Defining the Craftsman Style and Why It’s Still a Popular Design Choice Today

The Craftsman design style has become an integral part of the American aesthetic and has endured lasting popularity since it’s initial acclaim over 100 years ago. It’s surprising to some that this classic American style that stretches from California beach bungalows to Midwestern estates actually has international origins. At Amity Kett, our interior designers and architects are examining the elements of Craftsman architecture and why it remains a popular design choice today.  

Defining the Craftsman Style 

The Craftsman style is defined as an American architectural style inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement in Britain during the last decades of the 19th century. The style extended into interior design, landscape design, and art. It was formed as a reaction to the industrial revolution and put an emphasis on handmade craftsmanship and organic materials. The style was most widely used in small Southern California homes from 1905 through the 1930s which came to be known as California Bungalows. The style was embraced throughout the country and paved the way for concepts that inspired the Art Deco and Prairie Styles.  

The Elements of Craftsman Design 

The Craftsman home is reduced to a simpler form that was meant to reject Victorian-era ideas and embrace nature as well as the organic form. The low and broad proportions with minimal ornamentation give a design that feels sturdy and natural and can blend in with any landscape. 

Natural Materials

Craftsman architecture and design focus on natural materials on the exterior and interior. Commonly used materials include wood columns and panels, stone flooring and exterior porches, and stained glass as a simple decorative element in select windows that frame the landscape. 

Earthy Colors 

The goal of the Craftsman movement was to reject industrialization and embrace nature, and this notion was reflected in the color choices. Popular colors included brown, dark green, olive, sage, with red or orange accents like russet, tawny, and ochre. 

Asymmetrical Architecture

Asymmetrical Craftsman architecture gives a homey and handmade feel, similar to the feeling of a patchwork quilt. Key features of the style include connecting rooms for a less formal feel and natural flow, stout front porches with triangular pitched roofs, and long overhanging eaves with exposed rafters and beams. This warm and welcoming look took the opposite approach of Victorian-era homes which are closed off and stuffy. 

Handmade and Custom Features   

Custom built-ins are a staple of Craftsman style. Fireplaces were often the center of the living space and were framed by custom shelving. Other elements like interior columns, window seats, and decorated ceilings with beams were also popular. 

Design Inspired by Nature 

Overall, Craftsman architecture embraced nature and organic forms. Horizontally-oriented lines and low gabled roofs allowed homes to blend in with the landscape rather than oppose it. Porches and large windows were added to enjoy outdoor spaces and living. 

Craftsman History 

Origins of Craftsman Design 

Craftsman style was embraced by Americans and still remains popular with American families today, but you should know that the style did not originate here. Craftsman design was actually inspired by the homes of Hindu families in Bengala, India. The design principles were brought back to Britain by Gustav Stickley, who inspired the Craftsman movement and published customizable blueprints for bungalow styled homes in his magazine, The Craftsman, in the late 19th century. The designs flourished as a push away from Victorian design and the industrial revolution. In The Craftsman, Charles Alma Byers writes that the Craftsman bungalow “probably surpasses all other styles of architecture in its adaptability to individuality,” making it the perfect style for the counter-movement. 

The Craftsman Movement from Britain to America

It is fascinating that the Craftsman design style, which has no roots in America, has been fully embraced by the country for over a century and seems to so closely mirror ideals of American society. The Craftsman home feels sturdy, hardworking, and unpretentious, which closely represents the American attitude. 

The importing of Craftsman design was largely in part to William Morris. Morris was a key figure in the British Arts and Crafts movement starting in the 1860s and believed that we should embrace the individual worker and reject industrial technology and mass production. In 1897, a group of Boston architects sought to bring Morris’s designs to America and they organized an exhibition of contemporary Arts and Crafts at the Museum of Fine Arts. From there, the movement took off across America.

The Influence of Craftsman Style

The Craftsman style’s focus on organic form and individuality inspired later movements like Art Deco and the Prairie Style. The Prairie School developed in tandem with the British Arts and Crafts movement started by Morris, and it was popularized by architect Frank Loyd Wright. Like Craftsman design, form follows function. However, the Prairie Style took a more contemporary approach. Wright coined the term “organic architecture,” and focused on blending the structure with the site. Horizontal lines became even more prominent to echo the expanses of the Midwest where most of these homes were built. 

Why We Still Love Craftsman Design and Architecture Today

Craftsman style homes still remain popular with homeowners today. While they never went out of style, we have seen a renewed gravitation towards casual floor plans, large porches, and homey character. In The Craftsman, Byers writes that the Craftsman bungalow is “definitely designed for a home that is both attractive and inexpensive.” It is easy to see why this style still resonates with middle and working-class homeowners. 

In our designs at Amity Kett, we are blending traditional Craftsman details and elements that have proven timeless popularity with contemporary updates for modern needs, such as higher ceilings. While other styles come and go, we predict another century of popularity for the classic Craftsman. 

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