“Federal” or “Federal Style” couldn’t be more inaccurate. In truth, 1780 to 1830s New England cannot be found in Hill East. It must be one of those terms applied by the ghosts of Hill realtors past to Capitol Hill post-1920 porch-front homes, in an effort to dress up on paper what many considered drab exteriors when compared to the bay-front “Victorians” (wrong also, but that’s another column) closer in.
To call these homes “Craftsman” might be more accurate, even “Bungalow,” although it may not make sense. But that’s the feel the builders of the time were going for and what was in demand — comfort and function.
Gustav Stickley, who advocated an aesthetic based on functionality, simple design, excellent workmanship, and visible and beautiful construction, had a major influence on popular taste and home design in the early 20th century as the Hill was expanding. (Not surprisingly, he despised Victorian houses and their chopped-up little rooms, clutter and garish colors.)
In the 1920s, middle-class home buyers in D.C. wanted Craftsman bungalows with their wide front porches, horizontal orientation (two stories), light-filled rooms and dormers. D.C. land prices were too high to build detached houses for the middle-class market, but these buyers could afford row houses. The challenge for builders was to offer row houses that “read” like Craftsman bungalows. They succeeded. These row houses, sometimes called “daylighters,” are two rooms deep, with windows in each room so that sunlight flows into the entire house. The typical floor plan is a living room in front, dining room in back, a narrow kitchen on the side and a front porch and back porch. Upstairs are two or three bedrooms, a sleeping porch in back and a bathroom. As climate control advanced, many front porches were removed and the sleeping porches enclosed.
These row houses typically have several Craftsman features, including:
- A wide front porch with substantial columns.
- A mansard roof with a dormer and window.
- The rafters and supports for the porch and dormer are visible.
- Windows with six panes on the upper sash over one pane on the lower sash to let in ample light, but no glare.
Hill East has many daylighter porch-front row houses, primarily from three major builders: Herman R. Howenstein, Thomas A. Jameson and Harry A. Kite. I’d like to thank them for the warmth and simplicity of these homes.
The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of HillNow.com.