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Design &
Construction


Original design drawings, specifications and construction information

Original Design Documents

From the Maybeck Collection, courtesy of UC Berkeley Environmental Design Archives

The Maybeck collection consists of correspondence, office records, project records, photographs, drawings, and artifacts documenting Maybeck's design work. Significant residential projects included in the collection are for Charles Keeler, Guy Chick, Leon Roos, and Earle Anthony, as well as numerous others. The larger projects documented include the Packard dealerships for Earle Anthony, the Panama Pacific International Exposition's Palace of Fine Arts, the University of California, Berkeley's Phoebe Hearst Memorial Complex, the campus plan for Principia College, Elsah, Illinois, First Church of Christ, Scientist, Berkeley, and the Golden Gate International Exposition.

Original Design Elements

From the Maybeck Collection, courtesy of UC Berkeley Environmental Design Archives

Original Construction Specifications

From the Maybeck Collection, courtesy of UC Berkeley Environmental Design Archives

The Fireplace

One of the defining features of almost all Maybeck homes is the fireplace. He put considerable effort into the design of each home's unique fireplace, experimenting with various materials, including cast concrete and tile, and with designs ranging from simple forms to formal baronial styles. The fireplaces are almost always grand in scale and form a centerpiece for each space.


“As the life of the house centers about the fireplace, this may appropriately be the most beautiful feature of a room.”  

                                                                                                                                                                                       - Bernard Maybeck

The fireplace in The Senger House captures all the magic one would expect of Maybeck - massive scale, beautiful design, creative tile, hidden dragon, and more.  


We enjoy going deep into rabbit holes about the choices Bernard Mabyeck and his client J.H. Senger made when constructing our home in 1907. Uncovering as much detail as possible about the  fireplace mantle, hearth, and tile work, was one such exciting project.

 

The construction of the fireplace includes a large firebox surrounded in tile, a hearth with a highly stylized quote in German, a fragment of a poem on the mantel, and lovely gold designs on the carved plaster hood.

The Mantel

From Ring Out, Wild Bells (1850) by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

"Ring in the love of truth and right, Ring in the thousand years of peace"

"Ring Out, Wild Bells" is a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Published in 1850, the year he was appointed Poet Laureate. It forms part of In Memoriam, Tennyson's elegy to Arthur Henry Hallam, his sister's fiancé who died at the age of 22

The Hearth

From Op 30 Geistliches Lied (Sacred Song) (1856) by Johannes Brahms

Was willst du heute sorgen auf morgen?

Der Eine steht allem für,

der gibt auch dir das Deine.

What do you want to worry about from day to day?

There is One who stands above all

who gives you, too, what is yours.

 

Op 30 Geistliches Lied (Sacred Song) is Brahms’ earliest accompanied choral work, composed in 1856 at the age of twenty-three. Set to a poem by the chorale author Paul Fleming (1609-1640) about the acceptance of fate and trust in God, it began as an exercise in counterpoint.

The Tile

When we bought the home, we were told Senger had purchased the many different fireplace tiles in Germany – something he had done for other decorative elements of the house, but it turns out not to be so for the fireplace. 

Thanks to a local tile expert Riley Doty, with his vast knowledge of historical tiles and his relationship with The Mercer Museum, we discovered the tiles were manufactured by Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in Doylestown, PA. Through further research in an old Mercer catalog, in the book “Henry Chapman Mercer and the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works,” by Cleota Reed, and in the book “The Bible in Iron,” by Henry C. Mercer, we have learned so much

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We now have a copy of the original handwritten tile  order from The Mercer Museum.

Total Cost: $83.71  (after 15% discount)

 

From Reed’s book, we now know what inspired Mercer to design each of these fireplace tiles.

 

There are 11 distinct types of Mercer tiles making up our fireplace surround and hearth, most of which were influenced  in great part by the 1756 Pennsylvania German stove plate Mercer called “The Raging Year,” after part of its inscription. The plate was found abandoned by early settlers long ago and was being used as a path step stone until 1897, when Mercer decided to make a mold of it for use as a ceramic tile.

Below are images of each type of tile from the fireplace, with descriptions from Cleota Reed’s book. While images of most of these tile designs can also be found in old Mercer catalogs, the catalog images are not in color.  Click an image for more details.

The Fireplace hood

The intricate design of the concrete fireplace hood is truly a work of art. The hood is supported by Baroque curved volutes and the overmantel has gilded fleur-de-lis patterns and the ever-present (in Maybeck homes) dragon motif (also gilded). In this case, the 'dragon' is an ancient dolphin-style Sea Serpent (also found carved in wood in the dining - perhaps even by Maybeck himself). It also coincidentally resembles an 'S',  the first letter of Senger's name, as well as our own!

The concrete work was performed by Hoff and Hoff (no other information yet), for the sum of $170, per Maybeck's invoice.

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Formal Entry Portiere and Curtains

 

Discovery:

Miraculously, after moving in, we found a large moving box (wardrobe style) in the small basement of the house. Inside we found the original portiere and many original curtains from the home. Most were in a serious state of decay,  but the tapestry from the portiere was in very good condition.


The portiere, which originally hung between the formal entry and the main part of the house, was made up of three tapestry panels, each 4’ wide (totaling 12’ wide) and 11’ long. The panels were pieced carefully together to show intertwining oak branches. This pattern faced toward the main house. The tapestry was lined with textured red silk, which would have faced guests as they entered the home on formal occasions, until pushed aside via the curtain rails above. With the walls covered in gold leaf and the side window also covered in red silk, the entrance would have been quite grand.

Construction and Deconstruction:
A thick wool blanket was originally sewn into place between the silk and tapestry to serve as insulation. The tapestry was sewn together with gold thread, which crumbled to dust at a slight tug. The silk lining was quite fragile and shredded easily. (The side silk curtains were still intact and have been preserved.) The insulating blanket fell apart into clouds of wool dust. The tapestry itself, however, was in nearly perfect shape. The tapestry is currently undergoing reconstruction, and will be reinstalled in the fall of 20223.                               Click an image for more details.