Craftsman Style at the Movies

What does Doc’s 1955 mansion in Back to the Future and the house featured in Netflix’s recent hit thriller Bird Box have in common? Other than arguably great pieces of filmwork, both feature distinct and very beautiful craftsman style homes. But if you’re like me and tend to miss just how often the great American bungalow makes an appearance until someone reminds you of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Arts & Crafts house in the movie Inception, you’re not alone.

Read on to be guided through a backlot tour of Hollywood’s obsession with the craftsman style bungalow.

A brief history on the craftsman style and Hollywood

Call it a love affair, the draw to the craftsman style home with its idyllic charm has been carrying on since the late 1800’s when bungalows began popping up in Southern California (and across many major metropolises). Simple lines and easy construction meant that families could afford to own these “precut kit homes” for as little as $900.

With swaths of Los Angeles covered in affordable craftsman bungalows, the area was also a draw to famous architects looking to put their designs to work. Architects Charles and Henry Greene are often credited with designing what came to be known as the California bungalow style. That house in Inception? It’s the Freeman A. Ford house designed by Greene & Greene in 1907. Doc’s house in Back to the Future? That’s their most famous masterpiece - the Gamble Mansion - located in Pasadena a short distance from the Ford house.

It’s no mistake that the craftsman style is featured so heavily in movies, TV shows and commercials. With so many to choose from, it makes sense to film on location rather than constructing a replica on set. Cinematographers love the wide, flat floor plans as well as the simplicity of the bungalow. They offer specific architectural features that are perfect for the camera - like a bathroom that has multiple doors allowing for plenty of filming angles or a long entry hall with multiple openings on each side. Craftsman style homes also exude a homey feel with their sturdiness and earth-toned colors exemplifying stability, a key cornerstone of the American Dream.

Which movies feature the craftsman style?

The list is plentiful. While nowhere near all-inclusive, it’ll at least get you started on which ones to watch, or watch again as you look at the cinematography from a whole new lens.

Old School (2003)

This craftsman style home in South Pasadena is the set of the Lambda Epsilon Omega fraternity and a prominent feature in the Will Ferrell, Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn movie. Apparently this house was actually Will Ferrell’s at the time of filming (at least according to the DVD commentary). He calls it his “little craftsman house in Pasadena” and jokes about how his floors got all scratched up from the film equipment.

Zathura (2005)

This family film features another of Green & Greene’s craftsman homes in a South Pasadena neighborhood. Because the house gets sent to outer space, invaded by robots and pelted by a meteor shower, a miniature replica was built to be destroyed instead. I’m guessing the current owners were happy about that.

Monster in Law (2005)

Whether you’ve seen the movie or not, watch it just for the house. The argument is that it steals the show. Designed in 1911 by architects Alfred & Arthur Heineman, the house features Craftsman, Asian and Neo-Classical designs. This house is also located in Pasadena.

But wait, there’s more!

Back to the Future (1985) - Pasadena, CA

Grumpy Old Men (1993) - St. Paul, MN

Must Love Dogs (2005) - Pasadena, CA

You, Me, and Dupree (2006) - Los Angeles, CA

Disturbia (2007) - Whittier, CA

Inception (2010) - Pasadena, CA

Selma (2014) - Atlanta, GA

Putting your craftsman style house to work for Hollywood

Most of the houses used in filming are private residences. Sometimes only the outside is used - like in Birdbox where the owner was paid $12,000 for her home’s appearance and, according to People, is now playing gracious host to all the tourists flocking to her Monrovia neighborhood for a chance at snapping a blindfolded photo on her famous steps. Other times, like with Inception, the inside is used as well.

So how do you get your craftsman house in front of the camera? It’s a matter of, sorry for the cliche, being in the right place at the right time. Scouts love Pasadena for filming on location as well as the Harvard Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. If you live in one of these two spots your odds of landing your house a movie gig are probably better than most.

Oldhouse Online featured an article in 2010 about a 1906 California Craftsman that the owners have been able to restore largely in part to the funds they receive when their house is hired as a set. As long as you’re ok with minor inconveniences, not a bad way to get the work done.

How Modern Bungalow can help you design your very own made for the big screen craftsman style home

You don’t have to live in one of the film industry’s coveted bungalow neighborhoods. You don’t even have to live in Los Angeles. Craftsman style homes exist from coast to coast and Modern Bungalow is here to help you add to or complete the vision for your home. Everything from solid wood furniture to mailboxes designed in the Arts & Crafts style is what you will find. If you’re unsure of where to begin, Modern Bungalow’s Design Services is a great place to start.

You never know, maybe we’ll see you (and your house) in the movies!

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