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Arts & Crafts Style — 1880 to 1920

1908 Arts & Crafts Style
Characteristics

Arts and Crafts style houses are often large and rambling with distinctive, complex floor plans. They share a number of design details in common with the Tudor style including half-timbering, stucco siding combined with shingle, cantilevered or projecting second stories, and bands of small-paned casement windows. The example above was designed by architect William Northrop Dudley as his residence in Waverly, Massachusetts and featured in House Beautiful in 1908.

The essential difference is the streamlined simplicity and almost spartan use of ornamentation in conjunction with a high degree of craftsmanship and excellent quality materials.

The Arts & Crafts philosophy in America

Today a similar movement would probably be called the "Slow Design Movement." It would be about the simplicity, honesty, and inherent beauty in a design, rather than about flash, sizzle, shallowness, quantity, and size we see all around us. For that reason the Arts & Crafts Movement philosophy and style resonates with us today.

Arts and Crafts style is more about how and why something is made than the item itself. Through the efforts of craftsmen and philosophers, such as William Morris, Walter Crane, and C. R. Ashbee in England and Elbert Hubbard and Gustav Stickley in the United States, a distinctive look evolved and is now one of the most enduring and popular of all decorating styles.

The Movement originated in England during the mid-19th century as a backlash to the mass production of goods which resulted in some pretty ugly buildings and furniture, a stifling social climate, and the imminent demise of artisanal traditions dating back centuries. Economies of scale (among other economic factors) forced the small craftsman to give up his livelihood. By mid-century his children were forced to emigrate, move to the city and work for sweat-shop wages for large manufacturers, or starve.

Seeing this happen over the course of just a couple generations mobilized a number of philosophers and artists to cast back into history for a more enlightened way of living. Thinkers and artists like John Ruskin and Dante Gabriel Rossetti and later the father of the Arts & Crafts Movement, William Morris, influenced many American designers and architects.

In America, the philosophy of the Arts & Crafts Movement was the spring from which all Craftsman style and workmanship flowed. Grounded as it was in socialist political theory, the Movement espoused the value of the craftsman over the machine. It valued nature and harmony over technology and automation. It favored treasuring the traditional crafts of the past that, without attention, were doomed to be forgotten on the march to Progress.

Far from being Luddites, American artists and designers were dedicated to the principles of the Movement, but embraced the future. They were practical enough to see the methods and utopian ideals of their English counterparts would not work in the long run. High costs associated with handcrafting pottery, furniture, and buildings meant that without embracing technology and automation they would never be able to deliver these designs and crafts to the workers who created them. To that end, many followed Gustav Stickley's example and industrialized to some extent.

The manifestation was Craftsman-style materials, homes, and decor. The term "Craftsman" is attributed to Stickley, who published a magazine by that name from 1901 to 1916. It was, however, more commonly referred to at the time as a simplicity movement.

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