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California's good life, large and small

Cottages represent variations on a theme, where eclectic is the norm and simplicity takes form.

November 27, 2003|Scott Sandell

Ann and Scot Zimmerman are developing a cottage industry of sorts producing books about home design. So it's appropriate that the couple's second effort in two years is "California Cottage Style" (Sterling, $27.95).

On the heels of 2002's "The Comfortable Garden: Designs for Harmonious Living," the new book explores the origins of the cottage and its place in California architecture, in text by Ann and photographs by Scot.

It begins with a brief history of cottages, starting in England with their use as workers' housing in the 17th century, then as aesthetic elements on the estates of wealthy landowners in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Zimmerman writes that in the next period -- the Victorian Vernacular/Victorian Polite in the mid-1800s -- the focus had shifted from exterior ornamentation to interior design for livability. That's also when the cottage became popularized in the United States, thus laying the groundwork for what the author defines as California cottage style -- a style in which "eclectic is the rule rather than the exception."

More than a dozen examples of homes throughout the state, spread over the book's 144 pages, bear this out. In general, the styles are more traditional in the north and more freewheeling in the south.

In Healdsburg, there's a restored mid-Victorian dubbed the Henry Gillespie/Marion Bates cottage. In Carmel-by-the-Sea, perhaps the quintessential California cottage town, the board-and-batten Pink Cottage, the boulder-walled Sticks & Stones house and the fairy-tale Murphy home represent the seemingly countless variations on the theme.

In Redlands, the Music Cottage melds Victorian English and Spanish Colonial elements. And in Pasadena, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed La Miniatura departs almost completely from convention with its concrete blocks and high ceilings.

Despite their differences, though, Zimmerman points out the romanticism and practicality in each house. "Cottages have long demonstrated living simply but beautifully," she writes. "With the renewed interest in living well in smaller homes, they provide examples of space planning and organization."

-- Scott Sandell

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