Great architecture can transcend changing tastes, as demonstrated by a Bernard Maybeck house that recently went on the market. Originally designed as an “Italian palazzo” for a divorced New York socialite in 1921, the Berkeley Hills house has now been staged as a light and airy home that sits easily in the 21st century.
Maybeck is known for redwood-shingled Arts and Crafts houses, not Mediterranean villas. And yet the five-bedroom, four-bath house at 1408 Hawthorne Terrace still bears many signature Maybeck touches. It is listed at $3.25 million by The Grubb Company.
“This house was built during a time when most local architects were designing houses which weren’t in character with what they had done before,” said Anthony Bruce, executive director of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA.) “This was kind of a transitional time, just before the Period Revival style became so popular.” During Period Revival, Bruce said, “every architect started to turn out houses in the Mediterranean, storybook, English and German styles.”
While there will not be any open houses for this property, it was featured on BAHA’s 2016 Spring House Tour. The space looks totally different now that it is professionally staged, however. “With the furniture stripped down to just a few pieces, I could see the architecture for the first time: it was pretty incredible,” Bruce said. “Maybeck seems to have captured an idealized Italian feeling in this house. People in the 1920s wanted their houses to be like a stage set from the past, the more authentic the better.”
While the house has countless architectural details that point back to Italy, it also has features which are pure Maybeck. The way the large windows are grouped; the oversized fireplace; the stairway hall, and the indoor-outdoor quality are some examples, Bruce said. “I love the way the house has this spectacular view of the bay, and also an intimate, protected patio on the other side of the house where you can just relax and forget about the views,” Bruce said. The spacious “cloistered” patio has two fountains, and can be accessed from the house via several large, arched French doors.
The house is featured in Mark Anthony Wilsons’ oversized Maybeck: Architect of Elegance. Wilson wrote that the first thing a visitor notices upon entering the house is a “magnificent Renaissance-style staircase, made of polished oak with a rich, dark brown stain. The unusually wide stairs are framed by bulbous rounded balusters, the type one might see in a fifteenth-century Florentine palazzo.” He also described, “a baronial fireplace made of concrete” and painted with “an intricate floral pattern, in authentic Italian Renaissance colors, dark green and yellow ochre with a brownish red border. The ceiling is lined with boxed beams, with a dark red stain between them. … The overall effect of this wide room, with its soaring ceiling, is one of fifteenth-century baronial splendor.”
Estelle Clark, a wealthy New York divorcee originally commissioned the villa and she lived there with her adopted daughter and only two servants. (She had downsized from her large house on Purchase Street, which had room for 15 servants.) She fell in love with Italian architecture on a trip to Europe after her divorce.
Clark died in 1937 at the age of 69, and Harrison De Haven Connick, an engineer who became director general of the 1939 World’s Fair on Treasure Island, purchased the house. Bruce speculates that Connick must have known Maybeck, as the two worked together on the Palace of Fine Arts in 1915. The third owner of the house, a physician, purchased it from the Connick estate in 1965.
The house is full of sculptural and architectural details, from the doorknocker that features two mermaids; to the twisted Bernini-styled wooden columns that were commissioned in Italy specifically for this space; to the cherubs in the Italian-Renaissance-inspired gardens.
Built on three parcels, the 4,237 square-foot, three-story house sits well back from the road at the end of a long driveway. It is surrounded by established formal gardens on three sides. The house features an elegant library lined with wooden bookcases, although this is probably the darkest room in the house. The kitchen was remodeled in 2002 and has beautiful Bay views. There is an attached pantry, along with a built-in original safe that would not be out of place in a bank. The bedrooms are sunny and spacious, and fitted with unusually large closets. The four bathrooms, however, are all decked in their original 1920 pastel tiles. There is also an unfinished, concrete basement with two bedrooms where the servants used to live, and a one-car garage.
While Bruce said this was “an odd house for a Maybeck,” he said it must have captured the client’s wishes. “I hadn’t realized how much painted decorative work there was in this house until I saw it” after it was staged, he added. “It really is quite special. It also felt more intimate to me than previous times I had seen it.”
From Florence to Berkeley, from the fifteenth century to the 21st, this elegant house travels remarkably well.