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  • Gibbs Smith

Bernard Maybeck: Architect of Elegance

Bernard Maybeck - J.H. Senger House – Berkeley California (1907)

In the same neighborhood as the Kennedy Studio, a couple of blocks to the north, Maybeck created another magnificent Gothic house with eclectic details for J. H. Senger, who was a professor of German at UC Berkeley. The Senger House was designed in 1907 and occupies a large lot that takes up nearly a whole block at 1321 Bay View Place. It sits on a quiet, winding, upslope street in North Berkeley, and its two-story facade presents a wonderfully picturesque profile from both the north and west sides. The house has an L-shaped footprint, with the residence occupying the northwest comer of the lot and the rest taken up by an extensive garden shaded by old redwood trees. The original field stone retaining wall runs along the west and south perimeters of the lot, and a large rustic barn (also designed by Maybeck) sits near the back of the property.

The dominant feature on the north facade of the Senger House is its two high-peaked gables with heavy bargeboards and massive beam ends, which cover the two side-by-side wings that run east and west. This creates a pleasing intersection of right angles along the roofline. Below the gables, the walls on the right half of the facade are half-timbered, while on the left half the walls are shingled. The formal entrance to the home is in the middle of the north side, where the front door has a diamond-paned glass panel set into it. Maybeck also used banded, diamond-paned windows along the shingled half of the north side. To the left of the front door are two bottle glass leaded windows, of the type often found on Medieval homes in towns like Rothenberg, Germany. The half-timbering around the front door is painted royal blue (a favorite color of Maybeck's), and there are blue stenciled fleur-de-lis patterns in the stucco to the right of the door. This mix of French and Germanic Medieval motifs may have been dictated by Professor Senger, but it is more likely to have been suggested by Maybeck, who loved to use an eclectic array of historic details whenever the opportunity arose.

The west side of the Senger House has a ceremonial entrance, with double glass-paned doors at the northwest comer. Above the doors is a false gable, with decorative beam ends and heavy timbers that form a cross-strut pattern beneath a thick bargeboard. The second story has half-timbered walls and slate­covered eaves sloping towards the street. The roofline is punctuated by two dormers with picture glass windows, adorned by broken-pediment gables made of redwood. A double-shafted concrete chimney flue rises through the middle of these dormers, both shafts topped by Maybeck's signature caps.

The ceremonial entrance of the Senger House opens onto a space that is simply spectacular. The large entry hall has a high­peaked ceiling with a pair of original hanging metal light fixtures. A set of wide stairs leads up a half flight into the main level, where a combined living room and dining room runs west to east, with high ceilings and spacious proportions that create a baronial ambience. The living room has a massive fireplace set into the west wall, with an ornately adorned concrete hood. The hood is supported by Baroque curved volutes, the overmantel has gilded fleur-de-lis patterns, and there are blue and gold European handcrafted tiles lining the firebox. Boxed beam ceilings in both the living room and dining room have gold stenciled trim along the edges. All the walls on this level have redwood board-and-batten paneling. Maybeck placed a picture glass window to the left of the fireplace to provide views of the bay and Marin. The south walls of both the living and dining room have triple glass-paneled doors leading to the patio and garden areas outside.

One of the most interesting features of this house is the raised breakfast room at the back of the dining room, in the southeast comer. Elegant diamond-paned windows line the rear wall of this intimate space, and there are redwood inglenook seats at either end, with a bench running between them. The redwood table and Gothic chairs here were designed by Maybeck. Along the north side of the dining room, a waist-high wall divides the room from the magnificent oak staircase, which dominates the north wall of the main level. The staircase has unusually wide treaders, Baroque carved designs on the heavy newel posts, and solid balusters on the railings. The stairway has two flights, one leading down to the formal entrance on the north wall, and one leading up to the bedrooms. There is a large raised platform at the base of the stairs on the main level that may have been intended as a stage for performing musicians, since Professor Senger was involved in organizing musical events in Berkeley for many years.

Reprinted from Bernard Maybeck: Architect of Elegance

Published August 1, 2011 by Gibbs Smith

by Mark Wilson (Author), Joel Puliatti (Photographer)


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