Maybeck Guy Hyde Chick House Berkeley CA

Guy Hyde Chick House
7133 Chabot Road, Berkeley CA
Bernard Maybeck.
Built 1914

A fine example of Maybeck’s mastery of design in wood. The broad gable roof ends in trellising at the gable eaves. Esther McCoy has this to say of it: “The Chick house was developed under a gable roof, with particular emphasis on the upper half of the gable ends; it extended two feet beyond the first floor, forming a bonnet around the bank of second floor windows.” The material of the gable projections is vertical redwood siding with alternating round and flat battens; the rest of the house is shingled (Gebhard, Winter and Sandweiss 1985: 280).

Two of Maybeck’s fine works in shingle in his middle period were the 1913 Chick house in Berkeley and the 1917 Bingham house in Montecito. The Chick house was developed under a gable roof, with particular emphasis on the upper half of the gable ends; it extended two feet beyond the first floor, forming a bonnet around the bank of second-floor windows. The material as well as the plane was changed–vertical redwood boards were used as surfacing for the gable ends of the second floor, the battens varying between flat and rounded ones. The interior space of the projections at the four corners was developed as bedroom closets.

The fine trellising at the eave line tied the house into the green of the oaks, while the notching and stacking of the shingles at the foundation line and on the arch of a door related the work to indigenous carpentry. The house had an air of simple elegance. In the living room a huge fireplace was flanked on either side by floor-to-ceiling French doors so that it appeared to be set in a glass wall–a daring effect for 1913. Cove lighting further enhanced the drama (McCoy 1975: 43-46).

The Chick house, nestled among live oaks, was lighted by banks of windows under the wide eaves.

View of the Chick house, Berkeley, 1913, showing trellis. By piling stick upon stick Maybeck gave his trellises substance and depth; the play of light through them enriched many an eave line (McCoy 1975: 43).

Most of Maybeck’s work designed prior to the construction of the Christian Science church can be roughly categorized as medieval or classical by noting its predominating lines and details. But the fusion of idea and form, modeled volume and structural order, handcrafted and machined materials, which had been so brilliantly achieved in the church, are repeated to a degree in all later residential designs. This blending makes any classification very arbitrary. The houses become neither medieval nor classical, but they do reveal a strong individualistic order–sometimes emphasizing economy, the terrain, or structure, but more frequently portraying a way of life. Maybeck expressed this in an interview: “The thing to do is to make the home fit the family…I never plan a home for a man until I have asked him a lot of questions. ‘What sort of woman is your wife? What kind of clothes do you both wear? What do you most like to read? Do you enjoy music?'” (Note 11: Bernard Maybeck interviewed by Mark Quest, 1927.)

One of the first designs of the new decade, the Guy H. Chick house (1914), is the ultimate statement of the chalet in its most sophisticated form. (Note 12: The house has been remodeled and published in House Beautiful, 104, (May 1962), pp. 150-57.) The low-pitched gable roof derives from the earlier chalet types; but Maybeck’s integration of the house and its garden is not found in vernacular Swiss structures and his personal interpretation of details obscures prototypical forms. The house is two-storied; portions of its upper-story are covered by vertical redwood boards and specially molded battens, the remaining surfaces are clad in gray-green stained shingles or natural sand-finished plaster. Strong cubical projections from the main block accent the corners and function as closets for the upstairs bedrooms. Its broad eaves are patterned by doubling and tripling framing members, and feather into trelliage which, with the design of the Christian Science church, had become a characteristic detail of Maybeck’s work. All the trellises–at the eaves, at the entrance, and the handsomely arranged one around the exterior shoulders of the concrete fireplace–blur the silhouette of the house to blend it with its verdant setting.

Located in Berkeley’s Chabot canyon, the Chick house is sited on a large piece of gently sloping land covered by a superb growth of California Live Oaks. Over the years the garden grove has been supplemented with plantings of azaleas and rhododendrons. Walks and terraces create a transition space between the house and garden and, by providing large sliding glass doors, Maybeck made it easy for the occupants to move from one into the other. Although the Chick house makes excellent use of its garden spaces by extended vistas, it does not fit Maybeck’s early definition of architecture as “landscape gardening around a few rooms.” (Note 13: Hillside Club Bulletin (1906-07).) The house is not a casual arrangement of a few rooms; but, more importantly, it displays fully, as the Senger house had only hinted, the design of interior and exterior spaces as correlative units rather than adjunctive ones. Renaissance design and Beaux-Arts training have produced many superb examples of gardens complementing building forms, but the scale and the sensitivity of Maybeck’s design often had a greater affinity with Japanese work which combines natural and constructed environments into one inseparable design.

The Chick house has a central hall plan similar to the Flagg chalet; but it is more formal in its organization. The house is entered from beneath a circular pergola through glass doors into an entry hall which bisects the building. Distant views of the surrounding gardens are visible through glass doors or windows of adjoining rooms. The interiors, when seen in photographs, appear more conventional than others that Maybeck designed; but the rooms are finely proportioned and confidently accented with solids and voids to give a sense of unity and flowing volume. The walls of the living room are covered with a dull gold velvet, matching the highlights of the redwood trim. Rough beams carrying the second-story rooms are boxed with finished lumber, and, near the plastered ceiling, a molded wood cornice forms a trough for indirect lighting. The finish used for most rooms is a plaster surface trimmed with natural redwood; however, in the large upstairs space designated as the boys’ room, board and batten walls and exposed beams and rafters were Maybeck’s selection for rough-and-tumble action (Cardwell 1977: 165-68).

In 1913 Maybeck designed a house for the Guy Hyde Chick family in a canyon filled with oaks in Oakland near the Berkeley border. The siting of this house relates it to a design for a hillside house that Maybeck had drawn up years earlier (plate 127), perhaps for a Hillside Club publication, but never built. The house in his drawing straddles a hillside and has a cross axis that starts with a terrace on the lower slope then proceeds up a flight of steps and through the house to a terrace on the other side, from which another flight of steps resumes the ascent up the hill. The Chick house does not incorporate the same sequence of stairs and terraces shown in the drawing–nor is there any evidence that Maybeck even suggested it. But in not carrying out some plan for a landscaped cross axis, both Maybeck and the owners missed an opportunity to fulfill one of his finest visions.

When he designed the Chick house, Maybeck seems not only to have been reacting to the possibilities of the hillside site but also to have been reflecting on the chalet-inspired houses of his earlier years. Indeed, the closest relative of the Chick house is the 1901 Flagg house (plate 29). The Chick house has a rectangular plan subdivided on the ground floor into three rectangular sections of the same proportion as the house itself. The kitchen breaks out of the main rectangle to form one side of a southeast-facing terrace, connected to the dining room by double doors. Like the house in Maybeck’s drawing, the Chick house has two important entrances centered in the long sides. The formal entrance to the house, on the sharply sloping south side, is preceded by an intimate hemispherical terrace sheltered by a trellis of the same shape, which extends several feet beyond it (plate 128). The graceful arc of the trellis complements the generous width of the arched opening in which the entrance doors and flanking windows are set. The north-side entrance (plate 129), located beneath a balcony with a railing of cutout trefoils, opens from flat land near the driveway and the kitchen, making it the more convenient one for everyday use. The importance of the kitchen entrance is signaled by recessing it under a low Tudor arch. At the apex of the arch the shingles are cinched up as though a curtain has been lifted to reveal a stage. The yellow ceiling of this recessed entry adds to the drama.

Accents of bright colors were added to specificparts of the rosy brown building, not to create patterns but to highlight elements of the composition, as in a painting. The specifications call for yellow on the roof soffits; red for the rafters and for the balcony and kitchen-gate tracery as well as the doors; green for the heavy timbers and the upper-story bays; and Prussian blue for the front door. A member of the family later recalled standing on the downslope with her mother and Maybeck looking up at the freshly painted house and hearing her mother ask him, “Do you think perhaps it is a little too bright?” “Madam,” Maybeck replied, with a sweep of his arm that embraced the whole house, “in twenty years it will be beautiful!” They were left to ponder his meaning. Did he think that the colors would mellow by then, or that they would never fade? They soon learned to love them as they were.3

The exterior alludes to the chalet in its roof form and in the use of materials associated with rusticity: wooden shingles for the walls and board-and-batten cladding for the upper parts of the walls at the corners and on the ends, where the upper floor projects and hangs over the lower floor like a saddlebag (plate 130). These projections contain storage space and are an ingenious solution to the problem of providing closets for rooms without diminishing the interior space. Their placement on the exterior near the roof adds to the sculptural quality of the house.

The plan invites circulation through the ground-floor public rooms in the most gracious way. The long east-west axis through the front rooms and out the openings at either end is balanced by a cross axis created by windows on the north and south sides of the living room (plates 131-33). The free circulation of space and the opening up of the walls to the outside through seven-foot-tall double doors of plate glass has caused many people to label Maybeck a proto-modernist. But in the central-hall staircase (plate 135), we find Maybeck up to his usual tricks of using traditional forms in startling ways. A post supporting the ceiling has been made into an elegant classical urn in redwood set on a paneled base that interrupts the stair railing. The railing ends in a gracefully turned newel post and has slender balusters that recall the Regency style. The staircase is an ensemble, a set piece that plays against the simplicity of its surroundings.

The three upstairs bedrooms are practical rooms that have no strong features to detract from their views into the oak trees. The yellow on the undersides of the eaves lightens the effect of their broad overhang. On the east end a sleeping porch (plate 134), formerly enclosed only with screens, is given the full rustic treatment with shaped rafters and board-and-batten walls. This kind of rustic family room was common in the Californian houses of the time.

In October 1991 another catastrophic fire occurred in the East Bay hills, this time in south Berkeley and Oakland; it destroyed Maybeck’s Warren P. Staniford house of 1925 and the Edwin S. Pillsbury house of 1928. Miraculously, his house for Guy Hyde Chick, which was in the path of the fire, was saved. Although the number of constructed works by Maybeck has decreased, many of those that remain have been lovingly restored, and the growing admiration for his work will doubtless assure its survival–barring, that is, future natural catastrophes (Woodbridge and Barnes 1992: 138-45, 225, 232).

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