While walking through the neighborhoods of Portland, you might have noticed some recurring architectural themes. For example, you might have admired the design of Craftsman homes, an architectural style that’s been popular since the turn of the century. This style was especially popular in the early 20th century, when Portland was rapidly growing and thriving.
For this reason, when you look at historic homes in Portland from the 1910s or 1920s, you’re likely to see at least one Craftsman home, if not several. For instance, this charming Craftsman in Multnomah Village was built in 1922. With hardwood floors, cove ceilings, the home still retains much of its original character.
Or this beautiful, private riverfront home that was built in 1916 and features a guesthouse, soaking pool, garden, two master suites, and an incredible kitchen.
Why did Craftsman architecture suddenly become so popular? What exactly makes Craftsman homes special?
To answer these questions, you need to look beyond the US to England, where the design originated in the late nineteenth century. During that time, society was rapidly changing as the British middle class was gaining influence. Until then, architects, landscapers and other designers had mainly served the interests of the upper class. They created lavish Victorian homes for the wealthy, while the lower classes lived in plain, mass-produced houses.
However, with the increasing importance of the middle class, architects and designers started to shift their attention to the needs of this group. They began to reject the opulence of the Victorian era in favor of more simplicity, originality and handicraft.
This new focus led to the emergence of a new design philosophy, called the Arts and Crafts movement. Craftsman homes are just one part of this movement, which affected everything from landscaping to interior design. In other words, when you tour a Craftsman home, you’re not only looking at a type of architecture; you’re experiencing an entire movement, a new way of thinking about life and design.
You can notice this philosophy by comparing Craftsman architecture with its predecessor, Victorian homes. A classic Victorian house has at least two stories and an ornate façade with gables, turrets, and a wraparound porch. Its layout reflects an upper-class lifestyle which included servants. For example, there’s often a back wing with its own entrance, as well as a stairwell connecting the kitchen and pantries to the servants’ quarters upstairs.
A Craftsman looks much simpler while still maintaining a stylish appearance. It has the gables, big porch and square design of the Victorian house, only the lines are cleaner and more straightforward. The façade is modest rather than ornate; there are no turrets, and a second floor is optional. Its beauty lies in its simplicity.
The layout, like the façade, fits the mentality and needs of a middle-class family. You can see this most clearly in the design of the kitchen. Unlike a Victorian house, where the kitchen is hidden away with the servants in the back wing, a Craftsman puts the kitchen near the living area. After all, in that time, a middle-class family relied on a family member—usually a housewife—to do the cooking, cleaning and childcare.
In this context, the kitchen needed to be at the center of the family’s life, rather than pushed to the back. Architects took this dynamic into account when designing the eating area, too. Craftsman homes commonly have a breakfast nook in the kitchen, or else a dining room right next to the kitchen, to better connect the family. Instead of having a servant tidy the kitchen while the family ate (like in a Victorian house), the Craftsman allowed the family to stay together during both the meal and clean-up process.
The practicality and simplicity of Craftsman homes caught on in America (including Portland) not long after the design appeared in England, and its popularity has endured to this day. If you love Craftsman architecture, you don’t necessarily need to find a historic house to own a Craftsman. New Craftsman homes are built every year, like this lovely twin-peak Craftsman built in 2017 in Kenton, Portland.
These new homes combine historical charm with modern conveniences and energy efficiency. While homes from the early 20th century can be gorgeous, too, they’re not the only options if you’re looking for a Craftsman. Check out our other Portland, Oregon real estate listings to find a Craftsman—new or old—that you love.