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In our neck-of-the-woods, we are finally seeing spring.  (Some might say summer since the first two days of May are slated to be in the 80's!)  Time to plant some flowers, get outside to soak up some blue skies and to bring you up-to-date on all things Make it Mid-Century. 
Cliff May - Father of the Modern Ranch
Since it's May, we thought we'd bring a little May into your life - Cliff May, that is.
Cliff May was born in 1908 in San Diego, California. He grew up on a ranch, influencing his future career. In his twenties, May studied business at San Diego State University until the stock market crash of 1929 when May decided to go out on his own. To support himself, he began to build Monterrey-style furniture. (Fun fact: Another early occupation of May’s was that of a saxophonist in his own band – the Cliff May Orchestra). May’s father-in-law was a housing developer, and May used those connections to show his popular furniture at display homes. Watching the development and sale of the homes, May decided he wanted to try his hand in home design and made a deal with his father-in-law to purchase a plot that was not selling. Hiring a master carpenter for help, May drew up plans and built his first home. It sold quickly. His second home was financed by a local contractor and again quickly sold. This second home was featured in Architectural Digest, a boon to May’s burgeoning business. (Fun fact: May’s early homes came in two styles – Mexican Hacienda style and Rancheria which was a more traditional board and batten construction. The Hacienda style was abandoned by the 1940’s.)
Encouraged by his success and supported by some local businessmen citing the quickly growing market, May made the move to Los Angeles in 1938. May continued his home design and development in Los Angeles, and his homes continued to garner substantial positive press in magazines such as Architectural Digest and House Beautiful. Originally called, “Rancheria” (now commonly referred to as “Rancho”), his early houses were a spin-off of the Spanish-influenced houses from his early days in San Diego. He did maintain a particular Spanish influence in his Rancheria - the concept of “corredor” linking rooms through exterior walkways – a concept that would become a May hallmark. The California climate and sunshine inspired other features in the design of his homes. Floor to ceiling glass, courtyards, skylights and low-slung rooflines are also earmarks of the May California Ranch.
The shape of May’s homes with low roofs with deep eaves on post and beam construction were not what was touted as “modern” at the time. What others considered modern were flat roofs with no overhang at all, quite the opposite of the May homes we now consider modern. May’s plans were predominately “L” and “U” shapes that wrapped around outdoor courtyards oriented to the back of the home. He called this concept “rear living.” May worked with the concept of “ground contact” where everything, indoors and out, was at one grade level. Homes were built on concrete slabs with landscaping abutting the buildings for a seamless indoor-outdoor look.
May’s early homes for himself and his family were used as sample houses for prospective buyers. (Imagine having to keep your house in model home shape constantly!)  Over the years he designed five different homes for his family. His final home was called Mandalay, and it was constantly a work in progress. May kept adding and tweaking his home (thirteen times!) until the plan was no longer his hallmark home around a courtyard, but instead with all of the additions and extensions; he had a home that wrapped around two separate courtyards. (Fun fact: May designed a mechanism where, as the front doors were opened to greet guests, big band music was played on speakers both inside and out. Fabulous.) You all know the all-too-common end to this story – Mandalay was torn down in 1994 to make way for a McMansion.
May brought many touches to his homes that we enjoy today. One modern convenience May brought to his homes were double vanities in the master bathroom. (Now I know who to blame for this ubiquitous House Hunters request!) Another May design was moving the garage to the front of the house to leave more inhabitable yard space in the back. (Unfortunately, a style that has gone to the extreme with the style that I like to call “garage with a house attached” that is found in many contemporary neighborhoods.)  May reasoned his move of the garage to the front of the home thusly, "The only reason people had put their cars in the backyard was because they had replaced horses and that is where the barns were. The barns simply had become the garages," May says. "Moving cars and their garages to the front saved all that driveway space and cut down on some terrible accidents people had backing up. Now the backyard could really be used for the children and entertaining." Other creations by May include the motorized skylight, dusk-to-dawn outdoor lighting, and house-wide intercom systems. The motorized skylight for one of his early houses opened up the entire roof ridge to the sky. The skylight opened to allow heat to escape, but in the fall, had the unfortunate consequence of allowing falling leaves to collect in the living room as well. (Imagine having to rake your living room!)
1952 brought the invent of the May house for the masses, named the “Low-Cost House Building System.”  The system was a prefabricated home kit which included everything down to the bathroom fixtures and was distributed through developers and not directly to homeowners. Met with the success of the system, May called it “a headache” due to the varying requirements of municipalities across the United States. May, a pilot, found himself flying to and fro incessantly to answer questions and meet with building inspectors and code officials. (Fun fact: May played the saxophone to occupy his time during the flights. "I used to play the saxophone when I flew on long trips. I had auto-pilot, so I could sit right there and look and think.")  Following the Low-Cost House Building System, May introduced the "Magic Money House", a house for, “young people with young incomes.” May’s mass-produced homes were relatively inexpensive and had extensive financing options making a May home affordable to the masses. In the late 1950’s Sunset Magazine even published an entire book of Cliff May plans. (Fun fact: May also designed the original headquarters for Sunset Magazine in Menlo Park, California in 1951.)
While May is known as a Californian architect, his works are found throughout the country. One reason is that ranch houses became synonymous with the California way of living was that such living was considered exciting and fashionable to other parts of the country. May kept a map in his office (below) that pinpointed his projects. (Key: red pin = custom built homes, green = subdivisions of fewer than 25 homes, gold = subdivisions of 25 or more homes, blue = homes and projects that have won awards, yellow = homes featured in magazines). Over the course of his life, May was responsible for over 1,000 custom homes and 18,000 tract homes throughout the United States. Some of his California neighborhoods include Sullivan Canyon Ranches north of Santa Monica and the Lakewood Rancho Estates in Long Beach. In Denver, a nice enclave of May homes can be found in Harvey Park.
Throughout his life, May was a building designer, not a registered architect, and was self-taught. (Fun fact: May was a registered home designer, but when the State of California did away with that registration designation in 1988, they made May a registered architect.)  Regardless, May was a major influence on mid-century architecture nationwide. May was still practicing architecture to the end of his life; he died in his office in 1989 at the age of 81.

Want to hear Cliff May?  Check out these recordings by the Center for Oral History Research at UCLA.
This is a quick and dirty intro to Cliff May.  To learn more, check out these references:
  • This article from Dave Weinstein from the Eichler Network.
  • This wonderfully researched document by Mary A. van Balgooy from the Historical Society of Southern California.
  • The website Doug Kramer's Rancho Style.
  • This book, Carefree California: Cliff May and the Romance of the Ranch House

Love Cliff May?  Live in a Cliff May home?  We'd love to hear from you.
Meet the Maker
We love it when you support our business, but we love to let you know about other like-minded businesses that we think you might enjoy.  This month's spotlight is on artist Donna Mibus.
Donna had a mid-century life change (not to be confused with a mid-life crisis!) She has always been artistic and was doing work for her church creating beautiful felt banners when she decided to pick up a mouse and began designing graphics on the computer. Some of the first graphics she created for her own enjoyment centered around mid-century furnishings - a love that she's had since she was a young girl in the 1960's. Moving on from computer graphics, she picked up a paintbrush and hasn't looked back. Soon, her house began to fill with her paintings of mid-century rooms and furniture, often with iconic black cats sitting (not scratching!) the furniture. Upon suggestion from her family, Donna turned to selling her art on Etsy, and her business was born.
I recently met (virtually, but someday in person) Donna and was able to ask her a few questions about her life as a mid-century-inspired artist:
MIMC: Why cats?
Donna: I’ve owned cats my entire life until just recently when I lost both my senior (20 years) cats to old age. House doesn’t seem like a home without a cat, hence the reason they make frequent appearances in my art. 

MIMC: What's the latest and greatest direction for your art?
Donna: Dogs! I have had folks asking me for years to do dogs. I find them much more difficult to do than cats, but I keep persevering. Here is a picture of the ones I’ve done so far. And yes, that’s a pot belly pig in the lower left corner of the pic. He was a custom request. No kidding!

MIMC: Where do you get your inspiration? What things do you like to look at, read, etc. for inspiration?
Donna: I love, love, love looking at interior photos from that time period, and I study everything in the room. Everything. Colors, materials, accessories, etc. My furniture and lamps are all taken from real life models from the era.

MIMC: Do you still sell original, hand-painted art, or have you moved mostly into digital prints to canvas?
Donna: I still paint and sell my original pieces. Painting is what makes me the happiest.

MIMC: You started with felt for your church banners.  Have you ever worked in felt for your mid-century art?
Donna: Funny you should ask this! I recently dug out my supply of felt (it’s large!) and created two mid-century shape pieces. They are still a work in progress. I love working with both fabric and felt, and have been dying to do some shape designs with them. I hope to offer them for sale in my Etsy shop once I’ve completed a line of them. 

MIMC: You are a busy woman!  Etsy, Fine Art America, a line of stencils and your Facebook page (which gets updated often), homeschooling your grandson...wow.  How often do you get time to do art?  Do you set aside a specific time each day to work on art?
Donna: I try to do something with my art every day. It’s how I relax and unwind. I homeschool between breakfast and lunch, and then after lunch, I’m able to spend a couple of hours on it.

MIMC: What other interests/hobbies do you have?
Donna: We recently (and unexpectedly) adopted two little dogs. We've always been “cat people”, but now we are officially “dog people” and love it. It's almost embarrassing how we dote on them. Also, when my husband retired three years ago his dream was to start traveling. We bought a little camper and have been enjoying visiting state parks near us. We hope to take longer and longer trips as we gain experience. 

MIMC: What suggestions might you have for other people who are interested in changing their trajectory in their mid-life and getting into art? 
Donna: Just do it! If you have any desire at all just dive in. I did not intend to sell my stuff when I first started painting. I only wanted to try something new for fun. I cannot describe the satisfaction I feel when I pour out some lovely turquoise paint onto a blank canvas and start brushing it across the surface. It’s almost magical. 
Thanks so much to Donna for being the very first interview in our Meet the Maker entry. You can view more of Donna's work on her Etsy shop here

We also carry a line of mid-century interior door kits modeled after some of Donna's geometric designs:
Like to learn more about our doors?  Email us here.
Laminate Update
We've been furiously mailing out our laminate samples. So much so that we are out of the original samples. We've gotten feedback that people want MORE SPARKLE! We heard you, and we're here to tell you that we are about to ship SparkleLam version 2.  The top picture above shows our original laminate versus our updated laminate.  Trust us, it sparkles.  (So hard to capture in a photograph!) The second photo above shows our updated laminate against a vintage laminate sample (sorry for the shadows, the lighting was not ideal).  You can see by that image that our new glitter inclusions are smaller and shaped more like the vintage laminate.
If you ordered our original samples, we'll be sending you updated samples free of charge. If you are on our order list, you will be receiving the new samples. Our new samples should be ready for shipment in about two weeks.

Need to order samples? It's easy to do - just send us an email with what colors you would like (white, aqua or pink), and your full name and mailing address. As soon as the samples are ready, we'll send you an invoice for the samples and get them in the mail to you. (Samples are $10 per colorway, refundable with purchase of a laminate sheet.)

We are pleased as punch about out updated laminate, and we think you will be, too.
That's all for this month. As always, keep in touch. We love hearing from you, seeing photographs of your projects and helping out with questions where we can. Until next time, have a wonderful May!
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