STYLE

California Craftsman love: Living in and decorating a 100-year-old bungalow

12/30/2014 09:37 EST | Updated 03/01/2015 05:59 EST
PASADENA, Calif. - My love of 100-year-old California Craftsman bungalows — those low-slung, early 20th century Arts and Crafts-era homes known for their clean, horizontal lines and sturdy woodwork — runs long and deep.

I grew up in one in Hollywood, outfitted with dark, wooden, built-in cabinets and exposed beams, and my family lives in one in South Pasadena, northeast of downtown Los Angeles, with a swooping Japanese-style roof. My fiancé, Dave, and I rent a small, century-old Craftsman house here in Pasadena's landmark district Bungalow Heaven, home to more than 1,000 historic bungalows, most of them Craftsmans.

Why do I appreciate them? One word: uniqueness. Each traditional Craftsman house is different, with its own personality (in our rental, the toilet is in a separate room from the bathroom sink and bathtub) and an emphasis on natural materials and colours, from slate grey to clay brown. Architectural twists such as sleeping porches, wide-open entrances, and pillars made out of stone were built as a minimalist reaction against industrial design and as an ode to warmer weather and (then) fresher air. Decorating a Craftsman is also a labour of love.

"The whole Craftsman movement was about rediscovering handmade things," says Sue Mossman, executive director of the preservation non-profit Pasadena Heritage. "There's a natural 'form follows function' approach. Everything has a purpose to it as well as a beauty."

Gustav Stickley, who started making Arts and Crafts-style furniture and accessories in the late 19th century, has long represented the pinnacle of Craftsman design. Antique Stickley hand-finished, solid-wood armchairs, tables and couches, defined by a sleek vertical-lined "mission" style, can run upwards of $5,500 today. Mossman, who lives in a traditional Craftsman and says she owns a couple of "fine Stickley pieces," views the furniture, like Craftsmans themselves, as having lasting appeal.

"In the 1980s and '90s, the value of these antique pieces went through the roof," she says. "It has dropped off since then, but the value of original pieces is still very high."

Since Dave and I, like many, can't afford the prized brand, we searched for much less pricey, though not necessarily handmade, furniture and decorations for our place. There are strong connections between the Craftsman and midcentury modern movements when it comes to simple functionalism, says Mossman. My Craftsman rental is a mixture of both.

We found a modestly priced, tan 1963 Lane Acclaim walnut wood coffee table with dovetail edges at an antique store to fit in with the earthy Craftsman colour scheme in our living room. Our faux-Craftsman, geometric mica glass, wood and metal living room table lamp we snagged on sale for $150 at retailer Lamps Plus to perch on top of a Wildon Home mission-style, espresso-hued end table for not much more.

Bought at a nearby sofa store, our couch is made out of chocolate-brown wood and tweed, a midcentury modern reproduction called "The Draper." Our vintage living room rug is a '60s striped blend of warm orange, green, pink and white. We also picked up glass vases, Arts and Crafts-style wooden frames and dinnerware from flea markets and online through Etsy and eBay. Call it Craftsman flair with a dash of "Mad Men" thrown in.

"Even if it's a reproduction, people who appreciate the character of their house will be able to pick things that suit that same personality," notes Mossman.

Inspiration especially came in the form of a trip to the custom-furnished, three-story Gamble House, Pasadena's premier example of California Craftsman architecture. It was designed by the architectural firm Greene & Greene in 1908 as a roomy winter home for David and Mary Gamble, of Procter & Gamble. Inside, we stood surrounded by curved stairway banisters, smooth surfaces, and wooden pegs all made out of soft mahogany, teak, oak, maple and cedar.

"Craftsman style has a casual but clean simplicity to it that can be dressed up or dressed down," notes Alvin Huang, an architect and University of Southern California School of Architecture assistant professor.

Afterward, in the gift shop, Dave and I bought a clay tile, similar to those in the Gamble House, decorated with a light yellow and white frog. It sits on our end table, next to the lamp, with more Craftsman-worthy knickknacks to come.

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Follow Solvej Schou at www.twitter.com/Solvej_Schou

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