by Nalina

It used to be that buildings were built by craftsmen. The carpenters, masons, metal-workers, and glaziers who put them together had all been trained in the field by masters, so that their handiwork embodied generations of knowledge. If you walk through a nineteenth century building you’ll see this right away. An office building of that time will have ornamental terra cotta tiles on its facade and hand-wrought iron railings on its stairs. And a house from that time will be finished with built-in oak cabinetry and stained glass transom panels. Sadly a lot of this skill was lost at the turn of the century, when factories began producing standardized materials and architects began to design and detail all the parts of a building

To incorporate handcrafted elements into a building today requires a very special level of collaboration between an architect, a contractor and fabricators. The crafty contemporary buildings in the new book “Re:Crafted” by Marc Kristal show us how it’s done.

Take a look at this house that two architects in Toronto built for their family within the shell of an existing concrete block warehouse. They designed and built the cabinets, paneling and staircases themselves to shape the raw space to their needs. And they selected varieties of mahogany, teak and cedar in soft hues that capture natural light.

It’s the smaller, specially designed elements within the house that give it character. There’s a heavy latticework gate to mark a formal entrance from the street and also protect the family’s privacy. There are charming built-in beds for the couple’s children. And there are drawers hidden within the risers of the stairs for storing shoes. Who doesn’t need extra room for their shoes?

Most of us don’t have the budget to design custom elements when we’re remodeling own homes. But we can find out what special skills our contractors and subcontractors have and see if they can make any pieces themselves. There’s no doubt that crafted elements make a home sweeter.

Re:Crafted: Interpretations of Craft in Contemporary Architecture and Interiors, by Marc Kristal. New York: The Monacelli Press, 2010.

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