<preform>Arts & Crafts style makes a comeback after 100 years</preform>

Informal, low maintenance, and full of useful innnovations; we learned a lot about how to live from the houses produced by the Arts &amp; Crafts movement. But, asks Sonia Purnell, is it time to rediscover their charms?
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The Independent Online

Cool, sleek, contemporary glass and steel may dominate new building, particularly in cities, but the Arts & Crafts style championed by early 20th-century architects such as CFA Vosey and Philip Webb is making a comeback. Like religious cults, the look has always had its minority band of committed enthusiasts. But the oaky, rustic, asymmetric aesthetic has been out of mainstream fashion for nigh on 90 years. Until now.

Cool, sleek, contemporary glass and steel may dominate new building, particularly in cities, but the Arts & Crafts style championed by early 20th-century architects such as CFA Vosey and Philip Webb is making a comeback. Like religious cults, the look has always had its minority band of committed enthusiasts. But the oaky, rustic, asymmetric aesthetic has been out of mainstream fashion for nigh on 90 years. Until now.

The movement's reverence for craftsmanship, local and natural materials and flexibility of design chimes with many modern beliefs about sustainable building, winning over a new generation of admirers in Britain and overseas. An Arts & Crafts-style restaurant is to be built in Japan, enquiries are coming from the United States, and the first new houses in the style for nearly a century have been put up in Britain.

In her book, The Arts & Crafts Home, the architectural historian Wendy Hitchmough, celebrates every aspect and example of the style from stained glass to servants' quarters in the grander houses. It hails Arts & Crafts houses as the first true modern buildings with a level of informality far better suited to family life, compared with their Georgian and Victorian forerunners.

It also attributes the liberation of millions of housewives in the early decades of the 20th century to the movement's insistence that natural materials such as oak, copper and brass should be left to age naturally and beautifully.

It brought to a halt the tyrannical Victorian custom "of scrubbing the front step and polishing the brass 300 days a year", Ms Hitchmough writes, leaving Sundays as the only respite from such obsessive cleaning. Arts & Crafts houses, the first to include extensive built-in wardrobes and, typically, with built-in porches to shut out draughts in the hall, are often easier to run than many other styles, she says.

Certainly the Arts & Crafts movement, defined as a period in architecture and design history that began with the Red House built for William Morris in 1859 in Kent and ending with the outbreak of the First World War, has much to appeal to today's tastes and way of life. David Slack, head of country house sales at John D Wood, says: "Arts & Crafts houses have a quite a following. Some people absolutely love them; they're really quite in vogue with fans prepared to pay a premium to get what they want."

Enthusiasts rave about their quality and solidity, their spacious, squarer and more welcoming halls (far more of a real living room than the conventional narrow passage in a Victorian house), their large living rooms and built-in cupboards. The beautifully crafted original furniture and textiles from the era also attract many collectors, here and abroad, well-served by specialist antique shops and websites. The fine detailing on architectural features such as panelled walls, fireplaces, interesting nooks and crannies and handsome wooden staircases also draw admirers from homebuyers bored with the constraints of Victorian and modern architectural designs. They also like its emphasis on the fusion of traditional with the innovative, the original movement championed innovation. Arts & Crafts-style houses, for instance, often being the first a century ago to introduce electric light.

"We have been mad keen on Arts & Crafts houses here for ages and creating designs for new ones for the 10 years," says Merry Allbright of the Herefordshire-based developer Border Oak which specialises in energy-efficient construction methods. It's only recently there has been any outside interest and those plans were gathering dust simply because no one liked them. But we get a lot of people inquiring about them, we have already built six and have three more being built.

"People are more aware of the style and really like the homes being comfortable, individual, flexible and made by craftsmen. They are also drawn by local materials used in conjunction with modern building techniques, which keeps the impact on the environment to a minimum."

Border Oak, which as its name suggests specialises in oak-framed buildings, began with building a modest Arts & Crafts, cottage for Mrs Allbright, with reclaimed clay tiles, handmade bricks, oak-framed windows and porch and an oak staircase inside. In keeping with the Arts & Crafts ethos on using the local vernacular, modern cement renders were eschewed for the exterior in favour of a traditional lime, sand and horsehair formula. Even the window-catches were hand-made by a blacksmith working a mile from the site in Pembridge, a picturesque medieval Herefordshire village. Most other materials were sourced within 10 to 15 miles.

Inside, the Arts & Crafts features are complemented by a contemporary décor of pale colours and modern furniture. Some critics have suggested that the heavy wooden style can be hard to live with, and that people who buy these properties invariably feel under pressure to fill them with authentic textiles and period furniture. Mrs Allbright says: "People realise when they see pictures of my house, that just because they've got an Arts & Crafts house, they don't have to have William Morris wallpaper and furniture all over the place.

"The response has been extraordinary. People used to like the formality of a porch in the middle and the kitchen on one side and the living room on the other. Now they want the more organic, informal layout of an Arts & Crafts house with its bigger living rooms often flowing into others."

The three-bedroom cottage, more attractive and in keeping with its English rural setting than many a neo-Georgian horror, was also surprisingly inexpensive at £59,000 for the basic shell. Money was saved by using seconds for the bricks, which were filled in with a lime mortar. A modern kitchen and bathrooms brought the total cost to £80,000.

Border Oak have also now built several other houses drawing on the Arts & Crafts style. Some have up to six bedrooms – the most expensive costing up to £200,000 to build – with the signature steep and busy rooflines beloved of the original movement, with their corners and turns and ornate chimneys. It is a style that's easy to get wrong, despite the strict rules on anything from the angle of the roof to the height of the skirting board, laid down by its original proponents. Some houses look cold, others distinctly odd. The most successful examples – which include Standen, a lavish country house designed by Philip Webb in the Sussex Weald in 1891 and the more modest terraced houses in Ruskin Avenue, Kew – are hugely sought after. Buyers like the individuality which was encouraged even in a terrace – with varying patterns on the gables, different coloured bricks and windows – and front doors were purposely built on an imposing scale. Wide in proportion to their height, as in Tudor times, they should, said the Arts & Crafts master architect Voysey, "not stand offishly dignified, like a coffin lid, high and narrow for the entrance of one body only". He was clearly aiming his comments at the Victorians. Yet the Victorian style, condemned by the Arts & Crafts movement as plagued by preposterous ornament, has long been the dominant architectural faith in this country, despite its many drawbacks. This may be the time when a hitherto obscure "heretical" sect took its place in the mainstream.



Border Oak 01568 708752;

'The Arts & Crafts Home' by Wendy Hitchmough, Chrysalis Books, £14.99. For more information on Arts & Crafts furniture visit www.achome.co.uk and www.artfurniture.co.uk

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