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book review: Stickley’s Craftsman Homes

Stubblebinecover Ray Stubblebine, Stickley’s Craftsman Homes, Gibbs Smith, 2006

Ray Stubblebine’s new volume, a lifetime’s magnum opus, provides an exhaustive review of the homes promoted by Gustav Stickley over the years of publication of his Craftsman magazine. Published from 1901 to 1915, The Craftsman was a vital component of the first American Arts and Crafts movement, promoting its spirit, theory, and style in a fashion that was far more democratic — far more accessible, and relevant, to ordinary citizens — than its English counterpart.

While Gustav Stickley will ever be associated with furniture, especially given the auction prices his best pieces fetch, and the high profile of the family brand in recent years, he was also a tireless promoter of arts and crafts sensibility as an approach to building, so much so that his Craftsman nomenclature has become associated with a particular architectural style — the rustic, woody, slope roofed, shingled and porched medium size homes that are so much a treasured part, coast to coast, of the American build tradition. While The Craftsman magazine offered plans and commentary on an eclectic range of vernacular styles, many quite un-bungalow, un-Craftsman-like in outward appearance, his interiors were distinctly arts and crafts, with their paneling and art lamps and cozy fireplaces.

Stubblebine’s great achievement is providing, in one hefty volume, a complete catalog of house designs published in The Craftsman, along with a description of each, floor plans, and photographs, both historical and contemporary.  In his nineteen years of Stickley investigation, Stubblebine located examples of a good portion of the homes, presenting them chronologically from 1904 to 1916 — some 220 separate designs.

Introductory chapters introduce the Craftsman “idea,” provide wonderful photos and detail on the homes Stickley designed for himself and his family, and discuss arts and crafts colors, the missing element, of course, in the mainly black and white magazine layouts of the era. Stubblebine also addresses the question of Stickley’s contribution to the design of the homes presented in his magazine. Not an architect, the author suggests that “design director” would be an appropriate description, as Stickley set the tone and critiqued the work of the many architects who worked for his magazine over the years. The particular contribution of Harvey Ellis in the early years of the magazine is highlighted.

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