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Is A&C the new Colonial?


If you’re someone who looks at lots of architecture magazines, or regularly tours newly built houses, you may have noticed that the motifs of the Arts & Crafts era have become a kind of design default. Porch columns? Posts on piers. Lamps? Mission and mica. Kitchens? Subway tile, oak, and soapstone. Such things have become standards, whether the house is brand-new or a remodeled mid-century ranch.

All my life, the default style has been so-called Colonial: center hall and window shutters, with Early American furniture and brass lamps. Yes, other styles intruded—in the early Sixties, I remember selling Girl Scout cookies to a neighbor whose living room had a sleek hi-fi cabinet and a starburst clock. (I was wide-eyed at her artsy modernity, coming from my parents’ living room with its braid rug and stenciled Boston rocker.) But Colonial always won out, in furniture stores and sit-coms and our collective sense of what’s familiar. That’s been true for nearly twice as long as I’ve been on earth.

I remember, too, the working-class homes of friends—small houses that were tired outside. Under deep eaves, rooms were dark with unpainted woodwork and old-fashioned nooks. Those houses weren’t called bungalows then—bungalows were what you rented down the shore. We just called them, with a hint of pity, “old houses.”

Well, you know what happened a generation or two later! All fixed up, better appointed than they were when new, those old houses have provided the vocabulary for the latest American go-to style. The Arts & Crafts revival has officially passed the half-century mark, so we shouldn’t be surprised.

Even though real-estate listings are more sophisticated than in the past, “colonial” is still the word most over-used. How long before we see the label “Craftsman bungalow” applied to some sided-over split-level that happens to have Prairie-style house numbers?

Patricia Poore,Editor
10 Harbor Rd., Gloucester, MA 01930

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