designed the bungalow as a low, one-story cottage that was open to allow air to circulate freely and dispel the heat. as such, it was the perfect design for California. It was not the perfect design for places like Buffalo, NY. 

Although you can find bungalows across America, other house styles were designed to better reflect the climate and environment they were in. In the Midwest, Frank Lloyd Wright invented the Prairie style. Although this style featured two or more stories, its use of straight, horizontal lines gives one the impression of a low, flat house that mimics the flatness of the plains and prairies of the Midwest. 

Further east, cold weather and hilly terrain made the bungalow less practical and the prairie homes less popular. Many areas of the eastern United States were already populated with Victorian houses and farmsteads that were built with the climate in mind. However, Craftsman Guild founder Gustav Stickley (living outside of Syracuse, NY), found news ways to express the Arts and Crafts ideals with house plans based on existing Four Square, Colonial, Cottage and Stick styles. 

Mission Style homes were inspired by the adobe structures built in the southwestern U.S. by Spanish missionaries. They were not truly considered part of the Arts and Crafts movement, but their popularity in some parts of the western U.S. merit mention because Mission architecture followed the ideals of the Movement by being made of natural, indigenous materials and fit the character of the environment very well. 

All of these styles generally feature wide eaves, exposed rafter tails and joists along the roof line, and an emphasis on wood and natural materials. Interior features on many of these homes included art glass, built-in cabinetry and wood details. 

Unfortunately, many homes from this period (1895-1920) have undergone serious renovation over the years and their original appearance may have been sometimes dramatically altered. For instance, the original boxed wood gutters (gutters that are built into the house itself) have often rotted and been replaced with newer aluminum gutters that are attached to the edge of the roof. In some cases, the old inlaid gutters were removed altogether, thus shortening the broad overhanging eaves that are the hallmark of Craftsman homes. Many times, the house has been covered in siding and soffit and facia, which hides any exposed rafter tails, along with the once beautiful shingles or stucco upper-floor construction. And as outdoor activities shifted from the front of the house to the rear, it is not unusual to find Foursquares that have had the front porch turned into a sunroom or den — robbing it of its original character. 

However, if you take these modifications into account, it is still possible to detect Arts and Crafts homes hiding beneath the renovations. 

For a quick primer on Arts and Crafts architecture — the ideas that drove the designs and the various styles that define the period — please check out the “Styles” section. Then discover the beauty and diversity of Craftsman Architecture with over 230 photographs of houses taken across the U.S., with a few from Canada for good measure. Select a region on the menu to the left and begin your virtual tour of houses from around the country. 


By Liz Gray,