Inside the Senger House, an overscaled redwood stair with Maybeck's characteristic cutout wooden balustrade rises through a story-and-a-half space. The L-shaped living space leads to a porch and to the generous, south-facing garden.
Records of the original house and remnants of curtain hardware along the beams reveal that pairs of fabric panels partially separated the major interior spaces.
The everyday front door of the Senger House appears in the long facade centered between two tall narrow gables, identical except that one is shingle and the other stucco. At the west facade, a more formal entry leads to the music room, physically set off from other spaces at the house's interior and employed for more ceremonial occasions.
What can we make of this transforming facade, whose west end literally mirrors its east, though clad in different materials?
In her book Bernard Maybeck, Sally Woodbridge points out that the shingled side holds the more casual, service-oriented functions of the house, while the stucco end is more formal, civilized. While this is true, might there not also be a more poetic intent? Perhaps these differences represent a marriage of opposites, or the evolution of an old-world German aesthetic toward a more rustic Californian one.
Ring in the love of truth and right.
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
These words by Alfred Lord Tennyson are inscribed on the baronially scaled fireplace of the Senger House, and set the mood for this remarkable dwelling. Medieval Teutonic imagery is stenciled throughout the house and carved into overscaled architectural woodwork — a Maybeckian evocation of his client, a professor of German at the nearby University of California.
Maybeck, the most evocative and atmospheric of architects, was equally at home designing sets for pageants and plays as he was working out dwellings, and the lines between the two are often gloriously indistinct. This place, with its music space and floor levels congenial to performances, is at once home and living theater.
Is There a Bay Area Shingle Style?
The Bay Area's Brown Shingles are connected less by a specific style than by a peculiarly Northern Californian set of beliefs. "The Bay Area Tradition (which includes the Brown Shingles) represents not a style, but a process of synthesis and transformation: a design approach with trademarks and no rules," explains John Beach in Bay Area Houses (1974). Though difficult to define, these "trademarks" make the Brown Shingles' design approach easy to recognize.
Many of the architects involved with the Brown Shingles arrived in San Francisco within a few years of one another, in the late 1880s. Though still a young city, San Francisco was already the nation's seventh largest.
The Bay Area's physical beauty, economic vitality, mild climate, and social tolerance lured these ambitious and talented young men from across the United States and Europe at the conclusion of their training in the leading architectural offices of the East Coast, England, and France.
The promise and romance of California, coupled with its physical and social distance from the middle-class establishment, attracted those seeking freedom in architecture as well as in life.
"A nearly legendary California was created, an idyllic land where anything was possible and where the rules of conventional society did not necessarily apply," writes Beach. "It was a place where man's mark on the environment demanded the emphatic, the extravagant, the fabulous."
Architecture was only one of the arts calling people west. During this period, Berkeley had more poets than any other town in the country, according to Berkeley Bohemia, abounding with poets' publications, dinners, and clubs.
With poets, painters, and professors as clients, architects were given license to experiment with almost everything. Buildings were unique and eccentric, providing for a life integrated with both art and nature, yet often filled with whimsy and drama.
Taking a range of forms, buildings were attuned to the varieties of topography, microclimate, and unusual lot configuration. Architectural elements and styles from multiple sources and eras were often employed simultaneously, fueling the development of the Bay Area's singular eclecticism.
Charles Keeler — poet, naturalist, and ardent and articulate advocate of an approach to architecture closely integrated with nature — outlined a comprehensive set of ideas about how to design and live in the Bay Area in his 1904 manifesto The Simple Home.
Including details down to window coverings, furnishings, and tableware, Keeler enthusiastically laid out the Brown Shingle's central design philosophies. Speaking for others who, like him, had abondoned rigid middle-class, late Victorian worlds for the freedom of California, Keeler avowed, "A life hedged in with formality is like a plant stifled by surrounding weeds."
For a quarter-century, from approximately 1890 to the mid-1910s, redwood shingles sheathed buildings of every style and type—medieval cottages and Swiss chalets; houses designed like cabins, palaces, and barns; dwellings inspired by Japanese temples and Georgian town houses.
The Vedanta Society's multidomed temple in San Francisco, which survived the 1906 earthquake, embodies the spirit of amalgamation animating architectural design at the time.
According to a pamphlet published by Swami Trigunatita in 1906, "This temple may be considered as a combination of a Hindu temple, a Christian church, a Mohammedan mosque, a Hindu math or monastery, and an American residence."
Neighborhoods of (developer-built) Brown Shingles sprang up, especially in Berkeley, with clusters of similarly designed houses and churches all around San Francisco Bay as well as in distant California towns where Bay Area residents moved or summered. Redwood shingles bound these buildings together into a cohesive extended architectural family, lending them a simplified rustic appearance, yet with enormous diversity and eccentricity.
Lucia Howard and David Weingarten are principals at Ace Architects in Oakland, California. Daniel P. Gregory is editor-in-chief of Houseplans.com and former senior home editor of Sunset magazine. David Duncan Livingston is the photographer for numerous books on interior design and architecture.
The flamboyant baroque stucco fireplace mantel of the Senger House is stenciled with a quote from an Alfred, Lord Tennyson poem. Photo: David Duncan LivingstonExtra Large Image
At the formal street frontage of the Senger House, a half-timbered facade emerges from the stucco, becoming fully three-dimensional. Photo: David Duncan LivingstonExtra Large Image
The Senger House is pushed to the site's northern edge, providing the maximum area for the adjacent garden. Photo: David Duncan LivingstonExtra Large Image
The intricately planned, ornamented, and finished Senger House stair possesses a near-Baroque complexity and reaches to five levels. Photo: David Duncan LivingstonExtra Large Image
The breakfast nook of the Senger House is set off from the dining area by a few steps. Originally, the separation was more emphatic, with drapes installed in several locations. At the stair, the newel post bears a large, carved, medieval-style S, for the original owner's name. Photo: David Duncan LivingstonExtra Large Image
Carved, cut out, stenciled, mysteriously illuminated, and somewhat baffling, the stair is, in a way, a theatrical prop intended for everyday use. Photo: David Duncan LivingstonExtra Large Image
The quatrefoil pattern on the iron gate at the west facade of the Senger House is a characteristic Maybeck motif. Photo: David Duncan LivingstonExtra Large Image