Stephen Francis Jones, a restaurant designer in Los Angeles, initially had trouble describing the 3,000-square-foot Manhattan Beach house he built for his family. While its copper flashing, exposed trusses and cultured-stone exterior pay homage to craftsman style, the house’s huge windows and open floor plan reflect the architect’s love of light and flowing spaces.
“I came up with ‘contemporary craftsman.’ I describe it that way because that’s what people understand,” said Mr. Jones, 52.
Craftsman is a term given to homes largely built between 1905 and the early 1920s, said Ted Bosley, director of the Gamble House, a National Historic Landmark in Pasadena, Calif., that is considered a prime example of craftsman architecture. Craftsmans were the American expression of the Arts & Crafts movement that originated in England as a reaction against the perceived soullessness of the Industrial Revolution, Mr. Bosley said. The movement placed high value on handmade work, uniqueness and natural materials.
These values are seen in craftsman architecture by “articulation of structure,” such as exposed rafters and beams; abundant use of stone and wood; and a connection between the interior and exterior, often through porches and terraces, Mr. Bosley said.
Craftsman houses fell out of fashion in the 1920s, but became trendy again in the mid-1980s, Mr. Bosley said. Today, the style is growing in popularity: Houseplans.com, a large online seller of blueprints, said 25% of the plans it sold in the last quarter were craftsman, compared with 19% in the same period a year prior.
“In the last five years, I’ve seen this style explode on the East Coast,” where it was previously little-used, said Tim Gehman, director of design for Toll Architecture, a unit of luxury builder Toll Brothers .
Real-estate agents credit craftsman-loving celebrities for at least part of the style’s resurgent popularity. Actor Brad Pitt and singer Sheryl Crow are craftsman fans who have owned houses in the style, said JB Fung, director of the architectural division of the John Aaroe Group, a Los Angeles realty. The style is prevalent where Hollywood stars abound because the craftsman era occurred at the same time as a building boom in Southern California, Mr. Bosley said.
Many buyers and home builders want certain aspects of craftsman style—stone and woodwork, decorative rafters and beams, built-in cabinetry—but not others, such as low ceilings, dark colors and closed-off rooms. So they are picking and choosing between styles, as Mr. Jones did, and describing the results as “modern craftsman” or “contemporary craftsman.”
When Francine Ehrlich, an agent at Sotheby’s International Realty in Greenwich, Conn., rebuilt her own 9,000-square-foot house in 2008, she wanted craftsman elements such as “high wood fireplaces,” referring to elaborate woodwork around and above the fireplace. She also wanted “7-foot wainscoting,” and a diamond motif repeated throughout the rooms.
“But I like it to be light. I don’t like the dark aspect of that period,” said Ms. Ehrlich, 67. Three rooms have 25-foot ceilings, and “the spaces are flexible and open,” Ms. Ehrlich said. The house is listed for $5.995 million.
Traditional craftsmans continue to attract a niche of buyers, said Mr. Fung.
“A typical craftsman buyer has a bit of nostalgia,” and is willing to do without popular modern features like open kitchens and huge windows, Mr. Fung said. The only updates traditionalist buyers want to see are modern bathrooms and kitchens, he said.
“Homeowners want it to look like a craftsman on the outside, but they want the new floor plan for the way we live now,” said Mr. Roche. The most commonly sold floor plan features a combined kitchen, family and dining room and a large master suite with walk-in closets, he said.
The term “contemporary craftsman” is favored by builders and real-estate agents because, as Mr. Jones noted, people tend to understand the amalgam it represents. But not everybody embraces the phrase.
Mark Stapp is building a community of homes in Cave Creek, Ariz., designed by students and faculty of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. Some of the renderings of the homes, which will cost $750,000 to $1.2 million, show long, flat roofs with large, overhanging eaves; wood and stone exteriors; angular lines and earthy colors that evoke the craftsman style, with a distinct modern look. However, “craftsman” won’t be part of the description when the sales process begins in the fall of next year.
“Contemporary craftsman is oxymoronic. Please don’t call me that,” said Mr. Stapp. President of Cahava Springs Development, he was for a decade chairman of Taliesin Associated Architects, which was the successor to the late architect’s practice. Instead, the homes are best understood as contemporary in the vein of Frank Lloyd Wright, who can be most accurately viewed as a “bridge” between the craftsman and modern eras, Mr. Stapp said.
Ms. Dotolo said her main task was “a lot of softening.” She chose modern, light-colored and asymmetrical furniture. Eschewing traditional earth tones, Ms. Dotolo went with a light blue for “a fresher take,” she said.
Mr. Jones, who has designed restaurants including the original Spago in Beverly Hills, as well as more recent restaurants in Kenya, Japan and Los Angeles, completed his home in 2003. He paid $414,000 for the lot and spent around $500,000 to build, acting as his own general contractor. Teles Properties agent Tony Martinez estimated the home’s market value at around $2.5 million.
Mr. Jones said he found he had to become a craftsman himself to create some of the authentic features, because it was too expensive to buy the elements ready-made. Under his guidance, a framer built a set of v-shaped trusses on the site for a fifth of the cost of buying them, Mr. Jones said.
“That’s why craftsman design doesn’t happen that often,” anymore, Mr. Jones said. All that handcrafted work “is definitely expensive.”