VLN: Bernard Maybeck: 1 2 (1902-1905) 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Bernard Maybeck slide show

Chronological listing of 10 selected architectural works in the Bay Area by Bernard Maybeck (1902-1905).

George H. Boke house George H. Boke house George H. Boke house
1902c, Berkeley, George H. Boke house
23 Panoramic Way, Berkeley
Bernard Maybeck.

This modest cottage has a plan, radical for its day, in which the living and dining areas become one through the use of sliding panels (Gebhard, Winter and Sandweiss 1985: 268).

The original paired casement windows have been replaced by fixed glass. Maybeck succeeded in reconciling horizontal and vertical elements to create a building that still seems remarkably exciting and contemporary (Cardwell 1977: 74).

The second house with chalet details was built for Professor George H. Boke in 1902 on Panoramic Way in Berkeley (Note 11: An exact copy of the Boke house was built in Oakland. Maybeck's office records also indicate duplicate plans and specifications of the Boke house were sent to Aberdeen, Washington in 1906 for the J. B. Elston house). Even though it has a falsework of crossed logs at its corners in imitation of the nature of chalet construction, its actual structural order bears little relation to Swiss design. The house, on a sloping site, is entered on a half-level below the main floor. Its stairhall is built outside of the main rectangular form of the house, and is used as entry, circulation, and stairway for the principal living areas. The first landing of the stairway forms a vestibule for the living room. Double bolster blocks have been used on the columns between the stairhall and the living room to form a decorative entrance. A doorway at the second landing provides access to a large sleeping balcony the railing of which is ornamented by board balusters handsawn in a Swiss motif. The stairway then turns ninety degrees and leads to second-floor sleeping accommodations.

The living room and dining room of the Boke chalet are one continuous ell-shaped space, separated by a single column of the main structural system. Its windows, originally paired casements with a single horizontal division, have been replaced in the living room by fixed sheets of plate glass. The fireplace is small and is faced with twelve-inch square matteglazed tiles. It has a plain board mantle supported by brackets which repeat the design of the column bolsters. Filling out the block of the chimney above the mantle are two book cabinets fitted with leaded glass doors. All of the details, both structural and finish, are executed in redwood. The upstairs rooms are finished in board and batten with board-on-board overhanging roof, and they are a good example of one device Maybeck frequently employed to extend the space of the house beyond the limits of the room.

The organization of the Boke house emphasizes the linear character of a post and beam framing system. Bolster blocks at the top of each column reduce the span and depth of the main beams. The basic unit is repeated ten times to create a rectangular building two bays wide and five bays long. The beams suppoort purlins spaced two feet on center upon which rest one-by-twelve redwood boards that form the finished ceiling. The enclosing walls between the posts are of redwood boards or continuous casement sash. The curtain walls of some bays engage the columns while in others they project free from the frame, forming alcoves and window seats. In the Boke house Maybeck combined structure and plan to make an exquisite design for the modest house which for quality, limited by size and economy, has not been surpassed.

The Boke house did not bring to a close the designs that might be called chalets; but it did achieve the same integration of structure, plan, and spatial design which Maybeck had sought in his Gothic houses. (Cardwell 1977: 75-77).

But in the Albert Schneider house (1907) there is a shaping of the mass indicative of a more free room arrangement. Maybeck abandoned the rigid structural module of the Boke chalet in favor of conventional framing combined with a simple post and lintel system to span the living areas (Cardwell 1977: 103).

The William Rees house (1906) on La Loma Avenue in Berkeley, is said to be a copy of a chalet model the owner had brought back from Switzerland. (Note 10: B. R. Maybeck Photos, "W. Rees," C.E.D. Docs. The Rees house has been published as the work of A. E. Hargraves.) But the corners, detailed of crossed logs as in the Boke house, and the decorative detail of the balcony railings are probably the extent to which the design copied the model (Cardwell 1977: 105).

In the R. H. Mathewson design (1915) also on Buena Vista Way in Berkeley, Maybeck illustrated in simple carpentry construction the blending of structure, color, and pattern into a crisp architectural form in which he reduced costs by reducing sizes. (Note 14: At the time of the Berkeley fire in 1923, Maybeck responded to a request from E. R. Sturm, Glendale, California for a small cottage with a design practically duplicating that of the Mathewson house.) Just as in the 1902 Boke house in which he had manipulated the plan to increase the sense of spaciousness, so again he turned to the plan to accomplish his purposes (Cardwell 1977: 171).

The Boke house of 1902 (plate 31), a smaller and less expensive version of the chalet than the Flagg house, is more straightforwardly rustic in appearance. It, too, has an open plan on the main floor, and the stairs from the ground to the upper level are on one side of the house, an efficient way to save space for the living and dining areas. The client, a lawyer named George Boke, was a rising star in the university law school. Lke Maybeck, Boke was a maverick and a visionary. He joined a group of crusaders for political reform in San Francisco that included newspaper editors Chester Rowell (for whom Maybeck designed a house in Fresno) and Fremont Older, Rudolph Spreckels, and others. When their efforts began to implicate members of the university's Board of Regents, Boke's career at the university was cut off. He pursued his goals for political reform independently and published a weekly in San Francisco called the Liberator. But as Lincoln Steffens related in a posthumous tribute, "It was a long, dull deadening struggle and Boke, with all hope of promotion and appreciation cut off, stuck till somthing broke in the heart or the soul or--maybe it was only in the nerves of George Boke--he was [physically] paralyzed [for life]."7

Before this tragedy occurred, but after Boke left the university, financial strains forced the family to give up their Maybeck-designed house on the hill behind the university. Whether or not the popular chalet image had been their choice, it would have been considered right for the steep slope that continued to a high ridge well above the house; their street was named Panoramic Way. Once again, Maybeck used the general form of the chalet as an antidote to the castlelike forms of the Queen Anne houses that were being built by the block in San Francisco.

The plan of the Boke house is a slightly irregular rectangle with projections for porches and windows. The upper floor extends beyond the lower part of the house by about two feet and is covered by a broadly overhanging roof. Diagonal bracing enlivens the upper-floor walls. The sleeping porch and the front porch have railings decorated with cutout apple shapes. One oddly extraneous bit of chalet imagery is the fake stack of log ends that adorns the southwestern corner of the house (plate 34). The job specifications for the Boke house state that special care should be taken to have the fake logs match the color of the adjoining boards so that they will look like an extension of the wall, but it is obvious that they are nailed on. Except for breaking up the hard edge of the corner and, like the cutouts, enhancing the play of light and shade on the wall surface, they are no more justifiable than the nailed-on ornament of the detested Queen Anne style.

Centered in the facade is a shallow bay composed of three sets of casement windows. The posts that frame the bay are hung by metal straps from the second-floor joists that cross the living-room ceiling and pierce the exterior wall. The casements are set between these posts, and a flower box is attached to the underside of the bay. This method of construction made the bay a structurally discrete feature independent of the wooden skin of boards nailed to the frame of the house itself. The studs are exposed on the living-room interior (plate 36), and the posts that support the upper-floor joists stand free of the walls, which are wide redwood boards and battens.

The four upper-floor bedrooms are as rustic as the exterior implies. Three-foot-long barn shingles cover the ceilings, and the framework of the central cross gable has been left exposed (plate 35). The redwood walls were originally stained a mossy green, as advocated in The Simple Home, to enhance their naturalness. The ridge of the upper-floor ceiling is offset from the central ridge of the gable roof above. This strategy created a low, tentlike ceiling for the front bedrooms (Woodbridge and Barnes 1992: 28, 45-48, 49, 226).

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1902c, Berkeley, Charles Keeler studio
1736 Highland Place St., Berkeley
Bernard Maybeck.

The McGrew house and its predecessors became the examples of a "movement towards a simpler, a truer, a more vital art expression" when, a few years later, Charles Keeler assumed the spokesman's role for the modest house and "the simple life." His publication of a small volume entitled The Simple Home (1904) is illustrat4ed with Berkeley houses designed by Coxhead, Schweinfurth, and Maybeck. It contains many suggestions for building that Maybeck had put into practice in his early designs. As a token of his esteem, Keeler dedicated the volume to his "friend and counselor Bernard Maybeck." (Note 9: Charles A. Keeler, The Simple Home (San Francisco: Paul Elder and Company, 1904). In 1902, Maybeck designed a studio for Keeler which was simply and beautifully detailed in wood and built to the north of Keeler's Maybeck-designed house of 1895 (Cardwell 1977: 70).

Sunlight flooding through the windows [of the Charles Keeler studio] upon the tastefully executed woodwork reveals a room of natural elegance (Cardwell 1977: 71).

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1903, Russian River, Grove Clubhouse, Bohemian Club of San Francisco
Bohemian Grove, Russian River
Bernard Maybeck.

Superbly sited, the [Grove Clubhouse] structure harmonizes with its setting while also providing a magnificient view of the area. Note the crossing roof battening, common to the wooden architecture of Switzerland, Sweden, and Japan (Cardwell 1977: 82).

Maybeck's relation to the Arts and Crafts and the beginnings of the modern movement is obscured by his romantic individualism. He could create handsome pattern and design in his buildings without dependence on historical details, but when he felt a need to add enrichment he drew inspiration from past architectures, not from nature. The differences that his designs in an artisan tradition have with those generally referred to as "Craftsman," are well illustrated in the houses and clubs built soon after he opened his San Francisco office. In them can be seen imaginative siting, inventive use of structure, and sensitive detailing that distinguish his work from rough and awkward creations euphemistically called "rustic."

One of the first commissions to be executed in Maybeck's new office came about as a result of his association with the Bohemian Club. For a number of years the club had been holding a summer encampment in the redwood groves located along the Russian River north of San Francisco. In 1903 the directors of the club decided to build a permanent structure. A modest sum was raised by subscribers, and Maybeck was asked to design a clubroom that would serve as meeting place, dining room, and bathing facility for the campers.

The Club building, placed at the top of a high knoll overlooking the river, is superbly sited. The spot was probably chosen by the Grove committee; but, although dramatic, it posed a problem for its architect. Faced with making a very small structure hold its aesthetic position surrounded by trees well over one hundred feet tall, Maybeck wisely positioned one end of the building at the edge of the knoll with the rest supported by a substructure rising from the precipitous side of the hill. Columns made of tree trunks rose fifty feet to the floor of the club building above, establishing a strong vertical base set among tall trees. In this way the building achieved a scale in harmony with the giant redwoods and became an extension of the knoll, providing ample space for club members to enjoy the scenic view.

Broad eaves sheltering the balconies surrounding the building are supported by struts and rafters of unbarked logs. The arrangements of struts, columns, and knee braces are extremely handsome. The redwood saplings used for these exquisite details were very straight and tapered little from end to end, which allowed Maybeck to execute a precise design. In the interior, details of dressed lumber trusswork, planed board and batten walls, and glazed French doors contrast with the rough materials of the exterior. They mark Maybeck's sense of appropriate rusticity. The fireplace is worked in rough-cut local stone. Maybeck also designed a large deal table and three-legged chairs derived from seventeenth century Flemish forms to furnish the room. (Note 2: Conversations between the author and Maybeck. The chair design was derived from forms of Flemish milking stools.)

Along with his fellow Bohemians, Maybeck enjoyed the summer encampments for many years. He continued to contribute to the club activities--designing stage sets and costuming for several of their elaborate pageants. Today, after more than seventy years, the clubhouse spaces and furnishings remain as Maybeck designed them; only the kitchen and service facilities have been expanded (Cardwell 1977: 84).

The year before the Outdoor Art Club was built, the Bohemian Club had authorized Maybeck to proceed with drawings for a clubhouse (plate 59) to be built in Meeker Grove, 160 acres of redwoods about one hundred miles north of the Bay Area. The building's site is a rounded ridge about two hundred feet above the left bank of the Russian River. The Bohemian Club had been founded in San Francisco in 1872 with the goal of promoting good fellowship among people concerned with the arts; the members had rented the grove as a camping ground periodically since 1882. Maybeck had been elected a professional, or artistic, member of the Bohemian Club in 1899 and remained a staunch member for fifty-eight years. He particularly relished the many theatrical performances staged at the club's headquarters in the city and at the grove during the midsummer encampment. His clubhouse, called both the Chalet and the Lodge, was the first permanent building in the grove. Drawings for it were completed in the spring of 1904, and the building was ready for use during the encampment that summer. Although the encampment provided the occasion for celebrating its completion, the building was mainly intended for use during the rest of the year. The budget of five thousand dollars was tight, but Maybeck stuck to it: the final bill was $4,992.05; of which $34.95 was spent on a special tabletop and $369.10 for fees and travel expenses.

The building's single floor is twenty-two feet above ground on the east side and meets the hillside at the southwestern corner. With its base shingled in slabs of redwood bark about three feet long, the structure seems as deeply rooted to its site as the trees that surround it and that even pierce its eaves. About three times the size of the single room it shelters, the roof projects well beyond the deck that encircles the 840-square-foot clubroom. On the long sides of the building the deck is only two feet eight inches wide, so narrow a space that the three-foot-wide French doors cannot be fully opened, indicating that only the much deeper decks on the ends were intended for active use. The clubroom is nearly square. The opening of the stone fireplace on the northwest wall was originally seventy-two inches wide by sixty-six inches high. After wind repeatedly drove smoke down the flue into the room, the opening was reconfigured to forty-eight inches wide by sixty inches high.

The interior walls of untreated redwood boards contribute to the effect of being inside a redwood tree. On the outside this impression is heightened by the branching supports for the massive roof overhangs. These supports of bundled tree trunks rise through the deck floor from the building's base, where diagonal braces are concealed behind the redwood-bark slabs. (The romantic effect was carefully plotted: the diagonal struts form multiple angles, each of which is an exact multiple of a five-degree angular module.) Maybeck placed redwood stakes above the beams that support the deck floors so that they project beyond the floor and intersect with the redwood stakes that form the deck railing.

Originally, the eaves of the roof were also feathered out with a lattice of wooden sticks that suggested foliage. Overshadowed by giant trees and recessed under its roof, the clubroom would seem even more like the hollow of a tree if its sides were not so generously glazed. Also, by locating the building on a ridge and by raising it above the ground into midair, Maybeck made the interior as light as a tree house should be. He designed simple furniture for the clubhouse: a high-backed rustic bench, a large table with a top made of a single slab of redwood, and some three-legged chairs modeled on Flemish milking stools (Woodbridge and Barnes 1992: 68-69, 72, 227).

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1904, San Jose, Howard B. Gates house
62 S. 13th St., San Jose
Bernard Maybeck.

Although most of Maybeck's domestic work prior to the earthquake has been associated with German, Swiss, and English medieval vernacular forms, the fascination he felt for the plastic modeling of volumes and spaces as seen in the Hillside Club had previously found expression in the neo-baroque details of the 1904 San Jose residence of Howard B. Gates (Note 7: Arthur B. Clark, Art Principles in House, Furniture, and Village Building (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1921), pp. 45, 46. The Gates house is illustrated and listed as the residence of Edwin Thomas.) The street elevation of the Gates house displays an adept asymmetrical composition with strong light and shade effects and a vigorous modeling of the wall surface. The house is actually three stories high, but by lowering the first into the grade and nestling the bedrooms under a large gabled roof, Maybeck created the impression of a one-and-one-half storied house. The illusion is heightened by his placement of the entrance door at a split level between the ground and second stories where an enlarged landing of the stairwell forms the entry.

The elliptical lines of the facade arch are repeated in the steps leading to the entrance. Baroque details are found in the balconies resting on fat consoles and the balustered railings.

Richly composed of woods, the stairway to the lowest level is circular with a railing of squat balusters of turned redwood, while from the second to the third story, it is square with a railing of tenuous spindles. Overhead light, accented by side lighting from semi-concealed windows at each landing, floods the stairwell (Cardwell 1977: 96).

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1904, San Francisco, George Newhall house remodeling
2340 Pacific St., San Francisco
Bernard Maybeck.

Additional remodeling, July 1906 (Cardwell 1977: 241).

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1904, San Francisco, T. J. Bunnell house
Broadway near Pierce St., San Francisco
Bernard Maybeck.

Living room addition, 1902, November; House moved to this location and remodeled in 1904, September (Cardwell 1977: 240,241).

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1904, Mill Valley, Outdoor Art Club building
1 West Blithedale Ave., Mill Valley
Bernard Maybeck.

The perfect gateway to Mill Valley and one of Maybeck's masterpieces, this simple hall gets its "architecture" from the inspired, if not altogether logical, projection of the trusses through the roof. A sort of rustic cousin of Mies van der Rohe's Crown Hall in Chicago (Woodbridge and Woodbridge 1992: 221).

Few architects have been more adept than Maybeck at effects of such simple directness as this projection of trusses through the roof to express the structure outside as well as in (Gebhard, Winter and Sandweiss 1985: 220).

The posts and roof beams extended through the roof and were sheathed in shingles.

The main hall of the clubhouse combined a loving use of wood and sound engineering to achieve uncluttered interior space. The spirit of the building was that of an early English parish church.

King posts of the truss in the Outdoor Art Club house received paired members whose ends were carved with dragon heads (McCoy 1975: 10-11).

While most Arts and Crafts proponents argued for "honest construction," few took the structural frame of the building as a starting point for their designs. Maybeck, on the other hand, often created unusual shapes derived from his experiments in framing. His timbered roofs, inspired by medieval forms, were essentially new creations evolved from many past examples. While other architects were duplicating specific king post or scissors trusses, he was employing new ones aided by steel tension rods and standard lumber.

The design for the Outdoor Art Club (1904) in Mill Valley added a new roof variation. It has a simple, rectangular plan spanned by rafters trussed with a king post and collar ties. The ties extend through the roof covering and join a vertical extension of the wall columns, thereby strengthening the weakest part of the rafter chord between the tie and the support. maybeck probably adopted this form for two reasons: first, the spaciousness of an uninterrupted vertical volume under a roof plane pleased him; second, the adaptation of a king post truss thrusting through the roof fulfilled his desire to indicate the nature of the building's framing from the exterior.

Maybeck's play with building form by separating the principal structural members and the enclosing planes adds both interior and exterior interest to his design.

The roof structure adds visual interest to the building while revealing its structural character and providing a more ample interior space (Cardwell 1977: 86).

There is much symbolism in all of Maybeck's works. From the obvious device of the dragon mark of his father's craft to the choice of materials, symbolism of some form exists in most of his work (Note 10: The dragon device was used in Wyntoon, the Faculty Club, Outdoor Art Club, Flagg studio, Owens house, Tufts house (San Rafael), Kennedy studio, and the Chamberlain studio among others (Cardwell 1977: 125).

Akin to the Faculty Club but less complex is the Outdoor Art Club (plate 56), constructed in 1904. This building also stands at the back of a wooded piece of land, but it faces a large garden and is bordered by two streets in suburban Mill Valley. Like the Faculty Club, the Outdoor Art Club building has had additions at the back and side to provide space for offices and a larger kitchen; the original building had only a tiny kitchen and a backstage lavatory and dressing room in addition to the main hall. The shingled exterior of the original clubhouse appears simple except for some eye-catching triangular features that punctuate its roof. On the interior (plate 58), where the framework of the roof is exposed, it is clear that the crossbeams extend through the roof to the outside; their ends are supported on extensions of the posts that, on the interior, stand free of the walls. The outside sections of the posts are shingled, and the corresponding parts of the beams have individual gable roofs. That Maybeck conceived of the building as a wooden tent is clearly indicated not only by the separation of the framework of the roof from its covering but also by the way that the eaves are lifted up like flaps to permit more light to enter through the French doors that line the walls. Had Maybeck just intended to create a rustic wooden hall, he could have done so with a much simpler structure. The king posts with turned and chamfered ends and the heavy boxed timbers of the trusses supporting the dark wooden ceiling give the room a monumental dignity. A great stone fireplace stands off center on a dais at the end of the room, an odd location if it was intended to be the climax of the space. The explanation may be that this placement allowed for the doors to a backstage room that facilitated the staging of performances and ceremonies (Woodbridge and Barnes 1992: 68, 70, 71, 227).

The Outdoor Art Club, One West Blithedale Avenue, is evidence of Mill Valley's persistent interest in nature. The Club itself came into being at a public meeting on August 2, 1902. It was Mill Valley's first women's improvement association, and was born of concern over the destruction of trees and wildflowers.

The Club selected a site and chose architect Bernard Maybeck to design a clubhouse thoroughly in keeping with its surroundings and representative of the organization's aims and objectives. The shingled building was completed in 1905. One entire wall of the main wing is of glass panels that open out to a wide terrace. The indoor-outdoor compatibility is further emphasized by four heavy interior trusses, which project through the steeply pitched roof and are joined at right angles by four wall beams that push through the eaves (Olmsted and Watkins 1969: 225-26).

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1904, Oakland, Ranson E. Beach house
110 Sunnyside Ave., Oakland
Bernard Maybeck.

nm (Cardwell 1977: 241).

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1905, San Mateo, C. S. Diggles house
Lomita Park, San Mateo
Bernard Maybeck.

nm (Cardwell 1977: 241).

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1905, San Anselmo, J. B. Tufts house (#1)
14 Entrata Ave., San Anselmo
Bernard Maybeck.

Even in residential construction Maybeck sometimes used special framing for architectural effects. An example is the living room of the J. B. Tufts house (1905) in San Anselmo, which was covered by a low-pitched gable roof supported on sloping beams with their thrusts restrained by concealed steel rods. The house, the first of three built for Tufts, is located on the side of a steep hill where it is virtually concealed. It is distinguished by the refined finish of its interior surfaces. The large living room is placed on the second floor to obtain views into the valley over the tops of the large oak trees on the site. Maybeck finished it with burl redwood paneling with heavily molded trim. Ornamental wood panels decorate the overmantle of the fireplace and built-in storeage units.

The Tufts house is of even greater interest for its use of artificial lighting. In his Gothic houses Maybeck had banked the casement sash to make good use of natural light, and in other houses had used skylights and unusually placed windows to create dramatic impressions. Bare bulbs and hanging lanterns adorned the early structures, but in the Tufts design Maybeck began to use indirect artificial light to enrich the interior. The ceiling, which follows the slopes of the low-gabled roof, is softly lighted by fixtures that are half-concealed by wooden cornice. Wooden screens cover fixtures set into the stairwell walls and newel posts, creating additional ornamental lighting. The details are not so unusual or innovative as to make much of their design; rather, they indicate the direction of Maybeck's development as each new building added new subtleties to his architecture.

Virtually concealed in its verdant hillside setting, glimpses of the house reveal the interplay of light and shadow.

Gothic tracery housing indirect lighting combines with the natural elegance of wood to create a beautiful interior. Maybeck often spent time on the job to select and place unusual or finely-grained boards in strategic locations (Cardwell 1977: 87).

None of Maybeck's hillside houses was more dramatic than the one he designed in 1905 for J. B. Tufts. A dentist by occupation, Tufts seems to have been a staunch patron of art and architecture, since he commissioned three houses from Maybeck: the first in San Anselmo in 1905, the second in San Rafael in 1908, and the third in Berkeley in 1931. (By now the San Anselmo house is nearly hidden from sight by the oaks that Maybeck carefully preserved around it in 1905.) Maybeck had just enough of the hillside cut away to establish flat patches for the three levels of the house. Midway up one side is a cavelike entrance set in a shingled ell and framed on one side by the jagged edge of a corbeled-brick chimney. Since no door is visible from the approach, the visitor can only assume that the dim space recessed under the house has a door--which it does, on the left wall. The door opens into a modest hall from which a passageway leads to small bedrooms on the south side. On the other side of the entry hall is a stairwell, open to the ceiling, which cranks upward past a landing to a small hall. There sits a wall bench, perhaps intended to encourage a restful pause in the ascent and a moment's appreciation of the view out the window on the opposite wall.

The upper floor, which has the living and dining rooms and the kitchen, is a platform tied to the hill on one side. On the other side is the living room, flanked by trellised decks that offer spectacular views of the scenery near and far. Given the woodsiness of the setting and the unadorned shingled sides of the house, it is a surprise to find that the living room is not a rustic aerie but a long, rectangular, half-timbered Tudor hall that stretches the length of the building. The formality of the dark beams against the white plaster ceiling is reinforced by a baronial fireplace with a mantel decorated with three sections of gilded Gothic tracery. (Similar tracery is used on the newel in the hall landing.) In creating the unexpected in interiors like this one, Maybeck may have been pursuing the dramatic effects that also attracted him to satage-set design.(Woodbridge and Barnes 1992: 41-42, 227).

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add = Additions; nm = No Mention; rem = Remodelled; rest = Restoration