Arts and Crafts Neo Style

Arts and Crafts Interior

Arts and Crafts Interior

Styles are a funny thing. Just when you think you have them figured out you learn something new and you find yourself having to change your mind or at least your understanding of them.

Take Arts and Crafts.

There was a time when you told people your house was in the Arts and Crafts style and they would have had visions of a house full of quilting, lace doilies, and toilet paper covers with ruffles. Now there are very few people who have not heard of Arts and Crafts. This is not a new style but the way it has been interpreted today leaves a lot to be desired. Entire residential subdivisions in some cities proudly proclain that they are built in the Arts and Crafts style. The problem is that, as nice as some of the houses are, they look phoney.

Yes, phoney.

First of all many of these homes today are built with front porches. I love front porches – I wish we had a big, wide open porch but the reality is that few people actually spend time on them, especially in the north. Front porches were popular in the late 1800’s and early 20th century. They were seen as a buffer zone between the privacy of the home and the public street. The residents of the house sat on rocking chairs or wicker settees while they sipped on lemonade and visited with their neighbours across their tiny front yards.

Contemporary Arts and Crafts interior

Contemporary Arts and Crafts interior

Automobiles changed all that. Today suburban homes have garages that swallow up the residents before they have a chance to interact with their neighbours. Once the garage door has sealed them in the house from the public street the family then moves to the back yard. This space is often hidden behind a high wooden fence that appears to be built to protect the family from Attila the Hun. There is no neighbourliness. Front porches on these new houses sit unused for the most part – and they look artificial because they suggest a connection to the community that does not exist.

Another thing that is artificial is the way some people decorate their homes with Arts and Crafts. This is not to dissuade anyone from collecting antique Arts and Crafts furniture and accessories. I love these pieces myself. But what is contrived is when someone says that their house is all original arts and crafts. They have replaced existing light fixtures with “period” pieces. All their furniture is in the same style. Only historic Arts and Crafts colours are used. Only accessories made of hammered metals and appropriate pottery pieces are collected.

This is not authentic. It is a collection of Arts and Crafts items all in one place – that’s all. Why is this not authentic?

It is because the Arts and Crafts period did not exist in a vacume. Homeowners, even if they were influenced by this style, did not throw every thing else away. There were other styles that existed at the same time that would have appeared new and exciting to buyers which were not necessarily in the pure A&C style. And they decorated with bits and pieces of all of the above. Pure styles did not exist then any more than they do now. The important thing was to have a home that was comfortable as well as attractive. That is something that hasn’t changed.

7 responses to “Arts and Crafts Neo Style

  1. “Entire residential subdivisions in some cities proudly proclain that they are built in the Arts and Crafts style. The problem is that, as nice as some of the houses are, they look phoney…….First of all many of these homes today are built with front porches….”

    Hello! Not sure what you’re trying to say here. You point out elsewhere that period paint colors and accessories in non-Arts and Crafts homes do not = authenticity, but also say that front porches – which ARE found on actual Arts and Crafts houses – make them look phony? I’m not really knowledgable about Arts and Crafts REGIONAL variations, but here in the U.S., original Arts and Crafts houses DO have front porches. Or perhaps you were saying that the porches look phony because in your experience, people don’t use them as they once did? We also don’t use 18th century kitchen fireplaces like we once did, but they’re hardly phony.

    Also, re: “non-authentic” modern interiors that incorporate elements from the Arts and Crafts Movement: while not “period-authentic” they still try to evoke what that movement was all about: comfortable homes (original A&C homes could be bungalows or even large country houses), well made and simple construction, natural materials, a connection to what went before, etc. All of this was geared to “humanness” and a celebration of “individual-made” versus “industrial-made”. If modern homes and rooms can evoke these things, I’m all for it. The Arts and Crafts style was organic and connected to life, not to the creation of residential “museums”.

    • Aenne: I agree with what you said. Let me clarify what I meant. Some communities in the city I live in promote themselves as “Arts and Crafts Designed Homes” and, although they have some of the architectural elements such as pillars, rooflines, multi-paned windows, but others, like the front porches are completely useless. They are there for show only. These porches are less than 4 feet deep and that’s not enough to put any kind of furniture on them, except maybe a kitchen chair. People have to sit like birds on a wire which takes away the original social aspect of porches. You only have to drive around these communities to see that hardly anyone uses the porches at all. Also, builders in some areas have picked up on this style of architecture as being the new “trend” in homebuilding therefor there are rows upon rows of houses that look exactly alike except for a slight change of colour. This is vastly different than the way bungalows were built 100 years ago and it is in that context that I see them as somewhat artificial . If the interiors follow the basics of A&C design, then that’s great. I love the look myself – a lot. Our home has many such details, but more often than not, the interiors are exactly the same as every other modern house. They have completely ignored the philosophy of A&C design thus making the whole exercise, in my opinion, artificial.

  2. Arts and Craft was dynamic, within its design alot of evolution and diversity. From reviving Gothic and Renaissance, appreciating the vernacular, fusing the Oriental aesthetic, experimenting with expressive “ghostly”, or stoicly more geometric than curvaceous, etc.

    Many Arts and Craft houses express only one aspect, whereas homes then holistically contained the full movement. And such early 20th century houses would still continue Classical forms as the Colonial Revival was all the rage then.

    Another factor which is lacking in new restorations is social class, the hierarchy of objects then used a society more rigid in social divisions then today. Just like how magazines feature an Edwardian room, a la Downton Abbey, but they forget that most people lived like the decor seen in the servants quarters.

  3. Loved the article!
    We needed a new roof last year, and opted for metal after several considerations:
    We are both aged 54 and did not want to have to replace a roof in our elder years, which if we went with shingles, would be inevitable within the next 25yrs. And there was only a $3000 difference between metal and 25yr shingles.

    Our house faces due east and west. We extended the roofline in the back, giving us a 10×30 ft covered patio, and in the front we installed a gabled roof covering a 25×10 front porch. The style we chose was A&C with tapered upper columns. This was the only kind of style that would look right with the bungalow architecture of the house itself.
    The walls of the house are white stucco, and the roof dark green- so we brightened the front porch with three shades of olive, and bright terracotta- sounds busy, but its not really-the colours chosen also mimic the flowers and the mountain ash in the front yard.

    I grew up in south central Ont. surrounded by Victorian and Edwardian homes- most with big front sitting porches- and I missed that. We use our new front porch all of the time for sitting as when the sun is setting on the west side, its very hot- and the east side of the house is now nice and cool. Covering the front and back this way also eliminated the need for air conditioning- on our hottest days the indoors was a comfortable 68-72F.

    I quite agree that pure A&C style looks quite contrived and severe. In doing research (for about a year and a half) before embarking upon our extensive reno project, I discovered that Canada did not have the huge A&C architectural boom that the US and UK experienced. Here, it seems, the A and C style more closely followed the British influences of Wm Morris et al, which were less opulent than high Victorian, but more effusive than Stickley, Greene and other American architects and designers. There were many reasons for this phenomenon, and I found an excellent article here:
    http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=a1ARTA0009957

    None of the homes where I grew up had interiors that were in any pure style. Homeowners and housewives seemed to do the same thing then, as we do today- a little update here and there, which gives the home a blended character, unless the decorative style is completely outrageous. Besides, having grown up with a few Stickley and Morris furniture pieces- these are SO uncomfortable in spite of however many cushions you throw on them. Guests are not inclined to linger.

    One other consideration regarding A&C,Prairie and Mission architectural styles esp.regarding the interiors- we are much further north than our American neighbours, and here, the dark woodwork interiors of classic AC style would appear even more so, simply because we do not get the light angle, esp. in winter months. While I can look and admire photo layouts in magazines, I certainly would never consider decorating my interior in pure A and C manner. Combined with AC style furniture, the overall effect would be stark, linear, dark, gloomy and downright unwelcoming. I prefer a lighter AC approach with an Edwardian twist myself.

    B LaPorte

    • Beverly – yes the difference between the two countries is quite marked – especially when you are comparing styles that were prevalent in Western Canada. When you look at books on authentic antique furniture of Eastern USA and Eastern Canada there are a lot of similarities. The styles had time to evolve and influence each other. Western Canada was much more conservative which is understandable once you remember that we were in our infancy in terms of settling the land. Our cities were small and a large part of our population was rural. Homes for the most part were fairly basic. Having said that there are also some amazing houses that have survived from that period. These wealthy individuals did the European tours and came back with ideas, accessories, and art to decorate their mansions. So, not all was rustic.

      The Arts and Crafts style can be very heavy because there is so much dark wood. I look longingly at decorating magazines that have nice white millwork – and the rooms look so much brighter. But I can’t bring myself to be the one to paint our 100 year old original woodwork. Reproduction Arts and Crafts furniture can be more comfortable than the real thing but the scale is much larger – a person has to decide what they want. And yes, decorating then is like decorating today. We add and subtract as out tastes, the styles and our pocketbooks change!

  4. We have a veranda and yes we know our neighbors and if someone walks past while I am collecting the mail we always say hello even if we’ve never met before. I found this article whiney!

    • Charmaine – thanks for your comment. Yes perhaps it is whiney but I think it depends on your particular neighbourhood. Our particular neighbourhood, being a heritage area, has neighbours that do talk to each other over the porch or verandah – and it’s one of the things I love about this area. Of course the kinds of homes that are in a particular neighbourhood attract a specific kind of person. I am comparing this to many cities where the builders of subdivisions have decided to give front porches to new homes for show. These just don’t get used because people do their entertaining in their back yard behind massive six foot fences. There is a disconnect between the look of a porch and what the original purpose of the porch was. I’m glad that you are one of the friendly neighbours!

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