My love of Craftsman style was inherited. Literally.
It arrived one day on a truck travelling from the west coast to Ontario. I was living in Alberta and my Uncle Jim, having just lost my aunt to cancer, was moving home to be closer to family. He was also downsizing. In my 20s and en route, I was the recipient of several pieces of heirloom furniture dating back to my great grandparents.
My mother enthused over the turn-of-the-century Arts and Crafts pieces. I thought, Hey, free furniture!
Over time, my mother’s excitement sunk in and I began to notice Arts and Crafts, also referred to as Craftsman style. I loved the emphasis on wood, often dark oak, and the angular corners. I loved the contrast of wood against neutral walls. If you want to picture Craftsman, think heavy window moldings and thick wooden armrests.
With a little research, I realized I loved Craftsman’s values as much as its good looks.
Originating in England and adopted by North Americans, the Arts and Crafts movement began in the mid- to late-1800s in reaction to the Industrial Revolution. Rejecting mass production, its emphasis was on local labour and the revival of the craftsman: the fine woodworker, the glasscutter, the blacksmith. Although socialist in nature, Craftsman style ironically fell to the upper class, who could afford to pay the price for custom-made furnishings.
Straw bale building is a great fit with Craftsman style, sharing not just similar values, but the same era. According to Wikipedia, Craftsman style began in Britain in 1860 and was later adopted in America. Widely used by settlers to the American Midwest, the bales’ self-supporting nature made up for the lack of trees. Facilitated by the mechanical straw baler in the mid-1800s, it was widespread by 1890s and continued until almost the mid-20th century. Many of those structures remain today.
Funny that, in 2014, straw bale is considered an “alternative” building method. But I digress.
Like straw bale, Craftsman philosophy encouraged originality, simplicity and the use of local, natural materials. They also both work well with post and beam construction. Perhaps the one area where they don’t mesh is in the windows: Straw bale windows have their own beauty, being deeply inset into an 18-inch-thick wall. Their edges curve gracefully into the wall. But this design, while beautiful, negates those beautiful, heavy window moldings that are a Craftsman signature.
But Craftsman is as much a philosophy as design feature. For me, Craftsman style speaks to simplicity and elegance in design; it brings together community and craftsmanship in its philosophy; it incorporates local, natural materials. I would like to suggest the revival of this once-powerful architectural statement from its place relegated to a design feature—and that we don’t limit it to the ridiculously wealthy. I’d like to propose that the costs for hiring local craftsmen can be offset by using reclaimed and reused materials, or finding them at local antique and thrift stores.
These are all things I value. But everyone’s style is different. Maybe you inherited yours. Maybe it arrived on a truck. Maybe you picked up your craftsman at the local farmers’ market (and, if you’re lucky, married him). Maybe you’re your own craftsman. But however you find your style, it should reflect your values.
Although more industrial in design, our I-beam stair stringers, made by local welder Austin Currah, speak to the spirit of Craftsman style.