Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Capturing My Homeland in Miniature

In the spirit of Andy and his posts about English period style, I'd like to tell you a little bit about my homeland's distinctive architectural styles, since they are the inspiration for the next house I've started (in spite of not having ANY space for it...).

I was born in my homeland's largest city, where several generations of my family had roots, but have gone on to live in several different areas. Most of my relatives had modest, but well-built, little bungalows, although one had a very Asian-looking house.

I have countless memories of surviving Spanish buildings (and more than a few terrible imitations of Italian architecture), Tudor-esque cottages that could have housed Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, huge castles (no joke), Norman houses with little turrets, and a tiny hobbit village, complete with round doors. There was even a small, fairytale-esque house with a very steep, ramshackle roof, protected by a small moat (one legend claimed it was a witch's house). And believe it or not, you can live in a house overlooking a canal, if you can afford to shell out a million dollars or more.

There were a few Chinese and Egyptian-influenced buildings, believe it or not. And if you know where to look, to this day you can find houses with a Hawaiian "Tiki" influence.

So...have you figured it out yet?

If the "bungalow" clue had you thinking Australia, you'd be mistaken. If the clues about various European styles coupled with the hobbit village, canal houses, and "witch's house" suggested England...guess again. If the Asian and Hawaiian buildings made you wonder if I grew up on a small island in the Pacific Ocean...nope, keep trying.

I'm a Californian.

Much like our culture, our architecture is largely a hodgepodge of different styles, adapted to suit changing tastes and our (mostly) warm, sunny climate.

Although "California" conjures up Hollywood, Charles and Ray Eames, and even Barbie's Malibu beach house...California has a longer history than non-Californians realize. California doesn't "feel" old the way that London and Paris do because until modern construction techniques existed, earthquakes, fires, and floods routinely destroyed entire cities. San Francisco, founded in 1776, was devastated by a massive earthquake (and the ensuing fires) in 1906, thus making the rebuilt San Francisco a very Victorian-looking city. Los Angeles, founded in 1781, has also seen many old buildings reduced to smoldering rubble by disasters, or simply torn down for re-development.

So...what IS a Californian house? The answer depends on who you ask, but our homes do tend to have certain features:

  • Californians can - and do - spend lots of time outside because the weather is so good. Our homes usually have at least one patio - and Craftsman houses often have huge front porches.
  • This is earthquake/fire/flood/landslide territory. Our homes are often made of fire-resistant materials (i.e. stucco is MUCH more common than wood siding), we're not big fans of open storage (open shelves + earthquake = big mess), and houses with basements are FEW and FAR between. (We also don't often have finished attics - maybe a crawl space for access to ventilation ducts, but the only finished attic I have ever seen was in a large Victorian house.)
  • Open floor plans and big windows that let in lots of sunshine are pretty much the norm in all but the oldest houses. (French doors and sliding glass doors are also very common.) We also tend to use a lot of white paint to reflect all that sunlight (even when it's not required by a landlord).
  • "California" and "midcentury" go together like peas and carrots. It's not a coincidence that the majority of the Case Study houses are in and around Los Angeles.
  • We have our own version of Craftsman style - you can see the William Morris influence in the stained glass windows and Tiffany-esque hanging lamps, but the fireplaces are more likely to have tiled facings, stone is often used in place of or in addition to brick, and we're not ashamed to paint original wood trim white (though some of us go to great pains to restore old wood to its original appearance).
  • Little old bungalows and cottages, many of which have been bulldozed to make way for larger, flashier homes over the years, are now highly coveted. If you want a house with character, it won't come cheap.
  • Lots of us have solar panels...and some houses even had primitive solar heating way back before natural gas was commonly used!
It's beginning to look like I will eventually have to leave my home state (long story). I always wanted a cute little Craftsman I'm going to build one that I can take with me.

Two weeks ago, I began building the first room out of leftover plywood from the French townhouse. It won't be a "pure" Craftsman bungalow - the house will have Craftsman bones, but with some "midcentury modest" and "1920s beach bungalow" touches. I've already incorporated some details from real houses belonging to family members and friends. Also...I may have bitten off a little more than I can chew, since it's another scratch-build...based on plans for a real house! Have I mentioned my complete and utter ineptitude with carpentry and power tools?

This is a BIG project (and I mean that quite literally, since I plan to give it proper landscaping as well, which means a large base). I knocked out the French townhouse in a few months, but this house may end up taking me a couple of years.

I'm looking forward to comparing notes with Emily at Architecture of Tiny Distinction as the project progresses...she's building a bungalow from a kit, combining elements from American and Australian bungalow styles. Her project already looks much different from mine (go see the incredible things she's already done with the door and windows!).

But, so far, it's going surprisingly well. Photos to come soon...


  1. Hi Anna,

    What an exciting project! Some of my first memories are from the house my family moved to in California, so I guessed it right off, lol! I have a 1908 bungalow and love the style so I will be especially interested in your new house. Best of luck!


    1. Haha...somehow, I knew I wouldn't fool you that easily, John. It won't be "pure" bungalow style like the Gamble House, but it will be based pretty heavily on real houses I've known well (and in some cases lived in).

      Cheers, sweetie!

  2. Hello Anna,
    thanks for the great, informative post. It is great to be able to get to know different regional styles and constructions. I cannot wait to see the new project evolve.
    Big hug,

  3. Very interesting Anna, in fact the 'Australian' bungalow is properly called the California bungalow even here, a style that I like very much actually so I'll be interested to see what you do :)

    By the way, thanks for your nice comments on my French project, always a pleasure to know you've visited :)

    1. I did know about the "California bungalow" moniker, but as Australian "California" bungalows look a little bit different, felt I should clarify that there is a slight distinction between the two.

      Always a pleasure to see your work in progress!

    2. I'd better go and take a look at Emily's project. It'll be interesting too to see yours take shape, and to see the different elements you feature.

  4. Hi Anna,

    Im excited now to see your project take shape! I like how miniatures allow you to explore different architectural styles. Thanks for the mention too!


    1. I'm excited to see your bungalow taking shape, too!

  5. Hi Anna,
    I grew up in Santa Monica, we had a nice little house 6 blocks from the beach that was bulldozed once my parents divorce was final..not because of the divorce but a developer bought up the area so I can relate to stucco vs wood siding I now live in a former 1800 cabin that was made into a cape code style home I really like it but it does have it's problems (I also left california and I dont really miss it like I thought I in north eastern united states does have it's benefits)I can't wait to see how your build goes


    1. Small world indeed (pun intended) of the places I lived was Santa Monica, also close to the beach, albeit in a postage-stamp-sized apartment.

      I have never lived in anything built before the war, which adds to the appeal of the Craftsman style - it's old by comparison! I will miss California terribly if I do have to move (sometimes I even miss it when I travel), but I can at least take this house with me.

  6. Hi Anna! Thanks for the background to some of California's more eclectic building styles. You seem to have had your fair share of what is available in real life housing. Little did you know then that all of that personal experience would come in handy later on in life! hah I live on the west coast of Canada where much of what you have described in housing, is relevant here, too, only the weather is colder and wetter more often than not. I currently live in a post war bungalow , but minus the breezy front porch. I deliberately looked for a bungalow after selling a home with 4 sets of stairs! I now enjoy having everything I need on one level; believe me, the older you get the more your body appreciates these kinds of considerations!


    1. We're a diverse are our houses :)

      I can't imagine four sets of stairs! Bungalows are so easy to live in...another reason I want one.