Prairie Restoration, 1916


Mission Hills, San Diego, CA

Joel L. Brown Spec. House No. 2, Designated as Historic Site #1267 in 2017

This two-story single-family residence was built in 1916 in the Prairie style by Master Architect Joel L. Brown. The building is of standard wood frame construction on a concrete foundation, sited on a west-facing, flat rectangular lot near the corner of Lark Street and West Montecito Way. The most prominent feature is the low-pitch, hipped roof with very wide boxed eaves and long decorative brackets underlined by a decorative stucco cornice, imparting a very strong horizontal emphasis.

The current owners wanted to preserve their home’s historic integrity while creating a light-filled, livable interior within the existing footprint. They worked collaboratively with the architects of IS Architecture and the interior designers of McCormick and Wright to restore the exterior façade to its original 1916 design, and substantially remodel the interior to update it for their modern lifestyle. Other design goals that were paramount, an easy indoor/outdoor flow to the back of the house, traditional craftsman style details, comfortable family spaces, and durable finishes for a growing family.

Over the years the house had a series of additions and remodels that did not necessarily improve the livability of the house. It created awkward transitions, and the flow from room to room was very chopped up. Many of the rooms were small and confining, some had no apparent purpose.

Kitchen: The kitchen was dramatically transformed and is now completely open to the dining room and living room, with clear line of site out to the back yard and to the front entry hall. This dream kitchen boasts top of the line appliances, including a Sub-Zero refrigerator, Franke farmhouse sink plus 2 prep sinks, Waterstone faucets, Miele gas range and hood, 3 Miele dishwashers, and an incredible feature wall dubbed the Beverage Center. This wall of full cabinetry is equipped with a Miele CVA6805 Coffee System, Sub-Zero refrigerator drawers, Scotsman ice machine, Marvel wine refrigerator, and an Elkay EZH2O water bottle filling station. Framing the edge of the Beverage Center is a full height glass whiteboard, specifically Clarus magnetic glass, which the family uses daily for communication, organization, and fun. The subway tile backsplash repeated throughout the kitchen is a custom blend of Carrara polished, Ming green polished, and thassos honed marble.

Dining Room: The adjacent dining room is used for both formal and daily dining. Similar to the ceiling in the kitchen, there is a subtle 2-inch height difference in the area above the custom Bausman dining table, with self-storing leaf, to help delineate the space while keeping it open. The space is finished nicely with an antique cabinet from the homeowner, a glass mosaic chandelier from Hilliard, and custom Kravet draperies.

Family room: During our archival research phase, prior to starting the remodel design, it was discovered that the windows in the family room facing the back yard were originally on the front of the house. The new design moved these windows back to their original location in the living room. The family room was opened up to the backyard with LaCantina folding doors.

Living room: The team created a space that feels approachable and when you walk in, yet still has a separation of spaces. IS Architecture inferred the design of what Master Architect Brown originally intended, a 1916 Prairie style design. A large renovation in the 1930s completely tarnished the original Prairie design intent inside the house. During our inspection early on, scar marks in the floor were discovered, indicating the presence of walls that would have separated the living room space from the entry hall. The new design brought back this separation of space, but in the form of paneled low walls with columns. Boxed beams and crown moulding replaced the dark rustic beams that were out of sync with the Prairie style and the homeowners’ tastes. A new fireplace surround and built-in cabinetry was designed to be the feature of the living room.

The entry and living room retained their original light fixtures, refurbished by Gibson and Gibson. A decision was made to reconstruction the front door to something historically appropriate. The two original sidelights were still in place, but the original front door was no longer present. The design for the new front door to be reconstructed was based on the existing original sidelights and other known homes in the area also designed by Master Architect Brown. The front door is made of rift-sawn oak. The original double-hung wood windows were repaired and restored. A few windows were reconstructed anew to reflect the original window locations.

Master Suite: The master bedroom suite was designed to be both a haven for the homeowners, as well as a home workspace. This space was separated in a similar way as the living room was delineated from the entry hall. IS Architecture designed low paneled walls with columns to create a sitting area separate from the bedroom, yet still allow the whole space to feel open and connected.

The master bathroom features different sizes of Carrara marble throughout to create different looks and textures. Heated floors are a welcome touch in the mornings. His and Hers cabinets flanking the edges of the bathroom are homes for the morning coffee routine for him and custom felt-lined jewelry storage for her. Rather than a framed mirror, the interior designers suggested mirrors with a beveled edge to create a finished look with a traditional feel. To create privacy while still allowing plenty of natural light to flood the space, all windows are outfitted with Cowtan and Tout top down/bottom up roman shades. A reupholstered Chippendale sofa, a family heirloom, sits opposite the vanity.

Garage: The original garage had already been converted to a game room. The new design tore down the whole garage structure and relocated it slightly more forward on the property. The first floor became a garage with workshop, and the second floor was designed as a game room with a full bathroom. A new bridge was added to connect the main house to this new structure.

History of the House: The house reflects the notable work of Master Architect Joel Brown, a prominent and accomplished architect responsible for the construction of many quality works in the City, some of which have been historically designated. This particular house will appear before the Historic Resources Board on September 28, 2017; currently it is being recommended for historic designation for being an excellent example of Prairie style architecture and being the work of a master architect.

The house continues to convey the historic significance of the Prairie style by embodying the historic characteristics associated with the style; including a strong horizontal emphasis provided by a low-pitched hipped roof form with wide enclosed eaves, decorative brackets and cornice; prominent front porch with large support columns and balcony with matching wide eave detailing; medium sand finish stucco cladding and pronounced brick wainscoting; and abundant fenestration consisting primarily of multi-light wood double hung windows appearing typically in groups of two or three.

The Prairie style originated in Chicago and was popular primarily in the Midwest for the early part of the 20th century. An indigenous American style, the Prairie School shared the ideals of the British Arts and Crafts movement and was popularized by architects including Frank Lloyd Wright, George Maher and others. Character defining features of Prairie style architecture include low-pitched, usually hipped roofs, wide overhanging eaves, and façade detailing emphasizing horizontal lines. Pattern books and popular magazines spread vernacular examples widely to suburbs throughout the country, with most being built between 1905 and 1915.