By Larry Johnson
From Issue 12
We see many people who either own an Arts and Crafts home that they want to redo — or are buying one. Or they’ve been looking for one, but have given up finding a house that can be updated the way they want, and have decided to build a new home in the Craftsman style. Building from scratch is a much more expensive choice, however, since the current costs of labor and materials have driven the cost of replicating a finely detailed Craftsman home well into the $130-plus per-square-foot range.
If you already own an early 20th century house that was stripped and modernized at some point, what do you do’? You can attempt a reasonably accurate, complete restoration — or renovate, respecting the original design intent of the house. Restoration is usually appropriate for only the best examples of the period — those of historic significance — and often costs more than most people want to spend. We help clients choose the most appropriate renovation particular to each instance.
The highest priority in renovation is to retain and enhance as much of the original design as possible, but replace where necessary. Remove any asbestos, aluminum or vinyl siding, and repair the original siding and trim, but you don’t need to replace the wood shingles.
Asphalt/fiberglass shingles can be a visually acceptable and affordable roof replacement. Use double shingles along the roof edges and peak to give it a more authentic and attractive appearance. They don’t consume old-growth, Western red cedar, and are half the cost of their wood counterpart. If fire codes permit. and a cedar roof is a must, avoid heavy shakes on all but the most rural cabins, as sawn shingles were nearly the rule for Craftsman houses.
Window restoration is also extremely important to do. however most current building codes require that any replacement glazing be at least double-glazed. This can create problems if the original windows were individually divided by muntins. There are replacements available. hut true ‘divided light’ windows made today have a thicker muntin profile. so be careful in your select ion.
Be sure to utilize some of the many Arts and Crafts replica lighting fixtures for interior and exterior lighting. Until very recently, it was nearly impossible to find acceptable replacements for missing exterior fixtures, but they are becoming more available.
Any additions you make should be compatible to the style of the house. Remember that additions fall under the same building code as new construction and therefore may be more difficult to blend into the original construct ion.
On the interior, the basic guideline is “keep it simple.” When the interior woodwork has been stripped out, it may not be worth the effort or expense to restore these areas. In one house we did, a 1909 Craftsman, we were able to renovate the entry, living and dining rooms. We obtained photographs of the original interiors and enough of the trim remained to allow us to have new moldings made where necessary. Where we were unable to determine the original molding, compatible moldings were designed. In the dining room the original wainscotting had been painted and gouged. These boards were carefully removed, planed, and reversed for reuse. The decision was made to add a compatible paneling in the living room. The required one-by-twelves were hand-selected “D” grade clear Douglas fir, a grade of finish wood that is usually considered paint grade, but often exhibits plain-sawn grain patterns. The result is different from the original, but in sympathy with the original design intent.
In remodeling kitchens and bathrooms in period homes. I recommend that when these areas are visually separated from the main living areas that they be treated in a more contemporary manner consistent with the appliances and fixtures placed within them. But for not much more money, Arts and Crafts detailing for the cabinets or a bit of tile work can add an attractive consistency to the house — but remember, these rooms were originally very utilitarian.
Time has provided us with the retrospection that the houses produced during the Arts and Crafts period were some of the most comfortable, beautiful and functional homes ever built in the United States. If you are fortunate enough to own one, treat it with the same respect and care you would give to a prized Stickley rocker or plein-air painting. As designers, builders, and homeowners we should recognize that the timeless simplicity that the artisans of the Arts and Crafts period strove for is as approp riate today as it was 100 years ago.
Larry Johnson. founder of the Johnson Partnership, an architectural firm in Seattle, is an old friend of the bungalow. Since forming his practice 14 years ago, Larry has designed a wide range of projects: from timber-frame structures to renovation and remodeling — espec ially in the Northwest Craftsman style tradition. He is currently Washington state preservation officer for the American Institute of Architects.