Beyond ‘Blue for Boys’
Go Bold, Even For the Not-So-Old
This concept is intriguing, especially in the Pacific Northwest. Would you implement a winter garden in your house?
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.”
IF, LIKE ME, you sought out an older home for its character—forgoing the conveniences of new construction—you may be paying an aesthetic price for keeping warm this winter, thanks to clunky, antiquated radiators. Be they hydronic (hot water), steam or electric, these heaters are rarely pretty. My own recently purchased abode, a 1970s French country-style house in Mendham, N.J., came equipped with the bête noire of radiators, the truly unignorable baseboard variety that snakes along a wall in every room.
I considered switching to forced air heat, but such an overhaul can be forbiddingly costly and forced air has its negatives, too: It produces the driest heat, a curse in wintertime when our skin is already cracking, and the constant bluster sends dust and allergens whirling through the air. Casting my loyalties with radiant heat, I set out on a mission to find out how other people are camouflaging eyesore radiators, and whether more palatable alternatives exist.
If you can't beat radiators—with decorative disguises—replace them
Some interior designers, like Manhattanite Alexa Hampton, enlist custom paneling to hide conventional wall radiators. Ms. Hampton installs wainscoting around the room, incorporating heating covers that, she said, "seem like just one more piece of the millwork and disappear." Under windows where there are no radiators, designers will often replicate the covers for continuity, modifying them so they work as storage. For a ready-made, albeit less seamless solution, the Holland, N.Y.-based company Fichman fabricates stand-alone radiator covers starting at $149. They can be customized to your specifications and delivered nationally in four to six weeks.
Other designers obscure radiators by building them into banquette seating equipped with air vents or by setting up screens. Vicente Wolf, who works out of New York, has constructed low folding screens on several occasions, while Washington, D.C.-based Darryl Carter has artfully adapted window shutters to do the honors. According to Mr. Wolf, while radiator covers can make a room feel smaller, a screen can be "a less obtrusive element."
“ The bête noire of radiators is the truly unignorable baseboard variety. ”
Of course, some homeowners just choose to replace regrettable radiators with sleeker Euro-versions. Hudson Reed, a British firm with an American e-commerce website, sells powder-coated steel models that are elegantly compact, some with a depth under 3 inches. The radiators comply with American standards and arrive in three to five days with free shipping. Runtal North America, the U.S. branch of a Swiss firm, offers equally thin panel models; both companies supply radiators that double as towel warmers for a clever upgrade in the bathroom.
Strategies for concealing baseboard radiators, which often run a wall's entire length, are relatively limited. Water-based models like mine can be recessed into the wall and the pros and cons of doing so are hotly debated. I decided to experiment, recessing my bedroom's radiator before committing to this expensive tactic throughout the house, and it's worked out brilliantly; I'm both warm and untormented by ugliness (at least until I leave the bedroom). For the sake of airflow, allow for a 2-inch gap around the perimeter of the unit; lining the cavity with a heat-reflector panel isn't a bad idea, either. To cover the opening, I commissioned laser-cut wooden grilles from Pattern Cut, an Anaheim, Calif., company. It offers 26 styles, with custom sizes available—I chose a French Moroccan look that reminded me of French interior designer Jacques Garcia's work. For lengths in excess of four feet, the grilles arrive in pieces so, unless you're the DIY type, have a professional assemble and shop-paint them for a flawless finish.
Recessing hydronic baseboard radiators into the floor is another option if you have enough clearance, and it's less involved than retrofitting under-floor radiant heat (heated tubes that run in rows beneath an entire room). "After carving out a niche in the floor and dropping the radiators down," said New York-based designer Eddie Lee, "you can put in wooden grilles stained the same color as the floor so they disappear." While dirt can fall through the grate, the benefits of freeing your wall space may be worth the awkward extra vacuuming.
Electric baseboard radiators are the biggest villains of all; they cannot be recessed and require a minimum clearance of 6 inches for fire safety, thwarting efforts to conceal them subtly. In the words of Alexa Hampton, "You either have to let those be or replace them."
Danish company Elpan-Wanpan retails minimalist electric and hydronic baseboard radiators through its U.S. distributor but perhaps most exciting for people like myself are the baseboard heaters from Thermodul. Manufactured by Hekos in Italy, they look like traditional molded baseboards. The idea is so simple it's a wonder we Americans haven't thought of it ourselves. Thermodul doesn't have stateside distribution yet but they are equipped to ship direct, and the hydronic version is fully compatible with U.S. systems.
When the sample I requested arrived, I was actually giddy.