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Wednesday, January 19, 2022


Asian design influence in 1915 craftsman home in historic North Park neighborhood of San Diego by master builder David Owen Dryden. 

Using Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater icon as inspiration 

COMMENTARY / By Thomas Shess, North Park News, San Diego, CA-- From the mid-1800s to the beginning of World War I, Craftsman Bungalow design was in its heyday. That period is when many of America’s bungalows were individually commissioned by homeowners and hired master craftsmen to construct them. 

San Diego neighborhoods like Coronado, North Park and Mission Hills are examples. On the West Coast other important Craftsman enclaves can be found in Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill, Bay Area Alameda Island and Pasadena, CA. 

By, the mid-1930s, American architect Frank Lloyd Wright championed the prairie style of custom residential design by marrying many of the design tenants of the Craftsman era with the Illinois architect’s contemporary statements. 

Today, Wright’s residential vision has lost little of its futuristic aura despite the passage of time. A prime example of how well Wright’s architecture has bridged Arts & Crafts era and today’s mainstream contemporaryism is a home in the southwest Pennsylvania woods that Pittsburgh department store magnate Edgar Kaufman, Sr. commissioned Wright to create 1933 and complete by 1935. 

What does a Wright design in rural Pennsylvania have to do with modernizing urban bungalows? It’s called building on a theme. Jazz is an example of sometimes taking an established musical piece and reinventing it. Homeowners wishing to modernize a bungalow should do so by staying within the original lines or themes of the Craftsman architectural genre. 

Evolve your modernism don’t destroy it by putting a mini-skirt on grandmother. Wright’s Fallingwater is its own genre. Some call the home built over a tumbling falls pure genius. The American Institute of Architects called it the acme of American architecture. Wright may or may not deserve his genius label, but he does deserve credit for blending established architectural themes from Asia and American/Euro Craftsman design into a newer prairie-style residential art form. 

For example, bungalow owners in North Park can modernize to the max, but by staying within the theme of Craftsman design create your own art form and advance your lifestyle. Again, for example, don’t replaster your bungalow to make it look like a Tuscan suburban estate. 

Instead, keep the look fresh by repairing existing lines and using creative paint colors. Building a home to the extent of the property line is strictly nouveau riche. Building garage in front tract home that flourishes in the suburbs into craftsman territory like San Diego's North Park is pure ignorance. Yes, you have a legal right to do what you wish with your home, but does that make it significant? What does it say about your sensitivity to your neighbors, many of whom have spent decades championing our part of town into a historic district? 

Modernizing kitchens and patios but maintaining the pattern of Craftsman design is what is cool when you live in an architecturally historic community. Keep the exterior, living room, dining room, and parlors as historically pure as possible. 

Modernize within the design genre in the kitchen, bath, bedrooms, family rooms, patios, and rear and side exteriors. Remaking the exterior of your 1915-era bungalow to look like a post-modern palace doesn’t fit in bungalow communities. There is a place for modern, post-modern, contemporary, and mid-century in newer communities. 

Yes, Frank Gehry is a fine American architect. His Disney theatre in Los Angeles and his museum in Bilbao are crowning achievements in Deconstructive Era architecture. He is the Frank Lloyd Wright of his generation. His work blurs the blueprints of all architecture before him. But even Frank Gehry adheres to the architecture of his historic neighborhood home.  He knows where he is welcome.

How do you modernize Arts and Crafts home? 

Here are just a few ways to update your home to accentuate its original features: 

--Refinish original hardwood floors. 

--Build or refinish wood paneling, beams, and built-in cabinets in oak, douglas fir, and or mahogany or teak. 

--Update or expand your porch.  Consider stone walls or repurposed brick.

--Eye on landscaping; add a Ginko tree.

--Choose earthy, natural colors. 

--Reface an original fireplace or add a wood stove. 

--Add modern but with period design interior and exterior lighting.

Thomas Shess is an award-winning architecture and design writer, who until his recent retirement was Creative Director at San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles magazine. He has received three First Place At Large Reporting Architecture and Design Reporting from the San Diego Press Club. His recent articles have appeared nationally on the cover of Style 1900, Modernism Magazine and in American Bungalow, Old House Interiors and ASID Icon Magazine. 

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