The Craftsman House Movement: A Quick History Lesson

We’re getting very busy! August Development is proud to be designing new homes in historic neighborhoods of Nashville. One such project is a Craftsman style home. And since part of our design process is embedded in research, we wanted to share with you our findings on the history of the Craftsman movement. Here’s your daily fix of trivial knowledge for you history buffs out there.

The Craftsman Movement

Monumental gables, large overhanging eaves, exposed rafter tails, wide rough sawn trim, bold and unique woodwork, corbels, shaker shingles, ribbons of windows and a massive front porch is what comes to mind when I think of a Craftsman home. They fill our early 20th century neighborhoods. Along with the Prairie, Bungalow and Four Square styles, Craftsman houses were one of the first authentic American architectural movements created between 1900-1920(ish).

Who Did it?

Well, according to many sources it was a man by the name of Gustav Stickley. While galivanting around Europe he became enamored with the Arts and Crafts movement going on over there. And as many of us do after coming back from across the pond, he was inspired to bring the European aroma back to the states. The way Stickley chose to get his idea out there was to start a magazine called ‘The Craftsman’ in 1901. The pages were filled with his own handmade wood furniture, décor and architectural house plans. He was on a mission to make Craftsman one of the very first authentic American architectural styles. Here’s Gustav Stickley in his own words:

“I became more and more interested in every detail of the home environment, for I saw that the way a man’s house was planned and built has as much influence upon his family’s health and happiness as had the furniture they lived with. They needed the sort of rooms and woodwork and exteriors that would be in keeping with their own more homelike qualities….
I planned these houses with a big living room because I believed in having a comfortable place for general family life, large enough to eliminate that sense of friction which is so apt to invade a cramped and narrow home. In this room I planned a generous fireplace, because I knew that people were longing to return to the old time comfort and hospitality that centered so pleasingly around the open hearth.”

The Motifs of a Craftsman Home

You know the old saying, ‘Nothing is new under the sun’ (And even that was said by King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 1:9), well it’s certainly true as ever today. In the early 1900’s our boy Gustav was known for saying that the current age of industrialism was tearing apart families, but that the Arts and Crafts ideology was focused on bringing families back together. Many of his designs included open floor plans and combined living areas which created depth and volume in these houses. He was also committed to holistic design by marrying the house, the interiors and the landscape all into one unified plan.

Sounds pretty similar to trends going on today, right? People want open style floor plans that are meant for entertaining, bringing your family together and a home that’s crafted with care. It’s funny how design trends ebb and flow, but I hope these principles will always hold true.

What Happened Next

At the beginning of the Roaring 20’s and the end of WWI, the Craftsman style was too mellow for the hustle and bustle of the urbanization going on in America’s cities. The brother and sister of the Craftsman, the Bungalow and Four Square, also went the way of the dodo as the 1920’s and 1930’s rang in Modern Tudor Revival and Modern Colonial Revival, or in other words your Cape Cods and English Cottages.

If you need a great coffee table book, try these on for size. Also, these are the sources I used to write this article. Enjoy!

Schweitzer, Robert, & Davis, Michael W.R. (1990). America’s Favorite Homes: Mail-Order Catalogues As A Guide to Popular Early 20th-Century Houses. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.

Sanders, Barry (1978). The Craftsman: An Anthology. Peregrine Smith.

Kaplan, Wendy (1998). The Art That is Life: The Arts & Crafts Movements in America, 1875-1920. Bulfinch Press.