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September 2007

Woodland CA home tours: September 8, 2007

2007posterimage_l Woodland is a small bedroom community just outside Sacramento, and several of my colleagues live there and commute in to the Capitol and other downtown offices. I was gratified to hear that the city is hosting a home tour - I've always been very impressed with the number of beautiful old Craftsman homes in the city's core (although, unfortunately, much of Woodland is now being subsumed by suburban sprawl, identical tract homes in very uninviting gated and anonymous "communities" that are anything but).

Several free guided walking tours of the town's several historic neighborhoods, house tours of a number of important houses in the area, music, a pancake breakfast and plenty more (including guides in period costume) are all part of this year's "Stroll Through History." Home tour tickets are $25 and may be purchased online. Hopefully events like this will revitalize the historic neighborhoods and maybe even teach developers that there's a market for well-built, non-cookie-cutter homes with quirky inconsistencies, color, and warmth.

Arts & Crafts on Ebay: August 2007

There are plenty of interesting pieces of A&C furniture and ceramics on Ebay right now - almost 50% more than I usually see up there, with some neat Roycroft pieces and pretty tiles too. Maybe people are cleaning out their own collections this summer, or trying to cover the costs of their rising mortgages by selling off family treasures (I hope not!). Here are some items closing soon that caught my eye:

Arts & Crafts ceramic tile on ebay

three tiles

I've been getting lots of emails asking for more links to interesting items for sale - on Craigslist, Ebay, at auction or wherever. So this week and next I'll be posting a lot more like this.

Today, pretty A&C tiles on Ebay - some in bulk, some in frames, some individually:

book review: Craftsman Furniture Projects


Craftsman Furniture Projects: Timeless Designs & Trusted Techniques From Woodworking's Top Experts

My colleague Derek Martin, an experienced and very talented woodworker, recently offered to review a book I received from the kind folks at Woodworkers' Journal:

Thank you for the opportunity to read and give my brief review of Craftsman Furniture Projects.

I will start out by saying that I not only enjoyed the easy reading, but I also found myself distracted by the illustrations as I thumbed my way through the book. The book is loaded with diagrams, templates and pictures. Many more visual displays are also included to show exactly what is being done which can be especially useful if it’s your first time trying a particular procedure. Finished products are also displayed to show you what you are working towards at all times. So the use of illustration in this book along with descriptive detail made it an A+ for me.

One of my favorite items was the use of old woodworking tools and the brief explanation of what their purpose was on the project. Some were tools that can still be very useful today such as the wood marking gauge used to drawl more precise lines while performing the layout of a rabbet joint on a piece of stock. Simple tools like this can be found, usually when you’re not looking for them, at garage sales and flea markets and I have developed a habit of collecting and using such items rather than their newer and cheaper counterparts.

Throughout the book you will find sections called Quick-Tips and Technical Drawings. These brief paragraphs are hints and tips that outline safety, accuracy and workarounds for each project.

This issue includes nearly twenty beautiful furniture pieces that can be constructed in any decently outfitted woodshop. I would recommend this book to any beginner who wants to try their hand at building sturdy and eye-catching furniture or any master craftsman who thinks he’s seen it all.

Mendota Mantels in St. Paul, Minnesota


Each Mendota mantel - made from antique reclaimed old-growth timbers and "rescued wood" - is unique, and uniquely beautiful. The wood has been salvaged from old barns, mills and warehouses, most built from the mid 19th to early 20th century, and each piece is sculpted with hand tools. Custom carving - like this piece by Jock Holman, on a rescued beam from a Norwegian ship - is available, although much of their work simply celebrates the natural grain and shape of the wood without any additional decoration. They describe the provenance of their materials thus:

Antique Reclaimed timber mantels are recycled beams that have been salvaged from old buildings. They have an estimated age of 300 to 800+ years. They are antiques. They grew from old growth forests that flourished in America through the 1930’s - forests that are now mostly gone.

Our reclaimed timbers were milled into beams in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to become mills, factories, warehouses, and barns - buildings now being demolished.

Unlike water-salvaged timbers, our Reclaimed timbers have been air-aging for over 100 years. This slow air-drying enhances color, beauty and character.

Most importantly, air-dried timbers are more stable and much less likely to twist or check (crack). Reclaimed antique timbers are a limited resource.

Our ‘Rescued’ timber mantels are milled from present day trees that have been discarded. They are most often logs from urban tree services, storm blown trees, or ‘ends’ from logging operations.

The artisans at Mendota are comfortable working in the Craftsman / Mission Revival style, as in this piece by Dan Guion, just as much as doing much more contemporary-styled work like this backlit mantel made from heart pine reclaimed from Wabasha's Big Jo Flour Mill. Check out a gallery of their work.

"one beautiful bungalow" in Sacramento CA

Gabby Hyman at had the following story about Don Fox, who lives not far from me in Sacramento. Read the whole article here.

When Don Fox took his first look at a 1910 Craftsman-style bungalow in Sacramento, CA, he knew he had found his long-sought fixer-upper. The home had "good bones," Fox said, but it was in miserable shape. A homeless man was sleeping on the porch, the windows were shattered, and there was so much grime on the kitchen walls that it "smelled like a restaurant grease trap." After gutting the home to bare studs and rafters, Fox and his wife, Amanda, completed a renovation project that won an award from the Association for the Preservation of Historic Homes.

The remodeled kitchen, bathrooms, and living room were the true stars of what the Sacramento Bee called "One Beautiful Bungalow." An Italian-American from Brooklyn, Don has a particular fondness for the kitchen renovation, which resulted in a room where he spends a lot of his time whipping up traditional culinary faire.

"The house felt good when I first saw it," he explains. "It was a spiritual feeling. That's despite its having been sad, neglected, and uninhabited for years." Fox, a former journeyman carpenter, furniture-maker, and aficionado of period architecture, saw the potential to create a showpiece.

John Hudson Thomas

There's been a resurgence of interest lately in one of my favorite Bay Area architects, a fellow who was just as comfortable with classically Arts & Crafts structures as he was with Art Deco, Mission Revival and less orthodox (or harder to pigeonhole) styles.

John Hudson Thomas grew up in the Bay Area and returned to Berkeley after graduating from Yale. While in the Architecture MA program at Berkeley, he studied under and became friends with both Bernard Maybeck and John Galen Howard, and worked for Howard for a few years after graduation.

A member of Berkeley's Hillside Club, he socialized with Maybeck, Julia Morgan and others, and certainly elements of their own styles are visible in his early work. He was especially interested in the tall, thin and somewhat whimsical forms of European designers like Mackintosh and Voysey, and incorporated these lines - along with those of the fledgeling Prairie movement and those of the Viennese Seccessionists - into his own style, which in more recent years been called part of the "First Bay" school. Eventually, his work became a bit softer and more orthodox, but he still kept his knack for interior architecture - lots of detail - and tall structures with long uninterrupted lines well into the 1920s and 30s.

By this time, he was working for more established clients, on more complex and high-paying projects - mostly large homes - but his attention to landscape, environment and view was still paramount, and slightly odd or purposely out-of-place elements - friezes, odd finishes, unexpected combinations of materials, nooks and crannies and whimsical woodwork - remained. Luckily, many of his best buildings are still standing; a few are listed below:

McMansions bring tensions to old neighborhoods

A good article by Kytja Weir in last week's Charlotte Observer, on the constant butting of heads between historic preservationists who look at a neighborhood as an organic whole and selfish me-firsters who want the freedom to do whatever they want with their own property, damn the neighbors and everyone else. Gee, can you tell which camp I fit into? An excerpt:

Tim Griffin, the association president, had invited builders, architects and others, trying to inspire his neighbors about how to renovate their homes without changing the feel of the newly popular neighborhood.

"I'm just so adamant about no more McMansions," he said.

But he knows his neighborhood has no power to restrict renovations. "We're not a homeowners' association. We're not a historic district. So the next best thing is to educate."

The neighborhood of small homes, many dating from the 1930s, is starting to feel a tension already experienced in Charlotte's older neighborhoods around uptown such as Dilworth, Myers Park, Elizabeth, Plaza-Midwood and Wesley Heights as people with bigger tastes move in.

Today Americans seek more space than their parents. In new developments bigger homes can be built without hindrances.

But the desire for more space creates a tension in some older neighborhoods, built for the needs of the past. Neighbors there find themselves walking a line between preserving the past and maintaining property rights, promoting growth yet controlling how it takes shape.

Stickley on Craigslist, August 2007

You know what I hate? People using terms like "Stickley-esque," "Stickley quality" or "Stickley-era" to describe furniture items on Craigslist, to try to get people searching specifically for Stickley items to see their listings. Of course, they also use "Limbert (maybe?)" and "Roycroft-ish" and other misleading terms. Why not simply call it what it is? If the piece is unsigned, just say "unsigned Arts & Crafts era antique rocker, Mission oak finish" - you still get all the search terms in there, lots of people will see it, and you'll sell your piece just as well without lying.

That said, after wading through two hundred misleading, incorrect or flat-out lying listings on Craigslist, here are some good deals on Stickley items, both antique and contemporary, all over the country:

  • contemporary Stickley entertainment center - $4000, Lakeport CA
  • similar item to above - $1200, Philadelphia PA
  • contemporary Stickley lamp & coffee tables - $500 / $600, Orange County CA
  • antique Stickley drop-front desk #729 - $2999, Santa Barbara CA
  • antique Stickley Bros. drop-front desk - $990, Pittsburgh PA
  • antique Stickley spindle-side/back loveseat or settle - $700, Brooklyn NY
  • two contemporary Stickley octagonal stained-glass lampshades - $125, Portland OR
  • contemporary Stickley "butterfly top" dining table - $1200, Portland OR
  • antique L & JG Stickley 4-drawer dresser - $800, Portland OR
  • contemporary Stickley bookcase etagere - $1000, Tucson AZ
  • contemporary Stickley buffet / glass-front china cabinet - $3500, Minneapolis MN
  • contemporary Stickley tile-topped endtable - $750, Minneapolis MN
  • contemporary Stickley coffee / cocktail table - $700, Minneapolis MN
  • contemporary Stickley Harvey Ellis-design rocker with inlay - $350, Asheville NC
  • antique red-label Stickley rocker - $450, Walden NY

Los Angeles' Arts & Crafts jewels are in ... Garvanza?

LAist's "Neighborhood Project" feature included a report this past week on a part of Northeast LA that I'm not at all familiar with - I always assumed that was Highland Park - and found extremely interesting:

Once the heart of the Arts and Crafts movement in Los Angeles and a bohemian artists' colony, Garvanza is today one of Northeast LA's hidden treasures seeking to retain its turn of the century identity while creating a liveable neighborhood for the twenty-first century. Although many consider Garvanza to be just a part of Highland Park, this small and hilly area brimming with historic buildings has more than enough charm and character needed to stand out on its own. Named for the wild sweet peas (garbanzo beans) that used to grow on the hillsides, Garvanza itself is much like a hearty wildflower, blooming stubbornly amidst the dominant concreted landscape, unabashedly colorful and pleasantly surprising to discover.

Check out the whole story for plenty of photographs and maps and a reasonably complete history of the region.

getting out the vote

You know what I'd really like for my birthday this year? I'd like to get an award. Any kind of award. I'm not sure we'd qualify for "best local blog" or website, given that while we do have a disproportionate number of entries on Sacramento-area homes & architecture, we're certainly not nailed to my own hometown, but that's the category closest, since there's no "best website about the Arts & Crafts Movement" category.

If you all wouldn't mind too much, I would be so appreciative if you'd visit the Sacramento News & Review's Best of Sacramento poll and vote for us. In exchange, I promise to write a really interesting article on John Hudson Thomas next week.

"like watching Ann Coulter debate Al Franken"

Picture_3 Neighbors in the Decatur, Georgia neighborhood of Oakhurst are definitely not agreeing to disagree about a proposal to turn their area into an official historic district. Scott Henry fills us in on the story, something that may not be all that hard to imagine for many of you who live in historic districts, whether recognized or not:

Threats. Intimidation. Yard signs. Snotty e-mails. Yes, the knives are out in Oakhurst, where the proposed creation of what would be Decatur’s largest historic district has resulted in a nasty neighborhood-wide squabble in which many homeowners have been forced to choose sides.

Terry Michel, a real estate agent who says she supports voluntary design guidelines rather than city imposed building restrictions, says she’s stopped discussing the issue with neighbors because the rhetoric on both sides has become too overheated.

“The vitriol is off-putting to me,” Michel explains. “It’s like watching Ann Coulter debate Al Frankin (sic).”

So what is it about a historic district that has so many peoples’ knickers in a wad?

Mainly, the argument comes down to control over one’s own property. If a house is included in the district, then the owner would need to get a “certificate of appropriateness” to tear it down, build an addition or make significant exterior changes. Construction plans that aren’t seen as keeping within the historic character of the neighborhood – say, replacing a 1920s Craftsman bungalow with a modernist stucco triplex – may not be allowed.

Blog Cabin: a Tennessee log cabin, DIY Network style

Reader Amie Kershbaum writes to tell us about an interesting take on reality TV, coming to the DIY Network this coming August 16. Over the past several weeks, that television network gave watchers and visitors to their website the chance to vote on the design of a traditional log / timber cabin; the construction itself is viewable now as a time-lapse video, and starting on August 16 (at 9 pm EST/PST), the entire design/build process will be the subject of a new series hosted by Amy Devers, who was not very happy about the bugs she was told she'd encounter during the filming out in the back woods of Tennessee. Blog Cabin will run through September 27.

Eco-Friendly remodel in Austin TX on This Old House

Photos_kenny_braun The Healthy House Institute has an interesting article on a recent series of eight episodes of This Old House devoted to the "greening" of a 1926 Craftsman bungalow in Austin, Texas:

Taking on its first-ever project in Austin, Texas, This Old House shares strategies and solutions for transforming a historic house into a low maintenance, healthy, and comfortable eco-friendly home.

The renovation of a 1926 Craftsman-style bungalow for newly married homeowners Michele Grieshaber and Michael Klug will be “green” in nature, while making room for a growing family — including Michael’s two young sons, Sam and David — with the addition of two bedrooms and a modest full bath on a new second floor.

By using technologies that conserve energy and water, and opting for durable and sustainable materials, This Old House is taking an outdated house and giving it an energy-efficient future, while showing that “green” does not have to be experimental, or expensive.

Since this ground-up remodel included low-maintenance, low-water xeriscaping, that became one episode all by itself;  another was dedicated solely to the planning process - something worthy of extra attention whenever you're working with new and unorthodox materials and techniques. The episode also generated plenty of materials for articles on subjects as varied as lighting and remodeling with and for families with children on the TOH website.

photograph by Kenny Braun for This Old House

Rich Baumhofer & Cindy Bechtel's Curtis Park firehouse, part II

Yesterday, HGTV ran an episode of their reZONED program on Richard Baumhofer & Cindy Bechtel's beautiful Curtis Park home in a remodeled and restored firehouse, which we originally wrote about this week last year. Marybeth Bizjak has more on the house in her September 2006 article in Sacramento Magazine. Later in the article, Rich notes his favorite northern California salvage yards - which happen to be mine, too - Ohmega Salvage and Urban Ore, both in Berkeley:

Vision. Some people have it; some don’t.

Rich Baumhofer and Cindy Bechtel fall squarely into the “have vision” category. When the couple stumbled upon a dilapidated old house in Curtis Park, they could see it had major potential.

Their friends told them they were crazy to consider buying the structure, which had been built in 1917 as a fire station and later converted to a private home. But buy it they did, setting out to restore its “firehouse charm.”

They succeeded so spectacularly that HGTV will feature their house on an upcoming episode of “reZONED,” a show about people who turn commercial spaces into one-of-a-kind homes.

“My intention was to rebuild in the spirit of the original firehouse,” says Baumhofer, a builder and general contractor who has worked on many old houses. He kept the shell of the Craftsman-style building intact while gutting the inside to create a spacious, family-friendly home.


Congratulations to both Rich and Cindy - it's nice when the rest of the world acknowledges all your hard work. And thanks, too, for sharing your home with all of us!