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What is a Craftsman House? 15 Features to Look For

While the American Craftsman style home initially came out of the British Arts and Crafts movement, U.S. architects and designers quickly embraced it and added design elements and floor plan features desired by a growing middle class of American homeowners. A number of these innovative features – such as the breakfast nook – have been adopted in some fashion by many American architectural styles.

Definition of the Craftsman House Style

The first Craftsman homes were often no more than a few spacious rooms accented by beautiful natural woodwork. They featured plenty of windows that allowed sunlight into every corner of the rooms. Other architectural characteristics that define a Craftsman house plan include:

  1. A low-pitched gable or hip roof with deep overhanging eaves

  2. One- or two-story structures

  3. Exposed rafters and/or decorative brackets under the eaves and inside the house

  4.  A front porch is a signature feature of this type home, whether it’s a small one extending from the roof that just covers the front door or a large, wide one.

  5. Finely crafted, often tapered, porch columns that support the roof. These columns are short and sit on stone or brick piers  

  6. Multi-pane windows that are cased in wide trim

  7. Partially paned front door on a traditional Craftsman house

  8. Single dormers that are big enough to have more than one window

  9. Built-in cabinetry and shelves

  10. Unique custom-made features like window seats

  11. Handcrafted stone and woodwork

  12. Natural construction materials like wood, stone, and brick

  13. A fireplace or two

  14. A practical floor design with few hallways and small rooms that facilitate access from the kitchen to the rest of the house

  15. Warm, earthy colors for both the exterior and interior


American Style Craftsman House History

From 1900-1930 – a time when Americans were moving to the suburbs – there was a realization that owning a home was not just for the rich. There was a definitive shift from the wealthy to an expanding middle class that was beginning to wield some buying power. With changes in popular taste (out with the Victorian), widespread criticism of poorly constructed mass-produced housing, and the new middle class, this style was on its way to becoming a true classic.


The roots of American Craftsman architecture trace back to the British Arts and Crafts movement which began in the 1860s, and lasted through the 1930s. This period was based on a rebellion against the Industrial Revolution's seeming devaluation of workers and/or the dignity of human labor. The British movement valued custom labor-intensive handwork over mass-production, and this period was also a reaction to the overly ornate Victorian-style decor, contributing to the decline of the Victorian era. 


Where Victorian homes were more lavish, slightly over-decorated and formal, Craftsman homes were built for function and touted original handiwork and harmony with nature and the surrounding landscape. They were well-constructed and designed in a simpler, more practical style that abandoned the large bays, turrets, and intricate trimwork of Victorian homes.

Merrill Hall - designed by Julia Morgan

Merrill Hall, designed by Julia Morgan, is a fine example of early Craftsman architecture in the United States.
(Photo credit: Heatherawalls under CCO 1.0)


The Beginnings with Gustav Stickley

As the British Arts and Crafts Movement drew to a close in the late 1890s, it started to pick up momentum in the United States. Arts and Crafts societies and guilds were sprouting across the country, mostly in the Midwest and East Coast. So were manufacturers and craftsmen who created hand-crafted furniture, pottery, and other accessories.


One of the earliest advocates and leaders was the aforementioned Gustav Stickley, a designer, philosopher, publisher, and furniture maker, who learned his trade at his uncle’s chair factory in Pennsylvania. By 1898, Stickley and his brothers established their furniture business in Syracuse, N.Y. While there were other furniture makers in the Arts and Crafts mode, it was Stickley, with his simple, geometric designs, who defined the ideals and vision of the movement.


Stickley’s monthly publication The Craftsman showcased his own house plans as well as the original work of a number of architects. The magazine also featured designs for furniture and other handcrafted works.


Not satisfied with just a magazine, Stickley founded the Craftsman Home Builders Club in 1903 to provide architectural plans from The Craftsman to its subscribers (perhaps one of the first such home plan services ever offered in the country).


The Greene Brothers and the Craftsman Bungalow

While Stickley was taking the East Coast by storm, the Ohio-born Greene Brothers – architects Charles Sumner and Henry Mather – were making their mark in Southern California with their “ultimate bungalows.” They began to design houses that combined Arts and Crafts ideas with the simple wooden architecture of China and Japan.


Charles and Henry Greene studied at the Manual Training High School of Washington University in St. Louis where they learned about woodworking, metalworking, and tool making. They also attended the MIT School of Architecture from 1886 to 1888 and did apprenticeships at Boston firms and worked on traditional classic styles.


When their parents moved to Pasadena, California, in 1893, Charles and Henry followed them. In 1894, they formed Greene and Greene and developed a style that fused elements of the Arts and Crafts movement with minimalist Japanese architecture. While Charles had the imagination and artistic eye, Henry provided a sense of order and conceptual vision in their projects.


The brothers’ most exceptional work was completed between 1903 and 1909 – a period when they created houses of exceptional craftsmanship and refinement … designs that extolled the natural lifestyle of Southern California. Among their most prominent “ultimate bungalow” projects were the Duncan-Irwin House (1906), Mary E. Cole House (1906-1907), Robert R. Blacker House (1907), Bolton House, and the Gamble House, built in 1908 for David and Mary Gamble of the Procter and Gamble Company.


Gamble House by the Greene Brothers in Pasadena, California

The Gamble House in Pasadena was built in 1908 by Greene & Greene for David Gamble, son of the founder of Proctor & Gamble. Feature in the film, Back to the Future as the home of Doc Brown when Marty McFly travels back to 1955, the house has wide terraces, open sleeping porches, and custom-designed cabinetry and furniture.
(Photo credit: Garmble House, Pasadena by Diane Kane, Caltrans)


Whether building for wealthy clients or more modest commissions, Greene and Greene’s approach was fundamentally unchanged. Their homes featured Craftsman characteristics, such as abundant windows that allowed natural light and air, harmony with nature, open floor plans, deep eaves, and exposed rafters. There was a reason for every detail. “The idea was to eliminate everything unnecessary, to make the whole as direct and simple as possible, but always with the beautiful in mind as the final goal."


There were also architects in San Diego and Balboa Park such as David Owen Dryden, Irving Gill, and William Hebbard who built Craftsman style homes in Southern California. In the ensuing years, more architects around the U.S. began designing and building these style homes.


If you’re from Southern California, you may be one of the fortunate ones to have seen a number of these original homes – knowingly or not. Just drive to Pasadena – and along a 16-block residential area in the heart of the city are more than 800 homes built between 1900 and 1930 of this style. That neighborhood is now a Landmark District known as Bungalow Heaven, which was created to preserve the historic significance of the Craftsman bungalow homes.

As these homes continue to enjoy a resurgence, it is a testimony to Gustav Stickley and all the proponents of the Arts and Crafts Movement who viewed the style “not only as a new design trend, but rather part of a whole new ethic for how to live one’s life more simply…”


The American Arts and Crafts Movement was all about the visibility of handicraft – simplicity, originality, quality, functionality and possibly best of all, the use of local materials, especially stone and wood. Craftsman homes often have exposed beams and rafters along with Corbels -- triangular trim pieces in the gables.  As the home’s foundations were usually constructed of rock, the exteriors were either stone or wood siding with large porches along the front or wrapping around the home, topped by masonry chimneys.


Examples of Craftsman Style Architecture: Then and Now

Some of the finest examples of original craftsman style architecture can be found in older neighborhoods across America.  One is known as Merrill Hall at the Asilomar Conference Grounds which was designed by Hearst Castle’s architect, Julia Morgan, and built for the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). It is located in Pacific Grove, California on the western tip of the Monterey Peninsula.


The most popular and affordable of the craftsman homes were the bungalows – and in fact today many people are seeking this type of classic, quality architecture.


For example at House Plan #109-1013 is a 1,820 sq. ft. craftsman home plan featuring a covered porch. Raised ceilings, an arch-top window, and a fireplace add character. The home has a roomy kitchen featuring a breakfast nook, pantry and access to the laundry room through a pocket door. The master suite is located near the kitchen and offers residents a tray ceiling and sitting area which also accesses the screened porch.


Craftsman house design from The Plan Collection

This present-day home is designed in the Craftsman style and boasts and popular open floor plan inside.


The spacious master bath has a separate shower with a corner garden tub, while there is also a guest powder room right outside the master suite.


On the opposite side of this home’s floor plan, there are two additional bedrooms which share a bathroom that adds nearly 800 sq. ft. of extra living space.  Just through a door off the breakfast room steps lead up to two bonus rooms – ideal for an office, a hobby and craft room, or to be used as a flex space bedroom for returning college students or grandparents.


Early Innovations in Craftsman Style Floor Plans Go Mainstream

New trends surfaced along with the American Craftsman home. Most middle class people did not have domestic servants, making the kitchen more important and demanding that it be integrated into the main floor plan. This was the birth of the breakfast nook in the kitchen, whereas before separate dining rooms and kitchens for the servants were more popular. The common areas included the main dining and living rooms, plus the back yard. Victorian Era butler’s pantries were replaced with beautiful built-in dining room cabinetry complete with "built-ins", incorporating crafted wood and glass into the public aspects of the home.


It typically had a work table (having the equivalent purpose of the modern countertop) at which the servants would eat after the family meal was served and the kitchen tidied. The Victorian kitchen had no "proper" place for a family member to sit, eat, or do anything else. Again, as the housewife of the Craftsman era was now preparing the family meals, the Victorian kitchen gave way to one designed as the heart of the family's daily life. The breakfast nook often placed under a window or in its own bay provided a place for the family to gather at any time of the day or evening, particularly while the food was being prepared.


Today's "Modern Craftsman" Houses

The American Craftsman style, or the American Arts and Crafts movement remained popular through the 1930’s, but there is renewed interest in these smaller bungalow style homes today. Individuals and communities have both sought to preserve these homes and encourage new development in the Craftsman style.


According to architects and real estate experts, the Craftsman style was among the top five – if not the most – sought-after house plan in the country in 2015 and 2016. Potential home buyers find the home type appealing because “it’s well designed and well-crafted.”


With more Americans looking for homes with unique character and historical significance, the revival of this style is pervading contemporary culture. Just watch HGTV and all those enthusiastic house hunters who have the homes on their wish lists. While most of the distinct features remain – porches, tapered columns on pedestals, natural materials, and built-ins, there are modern add-ons, as follows:

  1. The first Craftsman homes had what was described as a practical floor plan with few walls. Today, the floor plan is truly open – with one Great Room that allows a smooth flow from the kitchen to the dining and living rooms.

  2. Large, spacious open-concept kitchens

  3. In the 1900s, low ceilings were cheaper to build and maintain. Today, high ceilings with exposed beams are now possible with improved building materials, along with heating and insulation technology.


As you can see, this style of home has an extensive and rich history, and they remain a favorite of homeowners and builders for good reason. For the latest Craftsman house plans, browse our collection online.

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