Of all the arts, architecture serves the most practical purpose. At its heart, the disciple delivers to humankind one of our essential needs: shelter. Over the centuries, architecture has become more than that, however. It can inspire, it can nurture, it can awe. In the right hands, it makes us feel larger than we are; in the wrong hands, it can also make us feel inconsequential.
Frank Lloyd Wright said of his chosen profession, “The mother art is architecture. Without an architecture of our own, we have no soul of our civilization.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe called architecture “frozen music.” Undeniably, Carmel has its own architecture, from the enchanting cottages of Hugh Comstock to the Art Deco commercial buildings of Ocean Avenue to the Spanish revival homes all over town to the ultra-modern structures of Wright and others. Together they comprise the soul of Carmel.
We asked four prominent local architects to name some of the buildings they find the most inspirational.
All of the architects we talked to included the copper-roofed home sited at the south end of Carmel Beach. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1948 and completed in 1951, this is probably the most recognized and famous building in Carmel. He told his client, Della Walker, that he would design a home “as durable as the rocks and as transparent as the waves.”
Eric Miller Architects, Monterey
It’s inspirational. A dramatic piece of architecture. The house feels nautical and really does belong to that location. Its narrow hallways and low ceilings lend drama. Entering the home, the ceilings start low and increase in height. You can’t see that from the exterior, but when you step inside, you’re rewarded. The house is intact and has been well maintained over the years.
Thomas Bateman Hood
Hood Architecture, Carmel
What fascinates me about Wright is the ability he had to seize on a space. He does amazing big things with a small space with a strict geometric pattern. This house is built on a hexagon—there is not a single right angle in the entire building. The discipline of geometry is relentless but doesn’t supplant the feel of an organic structure. I’ve been a docent here for years. When you’re inside, it feels like you’re inside a clamshell, or inside a steamship with its prow poking out into the Pacific.
Mary Ann Schicketanz
Studio Schicketanz, Carmel
I think what I like about it is that it’s a building that demonstrates that you can build in the most sensitive area and still have a structure merge with the surrounding landscape without damaging it. It beautifully enhances the closure of the southern end of the beach.
Holdren+Lietzke Architecture, Monterey
That’s such an iconic house. It’s wonderful that there is an example of Wright’s work so close to home. The interior is surprisingly small by today’s standards, but the building is perfectly suited to its location and there’s no wonder it is so highly regarded. Sitting in the relatively small living room gives the sense of being on your own private beach with your own private bonfire in the massive fireplace. All of Wright’s original touches, such as the built-ins, are still in place and the home, in general, is in an extremely well-maintained condition.
LOCAL ARCHITECTS’ TOP PICKS
3080 Rio Road, Carmel
This is an authentic primitive construction; all details are appealing and human. It feels handmade, perfectly imperfect. The building has such dignity. It was beautiful when it was built in the 18th century and the only structure in its setting. Still today, with all the development surrounding it, it has a strong presence. When I was in grade school in Pacific Grove, we were required to build a model of a California mission. I chose this one. My daughter did as well.
26394 Ocean View Avenue, Carmel
I love the fact that poet Robinson Jeffers built this house and tower for his family with his own hands in what was at the time an isolated locale. It’s a timeless building that fits with how the city grew up around it. Tor House has a true and strong sense of place, built of stones gathered from the nearby beach. I’ve heard a story about how Jeffers would wake early to write and then worked on the house in the afternoons, all the time thinking about what he was going to write the next morning. Jeffers also left a legacy at Carmel Point in the dozens of Cypress trees he planted that stand to this day.
Lincoln Street and 7th Avenue, Carmel
This is a beautiful building of poured-in-place concrete. It’s some of the best architecture in downtown Carmel. It really fits on that corner. I’ve always admired it proportionally, it is of a very human scale, and has a wonderful sense of inviting entry. The exterior and interior fit together nicely. The Cypress Inn could stand for centuries to come with very few changes.
Irish Stone Cottage—
8th Avenue and Scenic Road, Carmel
The simplicity of this little cottage is striking. Like Tor House, it was built from materials available on site. It’s a simple piece of architecture based on archetypical Irish seacoast cottages, with gabled walls and a chimney at each end. Rumor has it that Mrs. Clinton (Della) Walker lived here while Frank Lloyd Wright built her home further south on Carmel Beach.
THOMAS BATEMAN HOOD
Northwest corner Dolores Street and 7th Avenue, Carmel
This steel-and-concrete mixed-use structure was built as a suite of buildings with three distinct elevations by Oakland architects Roger Blaine and David Olsen in 1927. It appears as a collection of separate Spanish Colonial-style buildings that have grown up over time. Today, it houses La Bicyclette restaurant, and it still sets the tone for that end of Dolores. It’s a beautiful composition.
4th Avenue and Lincoln Street, Carmel
Designed by Joseph Henry Wythe and completed in 1964, this is a Wright-influenced structure that commands an otherwise throwaway site. He succeeded in changing the lot’s configuration from a rectangle to a triangle to respond to the slope of the terrain. That was a brilliant stroke and resulted in a masterful use of the hillside to take advantage of the views. The placement connects the interior and exterior seamlessly. I lived in this house for five and a half years and had my studio in the atrium. The light into the drawing room is magnificent. It’s listed on Carmel’s inventory of historic resources.
Seven Arts Building—
Ocean Avenue and Lincoln Street, Carmel
This is classic Arts and Crafts, a mixed-used project, timeless in its expression on the corner. It could be built today by an exceptionally talented team, but it would be tough to do a better job than the designer did. It anchors the whole intersection.
Lopez Street and 4th Avenue, Carmel
Highly respected modernist architect Henry Hill built this for his family, from 1961 through 1971. It conveys the architect’s personality. He was outgoing socially—at times flamboyant—and that really comes out in the forms, the colors, the glass. He painted an autobiographical mural of his life and influences underneath the round dining room. There are many details in the building that reflect his family and Scottish heritage.
The Charles Sumner Greene Home and Studio— Lincoln Street and 11th Avenue, Carmel
Greene came from Southern California and built this for himself. It’s an interesting house and he was obviously thinking about form and texture. What impressed me was in his studio he utilized a simple waterproofing detail for the glass roof. When I toured the building, it was original and there was no water damage. That detail has always inspired me to always look for a straightforward solution. Architects tend to experiment when we’re doing our own homes, and this is something we would generally not do for a client’s project.
Seventh and Dolores, Carmel
Now home to a popular restaurant, the Walter Burde and Will Shaw designed Bay Area Regionalist-style building was originally a bank. I especially appreciate its simple forms. Shaw designed quite a few things in the area, including Del Monte Center. I have a connection to Will Shaw in that I went to work for his firm on Cannery Row when I was just out of college. My firm is now located in that office.
“Butterfly House”— 26200 Scenic Road, Carmel
Frank Wynkoop designed this iconic Modern Expressionist oceanfront house in the early 1950s. This home goes back to my appreciation of things that push the edge. Its experimental character appeals to me because it’s such a bold statement. I’m not sure every element was successful; I’ve heard stories about the courtyard pool and the unusual fireplace. But these were risky and bold moves and that’s admirable, whether or not they succeeded.
Charles Moore-Designed Residence— Palou Avenue and Casanova Street, Carmel
Moore came very early to Post-Modernism. He also designed Sea Ranch on the Northern Sonoma County coast. I love the exterior style. He used a lot of wood in the interior as well. He didn’t do many buildings around here; I believe just this one and one in Pebble Beach. The forms appeal to me. I’ve always responded to that style.
MARY ANN SCHICKETANZ
Wells Fargo Bank—
San Carlos Street between Ocean and 6th, Carmel
Olaf Dahlstrand was an architect who has been sadly overlooked locally, in my opinion. The surfaces of this building are exquisite. When you walk through the alley/parking lot, the wall you see is beautifully detailed. I really appreciate the attention he gave to the surface. A big wall can be a pleasure to enjoy, even though it’s just a wall, if it’s done thoughtfully. The transition from the parking area to the main lobby is seamless. I knew this building was special long before I knew who built it.
John Thodos Designed House—
Scenic Road, Carmel
When I came to Carmel, this was the only contemporary building I knew of. This flat-roofed home is atypical for Carmel, but the scale is superb and the choice of materials such as the redwood siding relate to the vernacular. This little house contains so many fantastic details like the frameless glass skylights, sunken courtyard and spiral staircase that are all delightful. Thodos’ work here displays a relationship between building and property size that in many ways we’ve lost.
Lopez Street and 4th Avenue, Carmel
This was Henry Hill’s main residence and he lived here until he passed. I was privileged to work on the recent remodel of this home. It was a very delicate project and I very much enjoyed doing it. The challenge was to preserve the original ideas and feeling of Hill’s vision while updating the structure for 21st century living. It was an honor to be chosen to work on this building.
Eric Miller, ericmillerarchitects.com
Mary Ann Schicketanz, studioschicketanz.com
Lori Lietzke, hl-arc.com
Thomas Bateman Hood, thomasbatemanhood.com