Trail’s End – Behold the Bungalow: The Arts and Crafts Movement provides housing for all
One hundred years ago, mainly wealthy families owned their own homes. That would soon change. The creative vision of New York furniture maker Gustav Stickley inspired Craftsman furniture design and launched one of the greatest affordable American house styles, the Craftsman bungalow.
Stickley had witnessed the Arts and Crafts Movement in England, begun by architects fed up with mass-manufactured, factory-made items. Stickley brought the idea of handcrafted furnishings to America in 1898, producing “a few simple chairs.” He swiftly expanded – manufacturing custom-made furniture, publishing a groundbreaking magazine and promoting modest yet stylish architecture affordable for most.
The American Arts and Crafts Movement, led by Stickley, inspired Craftsman style architecture that eventually produced tens of thousands homes. Stickley helped introduce a plain-and-simple style that offered relief from overly embellished dwellings and fancy furnishings of the Victorian era. Americans were ready for smaller, simpler, soothing domestic spaces.
The trend flourished into the 1920s. America’s robust economy produced a growing middle class and spiked a steep demand for affordable, comfortable family housing.
Stickley published Craftsman magazine (1901-1916) to promote the style, as both a philosophy and a distinctive look of “pleasing proportions and charming simplicity.” His furniture plant in Syracuse, N.Y., produced spare, streamlined, dark wood furniture (today known as Mission Style).
Home ownership “for all” was aided by the practical, attractive dwellings within reach of families of various income levels. Craftsman style houses ranged from spacious yet unpretentious to tiny yet comfortable. Inside, homeowners delighted in cozy comfort – built-in cupboards, bookshelves, window seats and inglenooks tucked next to the fireplace. The porch, yard and garden linked the house to its natural setting and provided personal outdoor leisure space, a new concept for the post-Victorian era.
Craftsman magazine featured a monthly house design, serving Stickley’s vision of “housing for all.” The “bungalow” version, 800-1,000 square feet in size, especially appealed to the urban working class. These city dwellers longed to move out of their tenements, apartments and flats into a suburban home of their own with a yard and garden.
The style got a boost on the Pacific Coast, from architects Greene and Greene. The Pasadena firm designed elegant Craftsman dwellings for upper-class Californians. The style caught on there and spread like wildfire with Craftsman style houses large and small built of redwood and other timber products from abundant coastal forests.
The style spread speedily into the heart of America. The expanding middle class created a huge market for mid-sized, moderately priced houses. Soon Craftsman houses were popping up across the country, popularized via house plans published in magazines, as well as architectural design books.
Bungalow mania took off, promoted by developers and pushed by house builders. Brochures, pamphlets, newspaper ads and even popular songs and poems touted the dainty dwellings. The Aladdin Company out of Bay City, Mich., began mass producing house kits in 1913; prices started at $1,000 with California-ish names like The Pomona, The Pasadena, The Burbank, The Sunshine. The firm eventually shipped nearly 60,000 “ready cut” houses. Sears Roebuck also became a major supplier of Craftsman-style kit homes.
There is quite a legacy in Colorado. You can tell a Craftsman-style by the low wide-spreading roof, broad eaves and pointed rafter ends. The prominent front porch has substantial supports of brick or stone. A chimney accents the exterior; within, the fireplace provides a cheery focal point. Demure decoration involves carved rafter ends and groupings of multi-pane windows. Two-story houses have windowed dormers.
The Craftsman style always employed local materials: in Colorado’s urban areas – brick and stucco; in rural towns and country sides – clapboards, wooden shingles and stone; in the mountains – log, log slabs and wood shingles, locally harvested and locally milled, with native rock or stone as a decorative touch.
Neighborhoods in Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Grand Junction and elsewhere grew with blocks and blocks of Craftsman style houses. Their range of sizes and prices accommodated the families and budgets of doctors, lawyers and business owners, as well as schoolteachers, government workers, office clerks and their families.
In Denver and its environs, rows and rows of bungalows were built of brick supplied by brickyards that burgeoned in Golden and Lakewood. Each small single-story house fit snugly onto its 25 foot-wide urban lot. Most had a tiny auto garage built by the alley and designed to match the house.
So, where can you go to see the Colorado bungalow in its native habitat? Fine examples can be found ringing Denver’s Washington Park and in north Denver’s Harkness Heights neighborhood. Colorado Springs’ Cheyenne Boulevard and Westside neighborhoods offer some tasty specimens, a few using rustic-looking river stones or rough-edged rocks in porches, prominent foundations and retaining walls.
Colorado also is blessed with several large and lovely the Craftsman style landmarks. In Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, you can visit the residence-studio of Colorado artist Vance Kirkland at 1311 Pearl St., “designed in a distinctive arts and crafts style” that includes brick archways and Frank Lloyd Wright windows. Now open to the public as the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art; entry fee $7.
A half-block away stands the Denver’ Women’s Press Club at 1325 Logan St.. The “20th Century English Craftsman” dwelling was the home of famous American etching artist, George Elbert Burr, who came to Denver for health reasons. Burr hired the Varian and Varian to design the combination art studio and home, built in 1910. Burr sold the house in 1924 to the Denver Woman’s Press Club. The DWPC meets there monthly and for special events.
A glorious example of the Craftsman style is located on Lookout Mountain above Golden. Industrial tycoon Charles Boettcher built “Lorraine Lodge” in 1917 as his seasonal retreat, designed by Fisher & Fisher and constructed of stone and timber taken from the site. Now known as the Boettcher Mansion, the National Register landmark is nestled within a 112-acre nature preserve. It is owned and operated by Jefferson County as a special events site and conference center — a favored spot for weddings and business retreats — and headquarters for the Colorado Arts and Crafts Society established in 1997.
You can visit this Craftsman-style landmark for a festive event later this month. On Saturday, April 28, Boettcher Mansion hosts the “Gathering of the Guilds” promoting and perpetuating the Arts and Crafts Movement. Demonstrations, presentations and workshops will showcase and explain the best craftsmanship in and around the Rocky Mountain region. Products will be on display and for sale from the Book Arts League, Castle Clay Artists, Colorado Calligraphers’ Guild, Colorado Metalsmithing Association, Colorado Woodworkers Guild, Red Rocks School of Fine Woodworking, Rocky Mountain Weaver’s Guild and others. Open to the public; $5.