Sunday, August 10, 2008

Craftsman Detail

If you move to South Pasadena, chances are you have an affinity (possibly bordering on obsession) for the Arts and Crafts movement. You’ll find hundreds of Craftsman homes in these few square miles, one after another, tucked humbly under generations-old shade trees like little zen mushrooms.

There are so many reasons to love this period in design. For one thing, it’s inherently rebellious. While scholars tend to place the beginning of the movement to William Morris’ 1850’s Red House, the true genesis has to be around a quarter century earlier when an upstart architect named Augustus Pugin had the gall to criticize the emerging industrial revolution. He said it was a wedge that separated designer/artist from worker. From his (and every humanist’s) point of view, division of labor cheated workers out of any sense of connectedness to their work. With tasks divvied up, laborers never saw a project through from beginning to end. Time-honored principles of design and quality were out. In? A new zeal for economy and profit. (Hmmmm… sound familiar?)

It’s no wonder the “revolution through art and design” went viral. The idea was simple: find joy in work, create well-designed things that everyone could afford, live simply, stay connected to nature and maintain an integrity of “place.” These ideas transformed architectural thought.

Since the movement emphasized a spiritual attunement with one’s surroundings, home should compliment nature and offer sanctuary from the mechanized urban squalor where so many people went to work. Gustav Stickley believed that a home reduced to its simplest state was one that had “a character so natural and unaffected that it seems to blend with any landscape.” The Victorian home screamed “Look at me!” The Craftsman home whispered, “Don’t mind me…”

The bungalow – a term dating back to simple structures with porches used in 19th Century India – exemplifies the Arts and Crafts ethos. Made of natural materials with pitched roofs, exposed rafters, handcrafted woodwork and art glass, Craftsman bungalows are truly grand in their simplicity. And the San Gabriel Valley is loaded with them.

It’s difficult to photograph these buildings because they so deftly blend with their surroundings. Take a photo of a street full of Craftsman houses and you’ll end up looking at a hodgepodge of pretty browns and greens, of porches that tuck deep into shadow and sloping rooftops that bounce the sunlight skyward (and into your camera.) Like all magical things, the Craftsman home is impossible to capture.

But I’ll try. I look forward to posting many (many!) images of my town’s historic gems. Let’s start here with a simple image that highlights a few wonderful Craftsman details: a deep set porch under exposed rafters, perfect for long afternoons spent enjoying the temperate Southern California weather. River rock posts. Muted colors. That whimsical shape of the trim around the Mission style door and window. .

Simple. Beautiful.

17 comments: said...

BEST post of the week as far as Im concerned! Although my house is a small Craftsman bungalow, and I dont have this sort of detail, I love the feeling of older homes. It just, it just feels more like home.

Hilda said...

Your description of the movement and of Craftsman houses is beautiful! I especially like how you describe the houses as whispering rather than screaming. I will be looking forward to seeing more of the houses. I have always adored the different textures and colors of wood and stone.

Virginia said...

I agree, these homes always look so warm and welcoming. I look forward to more of them. Nice photo today. I like the way you chose to shoot from a less predictable perspective.

Wayne said...

Some people may think Rose Bowl when they think of Pasadena, or the Jet Propulsion Lab, the Norton Simon or the Gamble House.
The Gamble House is breathtaking but the homes I associate with the city are the more modest bungalows such as Laurie has captured here.

Petrea said...

Laurie, you could write a book on this. This is wonderful prose on a subject dear to many a Pasadena-area heart. Good shot, too; it captures the craftsman orderliness in its quiet revolution.

I sympathize with your comment about it being difficult to capture these beauties. Sometimes I'll photograph a house or detail I think is perfect, but when I view the shot on my computer screen it doesn't have the same vitality I saw with my eye. The real things capture light and shadow difficult to convey with a camera, partly because they fit into their surroundings so well. It's tough to photograph an entire environment!

Eki Qushay Akhwan said...

Hi Laurie,
First of all, thanks for visiting my blog and taking the time to leave a comment.

A place where hundreds of craftsman homes are sounds like a great place to live and be inpired. I agree with Hilda, Petrea, and Virginia (all of them my blog friends): you have a great way of verbally describing your photographs.

Nice to get to know you and your South Pasadena blog. I'll visit it again soon. For now, have a good day.

Steve Buser said...

I read your comments with a lot of interest. Revolution against the Industrial Revolution?

New Orleans in probably one of those towns that refused most to change. The Arts and Crafts houses are plentiful --blended into the neighborhoods.

USelaine said...

I always wanted to live in a craftsman bungalow, but it still hasn't happened. Sacramento has quite a number of these neighborhoods, and it's always disappointing when an owner of one simply misunderstands the aesthetic by committing dreadful alterations counter to everything you describe. Wonderful post, Laurie.

keith said...

I love Craftsman homes! Nothing else comes close. I've been lucky enough to be able to go through quite a few and they are, to me, what a home should be.

I agree about the difficulty to photograph. Monrovia recently designated an entire block the city's first Historic District because of the craftsman bungalows located there. I keep trying to get a good photo of the block but I'm not even close to doing the homes justice.

Laurie said...

Hi folks!

Thanks for all the comments. I'm excited to see so many other fans of the Craftsman style.

Dave, you're too kind! I agree that the older homes just seem more... well... HOMEY! Our house is 108 years old and the attic renovation that was completed 25 years ago made use of vintage windows and fixtures so there isn't anything new in the place. I love all the history.

Wayne, I also think Craftsman when I think of Pasadena and South Pasadena. The first time I saw Bungalow Heaven in Pasadena I couldn't believe it actually existed and wasn't a movie set. Same thing in the Marengo area of South Pas. It was hard to believe so many of these treasures survived without too many of the "updates" USElaine mentioned.

Eli, thank you for visiting my blog.

Steve, I don't know that I've ever seen any of New Orleans' Craftsman homes but I can only imagine a lot were lost to Katrina.

Thanks for all the kind words everyone!

Columbo said...

Very interesting and descriptive posting. I lived in a 1918 Craftman home in Whittier and loved it. Had great time fixing it up (restoring it) to its era. When my parents moved up to Salem, OR, they purchased a 1895 Victorian home across from Bush Park. They loved it!

Lily Hydrangea said...

so true-simply beautiful! I particularly love the stone.

Laurie said...

COlombo, thanks for visiting my blog. I am with your folks -- I love both Craftsman and Victorian homes. My home is the best of both -- one of those Victorian/Craftsman transitionals that you can find around Los Angeles. Clean Craftsman lines but Victorian fixtures and lights. I just love it.

Lily, I love the stone, too. Our home has a river rock foundation and I think it's so beautiful.

Palm Axis said...

I've never heard of Augustus Pugin, thanks for the link up. Do you have Bachelder tiles as well?

The house next to me was built in 1895 and a shinning example of a bad rehab. If you look past the aluminum siding you find traces of wood scalloping (rotting away here and there).

I guess it's my destiny to live out my life in "50's California ranch style" I did terrace my hillside in river rock in which I added marbles from my fathers childhood collection. I also salvaged a craftsman door for use in my studio. I love my rock walls and I love my door but I also love my 50's post and beam patio with a view of the Santa Anna Mountains (on a very clear day).

Laurie said...

Palm, the Ranch style is a very Arts and Crafts ideal in both form and function. The post and beam midcentury ones are really great, aren't they?

Your river rock with marbles hillside sounds splendid. I love that.

Palm Axis said...

Hmm, post and beam was a bit of a stretch on my part. When I say post, think metal pipe and when I say ranch, think Lakewood, (not Nuetra). But the view remains "swell".

Dixie Jane said...

This porch is so inviting. It whispers, "Home."