Home » Culture & Media » Books » Mid-Century Modern for Every Man – The Homes of Gordon Drake

July 30, 2011

Mid-Century Modern for Every Man – The Homes of Gordon Drake

By Retro Ruth

In a few of my recent posts, I have mentioned how awesome our local library’s book sales are, and how I almost always manage to find something really cool every time we go. This last trip was no exception. Besides a couple of really good mid-century decorating books, I also managed (by the grace of God) to snag a copy of The California Houses of Gordon Drake by Douglas Bayliss and Joan Parry. I was very excited.

Gordon Drake may or may not be a name that you have heard before, depending on how interested you are in MCM architecture. He had an extremely short career that ended when he died tragically at age 35 in a skiing accident. But during this short-but-prolific career he designed 60 residences and won numerous awards, including Progressive Architecture’s First Annual Award in 1946 for his own residence, which was modern, fresh and very affordable for returning WWII servicemen.

This book has been out of print for a long time, and only recently been reprinted by William Stout and Sons. If you can get your hands on a copy of an original  or a new reprint, do it! You won’t be disappointed.  Not only does it have a fascinating history of Drake himself, but it also has loads of fabulous photographs of his finished homes.

Including these, the photos of Drake’s own award-winning residence.

Gordon Drake002

Bayliss and Parry, the authors, caption the photographs:

Entrance door of Drake’s own house in Los Angeles, California, opens on a broad brick terrace and garden pond. A good proportion of the outside area is paved to cut down on the maintenance. This photograph was taken soon after the construction was completed; most of the planting filling in to create a verdant effect in the first year. The house was framed with 4” posts set 6’ on center with redwood plywood used on the exterior and horizontal 8×8” shiplap on the interior walls.

Gordon Drake004

Front door shelter embraces tree and hillside planting to merge the structure with its surroundings. Louvered fence-screen gives a measure of privacy to the living room terrace; obscure textured glass gives the impression of unlimited space and relationship to the outside.

Gordon Drake003

The brick-paved terrace doubled the living space of Drake’s house and created an illusion of space seldom achieved under minimal conditions. Preserving the native trees and hillside prevented the new garden from seeming raw and unplanted.

Gordon Drake005

Extension of the roof rafters beyond the eaves forms a structural trellis related to the exposed construction inside. This view of Drake’s house shows the relation of the terrace, pool and entrance.


Gordon Drake006

The west terrace of Drake’s house is shaded by the native trees and screened from the road by a lowered screen adjacent to the front door. Bricks were laid on sand and pitched away to drain the water downhill. The side and the construction were truly merged into one living unit.

Gordon Drake007

Sleeping corner is protected with only a fabric drapery; the intention was to give the minimum of privacy and the maximum of the amount of space possible. In later solutions, Drake used sliding shoji panels to solve the problem.

Gordon Drake008

Living room couch and coffee table. Room has horizontal shiplap wall finish, ceiling of white celotex material with redwood batt to cover the joints. Emphasis on textures of matting, natural finished wood and glimpses of the hillside beyond gave unusual distinction to Drake’s first postwar house.

Gordon Drake009

Looking toward the living area past the built-in dining table; flower arrangements, art forms, architectural color, straw matting, colorful fabrics in upholstery and the pillows – all form an outstanding arrangement of Drake’s own elements of gracious living.

Gordon Drake011

Most of the furniture is in the form of storage shelves and drawer units which are built into the house, thus minimizing the amount of portable furniture that is necessary to furnish the house for economy’s sake.

Gordon Drake010

View through the front door to garden pool and paved terrace beyond.

Gordon Drake012

Gordon Drake013

Gordon Drake and Louis Soltanoff took four months to complete the house for the amazing cost of $4,500, which included built-in furniture. For an additional $300 they completed the dwelling with chairs, mats, coffee table, a few fabrics for the bed and curtains plus paintings and sculpture. The plan was compact but spacious in concept and feeling; the structural system was simplified to be built by inexperienced labor. The results were sensational, since this is what many returning GI’s hoped to buy.

Wow! Let me know what you think, readers! Is it gorgeous? Crazy? Too small? Perfect?  I personally think the design is amazing, even though it is quite small. I would have loved to see some pictures of the bath and of the kitchen. I bet they were amazing.

It is interesting to note that this is actually an ex-libris book, and not one donated by a friend of the library, and there were many notes inside the book, such as the numbers penciled in above on the floorplan of the house.  I wonder, did someone check out this book from the library to help them plan their own home?

Share This Post

8 Responses to Mid-Century Modern for Every Man – The Homes of Gordon Drake

  1. Sara in AZ Reply

    July 30, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    What a lucky find to get this book, it looks fantastic!

    I agree with you, I think the design is amazing and I WISH we could have seen pics of the kitchen and bath. It’s a little on the small side for me, but it would be a perfect get-away house.

  2. Nick Klaus Reply

    July 31, 2011 at 3:02 am

    That’s a really neat and tidy layout. Only change I’d make would be to switch it up so the bathroom could be accessed without going through the main bedroom.
    The Risom chair is a nice touch too.

  3. Betty Crafter Reply

    July 31, 2011 at 11:30 am

    Although it is a bit small, it seems very functional. And I agree with Nick, I don’t like having to go through the bedroom to get to the bath. But visually? Perfect.

  4. Andrea Reply

    July 31, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous! Probably a little small for me, since I’d need somewhere for my daughters to sleep, but if I didn’t have kids, that would totally be the perfect sized house, especially somewhere like California, where you can utilize the outside most of the year.

  5. Laura Reply

    July 12, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    I came across your article in researching Louis Soltanoff. Do you have any idea if this is the same man who served in WWII? I am working with a 96 year old man who has written a book, and Mr. Soltanoff is mentioned. The author wishes he could find out what happened to Mr. Soltanoff. 🙂

    Thank you for any information you can give.

    Best wishes, LK

  6. Debra Reply

    August 22, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    My Uncle Louis recently passed away. He was a forward-thinking man, and I learned about his collaboration with fellow marine Gordon Drake as a kid. My aunt still has a copy of the Sunset Magazine cover featuring the award-winning home. Curious to learn more, drove to Beverly Glen where house was built in 1946. Not surprisingly, it is being remodeled, stuccoed now and front elevation welcomes you with a very very large garage. An homage to the times we live in.


    • RetroRuth Reply

      August 22, 2013 at 2:00 pm

      Ugh. That’s disgusting about the garage and the remodel. It seems like more and more lovely old houses are ending up that way these days!

  7. Pingback: Interior and Exterior Vintage Pictures of The Spillman House Designed By Gordon Drake | No Pattern Required

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *