Bernard Maybeck’s family home — Enchanting 1932 time capsule storybook cottage, Berkeley, Calif.

“… embodies many of Maybeck’s notions about what an ideal home should be; modest, free of adornment, well integrated into its site…”

storybook-house-exterior-californiaTour-a-Time-CapsuleThanks to reader Christa for the tip on today’s time capsule — an enchanting storybook house in Berkeley, California. Built in 1932 by famed architect Bernard Maybeck as a home for himself and his family, this charming cottage looks as if it could be straight from the pages of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Maybeck — a “luminary” of architecture in early 20th century California — was known for building houses that were “confections” — delightful mash ups of various styles. We’ll call this one “Romantic Revival”, a style popular in the 1930s that celebrated the yee ole days of gothic cottages in England. We’ll also take a leap and say that this “Romantic Revival” style is part of the architectural lineage leading up to storybook / Cinderella / Hansel & Gretel ranch houses — furthermore reason to show it here! Maybeck house is artfully built into the hillside and has been carefully landscaped over the years. And oh my goodness, check out the million-dollar — literally — views of the San Francisco Bay. Mega thanks to photographer Thomas Grubba for allowing us to feature his breathtaking photos of this property.

Because of its connection to Maybeck, this house seems like it is bona-fide “historic”. So it’s *easy* to understand and appreciate why over the years, owners made updates that aimed to stay true to the original era and design of the house. If updates had been too contemporary or unsympathetic with this house’s historic bones, they would have destroyed value. Indeed, the listing information (you can read it all, below) points out that:

…a master bathroom, sensitively designed to fit the character of the home, was added.

The key words here: “Sensitively designed to fit the character of the home…”

Hey — a million dollar house with a lesson for our less expensive gems! Even though our mid century  modern and mid century  modest homes may not have historical provenance to compare with “a Maybeck,” it’s super clear that most have their own distinctive character. So just like the interim caretaker/owners of the Maybeck did with their master bathroom addition — the theory behind Retro Renovation says that if you sensitively design your updates to fit the character of the home — you will have a greater chance of adding lasting value over the long term — period-appropriate renovations will always “suit” your house.  This is, of course, in respect to the big remodel projects — kitchens, bathrooms, major architectural modifications — and not so much the furniture, light fixtures, paint and window treatments, which can be easily and relatively cheaply changed to suit each new  inhabitant’s style and needs.

Back to today’s time capsule — Here are the stats:

  • Price: $1,195,000
  • Year built: 1932
  • Bedrooms: 3
  • Bathrooms: 2.5
  • Square footage: 1,708

And, oh, the history!

From the listing:

After Bernard Maybeck’s large family house on Buena Vista Way in Berkeley burned down in the 1923 fire, it was never rebuilt, nor did he build another large house for his family. Instead, over the following years, he and his family built several cottages, all in the same neighborhood, some on the site of his original house. Maybeck had purchased large parcels of land in the North Berkeley hills, and 2751 Buena Vista Way was one of two family houses, essentially the same design but arranged to fit the graceful bay view site. These homes were built during the Depression to keep his staff and craftsmen working.

Over the years, various family members moved in and out of their 8 different houses, all cottages or chalets except for “Hilltop” in Kensington. 2751 Buena Vista however, was the heart of the extended family, where Bernard and Annie lived for several years and to which Wallen, Jacomena and the twins eventually returned. It embodies many of Maybeck’s notions about what an ideal home should be; modest, free of adornment, well integrated into its site amidst the lush foliage and with views of the S.F.Bay.

archway-in-storybook-houseThe living room has a medieval quality with a contemporary twist: its high arched beam ceilings and floor to ceiling metal sash cathedral windows at either end, create drama, atmosphere and add light.

The oversized fireplace, as in all Maybeck’s houses, reflects his belief that it is “the living heart” and gathering place of the family. Hob seating flanks this 6 foot fireplace.  Built-in seating performs an additional function of forming a barrier to the stairway, obscuring it and providing extra storage. His decorative use of structural elements, such as the beams, can be seen in many of the houses he designed. The many windows and French doors out to the decks, including one hanging on chains, extend the interior spaces outside and allow one to participate in the beautiful natural landscape, which he so loved. Watching the filtered light through the trees in the late afternoon in the bedroom with the hanging deck is magical.

storybook-house-with-red-countertopsIt has a very intimate and romantic quality and sits on the corner of the private Maybeck Twin Drive and Buena Vista Way, a neighborhood steeped in Berkeley history, with houses designed by many notable architects, from William C Hayes, John Hudson Thomas and John Galen Howard to John Hans Ostwald, Gerald McCue and Robert Ratcliff. Dues for the Maybeck Twin Drive Homeowner’s association are currently $600 annually and the members meet twice a year.

living-room-in-storybook-house-with-vaulted-ceilingAround 1940, when Bernard and Annie Maybeck were living here, a cooking fire charred the interior but did not destroy the house. Bernard used sandblasting to remove all the blackened areas and the knotty pine panels were replaced with plywood, “a new material’, which was dyed to match the beams. The 1” honey maple floors, laid in a diamond pattern, have a wonderful patina from this period of this restoration. The interior wooden posts, walls and doors all show the wood grain, heightened by the sandblasting.

Much work has been done in more recent years to all the systems, including roof, foundation, electrical, fireplace and a master bathroom, sensitively designed to fit the character of the home, was added. The beautiful landscaping has been enhanced to showcase the house tucked into its glorious site. It has an artist’s studio with western exposure, where Jacomena Maybeck, a ceramist, spent many hours, as well as a basement and garage. Attached are photos of Jacomena turning a pot in her studio and the twins when they were little girls.

“So many joyous gatherings, so many happy memories in this house,” says Bernard Maybeck’s twin granddaughters.

vintage-black-and-white-tile-bathroomThe listing does not say whether this black-and-white bathroom is original to 1932. The tiles appear to be mud-set and for sure, the sink and tub are vintage. If not 1930s, we’d guess 1950s, at the latest.

knotty-pine-bathroom-in-storybook-houseWe think this is the two photos above are the master bedroom/bathroom addition referred to in the listing. Yup, the bedroom looks like it’s always been there. In the bathroom, we’re guessing the shower is verdigris-stained concrete (?), and that the sink is from Waterworks.

Mega thanks to Norah Brower, listing agent for this property for allowing us to share this magical house. Photos courtesy of Thomas Grubba Photography.

To learn more about the architectural work and legacy of Bernark Maybeck, start at the The Maybeck Foundation at maybeck.org.

  1. Katie B. says:

    Beautiful architecture. I imagine on some nights it would seem like you were in another time and place entirely. I do have to say I generally prefer more bright and cheery houses/decor, but I can appreciate this as well.

  2. Annie B. says:

    My thanks for a most informative post. I’ve learned today about Bernard Maybeck, inglenooks, Berkeley’s weather, and California Air Resources regulations. I’m working on my PhRR and lovin’ it.

    Seriously, can you imagine the view from the roof deck at sunset or at night? What an incredible home.

  3. Chutti says:

    I lived as a child in the flatlands below this area, but my friend’s Mom has a swell Tudor house near there.
    This is the best of what the Berkeley and Oakland hills have to offer. The modest element is even more rare since the fire in 1992 caused a lot of old houses to be replaced with very immodest McMansions.

    I love Maybeck, and the hallmark of his style is that mixing of the ancient/old with the modern (industrial).

    I once house-sat for a family in a lovely Maybeck home in the flatlands. I’d thought I was a period stickler before that, but everything was absolutely period, and it was totally un-nerving. I didn’t know what to do with my shoes and socks when I took them off. They just didn’t belong in the house, and I felt wrong putting them in someone else’s closet. I felt I was ruining the whole thing just by being there!

    Yes, the East Bay is a hotbed of period restoration, but there is also a lot of loosey-goosey over the top faux period stuff going on too.
    I love getting into those old houses in the hills.

    That one is a treasure, and the price is actually pretty low for around those parts, considering. Not that it’s in my range, but still.

  4. Jackie says:

    Simply heaven! If you ever happen to pass through Alton, Illinois (just northeast of St. Louis, along the scenic river road), visit the campus of Principia College, which boasts a whole collection of Maybeck buildings!

    1. Chutti says:

      It’s a shame St. Louis doesn’t get more widely known as an architectural spot to visit. I am charmed by much of what I have seen there, from the swell older Worlds Fair buildings in Forest Park to the Saarinen Gateway arch.
      There is a lovely neighborhood near Forest Park designed by E.G. Lewis a sort of crackpot utopian visionary. Who had a fabulous sense of style. After he was run out of town on a rail, he started a small utopian community in central CA, where we lived.

      He epitomizes so much of what the early 20th C ethos had to offer. Check out this fellow-what a story!

  5. Diane in CO says:

    If it helps you date the bathtub in the lovely black-tiled bath, that tub is IDENTICAL to my 1935 cast iron tub – down to the spacing between the horizontal stepbacks and the space between the floor and the stepbacks and the rounded interior corners. Could very well be 1930’s and probably is.

    What a wonderful magical cottage! Wish we still built more like this one.

  6. Lane says:

    I live in Berkeley not far from here and Berkeley is having a crazy market right now with some places getting 20 offers. I know homes in lesser neighborhoods without that pedigree are going for 1.5 and up so I wouldn’t be surprised to see this house go for much more. I will keep an eye on it! Thanks for sharing.

  7. metalcabinetsdontburn says:

    The bathroom fixtures appear to be American Standard 1931 design – full deco. A lot of houses in DC and Baltimore had these fixtures, manufactured by the Ahrens and Ott Manufacturing Company of Baltimore, later to become American Standard. The fixtures are enameled cast iron – I am not sure about the toilet, but I know the sink and bathtubs are enameled cast iron. They came in white and colors some of which were never repeated in later decades. In the 1980’s there used to be an association/club of sorts in Washington DC called something like DC Deco and members organized house tours to houses with 1930’s deco elements and even advertised and sold member’s houses through the association. Most realtors, of course, toting the fashion-of-the-day line were urging prospective sellers and buyer to ‘update the bathroom to a nice neutral beige’… (need I say more?…). Thankfully there are still some houses left in their original glory.

    By the way, you can find the date on most plumbing fixtures by looking inside the toilet tank on its back side. In most cases you will find the date of the fixture predating the year the house was first put in use (sold, built, etc) by a few months, up to a couple of years, depending whether it was part of a development or custom built. – something which makes sense. If the bathroom is not the original but redone at some time before the 1960s the date will tell you when the bathroom was redone but will not correspond with the first deed date.

      1. metalcabinetsdontburn says:

        Maybe not this one… The cast iron ones need the big pedestal to support them. These ones on the metal legs are probably ceramic. That may date it a bit later, maybe in the mid 1930s because Ahrens and Ott Manufacturing was a plumbing and pipe fitting supply company first, before becoming American Standard in 1929 and venturing into bathroom fixture business. They dealt with cast iron a lot and used it as a foundation for their fixtures. Their pipes were used in the Washington DC water/sewer system. Those pipes were only recently replaced by the DC water authority, btw. They were – some may still be – in service for nearly 100 years!

        Metal gets diverted from construction to ‘heavy machinery’ manufacturing in the late 1930’s – as the world was preparing for war – and exclusively to the war effort after 1942. There was a great exhibit in the Building Museum in DC showcasing the wonders that came about as a result of the armistice when all these companies with extra metal, now not needed for war, had to come up with consumer products. That’s when we got metal cabinets and all the beautiful metal appliances in the 1950’s.

  8. Adrian says:

    This place is in need of dire 1950’s home furniture, decor, maybe floor coverings, window treatments and also bathroom accessories. some plants too!

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