After weeks of feeling like a total klutz with compound miter saws and hammer drills, I finally got an assignment in my wheelhouse. I dusted off my art history books to deliver a presentation on doors—yes, doors—from Tudor to Craftsman.
It was a timely assignment, as we’ve been working on a pair of barn doors for the school’s equipment shed. Left to my own devices, I’d have nailed a bunch of vertical planks to a couple horizontals and called it a day. I was not alone in that utilitarian approach.
But one classmate, a talented carpenter from Egypt, couldn’t bear for the doors to be anything less than beautiful. He saw the project as a lasting canvas for creativity. Under his tutelage, we have labored with jigsaws, sanders, routers and chisels to craft doors that are also works of art.
It has taken a lot longer than it could have. It has stoked tension among classmates. But it has brought to life the British Arts and Crafts movement, which precipitated American Craftsman design and the bungalow door featured in my presentation to the class.
In the late 19th century, in the face of rising industrialization, writer John Ruskin and artist William Morris called for architecture that preserved the dignity of human labor. They sought design that united workmen and artists. They championed handcrafted products over machine-made. Their proposition was expensive. Their ideas bordered on radical.
Working with my classmates—some workmen, some artists—to construct beautiful and functional doors that we’re so proud of, I’m starting to get what those ideas were all about.