Arts & Crafts Houses Part I: Construction and Design

Most California bungalows – or larger Arts & Crafts houses ‘built along Bungalow lines’ – did often include new services for the very first time. Electricity was included as a matter of course, with handsome centre light fixtures and sconces featured in principle rooms.

Indoor plumbing also was frequently included in the new houses, a great departure and convenience from the outhouses and chamber pots of the Victorian period. Cast-iron bathtubs with glazed white porcelain coatings were included in the newly fashionable bathrooms, along with flush toilets, pedestal sinks and hot water on tap.

A 1904 porcelain and cast-iron bathtub from St. Louis Missouri. A new degree of comfort compared to the soldered tin bathtubs of the Victorian era.

In colder climates, central heating was installed in basements. ‘Octopus’ furnaces, heated by coal or sawdust, or sometimes gas when available, with heating ‘arms’ leading off to all of the rooms became highly desirable innovations for new homebuyers. Adding a furnace often necessitated adding a full-height basement, which elevated the Bungalow design into a two-story house.

Even central vacuum systems were sometimes installed as early as 1914 in well-off progressive houses of the period.

A Greene and Greene-style home in Victoria, Canada: Arts & Crafts styling in a grand architectural composition designed by Charles King of Pasadena in 1912. The heavy beams, shingle siding and brick-clad main floor are design elements often used on smaller homes.

A ‘Foursquare’ house built with Arts & Crafts influences. A mixture of shingles, siding and stucco clad the exterior, while square porch columns sitting on granite porch plinths complement the house’s design.

The exteriors of Bungalow, or Arts & Crafts houses used natural materials like stone foundations, or built features like large front porches, or pergolas covered with climbing vines, to visually connect the house to its landscape.

Another porch with ‘battered’ columns – this time on granite plinths. A heavily timbered porch railing gives strength to the design.

The overall presentation of an Arts & Crafts home was supposed to be a home (not a house) set in a natural garden, preferably “away from street car lines and noisy baseball fields”, according to recommendations of the period. Bungalows were supposed to provide cozy, artistic homes, where residents could follow their Arts & Crafts interests of reading, embroidery, woodwork, and gardening.

An Arts & Crafts wall sconce reflects common exterior porch design: Tapered columns decorated by a squared grid-work design can frequently be found as part of porch designs. Similar design motifs, frequently found throughout an Arts & Crafts house, provide an attractive unity to the overall design.

The Arts & Crafts movement was about a way to live your life, and was not simply a “house style”. Following an Arts & Crafts lifestyle meant eschewing unnecessary baubles, embracing simplicity and healthful alternatives, and following a more sympathetic life, in tune with your natural surroundings. Natural materials for both interiors and exteriors were preferred, used in an honest way, in contrast to the velvet and gilt or fancifully turned woodwork of Victorian times.

A board & batten Bungalow. The cream and brown color scheme on the main floor is not original. It probably was either one overall brown stain or a two-tone brown stain accenting the wood panels. The plaster panels of the gable may have been cream, but originally were likely natural grey ‘roughcast’ stucco. Note the ‘battered’ (or sloped) foundation wall, carried on by the sloped porch columns.

The Arts & Crafts movement encouraged craftsmanship in all endeavors. Ceramics were to be hand-made, not factory produced. Wallpapers were to appear hand-stenciled, and not covered with overblown roses with gilt edging. Curtains were to be of simple linen, with an edge of embroidered decoration, preferably done by the lady of the house, who could then appreciate her work with a sense of honest accomplishment.

But the Arts & Crafts house also embraced the incorporation of new technologies and services. Labour saving devices such as central heating and hot water tanks and food refrigeration, along with the convenience of indoor plumbing, probably allowed homeowners the luxury of time, so they could pursue their interests in craftsmanship and intellectual pursuits, instead of chopping wood, maintaining outhouses, heating water, and preserving food.

The Arts & Crafts house was truly the first modern home.

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