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Arts & Crafts Style

If you love the character and charm of the traditional country cottage but want to build a home on a more substantial scale, then Arts & Crafts could be just the architectural style you are looking for. Michael Holmes shares his tips for successfully achieving the look.

The Arts & Crafts movement spanned over a period of around 30 years and spread across much of the UK, reaching its height in the early 20th century. The look is all about simple, traditional building forms, the use of natural materials and the celebration of craftsmanship and individuality. Consequently the style could suit almost any location — as an infill development within an existing streetscape, or standing alone as a farmhouse or country home. Providing attention is paid to the use of vernacular materials, Arts & Crafts style is an option for most self-builders considering a traditional-style home.

The self-built Arts & Crafts house above, in Cambridgeshire, was designed by James Snell. With a floorplan of over 450m², it manages to feel cosy rather than grand, thanks to its robust, ‘chunky’ design and mix of regional materials.

The Building Form

Asymmetry, dominant chimneys and low roof pitches are key.

The proportions, massing and form all need careful attention, but providing this is well understood and the building or group of buildings are well sited and suitably broken up, there is almost no limit on scale when working in Arts & Crafts style — from small family home up to grand country house.

Regardless of overall scale, the form of an Arts & Crafts-style home must be made up of elements, or bays, with traditional proportions if it is to look right. Pitched roof spans of each bay should be no greater than 4.5-6m, and roof pitches should be of 47.5-55°. The eaves should be low, typically reaching down to first floor level in many parts, often using a catslide roof to at least one elevation, adding to the asymmetry that is so characteristic of the style.

The first floor is likely to be at least partially within the roof space, often with dormer windows to some elevations, and there may well be a further attic storey, with another row of dormer windows. This means Arts & Crafts houses typically appear to be one and a half storeys.

Larger footprints need to be achieved by grouping together a series of two or three pitched roofed bays, often with gables facing both front, back and side elevations.

Large chimneys are a very important part of the building form, and are often tall, wide and the stacks ornately decorated with traditional brickwork or stonework. Chimney stacks are often offset at 45° from the main chimney structure.

Some Arts & Crafts buildings make use of a green oak frame structure either for the roof, part of the building, or the whole. Rendered or infilled with brick, the oak frame will sit on a brick or stone plinth. This traditional feature is replicated in many Arts & Crafts homes, even when built using masonry and other forms of construction.

Another common feature associated with oak frame construction is the projecting or jettied first floor, supported by corbelled brackets in timber or stone. The overhanging storey will often provide protection for a bay or oriel window at ground floor level.

Windows & Doors

Opt for small-paned casement windows.

Windows are typically cottage style, with multiple small panes of glazing set in side-hung casements. The casements are usually timber or metal, set in a timber, metal or occasionally a stone frame. Leaded lights are also an option, as these were widely used.

For small-paned windows, each individual ‘light’ or pane of glass should always be taller than wide. Casements are typically arranged within larger frames in groups of two, three, four or five units, and sometimes more, separated by mullions. The window grouping will be designed to suit the size of the room served. The emphasis of these groups of windows tends to be horizontal and to maintain this, taller windows may be divided vertically with a transom.

Windows are often centred in each bay, but the whole arrangement is unlikely to be symmetrical, adding to the informal feel.

Bay Windows

Projecting bay windows can add space and light to a room, and can create the space to form a window seat. They can be on the ground floor only, or extend over two storeys. Typically they are square sided but they may also have splayed sides, and may have either a pitched or flat lead roof, or be tucked beneath the jettied floor above.

The oriel window is similar to a bay, but rather than being supported on foundations at ground level, projects from the building supported by corbel brackets. This feature is often found at first floor level, protected by overhanging eaves or a jettied gable.

Dormer Windows

Dormer windows may be pitch roofed (gabled), catslide roof (mono pitched) or flat roofed in lead.

Feature Windows

Unusual-shaped windows, or a series of small windows, may be used to add interest to an elevation. Ideas include circular windows, trefoil or quatrefoil windows, heart-shaped windows, or a series of three small square windows.

Window and Door Openings

Windows are typically set back deep within their reveals, often by 100mm, creating depth and shadow to elevations.

On a rendered building, windows are often set within simple rendered openings, with soft rather than sharp reveals, and a timber or tiled cill. Often no lintel is visible, as the structure is covered in render.

To throw water away from the window there may be a rendered hood mould formed or hood detail of clay creasing tiles. Another option is to use stone window surrounds and a stone label moulding above, with metal casement window inserts.

In brick-built houses, the openings are formed in brick, and it is important to feature a traditional arched brick lintel, either curved or flat gauged.

Opt for a wide front door.

Doors

Plank doors are typical of Arts & Crafts houses. They could be in painted softwood, or quality timber such as oak, left natural or stained and oiled. A wide front door with solid proportions suits the style well. Black hand-forged ironmongery is an ideal choice.

Other options include traditional panelled doors, perhaps with some of the upper panels glazed. Glazed French doors are a typical feature at the rear or sides, providing access onto a terrace or the garden.

Porches

The entrance to an Arts & Crafts house is an important feature and a traditional lych-gate-style porch is a feature that works well, made from green oak or painted softwood.

A recessed porch area or niche with an arched opening is another common feature.

Material Matters

Research how materials are used on homes in the local area.

Materials should reflect local vernacular traditions of the immediate area. Typical walling materials include brick, stone (limestone, sandstone, granite, slate and flint), painted render (including decorative pargeting), pebbledash, hung clay tiles at first floor level, timber shiplap and oak half timbering infilled with render, and occasionally brick or flint.

Roofing options include plain and profiled clay tiles, stone tiles, small-format local slates and thatch. Sometimes more than one roofing material is employed.

If brick is to be used, a traditional bond combining headers and stretchers is essential. On a rendered house, avoid the use of modern metal angle beads as they will create too uniform a finish, and go for a hand-trowelled finish that is not too square, avoiding ‘fake’ rough trowel marks.

Self-coloured render using local coarse sand and white Portland cement can prove a good option, giving a good texture and through colour. Render looks good when painted using traditional paints.

Whichever materials are chosen, it is vital to get the detailing right for eaves, window and door openings, chimneys etc.

Design Ideas - Great Features to Include

Loggia: An outdoor living space at ground or first floor level, with a roof open to at least one side.

Shutters: Wooden shutters fitted to window openings to the exterior. They may include decorative cut-outs of hearts or other motifs.Stained glass: A common feature in a single window or doorway. It is ideal where obscured glass is required.

Diaper work: Patterns are formed in the brickwork using different contrasting coloured bricks, or panels of stone or flint to provide interest and variety.

Polychromatic roofing: Different-coloured clay roof tiles are combined to form decorative patterns, a tradition that continued from the Victorian era.

Curved bays: An expensive feature to recreate but a curved bay window can look very attractive.

Buttresses: Some architects like to include buttresses in brickwork or stone, usually to serve a structural purpose such as supporting the arch of a porch.

Decorative chimney stacks: Decorative brickwork was often incorporated into the chimney stack in Arts & Crafts houses, sometimes using special bricks to form patterns such as barley twist.

Inside

The entrance hall is a central feature in arts & crafts houses.

The internal layout will be influenced by the external building form, but bays can be arranged together to form rooms of almost any size, so there is the flexibility to create a floorplan that is either semi open plan, or heavily compartmentalised.

One feature that does define the style is the entrance hall, which is typically large and welcoming, featuring a fireplace and often a timber staircase with carved details demonstrating traditional craft skills. Interiors should follow the same spirit as the rest of the building, with the emphasis on the use of natural materials and craftsmanship.

Michael's Key Tips

  • Design for a steeply pitched roof. Low eaves are key to the Arts & Crafts look; a catslide should be incorporated on at least one elevation.
  • Choose details wisely. Opt for cottage-style windows and an oversized feature chimney
  • Remember the local vernacular. When choosing materials be careful to ensure they complement the neighbouring properties.

Designer's View

Architect James Snell (020 8870 3335), shares his tips on building a home in arts & crafts style.

  • The proportion of elevations (façades) and individual elements (for example windows) is basically the balance of the horizontal with the vertical. This is key — right down to the detail.
  • One of the most important determining factors is the roof. Get the pitch (angle of roof slope) wrong and the whole house looks wrong.
  • Arts & Crafts houses have many parts that were asymmetrical and relaxed giving an ‘unostentatious’ character.
  • It is possible to get the mass and proportion right but the whole still looks wrong because there are either no chimneys or they are incorrectly sited or they are too small.
  • Chimneys offer a fantastic opportunity to balance the horizontal form of a house with a vertical element.