In the Fall of 1908 Gustav Stickley published a series of articles detailing his plans for his new estate, Craftsman Farms. In these articles was a proposed home for the designer and a club house proposed for his planned school for boys. But several years passed before these dreams could be fully put into reality. And with time the situation changed. The buildings pictured in The Craftsman were planned for a relatively flat site on his property located south of the current Route 10, but for unknown reasons when the construction on the clubhouse began, it was sited on the hilly northern section of the property.
Chestnut trees and fieldstone from the location were used extensively in the construction of the clubhouse, begun in August 1910. Sometime between the laying of the clubhouse foundation in August and its completion in the summer of 1911 Stickley decided to give up the idea of building his ideal house (shown in drawings published in 1908 in The Craftsman). Probably because he knew he could not afford
to build his dream house in the near future, he modified his plans during construction and the clubhouse was converted into his residence. The upper floor was redesigned to provide four bedrooms and three bathrooms. The main floor of the 1908 plan published in The Craftsman was altered by making the living room wider and attaching a large kitchen addition to the rear. This addition gave the building a "T" shaped plan and freed space for a dining area in the space that was formerly the kitchen and a meeting room. Massive stone fireplaces were constructed as planned at both ends of the living room, and a third fireplace was added in the dining room where the new kitchen addition joined the house. The staircase was also shifted from a corner of the living room to the center of the wall between that room and the dining hall.
Except for several small “vacation” cabins and one home Stickley designed for a rugged New Hampshire location, this interior, with its use of exposed, brown stained logs, is unlike all the houses he had designed. There is a pervasive use of the color brown: the walls and floors are brown, and more brown stained logs support the ceiling. Only the white diamond-pane window frames with dark green stained trim, the golden glow of the lanterns and light green paint on the ceiling boards provide relief from the dark wood tones.
Upstairs, the house looks very much like most of the interiors of other Craftsman House designs. The rooms are large and airy. The walls below the frieze were originally covered with fabric in yellows, blues and grays. The ceilings are “supported” by non-structural box beams. The wood used upstairs was one The Craftsman frequently recommended: gumwood stained a nut brown.
The house is not really a log cabin. The first floor bearing walls are constructed wholly of logs, but the second story is frame construction with the exterior sheathed in shingles, essentially set on top of the first floor log “box.” The lighter natural color of these cedar shingles originally contrasted with the darker color of the logs. The roof was first covered with “Ruberoid”, a synthetic material advertised regularly in The Craftsman, but after a few years, Stickley covered it with green terra cotta tiles.
When The New York Times reported the sale of Craftsman Farms on August 15, 1917 it noted that “more than $250,000 is said to have been spent” on developing the property. The new owners, the Farny family, built an addition off the kitchen, called "the annex," where there may have been an outdoor eating area. The large stone piers that appear to have supported a pergola over it are now part of the walls of this addition, which is currently used for museum education programs.
Stickley liked to call himself an architect, but he is not known to have had formal training. He may have designed the log house as an expression of the Craftsman philosophy, but he did not fully understand the techniques of log construction. Over the years the tremendous weight of the tile roof compacted the horizontal logs and weakened the structure. In 1995 extensive structural repairs were done to stabilize the building and the roof tiles were repaired or replaced. Today steel rods hidden in the logs extend from the tile roof to the concrete footings in the basement, removing the weight from the walls.
The log house of Craftsman Farms, inside and out, singularly proclaims the romance of our nation’s agrarian past. Although large, it is firmly rooted in the ideals and dreams of a simpler age. Even as he sought to advance the fresh ideas of the new century in an increasingly urban world, Gustav Stickley sought his own happiness by returning to the land.
Perhaps that is why Craftsman Farms speaks to us today. It still serves as the philosophical ideal of the home, as we, like Stickley, seek a future related to a less complicated past.
Sources for this article include The Craftsman magazine, The Log House at Craftsman Farms: Historic Structures Report, July 1993, by Heritage Studies (principle, Connie Grieff) and the thoughts of Mark Allan Hewitt, AIA.