Arts & Crafts
by Lisa De Silva
Returning to natural materials and processes, the Arts & Crafts movement champions the craftsmanship and individuality of the designer, both in the architecture of the house, furnishings and garden.
The Arts & Crafts movement spanned a period of around 30 years, from 1880 to 1910. A reaction against the excesses of Victorian industrialisation, it grew from a desire to return to simpler building forms, using natural materials and traditional craftsmanship.
Inspired by social reform, the movement’s leaders, John Ruskin and William Morris, favoured a way of working which gave craftsmen control over what they produced. Mass-production techniques and products were dismissed and the look was all about simple, traditional building forms, the use of natural materials and the celebration of craftsmanship and individuality.
Like the movement itself, Arts & Crafts architecture was more defined by a set of ideals, than any one particular style. This meant that houses were built by craftsmen and labourers without the use of machinery. What’s more, materials had to be from the local area and not manufactured in factories miles away. There was an honesty in the construction, as nothing could look like stone or wood, it had to be made from those materials, with no surface dressing, giving Arts & Crafts homes a solid feel and a connection to their surroundings.
This philosophy of building meant there was no limit on scale, as these methods were used to create everything from a small family home to a grand country house. While these homes were as individual as the architects, craftsmen and local materials that produced them, there are some common features that help us identify an Arts & Crafts house.
If there is one key to the Arts & Crafts look it is a steeply pitched roof, creating low eaves. There is often what is known as a catslide on at least one side of the building, a roof which extends almost to the ground. The first floor is likely to be partially within the roof space, often with dormer windows and the roof was covered in local material, so could be tiled, or thatched.
Without the use of machinery, homes were built using methods similar to Medieval and Tudor times and Arts & Crafts houses share many of their features. The majority were built using oak frame structures either for the roof, part, or whole of the building. This would then be rendered or infilled with brick. Another common feature of oak frame construction was the projecting or jettied first floor. This overhanging storey would provide protection for a bay or oriel window at ground level.
Windows are typically cottage style, with multiple small panes of glass, often incorporating stained glass patterned with popular motifs of upside down hearts, or stylised flowers. Cased in metal, timber or stone, windows were often arranged in groups of two or three units, separated by vertical mullions. Feature windows were also popular, including circular and heart shapes. Whatever type of windows were built, it was important that the design remained symmetrical.
Large feature chimneys were also an important part of the building form, and were usually tall and wide, with the stacks decorated by traditional brick, or stonework. A wide oak front door, fitted with black ironmongery is typical of Arts & Crafts houses and many include a traditional lychgate style wooden porch, or a recessed porch area with an arched opening.
The internal layout was influenced by the external building form and could be open plan, or compartmentalised. However, one feature that does define the style is the entrance hall, which was typically large and welcoming, featuring a fireplace and often a timber staircase with carved details demonstrating traditional craft skills.
Arts & Crafts interiors followed in the same spirit as the rest of the house, with the emphasis on natural materials and craftsmanship.
As with most houses built during this period, the fireplace dominated the room. Arts & Crafts versions had wide hearths set into an inglenook or recess, with a carved mantelpiece above. Inset tiles were often cobalt blue, greens and reds and carried motifs such as stylised flowers and the ever-popular hearts.
Wooden floors were simply polished and wood-panelled walls were painted in dull green, or greeny-blue. These colours reflected the overall palette which was cream, terracotta, olive green, deep blue, crimson and mustard yellow.
Wallpaper was particularly popular, especially the designs of William Morris, which were made using vegetable dyes and wood blocks and are still made and sold today.
In keeping with the ethos, lighting came from plain wall sconces, while furniture was wooden and handmade, with little ornamentation. Curtains were devoid of any frills and flounces and were hung from plain wooden or brass poles. The simplicity of Oriental design was admired and influenced the rugs, screens and the blue and white China found in these homes.
How the Garden Grows
Arts & Crafts gardens were created to be as beautiful and authentic as the homes themselves. Nature was revered and this led to the popularity of the terrace, which created a connection between house and garden.
Gardens were arranged as a series of ‘rooms’, separated by pergolas, pillars, hedges and walls. These ‘rooms’ could contain the tennis court, rose garden, vegetable plot, or herb garden. In homage to the Medievalism the Arts & Crafts movement so admired, knot gardens (geometrically shaped paving and planting) were also popular.
Within this structured framework, flowers were left to flourish naturally. Ponds followed the same pattern, with formal shapes and sharp edging, but filled with flowers that were allowed to grow in abundance.
After its popularity in Europe, the Arts & Crafts movement bloomed, celebrating traditional craftsmanship far and wide. The designs and ideals of the movement stayed strong until the 1930s, and the arrival of Modernism.