The Impact of Craftsman Architecture in Columbia, South Carolina 1900-1930

By: John Sherrer, Director of Preservation

Thursday, March 2nd 2023

Two-story Craftsman style home with steeply pitched roof, prominent fireplace, and a covered front porch.

Proponents of the Arts & Crafts movement—a 19th-century English aesthetic born out of disdain for the socially detrimental aspects of the Industrial Revolution and the excessive ornamentation of the later Victorian Age—today, if they were on Instagram, would be considered among the most successful of social influencers. Their philosophy celebrated the original, the novel, and a recalling of a pre-capitalist era in which the individual artisan left his (and her) handcrafted marks on art, decorative arts, and architecture—manifestations of skill lost in the wake of machine-made, banal details that offered mass-produced goods to a growing middle class. By the turn of the 19th century, the once-nascent movement spawned wider-spread converts, including tastemakers in the United States who ultimately shaped the Craftsman style, which in its purest form sought to harmonize form and function while strengthening connections between one’s home and nature. Ultimately, and not surprisingly, while Craftsman architecture and decorative arts flourished for more a generation, its rise in popularity through those years can be attributed to some of the very infrastructure and technology that the earliest Arts & Crafts founders eschewed—mass production and formulaic style. The popularity of homes for “everyman” in the form of bungalows, cottages, and American Foursquares resonated with socially ascendant middle-class families, scores of whom were establishing lives for themselves in suburbs throughout American from 1900 through 1930.

In Columbia, Craftsman-inspired houses came to characterize every suburbs established just outside the original boundaries of the Palmetto State’s capital city during the early 20th century. Valued as sturdy and affordable, these then-contemporary residences exuded a charm through architectural details that paid homage to the tenets of the larger, national, movement. Elements such as exposed rafter tails, heavy brackets, building materials including wood, stone, masonry, and stucco were employed in ways large and small, depending on location and who was building (or having built) residences in the new neighborhoods of Elmwood Park, Waverly, Shandon, Hollywood-Rose Hill, Earlewood, Cottontown, and Melrose Heights and Oaklawn, to name just a few.

However, while some of the finer, more customized houses may have employed artisans who rendered uniquely designed and executed architectural details, most Craftsman style residences were erected using modern technology and, in some cases, very modern production and marketing techniques such as those employed by companies like Sears, Aladdin, and Honor-Bilt in their kit homes. In Columbia, and, most likely in other cities throughout the United States, local architects, developers, and lumber supply companies copied, partially mimicked, or derived inspiration from mass-marketed building plans. Ultimately, the Craftsman architectural aesthetic architecture that resulted in physically attractive and well-thought-out buildings and desirable details, became so popular that it trumped the larger philosophical and social concerns of the preceding Arts & Crafts movement’s founders. However, although capitalism eclipsed those ideals in some ways, the mass popularity of the look and feel of the Craftsman style enjoyed nonetheless shaped a uniquely American story that today continues to attract a healthy following among homeowners of all backgrounds, ages, and demographics.