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Home Exterior Advice and FAQs

Exterior Color

Q: We need to repaint our 1917 Craftsman home and would like to use a color that is typical of the original colors from that period. What colors were used for exteriors?

A: In this instance, the house in question is brick, which has been painted white, and wood shingle, which was painted green. This presents a special problem because without costly renovations to remove the paint from the brick and shingle, it will be impossible to bring the exterior back to its original state. However, one of the nice things about the true idealism of the A&C lifestyle is that it's okay to follow a different path so long as the purpose of the trip is the same. In other words, don't worry so much about the exactness of your color choices; so long as you follow the Craftsman themes of simplicity and harmony with nature you'll capture the spirit of the movement and have a beautiful home as well.

That said, here is some general information concerning Craftsman and bungalow exteriors. I quote from an August 1916 article in Craftsman Homes entitled "More Craftsman Bungalows for Country and Suburban Home-Builders: "The question of the exterior color scheme will naturally be an important one and will depend on the nature of the landscape or neighboring houses and the owner's taste...." So much for being given a tidy list of paints to buy!

Having seen many pictures from the period, my observations are that natural is the way to go with wood. Clapboard walls were usually painted in earthy tones -- browns, red-browns, greens, soft blues and grays (think of slate, limestone and grays with hints of color). Cedar shingles were nearly always stained, not painted. As you cannot stain previously-painted shingles, I suggest using the same palette used for clapboard. There should be some contrast between the wood and brick so if the brick is light choose a darker hue for the wood. Trim should add a third color that compliments both the brick and the shingles/clapboard.

FYI: painted brick is not always bad. While not originally intended to be painted, brick color affords a huge range of options for shingles. I would stay away from colors that are too intense -- it makes EVERYTHING stand out too much. A neutral color that offers a little color and contrast should compliment the house nicely.

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Q: What kinds of plants were popular with bungalows, and how would it have been landscaped?

A: While the plants of yesteryear were basically the same as today, there are a few things to keep in mind.

First and foremost, there are no hard and fast rules for landscaping other than it should compliment your home as your home compliments the landscape. An Arts and Crafts purist of the times would have insisted, however, that all of the trees, shrubs and plants be indigenous to the region (just as the house was to be built using local stone and wood). For that, you need to know what plants are not native to your part of the country and avoid them.

On the other hand, looking at the history of the time period, you see a strong interest in exotic plants (carried over from Victorian times when tropical palms and orchids adorned the interiors of large homes). Especially in California, Japanese shrubs and trees were popular, in addition to native palms and bougainvillea. I think the main A&C idea was to bring modern life closer to nature. It was not concerned as much with what kind of nature so long as it gave pleasure and was not out-of-keeping with the natural landscape of the region (as an ornamental Japanese maple would be if surrounded by stands of spruce pines.)

Still, there is one recurring detail that is a must for all homes in the Craftsman style: the pergola. Because of the importance of connecting the home and the landscape, a wooden pergola (or even a trellis for that matter) allowed the house to physically become a part of nature itself. A vine -- be it wisteria, clematis, climbing roses, ivy, morning glories, etc. -- was trained to grow up the pergola thus turning what was manmade into a vehicle for nature. If there are money or space constraints, consider stringing wires across the front of your porch and train morning glories or clematis to grow from the corner of your house up and across the front.

Here are a few other comments from a February 1916 Craftsman magazine article entitled "Making the bungalow externally attractive."

1: a shrub at the corners to soften sharp angles

2: a tree to give play of light

3: a variety of plants that make the bungalow attractive in winter as well as summer (i.e., shrubs that stay green all year-round in addition seasonal plants) such as azaleas, rhododendrons --or have colorful winter berries, such as viburnums and barberry.

When it comes to trees, consider how a mature tree will look near your house. A one story bungalow will probably be better complimented with a mid-sized tree rather than one that towers over it. Remember, proportion is an important part of creating a harmonious landscape.

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Planting a Perennial Flower Garden

Q: What type of flowers should I plant to complement my 1920's bungalow?

A: Here is a planting list from the June 1925 issue of Better Homes and Gardens, which ran an article entitled "Landscape Design for an Attractive Semi-Bungalow."

Colorado Columbine
Blue Wild Indigo
Great Bellflower
Mountain Larkspur
Perennial Flax
Spike Speedwell
Iris, (Mme. Chereau)
Washington Lupine
Shasta Daisy
Madonna Lily
Oriental Poppy
Phlox (Miss. Lingard)
Phlox (Frau Anton Buchner)


Q: We are purchasing a bungalow style home in Iowa and a garage is needed. We have already planned to match the pitch of the house roof, but were wondering if there were any details that were outstandingly used in a garage.

A: One of my favorite things to do is to take walks throughout my neighborhood admiring all of the bungalows and Craftsman homes. Many of the home have garages (either original with the house or built shortly thereafter) and I can honestly say that I don't notice them much. I believe that's the point. I came to that conclusion after passing a beautiful stone and wood shingle 1 1/2 story Craftsman home with a green tile roof and double dormers. It was so quaint and lovely. Unfortunately, my attention was mostly caught by the new double garage that had been built at the side of the house. It had the same pitch and green tile roof as the home, but (ugh) it was built of concrete block, painted cream, with a white aluminum door with each pane painted bright red. One has to wonder why.

Most homes I've seen have either a porte cochere (often trellised with wisteria or climbing roses), or a wood clapboard garage (sometimes it's stucco, which I love) that seems to blend with the landscape. In other words, they definitely don't stand out. Use your own judgment for taste, but keep in mind that unity and harmony with nature applies not only to the house but to surrounding buildings. Think of your garage as an extension of your house. My call is to either mirror the materials used in the house, or choose a siding in a color that allows the garage harmonize with the landscape.

Looking through Gustav Stickley's 1916 edition of Craftsman Homes, I've found no references to garages and very few photos. However, those that are pictured are constructed of the same materials as the house and use the same colors. No matter what you choose to do, however, you can easily add a touch of true Arts and Crafts flavor by trellising a flowering vine along the side of your garage.

Garages: http://www.homes4today.com/garages/garage_plans.htm