Skip to main content

A Contemporary Craftsman Interior

This new interior for a recent house is a pleasing example of interpretive design: using the Arts & Crafts philosophy not to re-create the past, but in a contemporary twist on the revival.
built-in bench

The luxurious built-in bench is a reminder of earlier inglenooks.

Photos by Karen Melvin

Susan Brown, an interior designer in St. Paul, Minnesota, knew just what to do in this well-designed space. The initial program was to rework the large, open living room and finish the dining room. “My client already had three re-issued Stickley pieces, which I used as a transition between the Craftsman-inspired elements of the architecture, and more contemporary new furnishings,” Brown explains.

Neither Brown nor her clients, Jodie Alwin and Wayne Scanlan, were interested in doing a historical re-creation: the house is just 12 years old. It was, however, built along bungalow lines (by Bruce Lenzen Design/Build of Hudson, Wisc.)”

“I chose to use the philosophy of the era—truth in materials, simple forms, and handcraft—as opposed to mimicking Craftsman ‘style’,” she says. To that end, she specified natural fabrics and reclaimed wood along with such materials as copper, iron, and stone. The resulting rooms are fresh and comfortable, eclectic and personal. “I’ve always been a fan of Arts & Crafts, but I was in a rut,” says Jodie Alwin. “Susan pushed me but never out of my comfort zone.”

Craftsman influenced dining room

Craftsman influence is most apparent in the cozy dining room, where Brown introduced silk drapery and a custom table runner. Wainscot panels are paint ragged with cheesecloth.

The project scope included paint colors, a built-in seat, fabrics, lighting, and accessories in the living room; drapery and runners in the dining room; and color specs and accessories throughout. In the living room, Brown designed a luxurious banquette with a button-tufted back for an empty space next to the hearth. The cocktail table was custom built, designed in a straightforward style from reclaimed wood inset with an antique, handmade Turkish copper platter.

Contemporary furnishings

Contemporary furnishings in the open living room are in sympathy with Arts & Crafts philosophy.

The plain couch is elegant in leather, faux mohair, and studs; plain linen was used for chairs and a slipcover; floor lamps are of iron. (Chairs swivel to take advantage of the open plan—facing the kitchen, the hearth, or the view.) A table lamp has a stone shade. Antiques, including a Chinese grain scoop and an antique milking bench, maintain a sense of history and reflect the Arts & Crafts movement.

sunlit Arts & Crafts kitchen

Light streams into the open space through a shared bank of windows.

Susan Brown says that one of her favorite designers is Barry Dixon; about period design, she remembers him saying that you have to "take it out of itself.” With this subtle interior, she accomplished that goal.

See in-process photos of this interior as well as other projects at the designer’s website:
Susan E. Brown interior design, St. Paul, Minnesota: (651) 330-8707,

Selected Sources

Interior millwork and original designer/builder (2000) Bruce Lenzen:
Re-issued Stickley and Roycroft furnishings from L. & J.G. Stickley:
Paints by Benjamin Moore:
Custom cocktail table built by Walt McHenry, McHenry’s Custom Furniture & Cabinets, Golden Valley, MN:
Inset antique platter from Alsadu, Minneapolis:
Flooring is white oak from Wisconsin Hardwood Flooring:
Stained glass by Lauri Wilson, Ilwaco Glass, River Falls, WI:

Art + Craft - this week's picks