I'm finding myself building more and more WP sites "from scratch" as it were (ie: ignoring any theme designs out there and just creating a design wireframe purely on the needs of the client. Then I go out and either shop around a theme that has the right basic structure, or I start with TwentyTen and fork a child theme from there.

Recently I've been getting the advice that maybe TwentyTen is not the best place to start as a base / parent theme because it's been stuffed with every technique possible in order to be a good learning platform. But maybe it's not the easiest or most efficient to customize (it has individual template.php pages for almost every part of the template hierarchy AND it has every template-part.php imaginable.

And using existing themes (whether free themes, or themes from services like ThemeForest) is a bit of a crap-shoot - in terms of coding standards, usage of templates, template-parts or hooks, incompatibilities, etc etc. So that's not ideal either.

Ideally, I'd like to whittle my starting choices to a small handful of really well-built, highly versatile, extremely barebones (light on design) themes that I could fork child themes from and adapt to my wireframe and design specs.

Getting to the question

What are your favourite barebones themes for forking off child themes? Why do you like them?

thanks so much for your advice!

  • Just coming back to his old (not constructive) thread, and just wanted to point out that in the years since I posted this, I have moved (like so many others) toward starter themes like underscores.me, which I have then adapted and roll out and customize for pretty much any project that needs a bespoke design / functionality.
    – Tom Auger
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 14:45

3 Answers 3


Bare bone themes are great, personally I prefer them over frameworks. I have noticed that 'liking' one over another comes down to how it feels, so I would suggest trying several out until you find one. For instance a lot people like WordPress boilerplate but I could not get the hang of it. My current favorite is Handcrafted WP, since it very similar to my own custom theme that was also based on Toolbox.

Here are some worth checking out:

Handcrafted WP
WordPress Shell
HTML5 reset
TwentyTen Five
HTML5 Boilerplate
Starker HTML5
Starkers HTML5 V3

  • WPBasis - wpbasis.de (ist older version with xhtml and also html5)
    – bueltge
    Commented Apr 30, 2011 at 21:06
  • Another awesome framework you should checkout, rtPanel - rtpanel.com. Lots of custom actions and filters allow you to achieve a lot with the child themes. Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 3:07
  • Its interesting to note that Roots was around so long ago - its changed its name to Sage. You could also add _s to this.
    – icc97
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 12:29

I am not completely sure from your description which parts you want to be persistent and which to be client-specific.

If you build markup and stylesheet from scratch for every client and don't use much custom PHP - there isn't much left for parent theme to do here. If you do use some custom PHP in each project - it might make sense to just put together our own parent theme.

Overall the generic process is to look through parent themes / frameworks until (if ever) you find the one you like. See WordPress frameworks and parent themes.

  • 1
    Hmm Rarst, I'm not sure you're getting the point of my question. The point was to query the community about what they thought the best built themes were so that I wouldn't have to cull through an endless list of WP themes, many (most) of which are not built on best-practices. The amount of time it takes to evaluate a theme is prohibitive - you have to download it, install it, and then actually start to work with it for some time before you realize that it was poorly built. Not that I'm lazy, but I wanted to leverage off the combined experience of the community here.
    – Tom Auger
    Commented May 1, 2011 at 2:28
  • @Tom Auger and I am trying to explain that there isn't such thing as "the best WordPress theme ever". :) While some are more popular (note that popularity doesn't equal quality by definition) all of themes are quite individual things. If you don't even care to test yourself why do you trust community to guess what would work perfectly for you? I think that in this form question is too subjective.
    – Rarst
    Commented May 1, 2011 at 10:54

I personally have a few favs but also have some of my own that i have made. But the one i will use out of online pickings is the handcrafted wp as mentioned by Wyck

  • Thanks for the vote on handcrafted. It sounds like you recommend building your own theme "from scratch" rather than piggybacking on an existing theme?
    – Tom Auger
    Commented May 1, 2011 at 2:29
  • Well i will grab some elements but i usually rewrite them but yes i do like using my own bare themes it makes sure that there are no other unwanted items inside my finished project. I know what is in it and how it is setup so therefore i can always edit with ease. Plus if the customer wants changes then its a way for theme to just come back to me instead of another person trying to figure it all out. So its a good Sales tactic Commented May 1, 2011 at 2:38

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