A Cliff May House

INTRODUCTION
This blog post is based upon my studies of architecture, my observations and understanding of a Cliff May House. Although his Mid Century Modern Rancho style homes were birthed in Southern California[1], this type of house sprouted up in the Denver, Colorado area as well[2]. The following is my reaction essentially to his original Southern California work.

California Ranch style home
Interior of Home in Lakewood Ranch Estates designed by Cliff May and Chris Choate

A CLIFF MAY HOUSE
“Once in a blue moon a designer comes along whose work literally manifests the voice of it landscape, its environment and its personality. The homes of Cliff May are exactly what I imagine a Southern California home should look and feel like. They are grand and glorious in their exuberance, capturing the magnificent, warm and sunny weather they share. Yet they are not pretentious or pompous. They do not attempt to mimic anything that came before them. They are exactly as they should be, to me, and are as indigenous as homes in the Los Angeles area could be. BRAVO Clifford May and thank you.”[3]

May Reno
Less is more in a Long Beach, California, Cliff May house. The homeowners were inspired by the simpler lifestyles of the 1950s. Photo: Houzz

NEUTRA, SCHINDLER AND FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT

THE ARTS & CRAFTS MOVEMENT
Many other prestigious architects made their imprint on the sunny terrain of Hollywoodland and environs. Most of them did not speak ‘Southern California’ as their primary design vernacular. The work of Richard Neutra[4] and Adolph Schindler[5], emigres from Austria, had an International Style[6] accent. A Frank Lloyd Wright home was always a give away due to its repetitive pattern or modular blocks that sought to create modular building block homes more than focus on its surroundings[7]. As magnificent as the work of the mid-West transplant Greene Brothers was, their Gamble House masterpiece[8] spoke Arts & Crafts movement with a slightly Japanese accent.

The Greene Brothers' Gamble House in Pasadena, California
The Greene Brothers’ Gamble House in Pasadena, California. Photo: Alexander Verticoff

CHARLES AND RAY EAMES
Charles and Ray Eames created furniture[9] that spoke the same design language as May’s homes. In fact, their work can be seen in pictures of his houses. But the Eames Style of architecture was stiff and geometric devoid of a vivacious cheer or embrace to the Southern California sun. There are plenty of Spanish, adobe style, grand and simple homes. But they paid tribute to their ancestors[10]. They were not original.

California Ranch style home
Interior of Home in Lakewood Ranch Estates designed by Cliff May and Chris Choate

HARRY SEIDLER
Other than May, there is one other architect that comes to mind, Harry Seidler[11], another European emigre. He had a transformational impact on the architecture of his time and place. He spent a brief time teaching and imprinting his mark on the United States. But he ultimately settled in Australia changing Sydney’s landscape forever. I suspect he found a receptive environment that was as compatible with his authentic style as May’s was with Southern California.

Harry and Penelope Seidler House. Constructed in brute concrete as the primary residence of the Seidlers in Sydney, it is considered one of Seidler's masterpieces.
Harry and Penelope Seidler House. Constructed in brute concrete as the primary residence of the Seidlers in Sydney, it is considered one of Seidler’s masterpieces.
Credits: Max Dupain

CONCLUSION
Architectural design can be a magnificent obsession. The voice of an architect can change over the years. In fact, it is believed that most architects do not even ‘hit their stride’ until their later years. This is what made Zava Hadid so unique [12]. Zava had a volume of outstanding work to her name before her untimely death recently at 65. Although there may be exceptions to the general conclusions of this blog post, I stand firm in my conclusion that Cliff May sought to bring joy and comfort to the living accommodations of the ‘hoi polloi’ rather than the elite as many other architects tend to do. It could be said that May did, with greater aesthetics, for Southern California and Denver, Colorado what Levitt[13] did for Long Island, New York.

Levittown, developed by Arthur Levitt. Post WWll affordable housing on Long Island, NY.
Levittown, developed by Arthur Levitt and sons. Post WWll affordable housing on Long Island, NY. Credit: Crystal Gaylean

SOURCES AND RESOURCES
Documentation of information and photographs are available upon request.

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