Arts & Crafts Homes and the Revival

Category: Bungalow Lit

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A review that is searching for balance in the application of the Arts & Crafts philosophy

Our Review

I am embarrassed to admit that my review of the new magazine, Arts & Crafts Homes and the Revival, is a little late in being written.

I picked up the preview copy at K/BIS back in April.  And it has been sitting at my bedside with everything else that I've been meaning to read.

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I'm a little behind in my reading.

Luckily, I was able to catch up during our vacation.  (Yes, I even read about houses on vacation.)  And Arts & Crafts Home was one of the reads at the top of my list.

Disclaimer:  Arts & Crafts Homes had an article about HouseInProgress and HouseBlogs.net in their most recent issue.  However, in keeping with our philosophy of sincere blogging, we do not trade positive reviews on our blog for mentions on other blogs, or in magazines, or for goods and services.  There are no endorsements for sale on HouseInProgress.   

Whenever a new magazine launches, I imagine it is difficult to try and strike the right balance between the educational and the commercial; the practical and the inspirational; the affordable and the luxurious. After all, the creation and distribution of a magazine is a creative enterprise. Without the "enterprise", it is difficult to underwrite the creative.

As a Craftsman-inspired home owner of modest means, I am sensitive. I love the philosophy of Arts and Crafts, but cannot afford an entire house full of the period-appropriate artifacts. I appreciate the historic but desire the practical appliances (read as: dishwasher) available to me in this decade. I am conflicted. I am a complicated reader to write for.

In reading the premier issue, I was pleased with a number of things. The information on the history of the revival and its forms was very robust. The layout was clean and attractive.

I thought the answers to readers' questions in the upFRONT: Q&A section were thoughtful and practical. Here is paraphrased example of some questions from a reader in Los Angeles:

Should I remove the wood floor and wainscot that were added at a later date since the quality of the wood is inferior to the rest of the house? Would a Craftsman bathroom be so fancy? What if my husband is averse to changing ANY details? Who is right?
The answer outlined the benefits of the two alternatives: keeping what is there or adding more "period appropriate" details. The respondent pointed out that there may have been ceramic hex tile in the original bathroom and, if so, perhaps it had been removed for a reason such as cold feet or earthquake damage. They offered that another solution would be to replace the inferior wood floor with a quartersawn oak to match the rest of the house. They also promoted the advantage of negotiation and compromise in a healthy marriage AND a quality restoration.

I appreciated the response to the reader's question because it was considerate of the complexity facing couples attempting a restoration...replace or restore? Strictly original or more generally true to the philosophy? This made me hopeful that the rest of the content would be sensitive to the diversity of its potential readership.

Another article, Craftsman Modern struck that same sensitive chord as it showcased an unusual kitchen striving for a more sparse Arts and Crafts aesthetic with updated amenities.

The Bring It Back article by Bill O'Donnell was one of the most detailed and useful pieces on stripping wood trim that I've ever seen published.

I found the Reader's Homes section fun and interesting. Once a house voyeur, always a house voyeur. Plus, it goes a long way to drawing in a community of readers.

I appreciated Timothy Holton's piece which issued a challenge to the publication: strive for integrity, aspire to emphasize the philosophies underlying the Arts and Crafts movement, and avoid the pursuit of style for its own sake and the over-promotion of bungalow "accessories".

I agree with Mr. Holton. So, why was I slightly (just slightly) uncomfortable halfway through the magazine?

The photos. They were beautiful, absolutely. Simply gorgeous. And crammed full of things that I will never in this lifetime be able to afford. William Morris fabrics at $122 a square yard. A modern Gamble buffet for almost $9,000. Pricey stuff. Stuff that I find inspiring in small quantities and maybe a little overwhelmed by in large ones. (Ads not included.)

We own a 1914 Craftsman house with lovely red oak floors and oak trim. The raw materials, under the paint and dirt, are lovely. But you can see that it was a modest home and the builders had to scrimp here and there to make the Arts & Crafts philosophy affordable to its occupants. The fireplace was plain brick...no fancy tilework. The trim pieces are of a stock design. The layout is simple and there are few artistic adornments, save the raftertails and the built-ins. Even the cabinetry in the bathroom is constructed of pine, instead of oak, because it was meant to be painted, not stained.

Surely, the Arts & Crafts philosophy wasn't only for the wealthy of its era?  Yes, there are the traditional examples of the ultimate in Arts & Crafts inspiration..Gamble, Stickley, et al.  But isn't it a design philosophy that could be applied to any pocketbook?  If so, why does it seem to cost so much money to live that lifestyle today? To get back to nature and the earth at home, will I be forced to work 90 hours a week in a cubicle in order to afford it? Please say it isn't so.

I know that it is harder to find the ideas, inspiration and products that speak to a broader economic spectrum of homeowners and also embody the quality of the Arts & Crafts era. With art and shop classes disappearing from our educational system, the learning curve for many readers to produce their own Arts & Crafts items is rather steep. However, there are surely SOME things we can do ourselves...whether it is painting pottery, doing simple wood working projects or planting a window box. It's an intriguing question: how DOES one live simply and harmoniously with nature in this age of acquisition and complexity?

Even with the aforementioned comment regarding our personal financial resources, I anticipate success for the magazine because of the quality of the written content I've seen thus far, and I'm looking forward to the Fall issue!

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Comments

I'm so glad you said something about the high cost of what you see in the magazines. It reminds me of This Old House Magazine where every kitchen re-do is double the size once completed. If there is a space saving solution it's a only available on very high end (expensive) brands or it has to be custom built. My yard is already the size of a postage stamp. Not everyone can build out. We actually did expand the size of our kitchen by taking space from a small back bedroom (the other part of the bedroon when to widening the stairs). My Kitchen is about the size of a before kitchen in any magazine. I like to read the home improvement magazines to get ideas, tips and tool advice. But I agree. Wouldn't it be nice to see some pictures that were more consistant with what the readers can afford?

Isn't it ironic? The whole Arts and Crafts movement was a reaction away from the mass produced, over stylized Victorian back to a hand crafted, common working man's style. Too bad we've approached it with Victorian minds, because true arts and crafts isn't marketable or profitable, just real enjoyable ;-) Thanks for the review!

The arts and crafts "philosophy" and the arts and crafts "style" always had a bit of a disconnect. Gustav Stickley furniture was extremely expensive back in 1900. Average working class people couldn't afford it. Rookwood pottery was a luxury purchase---$75 for a vase in 1900 would be like spending $2000 now. We tend to romanticize the arts and crafts movement, but it wasn't really any different than any style in any other era ---only the wealthy could afford a house full of the best designs. People like the Stickleys and Elbert Hubbard were businessmen---they were promoting a philosophy because it helped them sell furniture, not because they wanted to save the world. (Maybe part of them wanted to save the world, but they wanted to make a profit too.) I won't say that the arts and crafts philosophy was a sham, since I personally find a lot of meaning in it, but it wasn't a philosophy that benefitted the working class person. It was a movement of the educated middle and upper class. Really, who else had time to sit around and romanticize hard work? Poor people were too busy working hard.

However, even though the "movement" belonged to the wealthy, the "style" belonged to everyone. There were tons of cheap, machine made knock-offs of the good stuff, and that's what most people purchased. That's why you have Hull and McCoy pottery and the hundreds of now-forgotten furniture makers that produced inexpensive imitations of Stickley and Limbert furniture (some of which are very nice quality and very affordable even today). Lots of folks bought that stuff 100 years ago because it was trendy, not because they had any high-minded ideas about handicraft and returning to the earth, etc, etc.

Having said all that, do I believe that one can live an arts and crafts lifestyle today without being wealthy or spending 90 hours a week in a cubicle? Well, sure. Ken and I each work about 40-50 hours a week, and we each make somewhere around the national median income. We have children and pets to support, just like everyone else. But we passionately love the arts and crafts movement, warts and all. And we embrace the whole thing, not just the furniture. Much of the lifestyle has nothing to do with money. We garden, we entertain at home, we make things with our hands, we fix what's broken rather than tossing it, we use space efficiently so that we don't need a large house, we have nothing in our home that at least one of us doesn't find useful and beautiful...by the way, we have a dishwasher, a computer, and a few window air conditioners, since I don't think you have to be Amish to live an A&C lifestyle or to be a preservationist. And there's nothing more beautiful and useful than an air conditioner when it's 101 degrees...

As for the stuff you see in magazine ads---the hand-hammered copper switch plates, the art tile kitchen backsplashes---well, that stuff is just ridiculous. In the context of your average bungalow, it's sort of like adding a marble-columned portico to the front of a double-wide trailer.

However, the Archive Edition fabrics, the Bradbury wallpapers, the Timothy Holton frames, are wonderful, and for the hardcore afficianado, they are well worth the money. I don't mind spending $125 a yard for the right fabric, but I would never in a gazillion years spend that much on a pair of sneakers or a fancy cell phone. Yeah, we have a Warren Hile entertainment center, and it wasn't cheap. But it cost less than a few days at Disney World, and millions of middle class people can afford that. So while everyone else is walking around Disney World in their $125 sneakers, we're sitting at home admiring our living room...I'm not dissing other people's choices, but I am saying that, in the right context, the prices commanded by modern craftsmen don't seem so high. "Affordable" is relative.

I have a house built in 1985 on a gorgeous sloping lot in suburban Atlanta. The house is all real stucco and most people would call it contemporary, but it has definite arts and crafts potential (casement windows, hip roof with a couple gables). Does anyone know what the appropriate type of tile would be to use on kitchen and bathroom floors if I am going for that arts and crafts look? Anyone know of any website that could help me? I would appreciate any help. My e mail is goodmanrenting@aol.com

 

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