The Simple Home

In 1979, Peregrine Smith republished Charles Keeler’s most famous work, The Simple Home. The edition included a new introduction by Dimitri Shipounoff. This brilliant piece of writing by Shipounoff, a Berkeley native who now lives in France, is nearly as long as Keeler’s own text. Here is Shipounoff’s opening paragraph:

The architectural development of the unique San Francisco Bay Region style left perhaps its most important literary legacy in Charles Keeler’s little book “The Simple Home.” This book, dedicated to the architect Bernard Maybeck, was largely a polemic against the architectural shams and gingerbread of the Victorian age, and apaean to “a simpler, a truer, a more vital art expression” then taking place in California. Charles Keeler, a Berkeley poet, naturalist, and self-appointed policeman of the arts wrote on architecure from the standpoint of a layman. As Maybeck’s first private commission in 1895, Keeler’s house at Highland Place helped set an idealogical precedent for a new kind of architecture in north Berkeley. Keeler’ subscription to this idealogy was partly a product of his experience of living in such a home. In initiating the formation of the Hillside Club, he urged his future neighbors to build houses in a style that would be compatible with his own. The Simple Home was written in 1904, during his presidency of the Hillside Club. As President from 1903-05, he extended the organization’s purview to include the greater Berkeley hills, in an effort to protect them from shoddy housing development. Bernard Maybeck became the club’s idol, Charles Keeler its high priest, and The Simple Home naturally became its bible.

The Simple Home is also the rarest book of significance that Paul Elder & Company ever published. Copies of the original edition are quite scarce and command high prices; I recently saw a copy priced at $600. In contrast, the Peregrine Smith edition (also out of print) can be found with a little patience, usually priced at $30-50.

Curiously, The Simple Home does not exhibit the usual traits of a book that is held in such high regard by the Arts & Crafts movement. Instead of handmade paper, the book contains coated stock. Instead of letterpress printing, the pages are offset. This may have been done in order to display the many architectural photographs in higher quality (later Elder publications would generally have photographs tipped-in). The cover is quite plain, with only a paper sticker over the cloth.

Simple Home 1904 cover
Cover of “The Simple Home”, 1904 edition
Simple Home 1979 cover
Cover of “The Simple Home”, 1979 edition
Simple Home title bw
Title page of “The Simple Home”
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“The Simple Home”, p 8-9. In the photo is the Moody house, also called “Veltevreden”, which was the first meeting place of the Hillside Club in 1898.
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“The Simple Home”, p46-47. The photo shows the library of Charles Keeler’s 1895 home on Highland Place.

The Garden Book of California

The most famous sentence about gardening from California’s Arts & Crafts period is “Hillside Architecture is Landscape Gardening around a few rooms for use in case of rain.” Often ascribed to the poet and naturalist Charles Keeler, the line appears not in The Simple Home, as is sometimes cited, but in an untitled¬†1906 pamphlet distributed by Berkeley’s Hillside Club. The pamphlet’s author is probably either Annie Maybeck or her husband, architect Bernard Maybeck, whose architectural drawings are used as the pamphlet’s illustrations.

Belle Sumner Angier’s Garden Book of California is cut from the same cloth. She certainly would have known of Keeler and Maybeck, and it’s reasonable to suppose that he urged her to write the book. Angier harps on many of Keeler’s favorite topics: bad architecture, regular exercise and the stresses of modern life. Here’s an excerpt from the chapter “Out-of-door Living Rooms”:

“Stay a great deal in the open air.” How frequently we hear the phrase in California, and how much we enjoy as individuals the carrying out of the advice, especially when we are so fortunately situated as to be able easily to avail ourselves of the privilege; yet, as householders, what little preparation is made for enjoying with any degree of regularity fresh air and brilliant sunshine! … We recognize the value of the daily sun-bath and of vigorous exercise in the open air, yet we plan our gardens all open to the street, leave our porches open to the rude gaze of every passer-by, persistently cramp our garden space with this or that crude building, buying fifty-foot lots and covering them withour badly contrived architecture; and this in the face of the fact that many of us have been ordered to California to live out-of-doors.

Oh, we are a decidedly inconsistent people! I could count on my fingers the well-planned arbors, summer-houses, covered seats, or even open and partially sheltered garden seats I have seen in my travels through the gardens of California. I do not even try to find a reason for this condition of affairs. There really couldn’t be any worth considering.

The hills of Italy cannot give a more artistic vantage-spot for the pergola than do those of California. Amalfi and Ravello, Naples or Florence, can show no more beautiful opportunities for this form of out-of-door architecture than beautiful Belvedere, or Berkeley, or Montecito, or San Buenaventura, Los Angeles or San Diego.

The common use of rustic work that is extravagantly artificial in character, the too often bizarre and unreal forms that are used in the making of garden-houses in some way seem to disturb the sense of harmony. And yet the garden-house, the arbor and the pergola may all be made so satisfying to family life—so important to American family life—since they offer inducements toward a measure of relaxation almost foreign to our people without which we shall continue to earn the title of the most nerve-worn nation of the earth.

Little is known about Belle Sumner Angier. She was from Los Angeles, and perhaps was a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Express.

Decorations for the book are by Spencer Wright.

Garden Book CA dj cover
Dust jacket of "The Garden Book of California"
Garden Book CA title
Title Page of "The Garden Book of California"
Garden Book CA p104
"The Garden Book of California," page 104-5
Garden Book CA p106
"The Garden Book of California," page 106-7