Clinker bricks and Arts & Crafts Houses

Three clinker brick porch pillars on an Arts & Crafts home.

Arts & Crafts homes embody an appreciation of all that is natural. The philosophy of the Arts & Crafts movement – remembering that it was a philosophy and not a style – was to do without the fancy ornamentation of the Victorian period, and instead appreciate the natural and organic elements in decoration and ornamentation.

Close-up of a porch pillar that shows a mix of regular and clinker bricks

Accordingly, natural fabrics such as linens were used for curtains and upholstery. Oriental or Navaho carpets were the preferred designs for floor coverings, and wood was to look like the species of tree that it came from, and not ‘grained’ to resemble a more expensive wood.

On the exterior of Arts & Crafts houses, when bricks were required for chimneys or porch piers, the design question was how to impart the natural or organic approach, to a manufactured item like a brick?

Clinker bricks were discovered to answer the designer’s requirements for a ‘natural’ brick product. Rough and misshapen, clinker bricks had a history of being discarded at brick works.

Clinker bricks were the result of wet bricks being placed to close to the fire in the kiln, resulting in bricks that were darker-coloured and in either ‘melted’ or ‘exploded’ shapes. The surface texture of the bricks could range from glassy to pock-marked from the uneven heat. Richer, darker colours of the ‘clinker’ bricks were another welcome result from the extra heat.

Two walls with clinker bricks: Left: Clinker bricks often were larger than ordinary bricks and were often used over two or even three regular courses of bricks. Right: Sometimes clinker bricks were just warped, and added an irregular thickness to the mortar joins in a brick wall.

During Victorian times, these uneven bricks were tossed on the garbage heap, but with the advent of Arts & Crafts construction, they became prized for their organic shapes and colours. Used as accent bricks in a larger wall, they add a roughness and texture, which was perfect for Arts & Crafts sensibilities.

Sometimes a designer or architect would use more clinker bricks at the base of a porch pier or chimney, and gradually reducing the number of them higher up. That resulted in the appearance of the pier or chimney ‘growing’ out of the living earth – rougher and more tree-like at the base, and more finished and man-made, as it ‘grew’ higher.

Such artistic construction usually relied on a close collaboration between the architect and a talented craftsman, in order to translate the designer’s vision into actual construction. When you see one of these collaborations, the striking artistry stands out as a defining feature of the Arts & Crafts time period, truly representing the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement, of hand-crafted, well-designed products being more beautiful than anything machine-made.

A corner that was more than a 90º angle incorporated bricks in a stepped fashion, along with clinker bricks to give an appealing rustic appearance to a wall.

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