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Why I Don't Design Craftsman Style Houses

I think that designing new Craftsman style houses and multiplexes is wrong.

simulated photo of a contemporary American Craftsman house, summer, sunny, suburb, white with black trim

By the end of this article, you'll understand how pursuing this style is cheating you out of a better home. I'll explain why I think that replicating Craftsman style architecture is a mistake, how it is compromising the quality of current construction, and also what redeeming aspects of the architectural movement we could retain that actually save us from the sins of the trappings of Craftsman as a vernacular.

Purpose Of A Home

The first thing a house or duplex/multiplex must provide for you is comfort and shelter from adverse exterior conditions; the second quality it must have is a price you can afford. Chasing an architectural style that was not concerned primarily with either of those needs leads to compromise both of your quality of life and of the vernacular itself. Craftsman style homes often fall short in these fundamental aspects, making them less suitable for modern living requirements and budgets.

simulated photo of American Craftsman style house, white trim, blue siding, suburb, sunny, Spring

Historical Context of Craftsman Style

The Craftsman movement, rooted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was a reaction against the industrial revolution's mass production and a return to hand-crafted artisanship. It celebrated the natural beauty of materials and the skill of the craftsman. The movement emphasized simplicity, functionality, and the honest expression of structure and materials. However, as time has passed, the essence of what made Craftsman homes unique and functional has been lost in translation.

simulated photo of interior of a Romanesque castle hall

Do you like the way Romanesque castles and Gothic cathedrals look? I do. In particular, the castles of Northern France to Northwest Germany are beautiful. The form is functional but not utilitarian. Would I want to live in one or to build one of my own? Not a chance; castles are inherently damp, cold, drafty, and dark. These fundamental deficiencies combined with the enormous footprint and insane cost are why we no longer building this type of structure. That and gunpowder.

Craftsman Style in the Lower Mainland

Throughout the Lower Mainland of British Columbia (and across the continent, really), in addition to the smattering of authentic, vintage Craftsman style homes, many "Craftsman style" homes are being built - quite a few of them fairly large. The new houses typically are unnecessarily expensive and perform inherently poorly even on projects that have generous budgets, but most people feel that the only alternatives are spartan Prairie style homes, Mediterranean homes, and bizarre, ultra-modern homes that resemble spaceships or other modern mansions such as one sees in West Vancouver.

simulated photo of an American Craftsman style house, white siding, white trim, front garage, Spring, shade

Disconnection from Foundational Characteristics

Modern interpretations of Craftsman style often miss the mark by focusing on superficial aesthetics rather than the underlying principles. Elements such as exposed wood beams, intricate joinery, and natural stone, which were once integral and functional parts of the structure, are now often purely decorative. This disconnection from the foundational characteristics of the style leads to homes that are less functional and more expensive to maintain.

simulated photo of closeup of a stone planter wall in foreground, stained wood frames of windows of a heritage Craftsman house with wood overhang

Performance Issues with Craftsman Style

Traditional Craftsman elements, such as exposed wood and structural continuity from interior to exterior, lead to significant performance issues. These features result in poor thermal performance, increased heat loss in winter, and excessive heat gain in summer. Moreover, they are prone to condensation, which can cause mold and degrade the building materials. Consequently, homes that replicate these features often suffer from reduced energy efficiency and durability.

simulated photo of an ornate cedar eave and rafter, blue sky and trees beyond

Traditional windows are typically adorned with plentiful muntins and the windows themselves are many smaller panes of glass. This sizing reduces the daylighting effectiveness and increases the heat loss in winter.

simulated photo of a windowed wall of a heritage Craftsman style house, dark grey frames, wood trim

Loss of Authenticity in Modern Replications

Today's Craftsman-style homes frequently use non-structural elements and synthetic materials, sacrificing authenticity for appearance. Exposed wood beams are often not structural but merely decorative trim. Stone façades are typically thin veneers rather than solid structures. This approach not only diminishes the integrity of the design but also adds unnecessary cost and complexity to the construction process without providing functional benefits. On Passive House and Net Zero projects, we aim to simplify the building's exterior as much as possible to reduce cost and improve the energy efficiency.

simulated photo of closeup of a structural connection detail wood post to wood beam, wood roof structure above

Doors, wood siding and trim were typically painted in earth tones on a Craftsman house; window frames are now usually white plastic (PVC), trim is prepainted white stock to match the PVC, and the siding is painted wood (or very often prepainted fibrous cement siding such as Hardie products) in bold siding colours (blue, red, yellow, grey).

simulated photo of a streetscape of multi-coloured American Craftsman style houses

Redeeming Qualities of Craftsman Architecture

Despite these issues, there are redeeming qualities in Craftsman architecture worth preserving. The use of natural materials, the emphasis on handcrafted details, and features like deep porches and overhanging eaves can be valuable if adapted appropriately. These elements can enhance the aesthetic appeal and functionality of modern homes when integrated with contemporary building science principles.

simulated photo of a modern timber-framed verandah in front of a Craftsman style house

simulated photo of a traditional American Craftsman house at evening, warm lighting inside, summer

Modern Alternatives

To honor the spirit of Craftsman style while meeting modern needs, we can adopt alternative design approaches. For example, using durable materials such as brick and metal that provide an honest expression of structure and aesthetics. Incorporating deep porches and overhangs can offer protection and outdoor living space. These adaptations can maintain the charm and warmth of Craftsman design while ensuring better performance and longevity.

simulated photo of a window nook, interior view of an American Craftsman house, trees outside

simulated photo of a front exterior view of an American Craftsman house, white trim, light blue siding, black fascia

While the nostalgia for Craftsman style is understandable, clinging to outdated design cues compromises the quality, affordability, and sustainability of modern homes. Imagine proceeding with the mistaken pursuit of superficial styling: you end up with a home that appears charming but suffers from poor thermal performance, higher maintenance costs, and potential structural issues. This approach results in a home that looks the part but fails to deliver on comfort, efficiency, and longevity.

simulated photo of a modern verandah, timber framed structure, Asian modern architecture

In contrast, consider a situation where you thoughtfully incorporate the redeeming aspects of Craftsman architecture into a modern design. You maintain the charm and warmth through the use of natural materials and deep porches, while ensuring the home meets contemporary building science standards. This results in a home that is not only aesthetically pleasing but also highly efficient, durable, and comfortable - key factors in climate resilient home design. By blending traditional craftsmanship with modern technology, you achieve a superior home that stands the test of time.

simulated photo of a modern American Craftsman style house, light wood vertical siding

Overhangs can still be deep and provide a sheltered recreation space and protection to the wall construction. A modest expression of the interior form can take on more durable materials such as brick and sheet metal in a non-compromising manner that display a new honesty instead of trying to replicate traditional forms.

simulated photo of a modern Asian fusion American Craftsman style house, black and white siding

simulated photo of a digital tablet with assessment form

Are you considering building a new home or multiplex? Instead of replicating outdated styles, consider modern, efficient designs that incorporate the best aspects of Craftsman architecture in an ultra high-performance package. Download my free Home Performance Self-Assessment to find out how your home can benefit from these principles. Let's work together to create a home - an Ultrahome - that meets your needs for comfort, durability, and aesthetic appeal.



The information included in this article is to an extent generic and intended for educational and informational purposes only; it does not constitute legal or professional advice. Thorough efforts are made to ensure the accuracy of the article, but having read this article, you understand and agree that Daniel Clarke Architect disclaims any legal liability for actions that may arise from reliance on the information provided in this article. I am an architect in BC, but readers are recommended to consult with their own architect on their specific situations before making any decisions or exercising judgement base on information in the article.


photograph of Daniel Clarke, Architect AIBC


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