book review: The New Bungalow
Urban Hardwoods

Berkeley Brown Shingle


I've probably mentioned the houses I grew up in before - Spanish revival stucco bungalows, mostly - but I recently found a few online resources devoted to a particularly popular style of Craftsman home in my hometown: the brown-shingle craftsman. After my parents separated, my father lived (and still lives) in a brown-shingle home built by James Plachek, a contemporary of Julia Morgan and Bernard Maybeck, a specialist in churches and libraries (and who experimented with some early techniques for improving energy efficiency), who as a young man was a student of Morgan's or perhaps an apprentice of some sort.

Berkeley's mild weather fades the shingles from a hearty golden hue to, over time, a beautiful deep red-brown, a very specific color that I grew up associating with comfort and security. These houses dapple Berkeley's neighborhoods, from West Berkeley all the way up into the top of the hills, usually getting larger (due to the income of their owners / builders) and more integrated with the landscape (due to Berkeley's steep hills, rocky outcroppings and dense Eucalyptus, pine and redwood thickets) the further up you go. You don't often find too many in one place (although there are a few concentrated little pockets of them here and there) - they seem to be arranged almost artistically throughout the city and its neighbors, Oakland, El Cerrito, Piedmont, Kensington and Albany. Some haven't been changed in a generation, and others have been updated with modern floorplans and accessories. And even one of my favorite restaurants is a brown shingle! I suppose once I win the lottery ...