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August 27, 2007

Craftsman A'Buildin'

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I don't know what's the hot style in domestic architecture in your neck of the woods. But in mine, it just might be Craftsman or Bungalow or whatever one calls the style of modest houses that was popular around 1900-1920.


Above is a Craftsman style bungalow in El Segundo, California, built in 1912. There are lots of similar houses here in the Seattle area. The ones I was familiar with when I was growing up were small, such as the one pictured and not to be confused with those large, wonderful creations by architects such as Green & Green.

I first noticed a revival of Craftsman style houses in Du Pont, Washington back in the 1980s or early 90s. Du Pont, as the name suggests, was a town created by the company early in the 20th century near one of its dynamite plants. The town was comprised of less than a dozen blocks and the houses were in the prevailing Craftsman mode. When the new development was started by a Weyerhaeuser subsidiary, the decision was made to build houses using Craftsman design elements. In this way, the character of the old town was preserved, but on a comparatively massive scale. A photo of a house in the new Du Pont is below.


Now Craftsman style is going upscale. Sunday, Nancy and I drove to Seattle exurbs north of the city of Monroe and found two developments featuring Craftsman style houses. Prices were in the neighborhood of $600,000 for around 3,000 square feet of house with yards ranging from about a quarter acre to nearly half an acre. These developments are the better part of an hour's drive from Seattle on a good traffic day and even farther from the airport, so buyers face a definite trade-off of convenience for better prices and more elbow room.


Above is a photo I snapped of a nearly-completed house in one of the developments. The house I inspected was Craftsman on the exterior only, the interior being nondescriptly conventional rather than featuring the rich wood and carpentry of traditional and revival Craftsman / Bungalow style.

Nevertheless, these houses serve as yet another indication that Modernism and successor styles are not what people usually choose when they spend a lot of their own money. (Though seriously rich Seattle-ites are more inclined to opt for Modernist syles, as I reported here.)



posted by Donald at August 27, 2007


Some of the nicest homes here in Thomasville, GA are Craftsman style. They are modest and quite charming, almost universally displaying a pleasing symmetry. They also all seem to be on lots that are appropriate to their scale, i.e., they have "breathing room". The porches on most of these homes are inviting and roomy and from what I can tell from the outside, the interior rooms are not overwhelming.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on August 27, 2007 7:06 PM

Ah, Craftsman -- I am just in the process of doing a non-slavish interior in that style -- drooling over the wallpaper borders and trying to decide which one I want to spend $400 on to do the living room and dining room . . . I love it. Not crazy about Craftsman McMansions, however.

Posted by: missgrundy on August 27, 2007 8:41 PM

Donald, I find that old 1912 Craftsman bungalow very engaging. It's modest and generous at the same time, and it 'nestles' invitingly. The 'Californian Bungalow' style actually made its way to Australia, and there are many examples of it about Sydney.

I must say that those neo-Craftman specimens have an opposite effect: pompous yet miserly. Sadly, this style too has found a home under the Southern Cross.

And that porch in the bottom photo! 'Lasciate ogni speranza', it seems to say to all who enter.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on August 27, 2007 8:46 PM

I hadn't realized that there were (as MissGrundy says) Craftsman McMansions. That's ... an eyeful. What a great style Craftsman is generally, though.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 27, 2007 10:09 PM

Donald, want to see a genuine Arts&Crafts spirit? Come to Philly.

Posted by: Tat on August 27, 2007 10:21 PM

But...but...yechh! The charm of the Craftsman style is in its modesty, calm, and pleasant symmetry! Those pleasures are completely ruined by going to Craftsman-inspired McMansions, as you show in your photos. What a disaster. Yet more evidence we are losing our strengths as a culture. Everything needs to be juiced up on steroids.

Sacramento, CA is chock-full of wonderful Craftsman bungalows.

Posted by: mq on August 28, 2007 12:44 AM

I see now that MB anticipated me, although he was more restrained about it.

Posted by: mq on August 28, 2007 12:46 AM

For a little place on a side street with say 1200 square feet, an A&C bungalow is lovely, friendly, human and where can I sign up. For the 3000 sq. ft. and up places for the hedge fund manager's wife & kids those modernist mansions you mentioned earlier beat the bungalow with a thyroid condition.

Posted by: Chris White on August 28, 2007 8:40 AM

Isn't the Craftsman-type house pictured in your first photo also referred to as "Greek revival" or have I just exposed gross ignorance of architectural style?

Posted by: do on August 28, 2007 9:18 AM

Here in NE Minnesota it is a revival of the cabin and the Lodge in the style before the Second World War but with much greater sheets of glazing.

I live in my grandfather's log house (circa 1904) and when he and his widow prospered they put in glazing and siding and additions to make a more normal (Sears Roebuck) and less Nordic dwelling.

Now old log homes are being made rustic again or replaced by great piles of logs in imitation of the Inter-War period.

Posted by: Virgil K. Saari on August 28, 2007 9:59 AM

do -- A Greek Revival house dates from the middle third of the 19th century and would feature round columns with probably simple Doric (hope I got that right -- we both should Google on this stuff) caps. Such houses might have more than one story. I used to see 'em in Upstate NY and therabouts.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on August 28, 2007 10:39 AM

Tat -- That's a great series of pix from Philly. What is that monastery-ish building-and-grounds, anyway? I suspect I'm revealing an embarrassing lack of knowledge here ...

DO - Nah, that's just Craftsman. Greek Revival stuff really looks like temples. Those boards under the bungalow's eaves really do give the impression of dentils, though, don't they?

Chris -- I'm not sure "bungalow with a thyroid condition," funny as the description is, is quite right. It's more like a "McMansion dressed in bungalow trappings," isn't it? "Modest" and "bungalow" usually do go well together, you're right. But Greene & Greene did a nice job of translating bungalow style into larger houses, and Pasadena is full of sizable bungalow-style houses that upper-middle-classies pay fortunes for.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 28, 2007 10:41 AM

MB: It's Bryn Athyn.

Posted by: Tatyana on August 28, 2007 10:51 AM

Sacramento, CA is chock-full of wonderful Craftsman bungalows.

Oh, it sure is! My friend has just moved into an apartment in one. Together with boulevards and old shade trees, midtown Sac is a fantastic place.

What strikes me is the difference in color range. The old neighborhoods have colors from canary to lime to striking red-browns. These new developments -- and maybe its because they don't have trees -- don't seem to want to declare themselves as houses, rather blending too well into a gloomy sky.

Posted by: J. Goard on August 28, 2007 12:13 PM

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