From Giants to the Fairy Tale Cottages of Carmel (Carmel By the Sea, California)
One thing I thought about while on our auto visit was how Carmel By the Sea had managed to really keep a charm throughout the little city. Not every home in Carmel is a Comstock Cottage. In fact, they are rare and hard to find. But what you will find in Carmel is a continuity that doesn’t require each and every house to be the same. Not all the houses are the same, they vary in size and style. But at the same time, there’s a certain likeness or camaraderie to the housing styles there that is very noticeable. Many of the homes are what would generally be considered small in style. They are nestled into their lots (also small in size) and look comfortable as though they had settled into their landscapes. Many of the houses borrowed features from one another. Hugh Comstock’s touch was evident in many places, even though most of the original designs were hard to find. You might see a cottage with a slightly curved chimney, or a rock stacked chimney. Many of the cottages had curved slopes to their front eaves that were story-book like in style. There were plenty of cedar shakes around. Cob wasn’t everywhere, to be certain, but there was plenty of pretty stucco out there for the exteriors. Many of the homes were low but more than one story. There wasn’t a great deal of big flashy houses but the homes were obviously well kept, cared for and nearly every one was very attractive in a number of ways. Even the downtown shopping district carried this effect as well. Little shops and bistros and cafes were everywhere but the shopfronts were really unique. Some had curving cedar shake roofs meant to mimic, we thought, thatch roofing. Lots of post and beam and half timber-like elements were around.
Many of Comstock’s cottages are located here and there around the town. They are mainly private residences and thus we had to use discretion when looking for them. Living in a tiny house ourselves, we have a feeling for what it can be like to have cars slowing down and stopping in front of your home. It’s nice and flattering, but can be unnerving at times. So we tried to cruise through town without looking like prowlers and we did manage to spot a few of the houses.We have just returned from a trip down the western coast of the US. We spent most of our time in California, splitting the trip between seeing family members in San Diego and spending time out of doors at Sequoia/King’s Canyon National Park and Yosemite. It was a pretty nice split between the busy city and the splendid architecture of Nature. We did squeeze in a side visit, taking twisty-windy side roads (and, wow, did we ever get to see a lot more of California’s natural beauty by staying even partly off the freeways) to Carmel By the Sea. This has been a little town on our radar for a long time due to the fact that an amazing architect named Hugh Comstock built a number of his famous Fairy Tale Cottages there. The story of Mr. Comstock, as we’ve been told, is an interesting one. To touch on some highlights very briefly (I am not an expert in this history), he built dollhouses, among other things. The dollhouse designs were so whimsical and attractive that he was encouraged to build some of them in a life sized format. He did so and the now popular Fairy Tale Cottages were the result. These tiny houses were meant also to serve as housing for those without great means. They were constructed using simple, natural materials, primarily post and beam and cob. The designs are marvelously cottage-y and fairy tale in nature but are also beautifully proportioned, architecturally stunning and very appealing in a number of ways. As tiny house enthusiasts, we wanted very much to look around Carmel By the Sea in hopes of seeing some of them.
If you have a chance to stop into this little seaside town just south of Monterey, it might be worth your while. It’s fun to cruise up and down the little side streets and just have a look at some of the great homes. If you are lucky enough to spot a Comstock Cottage, you’ll know it right away and will appreciate immediately the ripples his designs have had in the little pond of Carmel By the Sea.I couldn’t help but think that this little city was a nice example of how once a good design element gets a foot in the door, it can create a whole ambiance for a town. Mr. Comstock’s designs are from many decades in the past, yet his influence is still evident in the housing styles all throughout the city. Even modern homes being built in the immediate Carmel By the Sea area pay a considerable respect to the dollhouse maker’s designs. The result is a visually appealing town with lovely homes – very unique but tied together with certain repeated design elements. I really enjoyed the personality of the homes and felt that it gave the town a real appeal that many places could learn from. This character to the housing you see in many other places too, especially in the older neighborhoods and downtown areas of many cities, like the northwest bungalow neighborhoods of Seattle and Portland, for instance, and other small towns, like those scattered throughout New England or even Shawn’s childhood town of Wheeling, WV, where particular styles dominate. Part of what is so appealing psychologically about these places is that houses keep a particular similarity to one another and yet are quite unique, each and every one. That seems to be what we want to find reflected in our human community, too. Closeness and connectedness without the sense that uniqueness and individuality have been lost or controlled.