What makes craftsman homes so popular? A better question is, what’s not to love? Here, we’ll explore the four most common types and what makes them unique.
One of the most popular styles of American houses are Craftsman homes. Featuring unique lines, painstakingly crafted wood fixtures, and utilitarian floor plans, Craftsman homes led the field in the late 19th and early 20th century. They were popular as smaller dwellings for the working class. But their unique style soon elevated them as singular works of art.
They reached the pinnacle of fine art when architect Frank Lloyd Wright transcended the original perimeters. This resulted in his iconic Prairie homes.
Roots in the Arts and Crafts Movement
The rise of American Craftsman homes grew out of the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century. The Arts and Crafts movement was a response to the industrial revolution. Newly minted factories put thousands of trained artisans out of work, while mass production increased.
The movement swept both Europe and North America, starting in the late Victorian age. Traditional craftsman used their skills to resist modernization in the arts. Arising first in the United Kingdom, the movement was critical of the quality of manufactured decor. Most importantly, critics of manufacturing said that factory production created poorly constructed products in favor of over-decorated ones.
Other critics disparaged the factory system, rather than its products. According to them, mass manufacturing separated artist and laborer. Decorative art was no longer a design-to-finished product. Mass production meant workers didn’t learn the art of design. They lost the traditional skills of their craft. Consequently, it created a pool of unskilled labor indebted to the factory instead of their own talents.
The Story Behind Craftsman Homes
In housing design and construction, the Arts and Crafts movement resulted in the Craftsman home. Builders left support structures like rafters and beams uncovered to reveal the beauty of their functional design. Hand-finished wood and stone served as decorative focal points. So, this proved that good workmanship simply exposed the natural beauty of the materials.
These handmade homes led to an era of unique, one-of-a-kind homes across the nation. Drawing from regional influences, they can be decorated in a variety of styles. Builders took advantage of natural materials in their locales to create organic beauty that blended seamlessly into the landscape.
There are four main styles of Craftsman homes. They all have their own distinct architectural profile, but they all use similar lines in design. They all make use of natural materials to create a dwelling that looks and feels at one with nature. Most of all, all four styles promote the philosophy that emphasizes the beauty of utility.
Bungalow Craftsman Homes
These are the original Craftsman homes. Modest in size, these are the workingman’s house. With broad, open front porches, they have a very distinctive façade. Featuring squared off, tapering columns, these porches served as entertaining spaces.
Double-hung windows with many-paned upper sashes offered both aesthetics and functionality. The name and the style were adopted from India. British officers brought the Bengali style design back to the Western world. The small, one-story structures featured wide verandas for keeping cool in the tropical climate.
Distinctive features of bungalow Craftsman homes are low-pitched roofs that reveal their California roots. These Asian influence rooflines shed rain easily, but provide more height where snow and ice accumulation isn’t a concern.
Exterior doors and transoms feature decorative glass. Not only do they show off the skills of stained glassmakers, they allow more light into the small, somewhat dark interiors.
Craftsman homes originated in California, but are also popular in the Midwestern United States. They are constructed from a variety of materials throughout the country. In brick, they line residential neighborhoods in cities like Chicago and St. Louis. They’re just the right size and price point for blue-collar homebuyers.
Prairie Craftsman Homes
Frank Lloyd Wright popularized the Prairie home, with its low, sprawling profile and strong horizontal lines. The ground-hugging design is meant to mimic the endless flat plains of the open Prairie.
Constructed of natural materials like stone and wood, Prairie Craftsman homes appear to be built into the actual landscape. The design ignores the division between inside and out, and has long rows of windows to the outdoors.
Designers removed all Victorian influence from these homes, and they’re quite modern in appearance. They’re the only Craftsman homes style that remained popular after WWII. With it’s open floor plan and modern lines, Prairie home style incorporated easily into the newer ranch homes. The result was the sleek mid-century modern house that’s still very popular.
These homes remain popular in the Midwest and Northwest where homeowners want a connection with the natural world. Interior spaces utilizing natural wood and stone transition seamlessly through wide, covered porches. Multiple doors and windows lead to exterior spaces with natural hardscaping elements.
Mission Revival Craftsman Homes
The Prairie home with a Southwestern flair, the Mission Revival is still a favorite, particularly in regions of the country with Spanish history.
Featuring wide, open verandas and interior courtyards, these homes are also low-profile. Exteriors are usually stucco, with Spanish-style arches, and curved edges. Mission Revival homes often feature terracotta roof and paver tiles.
Interiors are open, offering plenty of ventilation throughout rooms. High arches between living spaces provide some privacy. Interior finishes include Spanish tile and terracotta, with stucco walls and warm, soft colors. Mission style homes evoke the Mediterranean home in feel, but with a desert flair. Some home sellers and real estate agents use the term “Spanish Revival.” A “Spanish bungalow” is a Mission Revival Craftsman.
Mission Revival style is popular with home builders in states like Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Florida. In these regions, Spanish design influence is strong. It seems like the homes’ casual style and free flow is appreciated by hot-climate homeowners.
Four Square Craftsman Homes
With many of the same design elements, the Four Square is the Craftsman for larger families. These bigger, plainer cousins of the Craftsman bungalow saw a surge of construction after the First World War. Like the baby boom after WWII and the ranch house boom that followed, WWI also saw a surge of post-war construction.
Due to soldiers returning home from the front, growing families needed bigger homes. As a result, Builders stuck a second floor onto the popular Craftsman homes and called it a Four Square. The name four squares refers to the four rooms in each corner of the home, with four rooms per floor.
Perhaps because of the need for speedy construction, Four Squares generally have less charm and fewer details. However, as the need for larger homes continued, the Four Square remained a popular style. It fits a smaller urban footprint than the Prairie house. As a result, they’re still considered a good value for homeowners. Most are located in established middle-class neighborhoods in cities across the country.
The simple boxy shape opens itself to a number of exciting exterior upgrades. With cosmetic features like shutters or columns, a Four Square can take on the appearance of a Tudor or a Colonial. Add stucco for a Mission Revival look. A bay window and some gingerbread turns it into a Victorian.
Perhaps one of the reasons the Four Square is so popular is because of its unassuming character. A few inexpensive alterations can turn a Four Square into almost a completely different home.
The Popularity of Craftsman Homes
Gustav Stickley led the Craftsman homes movement in the U.S. His magazine, titled (naturally) The Craftsman, featured home plans based on the Arts and Crafts philosophy starting in 1901. Subscribers were offered a yearly set of home plans for free, and Stickley encouraged them to build their own homes, furnishings, and decorations.
Sears and Roebuck sold kits for Craftsman homes through their catalog. A landowner could purchase everything needed for a six-room bungalow for about $1,300. Because they were so popular, Sears continued to sell home kits in a variety of styles until 1940. The kits came with up to 30,000 separate pieces shipped to the buyer by boxcar. The iconic catalog retailer sold about 70,000 of these home from 1908 to 1940. There were over 370 different designs, including Craftsman homes like Bungalows, Four Squares, and Prairie homes. You can look for stamping and certain design details to see if a home is from a Sears kit.
There is no “most popular” style for Craftsman homes in the United States. Because the style emphasized natural materials and took on regional influences, the answer can only be: It depends.
It depends on the region and which design suits the climate. It can depend on the average size of land plots. In Midwestern suburbs, land plots are larger, giving the Prairie home room to sprawl. However, in old, established cities like Minneapolis, narrow plots make the Four Square an excellent choice. The Southwest loves the Mission Revival. You can depend on the fact, however, that wherever you’re shopping, the style of Craftsman homes will be a custom fit.
Featured image: Craftsman home in the Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma, Wash. CC 4.0 Jacob Rose via Wikimedia Commons.