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The appeal and versatility of a style that grew up in America


October 3, 2016
This article first appeared in the October 2016 issue of Pro Builder.

The beloved architectural style known as Craftsman has undeniably British roots, yet it’s unmistakably American, from Oregon to Alabama to Illinois. Might that explain its enduring appeal? “So much of what we see in the U.S. has been imported from somewhere else,” says senior editor Susan Bady, who wrote this month’s story, “The New Craftsman.” “We don’t have much in the way of architectural style that’s truly indigenous,” she observes. “But this one really says ‘home.’” (Union Studio Architecture and Community Design; Photo: Herbert Studios)

The point was underscored in August when the Professional Builder editorial team met for a walking tour of Oak Park, Ill., and Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio, led by the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust. Wright was, of course, famous for his outsized ego and intolerance of differing views. According to our tour guide, those who complained about Wright’s chairs being uncomfortable were told that they were sitting in them improperly. His architect’s flair for showmanship included riding a horse to downtown Oak Park wearing a kimono. 

But if you’ve ever toured Wright’s home (which I highly recommend), you know that one myth is debunked: That those famously scaled-down doorways were so built because the architect himself was short. Not so. Wright’s modest doorways often lead to soaring ceilings for an expand-contract effect that adds definition to every room, enhances the experience of the space, and makes for a home that’s a wonderful place to be. Other clever design moves aren’t always obvious in photographs of Wright’s work: a small window concealed from the elevation view that pours daylight into an otherwise dark bath; a built-in breakfront with a pass-through that allows for easy transfer of dinner dishes from dining room to kitchen. 

This month, Bady explores how builders and designers are pushing the accepted limits of Craftsman style to address the preferences of modern homeowners. Traditional Craftsman homes often lack natural light. But here, you’ll see new homes that stay true to the genre, yet with an abundance of windows. Another common aspect of the traditional Craftsman floor plan is that the kitchen is small, separate, and at the back of the house. The New Craftsman opens up that room, using built-ins to maintain definition and sight lines to create connectedness. In the American spirit of inventiveness, the New Craftsman maintains its essential character, but it’s changing with the times and with market demand. 

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Amy Albert is editor-in-chief of Professional Builder magazine. Previously, she worked as chief editor of Custom Home and design editor at Builder. Amy came to writing about building by way of food journalism, as kitchen design editor at Bon Appetit and before that, at Fine Cooking, where she shot, edited, and wrote stories on kitchen design. She studied art history with an emphasis on architecture and urban design at the University of Pennsylvania, has served on several design juries, and is a recipient of the 2017 Jesse H. Neal Award for excellence in journalism. 

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