Craftsman Farms - Beauty, Harmony, and Simplicity

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Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms

Craftsman Farms Log House, Home of Gustav Stickley 1908-1917, in Morris Plains, New Jersey
Craftsman Farms Log House, Home of Gustav Stickley 1908-1917, in Morris Plains, New Jersey. Photo ©2015 Jackie Craven

Confused about Craftsman style houses? Why are Arts & Crafts houses also called Craftsman? The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms in northern New Jersey has answers. Craftsman Farms was the vision of Gustav Stickley (1858-1942). Stickley wanted to build a working farm and school to give boys a hands-on arts and crafts experience. Tour this 30-acre Utopian community, and you'll get an immediate sense of American history from the early 20th century.

Here's a glimpse of what you'll learn when you visit the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms.

What Was the Arts and Crafts Movement?

As mass-production spread across industrialized nations, the writings of British-born John Ruskin (1819-1900) profoundly influenced the public's responses to mechanized manufacturing. Another Brit, William Morris (1834-1896), protested industrialization and laid the foundation for the Arts & Crafts Movement in Britain. Ruskin's core beliefs in artistry of the simple, dehumanization of the worker, honesty of the hand-crafted, respect for the environment and natural forms, and the use of local materials fueled the fire against assembly-line mass-production. The American furniture designer Gustav Stickley embraced the British Arts & Crafts ideals and made them his own.

Who Was Gustav Stickley?

Born in Wisconsin only nine years before architect Frank Lloyd Wright,  Gustav Stickley learned his trade by working in his uncle's Pennsylvania chair factory. Stickley and his brothers, the five Stickleys, soon developed their own guild-based manufacturing and design processes. Besides furniture-making, Stickley edited and published a popular monthly magazine called The Craftsman from 1901 until 1916 (view cover of first issue). This magazine, with an Arts & Crafts point of view and free floor plans, influenced house building across the US.

Stickley is best-known for Mission Furniture, which follows the philosophies of the Arts and Crafts movement—simple, well-made designs hand-crafted with natural materials. The name of the Arts & Crafts furniture produced for California missions was the name that stuck. Stickley called his Mission Style Furniture Craftsman.

Craftsman and Arts & Crafts House Styles:

The architectural features associated with the Arts & Crafts house style are in line with the philosophies set forth by Stickley in The Craftsman. Between roughly 1905 and 1930, the style permeated American home building. On the West Coast, the design became known as the California Bungalow after the work of Greene and Greene—their 1908 Gamble House is the best example. On the East Coast, Stickley's house plans became known as Craftsman Bungalows, after the name of Stickley's magazine. The word Craftsman became more than Stickley's magazine—it became a metaphor for any well-made, natural and traditional "back-to-earth" product—and it began at Craftsman Farms in New Jersey.

  • Craftsman Bungalows: Technically, Craftsman style homes are only those whose plans and drawings were published by Stickley in The Craftsman magazine. Gustav Stickley designed small cottages for Craftsman Farms, and the design plans were always available to subscribers of his magazine, The Craftsman. The popular Arts and Crafts American bungalow style, however, became associated with Craftsman, even if it was not a Stickley design.  
  • Sears Craftsman Home: Sears Roebuck Company used the name "Craftsman" to sell their own house plans and products from their mail order catalogs. They even trademarked the name "Craftsman," which is still used on Sears tools. Sears homes have nothing to do with Stickley's homes or The Craftsman magazine.
  • Craftsman Paint Colors: Craftsman House Colors are generally earth tones associated with environmental and natural forms advocated by the Arts and Crafts Movement. They generally have nothing to do with Stickley and The Craftsman.

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Craftsman Farms Log House, 1911

Craftsman Farms Log House, Home of Gustav Stickley 1908-1917, in Morris Plains, New Jersey
Craftsman Farms Log House, Home of Gustav Stickley 1908-1917, in Morris Plains, New Jersey. Photo ©2015 Jackie Craven

In 1908, Gustave Stickley wrote in The Craftsman magazine that the first building at Craftsman Farms would be "a low, roomy house built of logs." He called it "the club house, or general assembly house." Today, Stickley's family home is called the Log House.

" ...the design of the house is very simple, the effect of comfort and ample spaces depending entirely upon its proportions. The big sweep of the low-pitched widely overhanging roof is broken by the broad shallow dormer which not only gives sufficient additional height to make the greater part of the upper story habitable, but also adds a great deal to the structural charm of the place."—Gustav Stickley, 1908

Source: "The club house at Craftsman Farms: a log house planned especially for the entertainment of guests," Gustav Stickley ed., The craftsman, Vol. XV, Number 3 (December 1908), pp. 339-340

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Craftsman Farms Log House Door

Craftsman Farms Log House Door Detail, Home of Gustav Stickley 1908-1917, in Morris Plains, New Jersey
Craftsman Farms Log House Door Detail, Home of Gustav Stickley 1908-1917, in Morris Plains, New Jersey. Photo ©2015 Jackie Craven

Stickley used fieldstone for a foundation that rested on the earth—he didn't believe in cellars. The huge timbers, also reaped from the property, provided natural ornamentation.

"The logs used for the construction of the lower story are, as we have said, chestnut, for the reason that chestnut trees are abundant upon the place. The logs cut from them will be from nine to twelve inches in diameter and carefully selected for their straightness and symmetry. The bark will be stripped off and the peeled logs stained to a dull brown tone approaching as closely as possible to the color of the bark that has been removed. This does away entirely with the danger of rotting, which is inevitable when the bark is left on, and the stain restores the peeled logs to the color that harmonizes naturally with their surroundings."—Gustav Stickley, 1908

Source: "The club house at Craftsman Farms: a log house planned especially for the entertainment of guests," Gustav Stickley ed., The craftsman, Vol. XV, Number 3 (December 1908), p. 343

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Craftsman Farms Log House Porch

Craftsman Farms Log House Porch, Home of Gustav Stickley 1908-1917, in Morris Plains, New Jersey
Craftsman Farms Log House Porch, Home of Gustav Stickley 1908-1917, in Morris Plains, New Jersey. Photo ©2015 Jackie Craven

The Log House at Craftsman Farms sits on a terraced hill, facing the natural sunlight of the south. At the time, the view from the porch was of a meadow and orchard.

"The beauty of both exterior and interior should be attained through adherence to good proportions....Well-placed windows are a pleasant break in the monotony of a wall and add much to the charm of the rooms within. Wherever possible the windows should be grouped in twos or threes, thus emphasizing a necessary and attractive feature of the construction, avoiding useless cutting up of wall spaces, linking the interior more closely with the surrounding garden, and providing pleasant views and vistas beyond."—Gustav Stickley, 1912

Source: "Home-building from an individual, practical standpoint," Gustav Stickley ed., The craftsman, Vol. XXIII, Number 2 (November 1912), p. 185

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Ceramic Tile Roof on Craftsman Farms Log House

Detail of Craftsman Farms Log House With Ceramic Tile Roof
Craftsman Farms Log House With Ceramic Tile Roof. Photo ©2015 Jackie Craven

In 1908, Gustav Stickley told his readers of The Craftsman "...for the first time I am applying to my own house, and working out in practical detail, all the theories which so far I have applied only to the houses of other people." He had bought land in Morris Plains, New Jersey, about 35 miles from New York City where he had moved his furniture business. In Morris County Stickley would design and build his own home and establish a school for boys on a working farm.

His vision was to promote the principles of the Arts and Crafts Movement, to revive the "practical and profitable handicrafts in connection with small farming carried on by modern methods of intensive agriculture."

Stickley's Principles:

A building will be naturally beautiful with the right mix of natural construction materials. The fieldstone, the natural wooden shingles, and the locally harvested chestnut timber combine not only in an interesting visual way, but also to support the heavy ceramic tile roof of Stickley's Log House. Stickley's design is principled:

  • beauty is derived from simplicity of design
  • economy and affordability come from simplicity of design
  • the designer should also be the builder, as was William Morris—"the Master executing with his own hands what his brain had conceived, and the apprentice following the example set before him"
  • dwellings should be designed for the activities within (form follows function)
  • architecture "should harmonize with its environment"
  • buildings should be constructed with the materials around it (e.g., fieldstone, chestnut trees, hewn shingles)

Source: Foreward, p. i; "The craftsman's house: a practical application of all the theories of home building advocated in this magazine," Gustav Stickley ed., The craftsman, Vol. XV, Number 1 (October 1908), pp. 79, 80.

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Craftsman Farms Cottage

Craftsman Farms Cottage, Property of Gustav Stickley 1908-1917, in Morris Plains, New Jersey
Craftsman Farms Cottage, Property of Gustav Stickley 1908-1917, in Morris Plains, New Jersey. Photo ©2015 Jackie Craven

Throughout Craftsman Farms, small cottages were built to emulate the larger Log House. Many of the bungalows faced south with glassed porches accessible from a side entrance; they were constructed of natural materials (e.g., fieldstone, cypress shingles, tiled roofing); exteriors and interiors were symmetrical and without ornamentation.

The simplicity movement was not only in the US and Britain. Czech-born Adolf Loos famously wrote in 1908 that "Freedom from ornament is a sign of spiritual strength."

For all of Gustav Stickley's proselytizing, however, his business dealings were far from simple. By 1915 he had declared bankruptcy, and he sold Craftsman Farms in 1917.

The historical marker on Stickley's old property reads:

CRAFTSMAN FARMS
1908-1917
SELF-CONTAINED COMMUNITY BUILT
BY GUSTAV STICKLEY, DESIGNER
OF MISSION STYLE FURNITURE,
AND LEADER IN ARTS AND CRAFTS
MOVEMENT IN AMERICA BETWEEN
1898-1915.
Morris County Heritage Commission

The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms is open to the public.

Source: Gustav Stickley by Ray Stubblebine, The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms [accessed September 20, 2015]