Big, boxy houses preside over the landscape of 21st-century America. But the modern design-meets-warm touch of Arts and Crafts cottages and bungalows seems to be more popular than ever, almost 100 years after the movement's heyday.
Several new books and a new magazine about Arts and Crafts style are available now, and this fall, several new furniture lines evocative of the era will debut.
"Certainly [this] has to be a reaction to the ever-increasing mechanization and artificialness of life, and specifically houses," says Bruce Irving, former producer of PBS's This Old House, now a renovation consultant in Cambridge, Mass.
"The rise of McMansions, PVC trim... engineered factory-finished flooring, and even prefabricated houses must make people long for a time full of the real, handmade deal."
These days, technological advances pervade everyday life. "But many of us need a balance, especially in the environment we come home to each day," says Jackie Hirschhaut, vice president of the American Home Furnishings Alliance.
Among the offerings at the spring International Home Furnishings Market in High Point, N.C., were Hooker Furniture's "Simply American," a collection of bedroom and home-entertainment furnishings rendered in Arts and Crafts styling; Copeland Furniture's Frank Lloyd Wright collection; and the "Artisan" collection from Cresent Fine Furniture.
"Just as the original Arts and Crafts furnishings came into prominence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in response to industrialization, today's designs represent a growing interest in simplicity," Hirschhaut says.
Last year, Old-House Interiors magazine published a pilot issue on Arts and Crafts style.
It met with such success both in the numbers of copies sold and advertiser response, says editor Patricia Poore, that in the spring "we launched Arts & Crafts Homes as a separate quarterly, vowing to include contemporary practitioners of Arts and Crafts, as well as covering the historical antecedents of the continuing movement."
Though fans of the style acknowledge that interest in it ebbs and flows, this current revival is no mere flash of fashion, says Jane Powell, author of Bungalow Details: Interior (Gibbs Smith, $39.95).
"Since the Princeton exhibit in 1972 that reintroduced the style, the Arts and Crafts movement has secured a place as a classic style in the same way 18th-century style has," Powell says.
John Claypool, executive director of the Philadelphia chapter of the American Institute of Architects, says the Princeton exhibit was a "re-recognition of the movement, starting with the furniture of the period, and the interest in houses followed."
As a movement, Arts and Crafts wasn't rejected, Claypool says - it's just that the world moved on. In the 1950s, for instance, "the bungalow was considered too dark and the amount of wood was too expensive," he says.
"Yet Arts and Crafts continued to exert its influence in open floor plans, the ways rooms flowed into one another, and in planning, since the plan books that had been a hallmark of the movement continued."
There are strong Arts and Crafts influences in architecture today, notably in the work of The Not So Big House author Sarah Susanka - "the design and the details," Claypool says.
In fact, Susanka's efforts have inspired planning for Ruskin Lane in Media, a proposed development of 11 Arts and Crafts-style houses. They will be much larger - 2,700 to 3,200 square feet - than an early 20th-century bungalow, but with the same attention to detail.
A joint venture of the Arcus Design Group and Mingioni Construction, Ruskin Lane's designs are based on existing Arts and Crafts houses in the Media area, says architect Jeff Balch. (Nearby Rose Valley was a utopian Arts and Crafts community.)
Though the style was "a celebration of beautiful materials beautifully wrought," as Irving puts it, the movement was political as well, says Powell.
"The Arts and Crafts reformers believed that good designs in homes and furnishings would result in an improved society," she says. Underlying this was the premise that the industrialization that created the middle class and produced the "overstuffed" houses of the Victorians exploited the workers who mass-produced the items that filled them.
Though the political underpinnings may not be as well-recalled, Arts and Crafts "still speaks to people," Powell says.
"Remember, they were the first modern houses, with electric lights and indoor plumbing. Even in this century, they remain very livable."
Regional differences in the style developed, such as the California bungalow (where it first took root) and the Chicago, or Prairie, style. A veritable library of plan books appeared, and soon Sears Roebuck & Co. and other firms were selling mail-order kits that could be assembled by local contractors.
The ultimate bungalows were those designed by architects Charles and Henry Greene - most notably the one Greene & Greene built in Pasadena, Calif., for David and Mary Gamble (of Procter & Gamble) as a retirement home in 1908. It is now a house museum jointly owned by the city and the University of Southern California.
The Greenes designed both the house and its furnishings, which feature the rose from the Gamble family crest. The rose also appears in woodwork (the house has almost 80 species of wood), fireplaces, and other architectural features.
As important as the Gamble House is, Claypool says, "it is a secondary movement with a distinctive style of its own - more refined, more decorative, and more of a Japanese influence."
Still, it has a long reach. L. & J.G. Stickley debuted Greene & Greene-inspired furniture in its expanded Pasadena Bungalow collection at High Point in April. More than 20 pieces have been added to the line, all crafted from sapelli wood from the coast of Africa. One, the Gamble House Chest, retails for $4,723.
Bungalows may have been cheaper than Victorian mansions, but restoring one can be pricey, even though almost everything needed for a period redo is reproduced today.
"The expression of details in all of their handmade splendor makes for some pretty expensive trim-out," says Irving, who was in charge when This Old House restored a bungalow in Santa Barbara.
Which may be why a lot of 21st-century bungalow owners turn to more modern materials for renovation, sometimes with unfortunate results.
"People have this need to make their space their own," Powell says, "and when all they see is what is readily available at home centers advertised on television, that's what they use."
Creating more space or updating a bungalow for modern living can be quite the trick, as author Paul Duchscherer notes in his new book, Along Bungalow Lines (Gibbs Smith, $39.95), which is lavishly illustrated with photos by Linda Svendsen of additions and renovations.
Bungalow Details: Interior author Powell advises adding on "to the back so people can't see it from the street."
"I don't even mind if they add a second story," she says, "as long as it looks like a bungalow and not a '70s tract house."