Classic Architectural Styles of Los Angeles

American Craftsman: The Evolution of the Modern House

American Craftsman: The Evolution of the Modern House

Craftsman style homes were part of the larger Arts & Crafts design movement of the second half of the 19th Century. The movement originated in Britain during the 1860’s in response to the dehumanization associated with the industrial revolution, and is credited to the famous designer William Morris. As an architectural style, it appeared in the United States several decades later, just after 1900.

The most famous individual in the American Arts and Crafts Movement was Gustav Stickley, philosopher, furniture maker, and editor of the popular magazine The Craftsman. The style emphasized original hand craftsmanship, simplicity of form, and local natural materials. The American movement found further inspiration in specifically American antecedents such as Shaker furniture, the Mission Revival Style, and the Anglo-Japanese style.

As opposed to earlier architectural styles, which focused typically on the wealthier classes, Arts & Crafts was instead concerned with establishing an appropriate design vocabulary for the more modest homes of the rapidly expanding middle class. Much of the style is a reaction to Victorian architectural opulence and increasingly common mass-produced housing.

Craftsman home in Los Angels

The American Victorian-era house typically took the form of a two-story square house with a hip roof, embellished with all sorts of bays, gables, octagonal or round towers, and wraparound porches. There was frequently a rear service wing, the domain of domestic servants. This wing contained the kitchen, pantries, and scullery on the first floor, with back stair leading to servants’ quarters above. The scale and materials used in this part of the house were clearly inferior to the main part of the house. This configuration is manifest of 19th Century class distinctions.

Middle-class housewives of the early 20th Century did not have live-in domestic servants, and would be doing most of the housework and child-rearing themselves. This meant the Kitchen needed to be moved from the back of the house, into the family living area. The Butler’s Pantry became superfluous, and more “built-in” cabinetry in the Dining Room made more practical sense. The Kitchen also evolved into a room for eating in addition to food preparation. The sunny breakfast nook was devised as a way to expand the functionality of the Kitchen. In Victorian times family members rarely ventured into the Kitchen at all, but now the Kitchen was actually becoming the heart of the home, as we know it today.

The simple bungalow was built all over Southern California through the first two decades of the 20th Century, and then fellout of favor rapidly after WWI. Despite the idea of brining “style” to the middle classes, the firm Greene and Greene are the most renowned practitioners of the original American Craftsman Style, with wealthy patrons in Pasadena where they were based. Their most important projects include the Gamble House and the Robert R. Blacker House in Pasadena, and the Thorsen House in Berkeley — with numerous others in California.

David Lubell is a Licensed California Real Estate Agent (BRE# is 01928231) with Coldwell Banker. Learn more about David by reading his bio. Reach out to him via email or call him directly at 323-272-3222.

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