Ed­i­tor’s Let­ter

Arts and Crafts Homes - - CONTENTS - Pa­tri­cia Poore, Ed­i­tor ppoore@aim­me­dia.com 10 Har­bor Rd., Glouces­ter, MA 01930

ON MY WAY TO A PHOTO-SHOOT in New Jersey, I found my­self on Route 17, the spine that led to my child­hood home­town, where I grew up in a 1951 “colo­nial ranch.” I took the exit down mem­ory lane. Stand­ing in front of where the house should be, I was mo­men­tar­ily con­fused, be­cause a two­s­torey neo-Vic­to­rian had swal­lowed it. Over­all, it wasn’t ter­ri­ble; still, the hor­i­zon­tal ranch was ghosted be­neath the new fa•ade. “Well, that’s po­etic jus­tice,” I thought, as I had sung the praises of Vic­to­rian houses dur­ing my ten­ure at Old House Jour­nal dur­ing the 1980s and ’90s.

My neigh­bor­hood in Glouces­ter has sev­eral neo-Vic­to­ri­ans, rang­ing from a mir­ror-im­age du­plex that lit­er­ally came off a truck to a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar neo-Queen Anne tower house on prime At­lantic Ocean real es­tate. Porches wear spindly “mill­work”; a faux roof truss is glued di­rectly to vinyl shin­gles in a gable. Even the high-end ver­sion fea­tures over­size, sin­gle-light win­dows with in­suf­fi­cient trim, giv­ing the house a blank stare.

For a decade or more, Arts & Crafts style has crept into whole-house re­mod­el­ings, ad­di­tions, and new con­struc­tion. De­sign/build firms give mod­els names like Sub­ur­ban Prairie, Coun­try Crafts­man, Eclec­tic Arts & Crafts, Lake Bun­ga­low, and English Cot­tage. Ge­or­gia Pa­cific (vinyl sid­ing!) lists the most pop­u­lar styles for res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion: #1 is Crafts­man, #2 Prairie.

Not all of it is good, but not much of it is of­fen­sive, ei­ther. Ar­chi­tec­ture buffs might won­der why a late 19th-cen­tury farm­house now has bat­tered col­umns on stone piers; but the piers and the stone are friendly. A house along bun­ga­low lines, newly built, can of­fer 7,000 square feet yet avoid the McMan­sion la­bel. In gen­eral, Arts & Crafts im­i­ta­tion has not pro­duced the freak-show sym­bol­ism of, say, nar­row vinyl shut­ters and bro­ken-ped­i­ment hoods pasted atop front doors.

I sug­gest there are three rea­sons Arts & Crafts is harder to botch: (1) The forms are in­her­ently sim­ple and pleas­ing. (2) Part of the “style” is a reliance on nat­u­ral, neu­tral ma­te­ri­als. (3) Or­na­ment is scarce and the idea does not lend it­self to os­ten­ta­tion. A life­time of shud­der­ing at the sight of phony-Coloneys and Vic­to­rian pas­tiche left me think­ing I ab­hor re­vivals, which al­ways seem to play into low­est com­mon taste. But there will al­ways be a dar­ling of the mo­ment, and I’m glad to­day’s fa­vorite is Arts & Crafts.

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