The new-old field of architectural crafts is beginning to take hold again. With the glut of machine-made design elements on the market, some homeowners are turning to artists and craftspeople to help decorate and personalize their living spaces.
Although the work of craftspeople is increasingly being incorporated into public buildings, there is an even greater opportunity to use the work of artists and craftspeople imaginatively in private homes.
Handcrafted elements can include ceramic sinks and tiled bathtubs with clay fixtures; circular staircases, carved doors, stair railings, and cabinetry; room dividers; stained glass or leaded windows; tile countertops, floors, and ledges; ceramic murals and lamps; unusual fireplaces; decorative brickwork; stenciling; and wrought iron gates, doors, and special hardware.
Whether functional or purely ornamental, these features can reflect a sense of individuality or regionalism while adding variety and surprise to a home.
Historically, the work of craftsmen was first frowned upon by the Victorians when machine-made products became status symbols and was buried further by the Bauhaus and the continued adaptation of science and technology to architecture.
Architectural craftwork, however, was not completely lost. Perhaps the most elaborate example of the integration of craft and architecture is the Cranbrook Academy of Art campus in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., 25 miles northwest of Detroit.
The campus, built from 1925 to 1950 by the Finnish-American architect Eliel Saarinen, is filled with minor masterpieces from downspouts, doorknobs, and chimney caps to sculpture, weavings, and furniture. In an effort to inspire the students by example and make art a part of daily living, nothing was left untouched by the imagination of Saarinen and his family.
Cranbrook has recently been called the most comprehensive display of total design in America.
Whereas Cranbrook was designed specifically with its users in mind, many modern buildings designed during the past 30 years make no gesture toward the people who use them.
In the public domain today, there is a tentative move away from stark, austere structures. Architects, interior designers, artists, and craftspeople are beginning to work together to humanize buildings with ornament and craft elements people can relate to. Working with craftspeople
When building or renovating a home with the intention of incorporating some artistic details, it is best to engage the craftsperson as early as possible to ensure that the finished piece will fit successfully into its surroundings.
The craftsperson should be flexible and willing to respond to the needs and wishes of the client and to work as a team with the interior designer or architect. He or she should not use the commission as an opportunity to explore personal artistic directions unless the final result will complement the surroundings.
A client can see many kinds of craftwork by scouting out craft fairs, galleries, and shops. In choosing a craftsperson, the client should ask to see his or her portfolio. Textile people and potters usually use slides to show examples of their work, and woodworkers often have envelopes filled with color snapshots. Specific commissions are generally discussed using sketches and sometimes material samples.
Once a preliminary sketch has been agreed on, a contract can clarify the details. According to the book ''Architectural Crafts,'' by Bridget Beattie McCarthy (Seattle, Wash.: Madrona Publishers Inc., $11.95), the contract should state clearly for the craftsperson and client the nature of the work, how much it will cost, how and when the person will be paid, and how the design review and installation will be handled. The contract can be simple or detailed according to the project.
It is also important for the client to find out about any special maintenance needed once the finished piece is installed.