Can I do a craftsman interior in a Victorian cottage?

MossfernMay 28, 2014

We've been working on our home for over twenty five years. It was built in the late 1880's or early 1890's, even the deed is vague.

While it appears to be mostly Victorian, it's not in the grand style - it's quite simple and humble with small rooms.
The casings througout the house are they typical bulls-eye corner block and not too simply profiled casings.

The original woodwork is cedar and the kitchen and most of the bedrooms are painted. The upstairs foyer and the original master bedroom are in the natural cedar.
The "den" (converted from the original kitchen) has the same profile but in oak.

We bought the home from the estate of the original family - so it hasn't been altered very much, except that the pocket doors from the tiny entry way to the living room and from the living room to the dining room were removed and there was a new decorative oak floor put down in the 1920's or so with a walnut featuretrip and laid on the diagonal inside that strip.

The fireplace is plain brick coal burning originally, with just a wooden box for a mantle. The original trim in the living/dining area is a mess - it seems that the previous owner was being thrifty when he opened up the room an made all sorts of weird cuts and patches - that's why we painted it.

There is no grand entryway as a Victorian house would have. The front door opens up with just enough space to walk through - stairway to upstairs is three feet away from the door.

I love the Arts and Crafts movement and don't want to move away from the family home to buy an authentic Craftsman style house. Since the period is close in time, I thought that I could redo the public space in the livingroom and diningroom in that style.

I would like to change the casings to a simpler profile and use white oak or another appropriate species. I have a finishing carpenter who has also made furniture coming to give me an estimate on a fireplace surround and new trim.

Would this work or would I just be messing up the house. I really don't love the more formal Victorian style furnishings..

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You aren't going to like my answer... You would be really mucking up the house.

You don't want to do things (interior or exterior) that would significantly alter the integrity of the home, you just don't. You need to take a different approach: you don't OWN the house... you are the temporary caretaker and conservator of something that's been around longer than you have.

I understand that these homes aren't "roped off museums" they are lived in - at the same time they speak to a specific era in time and tie with what was happening in the arts, music, design and the country in general. I know we decorate our homes to express our own style and for our own enjoyment, but we also do it to show our friends and family. Changing the interior would not reflect well on your understanding of style and architecture.

What's more, what will look good, and appropriate, and appealing is working with the native style - and not trying to make it something it's not. This is kinda like not marrying a farmer from Iowa and trying to mold him into a New York hip urban dude.

First thing I do with old houses like this that I've owned is try to learn more about the style and what's appropriate to the house. I get a lot more satisfaction from my work on an old house when I really understand what it's about. It's typically a process - and you learn more as you go along.

You can do things to bridge styles: I've seen some stunning contemporary furnishings in an older home, for example - but it's always done in a way that highlights the home's native style, not tries to make it something it's not.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2014 at 5:24PM
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Go ahead ... the difference between "Farmhouse Victorian" and ordinary "Craftsman" is minor.

They overlapped in time and location - those who had the money and need for show did elaborate things, those who didn't, didn't.

Here's my 1880s "Victorian" bungalow original:

People often started with the basic flat moldings and tarted them up as time and money allowed.

the site has good examples of several eras.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2014 at 9:28PM
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What a nice house. Shingle style homes built around the time of yours were a reaction away from fancy victorian and toward more simplicity. FLWrights home in Oak Park is a shingle style. They were heading toward craftsman. I don't think it would be out of character if you didn't go too nuts with it.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2014 at 10:26PM
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I agree, the shingle style was a reaction to the excesses of the Victorian era and the next big style movement was the craftsman... but THAT'S the basic story behind the style of the home. In general, it would have remnants of the victorian style but greatly simplified.

My guess is this home was not designed by an architect - but was builder designed and borrowed from a couple of styles - but is primarily shingle style. It wouldn't have borrowed from the future though. I don't think it's really fair to compare that with a home that was designed by an architect on the cutting edge of the next style movement -- even though they were built about the same time.

Mossfern, It is a very nice house. It's cool that it's not been altered much. I would do more research on the Shingle Style and see how you can incorporate those ideas into your design. I would also talk to the previous owner to see if you can get copies of photos that would show the exterior and interior of the home.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2014 at 10:08AM
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"You aren't going to like my answer... You would be really mucking up the house."

Jake is correct. So much that it can't be overemphasized.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2014 at 11:44AM
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Go ahead! You're not painting the woodwork, right? You aren't ripping out anything 'amazing' to the house? Then any 'purist' can turn it back into a Victorian....years down the road, if they feel they must :)

    Bookmark   May 29, 2014 at 1:32PM
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Lavendar Lass:

Perhaps you didn't read the same thing I did:

"I would like to change the casings to a simpler profile and use white oak or another appropriate species. I have a finishing carpenter who has also made furniture coming to give me an estimate on a fireplace surround and new trim."

ummm,,, how is that not on par with "painting the trim". At least with painted trim, you can strip it. When you have removed the trim and replaced it with something else, "the purist" as you said, has no idea what was there and the expense of re-creating original trim becomes prohibitive.

Look, it's a vernacular Shingle Style home. It's a limited edition model and they aren't building any more of them. The OP has already said it's not been significantly altered. Why in the world would they want to do it?

My feeling in general is that people who want a house that's not the house they have, should sell it and buy the house they want. My neighborhood is on the National Register, but is not otherwise protected. We have people who buy a house and then proceed to "suburbanize them" with carpet, vinyl windows, smaller windows, entry doors from Lowe's, "Kountry" decor, plastic victorian, Sears colonial, and all kinds of nonsense. Little by little a perfectly good craftsman bungalow is slowly destroyed -- not to mention destroying the economic value of a historic house.

Yes, a "purist" could un-muck it but that probably won't happen. I just don't understand why someone wouldn't buy the house they wanted instead.

Older homes have integrity that needs to be respected. Not everything is disposable and consumable.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2014 at 2:38PM
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" I just don't understand why someone wouldn't buy the house they wanted instead. "

Because people have to buy this house instead: the house they can afford, the house that's close to their work, the house that is available when they are looking

    Bookmark   May 30, 2014 at 5:04PM
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It's a house. I think in this day and age (and with this economy) anyone, who can keep an older house lived in and cared for...should be given some definite kudos.

Would you rather they not live in it and it falls in disrepair and is later torn down? Even if they want to paint the entire house white...or's their house. It's called capitalism.

Whether the style may not 'work' with the facade...I can't imagine it would be as jolting as a modern interior, which I have also seen. That was a shock and it was supposed to be.

IMHO, any time an older house can be lived in and's a huge step above the alternative.

I always wonder if the 'purists' as I called them...are the ones having scraped off 15 layers of old paint in their own houses...from a previous owner??? :)

    Bookmark   May 30, 2014 at 7:40PM
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I don't see any characteristic feature of the Shingle Style in this house. Even if the turned posts, clapboards and corner boards were replaced with classical columns and shingles weaved at the corners, the house would not look like a Shingle Style house.

"The Shingle Style does not emphasize decorative detailing at doors, windows, cornices, porches or on wall surfaces. Instead it aims for the effect of a complex shape enclosed within a smooth surface (the shingled exterior) which unifies the irregular outline of the house."- A Field Guide to American Houses

The Craftsman Style was a reaction to all of the late Victorian era styles including Queen Anne, the Stick Style and Shingle Style. It was a return to natural materials and artisan detailing. It used shingles but not in the way that the Shingle Style did.

If the interior were to be detailed as a true Craftsman it would OK if it wasn't too stylistic or formal. But if you really love Craftsman design you should do something to simplify the fussy overly decorated Victorian exterior.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 10:58AM
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Let's start with the basic: Of course someone who owns a house can do anything they please with it, as long as it's not protected, including burning it to the ground.

That wasn't the question.

The question was: "Would this work or would I just be messing up the house?"

The answer to that question, from someone who has owned several older homes and knows something about restoration, economic viability of homes, is "No- it would be messing up the house".

I'm not an evil "purist". I can be very pragmatic. And the alternative to this house isn't between making it Craftsman or abandoning it.

But if you were reading what I was saying from the beginning: Generally attempts to make a home into something they aren't fail. Understanding and being true to the basic style of the home will result in a much more attractive and harmonious outcome -- if the home is historic or not. It can also be a very rewarding and educational experience for the owner.

And once you mature just a bit beyond your, "It's called capitalism and I can do as I damn-well please" attitude you will learn that some things have intrinsic value and integrity.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2014 at 9:56AM
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What's clear to me was this was vernacular architecture. I've seen it called "Folk Victorian". It's not a pure example of any of the Victorian styles. I see some Italianate influences, some stick style, some shingle style, etc. The part on the left has a lot more detail and the part on the right of the photo looks much more plain (except for the porch).

I've usually heard the simplified Victorian (1890-1900) in my area referred to as Shingle Style - but reviewing what you quoted, and looking at examples, that's probably inaccurate. Thanks for pointing that out.

However, I stand behind my statement of "they wouldn't have borrowed from the future". And this house, while it's somewhat simplified (esp on the right of the photo) it clearly still has a lot of Victorian ornamentation. Craftsman trim wouldn't be appropriate and would be out of place.

One of the things that we talk about when we are redoing a house regarding "What's appropriate" is that the original is the most appropriate. If you can find photos it makes answering that question easy. If you have the original, it's a no-brainer.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2014 at 10:52AM
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This house was designed in a period of overlap of the Folk Victorian, Stick,Queen Anne, Shingle and Colonial Revival Styles so it may appear to have elements of each but even though it might be modest inside it should not be considered Folk Victorian. Folk Victorian houses are basically vernacular/folk style houses with Queen Anne and/or Italiante decorative trim applied most notably on porch eaves and gable rakes.

The massing of this house is typical of the Queen Anne Style. The second story overhanging a bay window on the right side is characteristic of Queen Anne and the Colonial Revival Style that eventually eclipsed all of the Victorian styles.

Craftsman Style house by Greene & Greene

    Bookmark   June 1, 2014 at 2:01PM
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Jake- Interesting...I said purist, you added evil :)

And I hardly think burning down the house is the alternative anyone had in mind. But, I do think that an owner has the right to try something if they really want to...and try something else, if that doesn't work out.

In fact, most of the home repair and remodeling industries depend upon it. Not to mention the fact that it provides a little something called...individuality. Doing something different, untried, dare I say unique...and maybe a bit brave. Some may say fool-hardy, but without it, nothing would ever change and invention and innovation would be sadly lacking.

Isn't that what builders were doing...when they built these old houses that people cherish so much? These houses that are now said to have intrinsic value and integrity?

    Bookmark   June 2, 2014 at 5:16PM
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Adhering to a Craftsman interior in a Queen Anne house would not be innovative; it would be awkward and confusing. It is possible to use the ideas already presented in the exterior of the house to design a truly innovative interior.

Architectural styles are more than a classification of fashionable decoration; they are reflections of the culture and events of their time.

I would look to Shingle Style and Colonial Revival interiors which offer many flexible ideas that are still popular in the house designs of today and they would not require as much interior demolition and would cost a lot less.

I've seen many traditional houses with a mix of these styles but the Craftsman Style was a reaction against all of them and should be given its proper place if you care about American art, architecture and culture.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2014 at 6:58PM
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Sorry, you and I are just going to have to disagree on this. Owning a 125 year old house and properly restoring it is being an individual and "brave" as you say. In a world of throw-away consumerism and seemingly limitless trash architecture and design where anything goes, it's very individual and brave indeed. There's plenty of opportunity for self-expression and innovation without mucking up the house.

Although I'm not suggesting it's the case with the OP, my feeling is that people who are "innovative, creative, individualistic, self-expressive and daring" without regard to context are simply being self-important and self-absorbed.

And no doubt renovating a home while being true to its design creates just as many jobs as does mucking up a house. However, being "daring and individualistic" without regard to the inherent style of the home has destroyed a lot of monetary value in homes - particularly older homes.

As I've mentioned, I've seen it time and again in my neighborhood: People spend sometimes large amounts of money to change a charming bungalow into simply an old house that nobody really wants. The people who want a historic house and would pay a premium for it don't want it because its' mucked up. And the folks who want a more contemporary home don't want it because it's an old house in an old neighborhood.

This post was edited by jakethewonderdog on Tue, Jun 3, 14 at 9:33

    Bookmark   June 3, 2014 at 9:10AM
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Circus Peanut

The attached photo is our shingle style 1910 house just after it was built in 1910. It's pretty exemplary of the style, designed by the father of the movement in Maine. Yours is not really very shingle style and definitely Queene-Anneish to my eye.

That said: with rare exceptions (Wright! Greene & Greene!), no house is a stylistic island. Note the creeping Neocolonial influences in the front porch columns on mine.

I'm betting there are ways you can sensitively re-train your interior to both heal the wounds of haphazard previous renovators AND pull it towards your inner vision.

Must you replace all the trim to achieve what you're going for? So much can be achieved by just rethinking color schemes, window & wall treatments and furniture. A few interior shots might help folks give you appropriate ideas.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2014 at 10:32AM
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The Shingle Style was of the Victorian era but it was later identified as an early version of the Colonial Revival Style but didn't get it's name until Vincent Scully Jr of Yale called it the Cottage Style in 1941 and later the Shingle Style.

The Wetherill House, Head of the Harbor, Long Island, NY by Stanford White 1895

    Bookmark   June 3, 2014 at 11:16PM
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Congrats on owning a 125 year-old home! Mine is 110..and most of the remaining details are nothing to get excited about. It will look much better restoring it to a 1920s period than the 1904 farmhouse. It would fit my style...and have electricity! LOL

I think the OP has the right to do whatever she wants...but she did ask and has gotten responses. I still think she can do whatever she wants with HER home and I hope she makes it her own...and enjoys it.

Personally, I don't live my life for the investment and resale of my home. I'd much rather enjoy my home and feel like it reflects me, then look like a museum. Not all Victorians do..but that style can be pretty rigid. If it were me, I'd go for a mix of styles...a transition between the two. More Victorian cottage (cast offs and lighter colors/materials) than a true Craftsman style. But that would be MY style, if I had a Victorian. :)

    Bookmark   June 4, 2014 at 1:56PM
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Why not fix the problem areas so that the house is consistent through out instead of making out-of-character changes? And to remove old-growth trim that cannot be replaced is just wasteful.

You've said that the casing are relatively simple, and the house is not high Victorian, so you can successfully furnish it in your beloved Arts and Craft style without ruining the original details. Please consider going this route instead of removing the original details.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2014 at 3:02PM
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It is unnecessary and disingenuous to say the OP has the" right to do whatever she wants". That's not the issue at all. The OP is concerned about mixing two very different styles and she should be given credit for that concern and for bothering to ask the question. The responders should be allowed to respond.

"Cottage" has a different meaning in late19th century American architecture. It means a country retreat and the wealthy created huge "cottages" on the Atlantic ocean like the one I posted by Stanford White, the master of the style. In fact, what is now known as the Shingle Style was called the Cottage Style in the 50's.

There's a lot to know about old houses and there are few sources (including the internet) that are reliable so threads like this are educational.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2014 at 6:04PM
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Renovator8: I appreciate you trying to clarify the style of the home. I'm afraid I've muddied up the water on that front.

Lavender Lass: We've already determined that the OP has the "right to do whatever she wants". That's a very poor substitute for determining what's appropriate - which was the original question.

As I stated before, I know these homes aren't roped-off museums. However, the more unique and intact the home, the greater the argument for not making permanent changes that are out of character.

This home is both unique and intact and changing the trim in to a future period is both permanent and out of character.

I can sympathise with the OP regarding her tastes vs the inherent style of the home. I encourage her to be sensitive to the inherent style of the home when remodeling and to be more free with her style in regards to furnishings, etc.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 9:32AM
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Beatle Juice .Sorry I couldn,t resist.:) As someone who is slowly renovating a 100 year old home that was muddled up in the 70s I hope you are respectful to the home while doing the renovation.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 6:07PM
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Hi Lavender lass,

I came across this thread accidentally and had to read it. We owned an1890 Victorian in the Bronx (NYC) in the 1970s-early 80s. It had been built by a builder for his daughter as a wedding present, and was quite solidly built but really without any Victorian gingerbread at all. Fortunately for me, as I was never crazy for it.

Anyway, the previous owners (who had bought it from descendents of the original owners) made a number of the same "improvements" that you found in your house, including disabling of the pocket doors between living and dining rooms to bring electricity for a single outlet on the other side of the wall. So ridiculous.

Anyway, like you, I always have loved Craftsman styled homes, but there aren't a lot--maybe none, as I never saw one--in the area we were looking. But I loved the house as it mostly was, including all the trim. That said, I think I understand your yearnings for a more Craftsman feeling to the house.

You should be able to give it some of that Craftsman "feel," as mentioned before, with the colors you choose, your window treatments and of course, furniture. I really do not like "fancy" embellishments of any kind, but prefer a much simpler, more straightforward and natural approach with both the home and it's decor.

I have always thought the Craftsman movement was quite modern for that age... all those straight lines (more or less!), the simple ornamentation and muted colors were a sharp departure from the Victorian age.

I now live in a woodsy townhouse development and have done a number of things inside to get a bit of the Craftsman feel without worrying too much about trim detail or things like that. Mostly, it was done with the choice of curtains, furniture, rugs, art, etc.

Good luck,


    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 7:04PM
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The Craftsman style was the result of a cultural movement that favored the work of artisans over manufactured design elements. It was unfortunately corrupted by builders and mass publications into a kind of everyman's bungalow as it swept east across the country with little of the richness of the early examples in California. I love the early designs but find the later ones to be too rigid and ordinary and the modern adaptations seem to think the style consists of tapered porch columns, low sloped roofs and juxtaposed materials that would make the Greene brothers turn over in their graves.

The house linked below is a rare exception in a large neighborhood of poorly designed Craftsman houses but a second story was added because of the limited floor space, a common problem with this style. I've seen the house and the wide-angle photos do not do it justice.

Here is a link that might be useful: nice Craftsman in Denver

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 12:25PM
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Mossfern, the question you are basically asking is not "can" you but "may" you create a less elaborate interior than the outside of the house might promise. My answer is that you have earned the right to use your judgment.

You have done a sensitive job with the outside of the house over enough years to have a notion of what the inside of the house might be amenable to. As long as the exterior and the interior is each cohesive on its own, then the fact that one is not a slavish echo of the other's style matters not a whit.

You and yours should move forward with your vision, confident that you will notice in process if you are veering into Bauhaus territory.

Cheers and much luck. hbk

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 4:12PM
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Well.... where to start. I wish we could see a picture of the trim and the interior in question.... what exactly is so bad about the original woodwork that you don't like? The issue is not historical purity but simply just do all the components work together harmoniously, visually, esthetically. You've got historical cedar - why add some other element (white oak) that doesnt really relate to the original ? That cedar probably came from old growth forest - they're not making anymore of it.

If you like simplicity why not just find furnishings that are simple and yes include some arts and crafts pieces. Victorian does not need to mean full blown over the top Victorian. It can be simple farmhouse style, or it can incorporate eclectic other styles.

Im not understanding why you are needing to rework the original style of he house itself (vs just furnishing it differently). fyi - The arts and crafts style and all its varieties (mission, craftsman, etc.) all emphasis horizontal lines, massiveness of features, etc. Everything your house is not. Doesn mean though that you can't furnish it more to your liking and incorporate the arts and crafts style. Just questioning why exactly you think you need to rework the house itself.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 4:39PM
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I've renovated a lot of old houses and I can tell you that it is always more successful to work with the original design concept than to work against it.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 9:23PM
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