The early English Arts & Crafts movement did not fulfill is vision. The early designs originated from Medieval, Japanese, and Islamic designs that evolved to Art Nouveau and later became known as the “Aesthetic Style”. The vision failed as these designs needed great man-hours to produce and the result was few craftsman working to create pieces for the wealthy.
In the United States the Arts & Crafts ideals were more fully realized. Gustav Stickley designed furniture for a growing middle-class people, who wanted sturdy, reasonably priced, and attractive furniture. Stickley succeeded and his designs were generally referred to as Mission Style, but he thought the designation was misleading. [ii]
Americans found something else in the Arts & Crafts movement…using some of the original elements like horizontal lines (borrowed from Japanese architecture) and simple heavy moldings (Medieval) along with some of the refinements that people like Stickley introduced. Americans found a way to build affordable and attractive middle-class homes. In the United States the term “Craftsman Style” prevailed over the use of Arts & Crafts.
There are many Craftsman style homes in Savannah, mostly of the Bungalow and Four-Square variety. Identifying a Craftsman homes requires a majority of the following attributes:
· Low pitched and/or multiple roof lines of the gable or hip variety
· Deep overhanging eaves with exposed rafter tails and full rafters on gable ends
· Braces under gables (these are usually of heavy material, but more decorative than structural)
· Large front porches with tapered columns (sometimes with a brick or stone base under each column)
· Heavy, wide exterior moldings
· Double-hung windows with multiple (or single) panes on the top and single panes on the bottom
· Exposed brick or stove fireplace(s)
The front entrance of a Craftsman style home usually falls into a living area with an open or low wall to the dining area. Many windows with wide moldings provide natural light. Art glass was often used thought the interior and occasionally on the front door or window(s). Horizontal lines dominated the living spaces including large base moldings, chair rail, picture moldings, and occasionally crown moldings were used. These elements create a bright, open, feel using natural materials like wood, stone, and tile.
The walls of an Arts & Crafts style home are usually of wood and plaster. In many homes the plaster has an aggregate, like sand, to create a rough texture to discourage the use of wallpaper. Wall paper was not a true Arts & Crafts element, but some Craftsman homes still used it. The colors of the period were mostly earthy in nature and sometimes the color was often included in the final plaster coat using a calcimine tint instead of paint. These colors were generally more muted to create a more natural feel.
Built-ins were also common in the era as the “health” movement was in full swing at the time. It was thought that built-ins were more sanitary as dust and dirt could not collect beneath them. Linen and medicine cabinets, bench seats, cabinets, bookcases and more were all milled into the woodwork. These items further contribute to the open and simple feel of the homes.
The woodwork was also not of elaborate design found in the Victorian Era. Most of the woodwork was simple, heavy, attractive wood. The wood was usually tinted a medium to dark color using a process called ammonia fuming. Bowls of a very strong ammonia (usually 30% or more) were placed throughout the home and sealed off. Sometimes a grate was used with a pan and candles were placed to heat the ammonia to speed and/or enhance the process. Every day the woodwork would be checked for the desired tone (usually took 72 hours) and once acceptable, the bowls of ammonia removed and a shellac applied to the wood. Ammonia fuming works by reacting with the tannin in the wood to darken it.
The reason for all this effort applied to the woodwork? A common thought that grew in synergy with the Arts & Crafts movement was called “truth to materials” The basic tenant of truth to materials is that material should be used where it is most appropriate and its character should not be hidden. Using the ammonia fuming brought out the natural beauty and grain of the wood where staining might obscure the material.
The Art & Crafts movement prevailed in America and here in Savannah, Georgia for over 30 years producing some of the most attractive homes ever built. Large moldings, exposed rafters, horizontal lines, and truth to materials can be found throughout Savannah’s Ardsley Park, Parkside, and Baldwin Park just to name a few. Savannah Renovations prides ourselves in our knowledge and skill in restoring these homes with the original intent in mind. We understand the techniques and the underlying tenants of the Arts & Crafts movement. No other company in the area can compete with our specialized knowledge and ability on Craftsman style homes!
Do you have an Arts & Crafts Style home?