Aesthetic Preference – Craftsman

The Craftsman movement led by Gustav Stickley beginning in 1900, created an aesthetic that continues to appeal today. It stemmed from the European Arts and Crafts movement which was a reaction against factory made furniture and goods, which were seen as having an excess of ornamentation and failed to accentuate the beauty of the materials. Artisan or crafter made goods were considered aesthetically and morally superior by the Arts and Crafts proponents. It was replaced by Art Deco, which returned to embracing elements of the industrial.

Stickley published a magazine called “The Craftsman” with one of the main early contributors being art historian, Irene Sargent. The entire archive of this magazine is available online. He also published a catalog of furniture designs

Craftsman style is easy to live with. The main emphasis tends to be on the horizontal. Wood furniture, with solid horizontals and slim repeating verticals, deep square edged cushions, the houses with deep eaves and balconies – very practical for helping keep cool – and tapered or squared columns. The interiors of the houses featured useful built ins, mullioned windows and lots of architectural features like exposed beams, wide door and window frames, deep baseboards and picture rails. The dark honeyed oak of mission furniture is simple and warm, and today tends to work well with other minimalist styles like Danish Modern and Japonaiserie. It combines well with antiques like Shaker furniture (which tends to have a lot more turned wood rather than square or rectangular elements but also embraces the principle of minimal simplicity and practicality). Craftsman furniture with its square solidity, works well with Western and Mission/Spanish style architecture.

The illustrations of interiors in “The Craftsman” show a sense of spaciousness. There are few furniture pieces, and almost no tchotchkes. The decorative items on shelves are also practical objects. Part of the aesthetic is an appreciation for space, as well as form. Perhaps that lack of clutter is why it feels so contemporary as a style. On the other hand, the Art Nouveau stylings of William Morris, his wallpapers and upholstery fabrics are a riot of detail. As a surface treatment they feel busy and may work better today as a focal point feature – like a framed piece, lining an alcove, or as a feature wall – rather than filling an entire room.

There are Craftsman bungalows and mansions all over the greater Los Angeles basin. Some have been converted to apartments inside, or had the porches and balconies screened in and the sidings and stone footings covered over. Others have been restored.

People wanting to bring a little Craftsman into their world have many opportunities to purchase reproductions and antique Craftsman style modern furniture. There are house plans for new homes in the style. You can consider textiles with repeating asymmetrical grid patterns and stylized vines, after William Morris, or pieced glass lanterns with geometric designs. There are some fonts that especially suggest the style, that work well for collage work, posters or other text-based artwork. 

Stickley Catalog of Craftsman Furniture