I’ve come up with a theory to explain the Maybeck involvement with our house. I think it’s possible that Maybeck made the plans and simple got paid a flat rate - the rest of the details were up to his friend Rowland to execute. Early Maybeck work is very detail oriented but Annie Maybeck restructured his office in 1924 to ease Bernard’s workload. His work in general seems to take a turn around 1920 where he seems more concerned with layouts and city planning and experiments with concrete and open floorplans. The interior finishes depended on his availability. The 1937 Wallen #2 house for example - it’s said that Bernard walked 3 miles everyday from his house to supervise construction. I would call that very intense participation from an architect! I have worked on projects with architects and I don’t think I’ve ever seen an architect come to a job site more than 3 times.
I guess it’s important to note what building plans used to look like. The Maybeck plans I’ve seen are basically only enough for the rough inspection. The rough phase is foundation, framing, plumbing and electrical and you need to get signed off in order to close up the walls and start the finish phase. To start construction, you need a plot map to locate the house on the lot, floorplans and elevations to determined how to frame the rooms and shape the house and what windows to install and what the roof looks like. The floorplan also lets subcontractors know how to run the plumbing and electrical because it depicts plumbing fixtures and lights etc. Sometimes they would include notes about flooring or wall coverings, but they didn’t always tell the builder all the information needed to build the house. Old plans used to be more like “the basic idea” of a house compared to the amount of detail that is specified now. This inset from Storybook Style by Arrol Gellner & Douglas Keister sums it up perfectly.
Back to my theory - I was rereading our “proof letter” with the insight I’ve gained into historic building plans and I had the realization that Rowland says the house was “designed by Maybeck” but then he goes on to say “I placed and replaced every board until Mrs Kingsley was satisfied” and he describes how he did the woodwork and everything... so since all other the details of the letter so far seem to be true, what does designed by Maybeck really mean? It seems like Rowland is really taking the initiative so does “designed by Maybeck” mean Maybeck just got a flat rate for basic plans and walked away? The exterior appearance and floor plan look to me like Maybeck designs and that would be on a basic set of plans. I thought it would be a good idea to explore what Maybeck plans looked like. If we understand how Maybeck makes plans, then we can know what details were likely specified by Maybeck on the plans (assuming Maybeck made no site visits. We have ideas about what we think looks like Maybeck and what is probably not. Then there’s some stuff in the middle. We can now approach it from the other end in sort of an “inductive reasoning” approach - where we use other building plans to tell us what kind of details he would specify on the plans. Then if there were still features we thought were Maybeck that he didn’t usually include on his plans, we could assume those would require a site visit.
Here’s one example of using the house to determine what the plans looked like -
The house below is a “real” Maybeck Swiss chalet made for Albert Schneider. This is a southern elevation. The view would be facing downhill, to the West like a lot of the inland east bay hills up the coast.
Here’s our house, Southwest side. Look familiar? You can see that or house probably had a drawing like the one above to show how this side of the house was supposed to look.
What else? Well the house has that Venturi chimney, so I think the plans must have included how to build one for this house. Below you can see the elliptical shape of the firebox for example is very specific to Maybecks ideas about draft and about Venturi’s principles. The Venturi aspect is the narrow point in the chimney which is supposed to accelerate draft because the smoke will be expanding as it rises to the larger upper chamber and that is supposed to help suck up air.
I like to call The Calkins house, our house and the Wallen #1 house “Maybeck Chalets” because they seem to sorta diverge from his older Swiss chalets and take their own form which is a progressive floorplan, hillside hugging “fireproof” design. I think my plans probably were similar to the 1921 Calkins house - similar form and 6 years apart. One thing I noticed when I visited with the sweet folks at the Calkins house was we both have tan-stained concrete fireplaces. Well if you look very closely at this longitudinal section you can see it’s specified on the plans. I’d assume our plans had this detail as well.
To sum up, I think we had the following pages in our building plans
-plot map: the house hugs the hillside and had a tree growing through the master bedroom roof so it needed to be located precisely on the lot and the floorplan is based around the slope and shape of the hillside (as mentioned in the Hillside Homes pamphlet)
-floor plans that depict locations laterally of walls, rooms, light fixtures, doors, windows, cabinets, plumbing fixtures, stairs etc
-elevations: elevations are flat perspective drawings, most often for the exterior appearance of each side of the house.
-transverse section for chimney: like the Calkins house, the concrete chimney is poured pretty early with the maybe the first floor framing platform or foundation. Our Venturi chimney would need a cross section to get the geometry right
-fireplace drawing - longitudinal or interior elevation: all Maybeck designs have unique fireplaces. That means he would need to make a drawing or sketch to show what it was supposed to look like.
-landscaping sketch: mentioned in the Rowland letter
-kitchen elevations?: the kitchen cabinets are original redwood that have some design to them.. there is even this weird hinged under sink box that looks like the Wallen #1 has the same thing. Interior kitchen elevations would show Rowland how to build them.
-gate and door designs: the house has a lot of rustic redwood doors all around and they are all unique. One is similar to a gate at Maybeck’s own home - the “Sack house”. Maybe these were depicted on interior sections? Or maybe they were Rowland’s designs. Rowland says he carved all the handles and did the roadwork but I think at least some of the doors and gates were designed by Maybeck and shown on the plans somehow.
I am planning on ordering scans of real plans from UC Berkeley CED Archives who have a lot of original Maybeck building plans. Then I’m hoping to make reproductions of what the original plans looked like - as accurately as possible. Coming up sometime this year I hope!