Bernard C. Maybeck

November 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

“A Gothic man in the 20th Century”

Charles Keeler,  (Keeler, 2006)

Figure 1 - Portrait of Bernard C. Maybeck

Figure 1 - Portrait of Bernard C. Maybeck

Bernard C. Maybeck (Figure 1) was born February 7, 1862 in the New York City and died in Berkeley in 1957 according to Woodbridge (San Francisco Bay Area Arts & Crafts Movement: Bernard Maybeck, 2005). He was a prominent architect in an Arts and Craft movement. To achieve this title he had to study a lot. His father worked as a cabinetmaker at a Staten Island. There his father learned the crafting method and later on he opened a shop near Broadway. He was crafting custom made furniture. Bernard C. Maybeck lived in a house with his father’s brother who also had a family. In this culturally mixed environment he expanded his horizons beyond typical American boy. While his friends were playing sports games he was painting and developing his art style. His father was teaching him about art during Sundays.

After he finished high school he attended College of the City of New York. But he left the College before graduating because as he said he did not wanted to memorizing, formulas in order to pass mandatory course of chemistry according to Woodbridge (2006, p. 19). Later he went to France to France to study at Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris according to Smith (1996, p.276). In Paris he discovered the beauty of churches. He liked how they are lightened inside by stained glass according to Woodbridge (2006, p. 18).

After school he moved back to United States and through New York headed west to California. He seemed a lot of opportunities to work on in California. There he lived in Berkeley where he became a professor on the University of California Berkeley. He was one of the mentors of the whole generation of Californian architects. He worked in many styles: Mission style, Gothic revival, Arts and crafts and Beaux style. In his work there were reflected cultures from all over the world into a strange connection. He mixed medieval European style, Japanese style and Celtic. The effect of this mixture was magical and never seen before.

Maybeck worked on his own house (Figure 2) in odd times between his other projects. His house looked as a Swiss chalet. He designed for himself all the furniture at his home. He created his handmade home by himself.

Figure 2 - Maybeck's house

Figure 2 - Maybeck's house

He incorporates new material and technologies in his buildings. He really liked to work with wood. Especially in California in the Bay area he used a lot of redwood. The most special effect was that all the elements were handcrafted. All the details, which are underlining the overall effect of his style. Colours were a big issue in his style. He used them as another element and the bold lines helped him to break the “white” space on facades. In the interior he liked to create patterns from small simple details. He played a lot with squares and made simple objects from them.

His wife which he met while he was in a Kansas, Annie White (Figure 3) according to Woodbridge (2006, p. 20) helped Bernard to manage all his things in the company. So he had time to focus on his creative work of designing buildings and interior. All his family was living in the cabin in the Forest Hill of Bay area. Sometimes the whole family dressed into European medieval costumes. The bay area was still not developed when he was living there.

Figure 3 - Anne Maybeck and Bernard Maybeck

Figure 3 - Anne Maybeck and Bernard Maybeck

Maybeck once said his theory about the design of the building to his first client for who he was designing a home: “A house should fit into the landscape as if it were a part of it,” he declared, and then added: “It should also be an expression of the life and spirit which is to be lived with that it. “Back of all this,” he continued, “is the simplicity, the sincerity and the naturalness of the expression.” (Keeler, 2006)

When he finished his first house for a friend. The friend told him: “It’s effect will become completely ruined when others come and build stupid white-painted boxes all about us”. So later on Maybeck designed other four houses in the community. And the whole neighborhood adopted his principles in architecture.

As Maybeck worked on more buildings he had to face of the strange talking about his style of creating houses and people talked about them like about the funny houses. But over time his reputation got better and people would appreciate his style and the speech died away.

The homes which Maybeck built were the first homes in the block and he set a style how the near by neighborhood would look in the future. Maybeck’s houses did not stand out from the others they are set into the existing community. But they are very different from the rest of the houses in the street. Most of the other houses are built out to the path walk to the end of the property to maximize the house living space. Maybeck’s houses have just the entry and smaller lower elements are closer to the street but the main space is set back of the buildings perimeter (Figure 4).

Figure 5 - Here you can see how Maybeck's house looks from the street view.

Figure 4 - Here you can see how Maybeck's house looks from the street view.

One of the most famous buildings, which Maybeck had created, is The First Church of Christ (Figure 5), Scientist, in Berkeley, California, is an aggregation of many aedicules. It was built in 1910. According to Unwin (1997, p. 83)

Figure 6 - Interior view of Christian Scientist Church by Bernard R. Maybeck.

Figure 5 - Interior view of Christian Scientist Church by Bernard R. Maybeck.

When you see Maybec’s building you would not be amazed for the first time. The building would evoke you to explore it more into the smallest details. After that you have only two choices. You would love his style or hate it.

Every building has its own style. But the think, which is common in all his projects, is the asymmetrical composition. He is putting the pieces of building together (Figure 6). For example one room looks like a cottage but from different angle you can see the rest of the house. He is helping to break the symmetrical composition by using different sizes of the windows. He was using bold moldings. Every element of the house is representing a separate building. The complex of these small buildings is the final house which he imagined he would built.

Figure 6 - Goslinski house

Figure 6 - Goslinski house

The houses, which he had designed are living in the own world of the style. Each home has perfectly positioned the rooms for its need of light. The asymmetrical shapes gave Maybeck the possibility to add porches and surround the house by the open garden space. His houses and very livable and I think addicted to live in. He designed the houses for the specific needs of the person who would live in.

He also designed a Palace of Fine Arts (Figure 7) for a Panana-Pacific International Exhibition in 1915.

Figure 7 - Palace of Fine Arts in Berkeley

Figure 7 - Palace of Fine Arts in Berkeley

The buildings are now over hundred years old and they can still tell us that they are innovative in the way how the perfect house should look. That the attention to the every single room in the building is important in the way how would they be used and how would they look from the outside. He also knew which parts of building should be protected from the street life and which should be open for light and living.

“You and I are molded by the land, the trees, the sky and all that surrounds us, the streets, the houses…. Our hearts are shaped by the plaster walls that cover us and we reflect plaster wall ideals…. When I make a vase, a cup, or saucer, they will be my expression and they will tell you who I am and what I am.” Bernard Maybeck (Coleman, p. 101)

Reference list

Coleman, C. (ed.) and Interior Design Magazine. (2001) Interior Design Handbook of Professional. eBrary [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 5 November 2010).

Keeler, C. (2006) Bernard Maybeck: A Gothic Man- by Charles Keeler. eBrary [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 5 November 2010).

Smith, G. E. Kidder. (1996) Source Book of American Architecture. eBrary [Online]. New York: Princeton Architectural Press Available at: (Accessed: 5 November 2010).

Unwin, S. (1997) Analysing Architecture. eBrary [Online]. London: Routledge Available at: (Accessed: 5 November 2010).

Woodbridge, S. B. and Barnet, R. (2006) Bernard Maybeck: Visionary Architect. New York: Abbeville Press.


Figure 1
California Digital Library (1912) Maybeck Portrait. Bernard Maybeck Collection, I. Personal Papers [Online]. Available at (Accessed: 5 November 2010).

Figure 2
California Digital Library (1980) Maybeck House at 957 Peralta. Albany Library Historical Photograph Collection [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 16 November 2010).

Figure 3
Charles E. Steinheimer (1948) Bernard R. Maybeck [& Wife] [Online]. Available at: (Accessed at: 9 November 2010).

Figure 4
California Digital Library (1950) Roos House, San Francisco: [exterior, general view]. Roy Flamm Photographs of Buildings Designed by Bernard Maybeck [Online]. Available at: (Accessed at: 16 November 2010).

Figure 5
California Digital Library (1950) First Church of Christ, Scientist, Berkeley: [interior, view of sanctuary down nave]. Roy Flamm Photographs of Buildings Designed by Bernard Maybeck [Online]. Available at: (Accessed at: 16 November 2010).

Figure 6
California Digital Library (1950) Goslinski house, San Francisco: [exterior, general view]. Roy Flamm Photographs of Buildings Designed by Bernard Maybeck [Online]. Available at: (Accessed at: 16 November 2010).

Figure 7
California Digital Library (1950) Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco: [rotunda, colannade, and pond]. Roy Flamm Photographs of Buildings Designed by Bernard Maybeck [Online]. Available at: (Accessed at: 16 November 2010).


Blakesley, R.P. (2006) Arts and Crafts Movement. London: Phaidon.

Hitchcock, H.R. (1963) Architecture – Nineteenth and twentieth Centuries. Second edition. Great Britain: Penguin Books Professional Publishing.

San Francisco Bay Area Arts & Crafts Movement (2005) [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 5 November 2010).


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