Berkeley's Shingle-Style Architecture Gets the Coffee-Table Treatment

Drive down any street in Cal's town and you'll see scads of amazingly quaint wood-sided homes. They're a treasured tradition here, and a new tome by two local architects tells why.

Shingle Style Book: Blake House

Photo By David Duncan Livingston Built in 1911 this huge home's long roof sweeps down three stories to provide a feeling of intimacy. It has a roofless sleeping porch, a feature popular at the time to maximize the outdoor experience. 

"To me, they are the most iconic image of home," says Lucia Howard of Ace Architects and co-author of Shingle Style: Living in San Francisco’s Brown Shingles. "There's something primeval and incredibly sheltering about shingles. They carry the feeling and memory of the 'cabin in the woods,' but beyond that, the ones in the Berkeley area are constructed from the most ancient and magnificent trees on Earth." It's fair to say that she's a fan, so it's not a surprise that her book is a loving and exquisite collection of images and information about this fabled architectural style.

So what is shingle style all about? "Almost every Bay Area resident of my generation was connected to the hippies, the flower children and that whole movement," says Howard. What we don't always understand, she says, is that a significant chunk of their grandparents' generation walked a similar path. These Bohemians revered nature, had radical ideas about art, music and education, and did loads of yoga — and the "back to nature" movement was what led to shingle-style homes becoming so incredibly popular in the 1890s and early 20th century-era Bay Area.

While East Coast shingle homes were the summer homes of the wealthy, "they had a very different meaning on the West Coast," says Howard.  "Here, a shingle home didn't say 'let's go to our country house and play badminton,' it said, 'I want to live in a redwood tree.'" The trend among the shabby academics drawn to the UC Berkeley campus was to spend vacations camping, hiking and appreciating nature. "Their reaction to the overdone and brightly painted Victorian architecture was to create homes that you could hardly see among the trees." The house was secondary to the gardens, which were spectacular and designed to fit in with the lines of the landscape which, at the time, was mostly meadows.

Meanwhile, Joseph Worcester, the "artist-pastor" and founder of San Francisco's  Swedenborgian Church, was a total John Muir groupie and insisted his (literally) down-to-earth church be built with rough-hewn wood in the classic Arts and Crafts style. Dozens of spiritually minded fans took inspiration from his exquisite creation, creating the First Bay Region style. The style is more about the ideals behind it — love of nature, art and the exchange of ideas — than a specific style.

When the '50s and '60s rolled around, of course, there was a resurgence of these values: The beatniks, hippies and midcentury modernists "built things in the Bay Area that connected the indoors to the outdoors," with huge glass windows looking out into the woods and natural-wood materials that blended in with nature.

If you like this glimpse of the book, you can buy it at your local bookstore or at Amazon, and you can also see Howard at her talk and book-signing on Nov. 13 at the Walt Disney Museum in San Francisco.

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