The Architecture of Bernard Maybeck

If I had the power to revise architectural history, I’d replace the cold machine aesthetic of Mies Van Der Rohe and Le Corbusier with the quirky, organic and dreamy work of California architect Bernard Maybeck. If you’ve visited Northern California you might have seen a Maybeck building, most likely the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

Poet and ornithologist Charles Keeler lived in a Maybeck home. In his book, The Simple Home (which you can read online for free) Keeler says,

The home must suggest the life it is to encompass. The mere architecture and furnishings of the house do not make the man any more than do his clothes, but they certainly have an effect in modifying him. A large nature may rise above his environment and live in a dream world of his own fashioning, but most of us are mollusks, after all, and are shaped and sized by the walls we build around us.

The Simple Home is a book length ode to the work of Maybeck and, alas, a manifesto for an architectural road not taken. Somehow we ended up with a world full of parking garages and mini malls.

Let me, at this point, note that Keeler has the best ever author photo:

Maybeck also had a good publicity photo:

Is it time to bring back the smock? But I digress. Here’s Keeler’s library, designed by Maybeck:

Maybeck made masterful use of redwood, sometimes as in a simple way and at other times in an elaborate neo-gothic style as in the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Berkeley:

And if you know what this building is please let me know:

Both Maybeck and Keeler envisioned a paradisaical California of intertwined gardens and homes:

Keeler’s words and Maybeck’s architecture are just as relevant today as they were in the early 20th century.

Lastly, a programming note: my computer problem turned out to be nothing more than a bad power strip, thankfully. Regular blogging and podcasting will return soon.

Our New Linoleum Floor

Last week a very capable and talented crew spent two days replacing our kitchen floor. We chose the same material: linoleum tiles made by Forbo. We returned to this material for two reasons: it’s historically appropriate for our 98 year old house and we like the more muted and natural colors of Frobo’s linoleum line. And we also found out that the kitchen floor of the Gamble House was recently redone with Forbo linoleum.

“Linoleum” has become a generic term associated with all kinds of sheet flooring materials, but real linoleum refers to a product made with solidified linseed oil, wood flour. Forbo’s product is backed with jute.

What the old floor looked like.

Fifteen years ago I installed the linoleum in our kitchen myself. This was a big mistake. Installing a floor like this is a highly skilled job best left to professionals. The crew, certified by Forbo, did a much better job getting the tiles snug, while leaving room at the edges (covered by quarter-round molding) for expansion. They also sealed and buffed the floor.

While the installation I did looked good for a few years, the details I missed (using the wrong sealing products and poor maintenance) led to stains and peeled tiles. Some things I learned:

  • Forbo linoleum should be dry mopped with a special Forbo cleaner. We were wet mopping and this caused the floor to peel up prematurely.
  • The floor should be stripped, sealed and buffed every 1 to 3 years (every year if you have pets or heavy traffic).
  • The subfloor needs to be completely flat. The crew used a thin cementitious material to level the floor. Linoleum is not very flexible and will crack if the floor isn’t flat.

Properly maintained, linoleum should outlast vinyl flooring and, in my opinion, it looks a lot better.


Floor and Blog Update

The kitchen floor is done and looks spectacular. The floor installers were detail oriented and did a much better job than I did fifteen years ago. Kelly and I will be spending the next few days patching, plastering and painting the kitchen walls. I’ll post pictures as soon as I can which leads to the next programming note. The computer from which these blog missives concretize has passed this veil of tears. Burnt offerings will be put forward later today before the Apple store alter in an attempt to resurrect my ancient iMac and return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Linoleum Blownapart

A programming note: posting will be light this week due to some much delayed home repairs. A crew will descend on Wednesday to replace our worn out kitchen floor.

I installed the kitchen floor myself over fifteen years ago. It should have lasted longer but we did not apply the correct sealant and it’s looking worn, stained and tired. This time around we’re hiring out the job. For those keeping score we’re using the same material: Forbo tile. While all the appliances are out of the kitchen Kelly and I are going to take the opportunity to repair and repaint the walls.

I’ve found that not having a working kitchen gets tiresome quickly. You realize that the kitchen is the center of the household when you have to eat out all the time and/or do dishes in the bathroom sink. So it’s time to step away from the computer and get to work!