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History of American Craftsman, Arts and Crafts, Shaker, and
Mission Style Doors and Architecture

American Craftsman doors and Architecture

The American Craftsman Style, or the American Arts and Crafts Style, is an American domestic architectural, interior design, and decorative arts style popular from the last years of the 19th century through the early years of the 20th century. As a design movement, its popularity remained strong until the 1930s, although in the decorative arts it continues to experience numerous revivals until the present day.

Common architectural design features:
Low-pitched roof lines, gabled or hipped roof
Deeply overhanging eaves
Exterior stained glass doors
Exposed rafters or decorative brackets under eaves
Front porch beneath extension of main roof
Tapered, square columns supporting roof
4-over-1 or 6-over-1 double-hung windows
Frank Lloyd Wright design motifs
Hand-crafted stone or woodwork
Mixed materials throughout structure

Exterior American Craftsman Doors
British origins

The American Craftsman style has its origins in the earlier British Arts and Crafts movement which dates back to the 1860s. The British movement, which spawned a wide variety of related but conceptually very distinct design movements throughout Europe, was a reaction to the degradation of the dignity of human labor resulting from the Industrial Revolution. Seeking to ennoble once again the common worker, the movement emphasized the hand-made over the mass produced. The British movement was thoroughly Victorian in its era and design taste. The lush ornamentation of the era required that the movement often serve the wealthiest clients.

American developments
While the British movement was a Victorian-era phenomenon, its translation to the American setting took place precisely at the moment when that era was coming to a close. It can be said that the American movement that also emphasized craftsmanship was also a design reform movement that encouraged originality, simplicity of form, local natural materials, the visibility of handicraft, and was concerned with ennobling the more modest home of the rapidly expanding American middle class.

Typical Interior American Craftsman Doors with flat panels
Typical Interior American Craftsman Doors with flat panels
Typical Interior American Craftsman Doors with flat panels
Typical Interior American Craftsman Doors with flat panels
Typical Interior American Craftsman Doors with flat panels
Typical Interior American Craftsman Doors with Glass panels

Interior design developments

Boston exhibitions
In America in the late 1890s, a group of Boston’s most influential architects, designers, and educators, determined to bring to the United States the design reforms begun in England by William Morris, met to organize an exhibition of contemporary craft objects. The first meeting was held on January 4, 1897, at the Museum of Fine Arts to organize an exhibition of contemporary crafts. When craftsmen, consumers, and manufacturers realized the aesthetic and technical potential of the applied arts, the process of design reform in Boston started. Present at this meeting were General Charles Loring, Chairman of the Trustees of the MFA; William Sturgis Bigelow and Denman Ross, collectors, writers and MFA trustees; Ross Turner, painter; Sylvester Baxter, art critic for the Boston Transcript; Howard Baker, A.W. Longfellow Jr.; and Ralph Clipson Sturgis, architect.

The first American Arts and Crafts Exhibition opened on April 5, 1897, at Copley Hall featuring over 1000 objects made by 160 craftsmen, half of whom were women. Some of the supporters of the exhibit were Langford Warren, founder of Harvard’s School of Architecture; Mrs. Richard Morris Hunt; Arthur Astor Carey and Edwin Mead, social reformers; and Will Bradley, graphic designer.

Society of Arts and Crafts
The huge success of this exhibition led to the incorporation of The Society of Arts and Crafts, on June 28, 1897, with a mandate to “develop and encourage higher standards in the handicrafts.” The 21 founders were interested in more than sales, and focused on the relationship of designers within the commercial world, encouraging artists to produce work with the highest quality of workmanship and design.

This mandate was soon expanded into a credo, possibly written by the SAC’s first president, Charles Elliot Norton, which read:

This Society was incorporated for the purpose of promoting artistic work in all branches of handicraft. It hopes to bring Designers and Workmen into mutually helpful relations, and to encourage workmen to execute designs of their own. It endeavors to stimulate in workmen an appreciation of the dignity and value of good design; to counteract the popular impatience of Law and Form, and the desire for over-ornamentation and specious originality. It will insist upon the necessity of sobriety and restraint, or ordered arrangement, of due regard for the relation between the form of an object and its use, and of harmony and fitness in the decoration put upon it.


The style incorporated locally handcrafted wood, glass, and metal work that is both simple and elegant. A reaction to Victorian opulence and the increasingly common mass-produced housing elements, the style incorporated clean lines, sturdy structure, and natural materials. The name comes from a popular magazine published in the early 1900s by furniture maker Gustav Stickley called The Craftsman, which featured original house and furniture designs by Harvey Ellis, the Greene brothers, and others. The designs, while influenced by the ideals of the British movement, found inspiration in specifically American antecedants such as Shaker furniture and the Mission style. Emphasis on the originality of the artist/craftsman led to the new design concepts of the Art Deco movement of the 1930s.

Architectural developments

Several developments in the American domestic architecture of the period are traceable not only to changes in taste and style but also to the shift from the upper- to middle-class patronage. The American Victorian typically took the form of a two-story square house with a hip roof disguised behind a variety of two-storied bays with an assortment of gables as well as octagonal or round turrets and wraparound porches presenting a complex facade. Typically, the basic square house was also complemented by a back wing complete with its own entrances, and a stairwell that housed the kitchen, pantries, and scullery on the first floor and the servants' quarters on the second. Fitted with inferior-quality woodwork and hardware, and noticeably smaller bedrooms and lower ceiling heights, the Victorian kitchen-servants wing embodied the aristocratic class distinctions of the Old World.

With the large bays, turrets, and rear wing removed, the front porch simplified, and the ceilings lowered somewhat, it is not difficult to see how the American foursquare developed from the common American Queen Anne. The middle-class housewife of the era would not have domestic servants (at least not live-in ones) and would be doing much if not all of the housework herself, as well as watch the children. These added roles made it important that the kitchen be integrated into the main house with easy sight lines to the common areas of the main floor (the dining and living rooms) as well as to the back yard. Commonly, the butler's pantry of the Victorian Era was replaced with dining room cabinetry that often consisted of "built-ins", which gave home designers the opportunity to incorporate wood and glass craftsmanship into the public aspects of the home.

Another common design development arising from the class-shift of the time was the built-in "breakfast nook" in the kitchen. The Victorian kitchen of the previous era was separated from the family view and daily routine. It typically had a work table (having the equivalent purpose of the modern countertop) at which the servants would eat after the family meal was served and the kitchen tidied. The Victorian kitchen had no "proper" place for a family member to sit, eat, or do anything else. Again, as the housewife of the Craftsman era was now preparing the family meals, the Victorian kitchen gave way to one designed as the heart of the family's daily life. The breakfast nook often placed under a window or in its own bay provided a place for the family to gather at any time of the day or evening, particularly while food was being prepared.

Renowned architect David Owen Dryden designed and built many Craftsman bungalows in San Diego's North Park area, which is the site of the proposed Dryden Historic District.

Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the most important architects of the American home and whose career spanned the Victorian to the Craftsman to the Prairie School, which he in large part founded, is credited with much of the conceptual development of the middle-class home design in the first third of the 20th century.