Where We Hung Shingles

The Bay Area is well known for its shingle style houses. Most of the houses are smaller than the ones illustrated in the many shingle houses books. What’s different about our East Bay Area version of the shingle style is that the houses on the average were much smaller than the East Coast or Pasadena versions being on narrower lots in tighter urban densities. Given the smaller lot area, we were forced to not rely on any grand gesture, sweeping roof lines (such as the Greene and Greene mansions) or wrap around porches and turrets.

Our shingle style houses resorted to tiny overhangs, bay projections, juxtapositions of materials for our language and statements. I see them as the shy soft spoken demure interpretations of the movement. And if we had any flair in the style, it would be in the flare – our beloved shingle flare that we use and re-use in all shapes and forms at material breaks, overhangs, water tables and such.

Below the flares are the most imaginative brackets in forms of swoops, dragon heads and corbels.

We love expressing whimsical brackets that adorn under the overhangs. Bernard Maybeck used dragon heads, snake heads and narwhal-like creatures inspiration in his detailing of wood ornaments. I could see viking mastheads bracing the ocean elements and wooden oars standing against ships’ bow. In other houses, I could see influences of Swiss chalets or Bavarian eave works dominating the gable ends. The slight references were enough to transport me to different eras and corners of the world just as the Bay Area can be quite be the happy receiving end of the mesh of migratory cultures that we have experienced.

Compared to the Painted Ladies of San Francisco (term coined by Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen in Painted Ladies- San Francisco Resplendent Victorians), our answers to a simpler house and a return to cherish the Arts and Crafts of the period are quite a catch themselves. They however have no names since I imagine Shingled Gentlemen would be utterly out of the question!

Instead of cataloging the myriads of trimwork, dentils and frets, the shingle house plays on a broader gesture of simplicity – a contrasting lower band of material and/or a nice support system for the small overhangs. This was usually enough to express quirkiness befitting small urban homes.

I have always enjoyed driving through the Berkeley hillsides, the avenues of Piedmont and the Oakland residential pockets to see how well a shingle house settles in its neighborhood being modest about its gesture, cozy scale and subtle details. The spirit of the Arts and Crafts movement – going back to simpler, organic language for the home – is never better imbued in the house than when it’s represented in a compact setting.

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One thought on “Where We Hung Shingles

  1. Excellent piece and nice vignettes and examples! I cracked up at the “Shingled Gentlemen” comment.

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