If we could collectively create a utopian lifestyle, what would our possessions look like? How would they be made?
One option would be to live simply, expressing ourselves through inventive craftsmanship and honest design, embracing an aesthetic of individual innovation in all things.
In this new world, we abandon ornate designs in favor of simplicity of form. Colors appear as muted earth tones -– quiet and harmonious -– and wood grain is celebrated.
This is the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement (circa 1870-1920) in Europe and America. Starting in the mid-19th century, a rebellion against the age of industrialization began in England.
During this time, the names of Gustav Stickley, Charles Limbert, the Roycrofters and the Bay Area’s own Dirk van Erp emerged for their legendary work and lasting impact.
Today in Berkeley, California Historical Design is an outstanding source for original antique furniture and objects made during the American Arts and Crafts movement. At the corner of Adeline Street and Ashby Avenue, owner Gus Bostrom opens his store every Saturday of the year, offering the West Coast’s largest selection of Stickley furniture, along with pieces made by the Roycrofters and Limbert. California Historical Design is no discount furniture store, but one of the country’s most comprehensive collections of antique and original Arts and Crafts gems.
American furniture maker Gustav Stickley directed efforts to produce an unadorned hand-crafted line he called Craftsman furniture, featuring bold dark wood with a muscular appearance. Throughout the Arts and Crafts era in America, he remained a driving force and a dominant figure.
You can always tell Stickley by its iconic marking, a carpenters compass with the Flemish slogan “Als ik Kan,” meaning “the best that I can.”
Soon, furniture maker Charles Limbert of Grand Rapids and Holland, Mich. was creating similar designs. Limbert’s works are strange and, to me, dreamlike; some critics called his works misshapen and out-of-proportion. You can identify antique Limbert furniture by its own iconic stamp.
Meanwhile, back in western New York, a community of artisans and craftspeople formed and called themselves Roycrofters. They manufactured furniture, metal works, leather goods. At their peak in 1910, the Roycrofters numbered over 500 and universities (including Cornell, Syracuse and the University of Buffalo), churches and the wealthy sought out and commissioned their works.
You can spot original Roycroft crafts by a mark they borrowed from medieval times and stamped on the goods they produced. In a strange coincidence, Nabisco uses a similar design in their logo; you can find it on an Oreo cookie.
In San Francisco, Dirk van Erp, an immigrant from Holland, was once regarded the most important metalsmith of the Arts and Crafts movement. His peak period of activity in the Bay Area was 1910-1915, when he made his name pounding out hammered-copper lamps. California Historical Design is home to Van Erp’s recreated workshop, as well as the largest collection of his work.
Do classic designs still hold fascination for customers? Stickley historian Michael Vorperian believes so. “With planned obsolescence being engineered into almost every aspect of our lives," he says, "the idea of letting the function of the piece dictate the form and using high quality materials and techniques is as relevant today as it was 110 years ago.”