Sunday, August 10, 2008
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. .