Opinions and recommendations on the best barebones base theme

Preamble

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!

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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:

Roots
Handcrafted WP
WordPress Shell
ToolBox
HTML5 reset
TwentyTen Five
Boilerplate
HTML5 Boilerplate
Starker HTML5
Starkers HTML5 V3
WP-Skeleton
Bones
rtPanel

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.

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