Field Trip :: Craftsman Farms

Craftsman Farms, view from driveway - photo from HMR Architects
By Ian Hester, BArch Candidate

One of the most interesting periods in design was the early twentieth century, when the often overcrowded and superfluous spaces of the Victorian era began to be challenged by a new generation. The Arts and Crafts movement began at this time and developed a functional style that was easily identifiable by its use of strong lines and exceptional woodwork with exposed joinery and hammered hardware. One of its iconic members was Gustav Stickley, who practiced in several fields of design but eventually became best known for his furniture making.  Despite being an architect and publishing over 200 plans for houses in his influential magazine The Craftsman, Stickley designed and built for himself only one house: Craftsman Farms in Parsippany, New Jersey. It is now a National Historic Landmark.

Living Room - photo from Old House Journal
Upon arriving at Craftsman Farms, the most striking feature is the harmony between the house and the surrounding area. From afar, the stone foundation and chimneys, dark brown cedar shingles, and green ceramic tiled roof all come together to look like the layers of a forest: rocks on the forest floor, tree trunks, and leaves respectively. Stickley was able to make this illusion so effective because he obtained the stone and wood directly from the site, creating an almost seamless blend with the surrounding forest. The way in which the house is built into the slope of the site also contributes to the effect; it seems as though the house is rising from the earth.

Sketch of elevation and exterior materials by Ian Hester
The theme of nature continues inside the house, where the entire ground floor feels like a log cabin. The trees used for the long chestnut logs were cut on the site, furthering contributing to the harmony between the house and the surrounding environment. Throughout the house the principals of the Arts and Crafts movement are present. The building itself has extensive woodwork and beautiful exposed joinery. The furniture and fixtures, also designed by Stickley, employ the exposed joinery style in addition to hammered copper and iron hardware and wood with dark tones and prominent grain patterns.

Sketch of lantern with exposed joinery by Ian Hester
The exposed joinery found throughout the furniture and the structure of the house is possibly the most interesting aspect of the design. No matter where one looks, it is clear how everything was built. The solidity of the materials and the clarity of the construction process combine to lend a sense of strength to each piece as well as the house as a whole. This technique of revealing the way in which a place or a piece of furniture was created, allows the person using a space or an object to develop an understanding of it and therefore become more comfortable with it. This results in a much deeper connection with the space. I would argue that this process is the most enjoyable part of visiting Craftsman Farms.

Craftsman Farms is in Parsippany, New Jersey, which is just under a four hour drive from the BAC but close to both New York and I-95. If you are ever driving through that area I would highly recommend stopping by. Keep in mind that tours are only offered on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 11 am - 4 pm. Admission is only $5 for students. Click here to plan a visit.