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The American Craftsman Movement

The American Craftsman Movement and its Influence on our Work

A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his brains is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist. – Louis Nizer.

Fresh out of college in the mid 80’s, fueled by two decent jobs, we set out to furnish our first apartment.  Our expectations weren’t high as we both came from middle-class backgrounds. Wood, we thought, sturdy and easy to clean (we already had 1 cat).  As we went from store to store, what we found instead was mass produced laminated junk held together with glue.  Once in a while, we’d come across something that felt like ‘real furniture’ but the price was way out of our comfort zone. Neal finally suggested we buy tools instead and then we poked around bookstores for inspiration.

stack of woodworking books
Woodworking and furniture building books we have collected over the years.

At first, we were attracted to Shaker styles.  The slender tables and chairs had simple lines and were easy to understand, not overdone. As Neal’s skills grew, however, we started to consider furniture that had a bit more of a presence in a room. We found ourselves slowly pouring through books featuring American Craftsman masters such as Gustav Stickley and the Greene brothers. These books featured jaw-dropping furniture but discussed an entire way of life: properly designed homes and fair employment for the builders. And, so, we dug deeper.

Craftsman Roots: The English Arts and Crafts Movement

The American Craftsman movement is rooted in the English Arts and Crafts movement which started in the mid-1800’s. The English Arts and Crafts movement has been described as a rebellion against the excesses of the Victorian Age and industrialization.  Thought leaders such as William Morris (1834-1896) and John Ruskin (1819-1900) were champions of the working class. They advocated the honesty and integrity of the craftsman and the sustainability of handmade versus factory production.  Eventually, the movement was a victim of its own success.  Embracing a strictly handmade policy resulted in furnishings that were priced way outside the range that a working person could afford.

cherry and walnut bookshelf
Craftsman style bookshelf of maple and cherry designed for our granddaughter.

Handcrafted and affordable

The American Craftsman movement started at the end of the 1800’s. The American Society of Arts and Crafts developed a credo that emphasized respect for workmen and orderly, restrained design. American masters applied harmonious design to the home, furnishings and landscaping.  A cornerstone of the movement was that it should be accessible to the middle-class. Craftsman bungalows were designed to embrace a housewife preparing meals and the family gathering for casual dining. These bungalow designs were available as affordable mail-order catalog kit homes in the early 1900’s.  My grandparents, working class survivors of the Great Depression, had one in New Jersey.  I still remember the smell of the oak trim in the dining room and the awesome staircase with little stained glass window.

mission style oak credenza
This mission style oak credenza was originally designed to be executive office furniture for Tammy. It has been repurposed to storage of our barware.  The clock and standing frame are also our designs.

Adapting the craftsman Style

We were immediately hooked by the photos of bungalow homes in harmony with their furnishings and gardens.  At first, we studied designs in reprints of old craftsman furniture catalogs.  We were primarily drawn to the bungalow style of Greene and Greene and the mission style of Roycroft and Stickley.   After a time spent trying to reproduce these designs, our own aesthetic started to emerge.  We went back to that idea of balance: balancing form and function, building furniture that fits in our home and that suits our lifestyle.  The size of our designs are scaled back so they are moveable and fit our narrow rooms.  We also balanced the sturdy, boxy shapes tapered legs and interesting angles.  We add interest to common building materials such as cherry and maple with accents of exotic hardwoods.  While we tend to use neutral textiles in larger areas such as drapes and seat cushions, we love to add pops of color with pillows and throws.  This allows flexibility for our modern tendency to redecorate seasonally.

Collection of our work.
Collected Hands Studios style: handcrafted home accessories. Classic wood styles, vibrant textiles.

Modern Relevancy of the Craftsman style

The American Craftsman movement fizzled by 1930 as middle-class America became interested, once again, in the more cost-efficient modern styles.  Since the end of World War II we’ve seen a steady progression of industrialization: housing developments, shopping malls,  IKEA stores and plastic everything.  Americans are becoming more aware that this endless pursuit of cheap goods has a dark side in the loss of middle class jobs and industrial toxins.  However, I see hope as the millennials bloom into adulthood. Online forums for DIY and handmade topics are very popular.  Conversations about individuality vs. mass-produced convenience are taking place. The connection to our natural world is also becoming increasingly important. People want to know about the sustainability and environmental impact of the things they buy.

Photo of our work showing our style.
A sample of our current designs: a conversation chair, small table, clock and textiles.

Collected Hands Studios

Collected Hands Studios home furnishings are modern interpretations of the American Craftsman movement.  We provide an eclectic blend of bungalow, mission, art deco and modern styles.   We design and build our collection in our home studios in Corrales, New Mexico.  Smaller items, such as textiles, clocks and keepsake boxes, are available in our Etsy store. Larger furnishings are available at local markets and pop-up shops and through our showroom by appointment.  In addition to ready-made items, we love working directly with people to design beautiful furnishings to meet particular needs.  Our items will certainly cost more than items from the big box store but we do strive to make them affordable.

Please contact us to discuss commissions or shipping details of larger items if you don’t live in the Albuquerque, NM area.

To Learn More

Refer to this previous post for a tour of Neal’s workshop.  This wikipedia article is a useful starting point if you’d like to learn more about the American Craftsman Movement.