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Craftsman Homes

Saturday, April 24th, 2004 · 3 Comments

“(M)ake clear the pathway for all of those among us who are honestly interested in readjusting life on a plane of greater usefulness and higher beauty.” -Gustav Stickley

Stickley writes the following in the first chapter of his 1909 book Craftsman Homes: Architecture and Furnishings of the American Arts and Crafts Movement:

    In remembering those who have dedicated their lives to the benefit of their own lands, we inevitably picture them as men of simple ways, who have asked little and given much, who have freed their shoulders from the burdens of luxury, who have stripped off from their lives the tight inflexible bandages of unnecessary formalities, and who have thus been left free for those great essentials of honest existence, for courage, for unselfishness, for heroic purpose and, honesty of purpose, without which there can be no real meaning in life.

    Such right living and clear thinking cannot find abiding place except among those whose lives bring them back close to Nature’s ways, those who are content to be clad simply and comfortably, to accept from life only just compensation for useful toil, who prefer to live much in the open, finding in the opportunity for labor the right to live; those who desire to rest from toil in homes built to meet their individual need of rest and peace and joy, homes which realize a personal standard of comfort and beauty; those who demand honesty in all expression from friends, and who give in return sincerity and unselfishness, those who are fearless of sorrow, yet demand joy; those who rank work and rest as equal means of progress — in such lives only may we find the true regeneration for any nation, for only in such simplicity and sincerity can a nation develop a condition of permanent and properly equalized welfare.

    (Page 1)

Stickley’s philosophy and attitude toward life — and the way he designed his Craftsman homes — is simple, brilliant, and very much in line with mine and Jen’s own outlook on life. That’s why it’s no coincidence that from the moment we first set foot inside our 1920s-era Craftsman home, we knew it was The One. Our home’s feng shui is perfect, its character and charm immediately obvious, and its condition incredible, considering its age.

Built in 1925-1926 on land owned at the time by recent immigrants from Edinburgh, the founding of our street was advocated by a woman in the family who owned the farm.

Stickley quotes a chapter from a book called “England’s Ideal” by Edward Carpenter. The chapter is called “The Simplification of Life” and the following is an excerpt:

    No doubt immense simplifications of our daily life are possible; but this does not seem to be a matter which has been much studied. Rather hitherto the tendency has been all the other way, and every additional ornament to the mantelpiece has been regarded as an acquisition and not as a nuisance; though one doesn’t see any reason, in the nature of things, why it should be regarded as one more than the other. It cannot be too often remembered that every additional object in a house requires additional dusting, cleaning, repairing; and lucky you are if its requirements stop there.

    (Page 3)

We spent most of today in the Saratoga Springs Public Library researching our new property. We perused city directories (the equivalent of phone books today, though before phones were commonplace) from 1920 through today, tracing the history of past residents of our new home. To be buying a place with so much history — to get a small glimpse into the lives of the people who lived there before us (old city directories contain profession and employer details) — is an exciting, rewarding feeling. To research first-hand the history of the property that will soon belong to us is invigorating. We are becoming part of the 80-year story of this beautiful, well cared for home. We even found in the library some documents outlining the ownership history, along with a letter from a relative of the family who originally owned the land.

Stickley writes the following on pages 194-195:

    One need only turn to the pages of history to find abundant proof of the unerring action of Nature’s law, for without exception the people whose lives are lived simply and wholesomely, in the open, and who have in a high degree the sense of the sacredness of the home, are the people who have made the greatest strides in the development of the race.

    To preserve these characteristics and to bring back to individual life and work the vigorous constructive spirit which during the last half-century has spent its activities in commercial and industrial expansion, is, in a nut-shell, the Craftsman idea. We need to straighten out our standards and to get rid of a lot of rubbish that we have accumulated along with our wealth and misused so many of our wonderful natural resources. All we really need is a change in our point of view toward life and a keener perception regarding the things that count and the things which merely burden us. This being the case, it would seem obvious that the place to begin a readjustment is in the home, for it is only natural that the relief from friction which would follow the ordering of our lives along more simple and reasonable lines would not only assure greater comfort, and therefore greater efficiency, to the workers of the nation, but would give the children a chance to grow up under conditions which would be conducive to a higher degree of mental, moral and physical efficiency.

We’re fortunate enough to have found a house built in a style and a time whose sensibilities match our own. To find that our Craftsman home’s design reflects a philosophy like ours is almost unbelievable. Yet somehow it doesn’t surprise me. Perhaps it’s yet another example of the elements coming together in the universe — in so many ways.

As James K. Kettlewell writes in his 1991 book “Saratoga Springs: An Architectural History,” the following is yet another reason why buying a Craftsman home is serendipitous for this Californian and his Californian-at-heart wife:

    Stickley’s Craftsman houses and furniture style initially caught on in California during the first decade of the twentieth century. There it became the most popular style of the era, and even today remains a major influence on domestic architectural design. About ten years later when the Bungalow came back East, along with Stickley’s furniture style, now called “mission,” its eastern origins were for the most part forgotten. Instead it was generally perceived as a style that had originated in California. This association with California certainly enhanced the popularity of the style elsewhere in the United States, largely because, in the 1920’s, California had become America’s promised land.

    (Page 138)

Everything happens for a reason.

Though we haven’t yet been able to confirm this or find our exact design (which we hope to do), it is likely that our house was built from a mail-order kit, popular at the time (1900-1930). Companies such as Sears and Aladdin offered the designs and materials to the middle class, who could not afford to hire architects like Frank Lloyd Wright or Greene and Greene. According to the Craftsman Home ID Guide, “The middle class used Stickley’s Craftsman Home plans, which they modified to suit their tastes and requirements and had built by local builders.”

(Yes, this is the investment in our future to which I alluded a few days ago.)

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Tags: real estate

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Whitney // May 13, 2004 at 8:15 pm

    When you go to your closing, ask to have your abstract of title returned to you. It will give you a chronology of your property, who owned it when, so on and so forth. It’s really neat reading.

    (from a fellow old home owner and fellow Vassar grad)

  • 2 jlt // Aug 9, 2004 at 2:21 pm

    Great article – glad to see more Craftsman-related stuff out there.

  • 3 Mere Sketches // Jan 6, 2005 at 11:03 am

    Fannie Mae

    Confused about Fannie Mae? You should be. But if you own a house, it is worth figuring out. Asher is on the case….